Founder Friday

Meet Jesse Rosalia of Sereneti Kitchen

Welcome to Founder Friday, where we’ll learn a little about the people behind some of the companies doing their thing at Highway1. Today’s founder is Sereneti Kitchen’s Jesse Rosalia.

Who are you?
Jesse Rosalia, CTO of Sereneti Kitchen.

What’s your product called, and what does it do?
We build Cooki, a countertop kitchen appliance that cooks one-pot meals with the push of a button; and Foodi, an online platform to connect Cooki owners with recipes and pre-packaged meal kits that are designed for their device.

Tell us a little bit about your background.
I started my career in software right out of high school; I’d been coding since I was 8, and always had a knack for taking things apart to figure out how they work (I eventually developed the knack for putting them back together).

After 12 years in industry, across four jobs, I decided to go back to school to finish my bachelors degree; I was working in Atlanta at the time, and Georgia Tech was a natural choice.

It was at Tech that I developed a real love for robotics, AI, and machine learning; I’d already quit my job and was looking at applying to Ph.D programs around the country. While working as a student researcher on the eve of my graduation, I met my co-founder, who had this crazy idea for a robot chef.

It hit that sweet spot for me of being far out there technically while solving a very practical problem, so I put grad school plans on hold and decided to help build this business.

Where did the idea for this business come from, and what role did you play?
My co-founder Tim came up with the idea; it was actually his little sister’s idea that he helped nurture into something on which you could found a business, and they needed a technical cofounder to start building the product and the technology.

That’s where I come in. At the start, I was the sole technical resource (we’ve since added an amazing mechanical engineer named Corrigan Nolan who’s been killing it since his start date).

How did you find out about Highway1?
We got into the TechCrunch Hardware Battlefield at CES, and quickly learned that a) we had a concept people could get excited about, and b) we did not know how to turn our concept into a product.

At CES, we spoke to five or six different accelerators (including Highway1) who came to our booth and liked what they saw, but Highway1’s mixture of engineering and business mentorship and drive to actually ship product resonated well with us. After visiting the facilities and speaking with more of the staff, we saw a great fit for what we were trying to accomplish.

What’s your biggest surprise or key learning been thus far?
The devil is in the details, and those details will delay your product if you miss them. Always, without exception, that’s the way it is. And while it’s not really a surprise to hear that, the surprise for me is that those details are everywhere.

That’s been my biggest takeaway from Highway1: how to tease out those things that will cause you the most grief before they have a chance to do so.

Can you talk about what the focus of your founding team was, and how you met the challenges (if any) of branching out beyond your personal experience?
Our focus when we started was the same as it is now: getting the best possible product out into the market as fast as we can. The biggest thing that’s changed since we started is our understanding of the roadmap to get there.

That’s required both my co-founder and I to recognize that sometimes stuff (technical, business, etc) doesn’t work out the first, or second, or nth time, and we’ll often need to pick ourselves up off the ground, see why we tripped, and make sure we learn from the experience.

For me personally, this product has required a lot more physical work than I was used to: working in the machine shop, soldering boards and wires. I learn a lot on the job, by asking questions, observing people who know what they’re doing, and not being afraid to fail (while always remaining safe, of course).

That’s the key, I think. It’s an irrefutable fact that we’ll fail many times on this journey, so being fearless and thoughtful in the face of failure (however large or small) means that we move on quicker, and therefore move quicker towards success.

What are your goals, both while you’re at Highway1 and beyond?
My personal goal at Highway1 is to absorb as much of the knowledge, experience, and philosophy that permeates the walls and staff supporting us that I can.

This holds true beyond Highway1 as well; I want to always be learning, and understanding what I can do better with regards to our products and our development methodologies.

For the business, our short term goal is to take our prototype from Highway1 and launch a pilot to continue to validate market fit. Long-term, we’ll leverage what we’ve learned here to ensure that our product is affordably manufacturable at a quality standard that we can be proud of.

I’d imagine that’s a goal shared by most (if not all) successful businesses.

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