They say never work with your friends. But a genuine friendship between co-founders can be a far stronger company foundation than many business-centric goals. After all, you’re going to be spending a lot of time with this person; you’re going to make some tough decisions with this person; you should probably, well, like this person.
And yet, mixing business and pleasure is not without its challenges. The stakes can be high — especially when that friendship is one that dates back to pre-school. “Jake [Kalick] and I have known each other since we were five,” recalls Made In’s co-founder Chip Malt. “And we went all the way through high school together.” But the company’s roots date back further still, when Jake’s grandfather set up a kitchen supply company in Boston in 1929. Prior to Made In’s founding, Jake was running that company while Chip was running an ecommerce business in New York.
The pivotal point came, Chip says, when he was 28 and was investing in nicer items for his home. “The Caspers of the world were out there, so I was upgrading my bed, upgrading my sheets, upgrading everything else — but there was just no-one doing it in the kitchen industry. As something that I used on a daily basis, I knew it could directly affect my life.” This spurred him to reach out to Jake and ask if he was interested in starting a direct-to-consumer cookware company. Jake loved the idea and recognised that most people he knew had no idea what was in their kitchen — that most pots and pans were either a hand-me-down, or something bought from Ikea for that first move out to college. So the two lifelong friends decided to create a brand that people cared about, and educate them about why it’s important to invest in good cookware.
Chip points out that “there’s never been an easier time to not cook at home, but people are cooking more and more at home — because it’s actually an enjoyable experience.
Made In officially launched in September 2017 — our interview comes hot on the heels of the brand’s first anniversary celebrations — and that first year has been an impressive one. Beyond shipping out more than 15,000 pieces of cookware in their first year, the company has enjoyed a lot of respect from industry professionals. Just prior to our chat, Made In announced their partnership with celebrity chef Tom Colicchio, who’s come on board as an investor and advisor. “We have a solid network of professionals who use our products on a daily basis,” Chip says, clearly and deservedly proud.
In that one short year, Chip and Jake have discovered that they have two very distinct types of customers: those who start as skeptics, and buy just one pan but then return after they’ve used it to buy the whole set; and those two trust the reviews they’ve read and go all-in from the first purchase. And why wouldn’t you trust the reviews? 98% of them are 5 stars.
But still, education is paramount, especially because Made In’s pans hold heat so well. Almost _too_ well, in fact: some first-time customers often find they “burn the shit out of their first meal” according to Chip. “People come from using cast iron, which doesn’t hold heat well, or an old non-stick. It’s a different experience. But once people get the hang of it, they’re automatically a better cook.”
Did you know that non-stick pans should be used as the exception rather than the rule? Neither did we, until we read Made In’s extremely informative blog, Dinner Party. Seriously, go and read it — you’ll love it.
However, what sets Made In apart is the actual process of the products’ creation, which goes all the way back to sourcing. “We wanted to have a big focus on the supply chain from day one,” Chip explains. “Not just go to China and white-label a product and throw a brand on it. It meant finding people who were experts in their craft — who had honed it for generations — to build the products for us.” Unique to Made In is the intimate relationship the company has with its suppliers, with Chip and Jake buying the raw metals and handling the shipping of them to their metal-cladders.
Asked what’s changed since Made In’s launch a year ago, Chip cites the emotional attachment to cooking that they’ve found in their customers — the reasons _why_ people cook. The grandmother’s recipe that’s been handing down for generations. Inviting their friends over for dinner. A way of expressing creativity. “We launched with a very cool image,” Chip explains, “but we’ve moved towards these simpler, more down-to-earth elements. A little more depth and authenticity rather than the snazzy brand stuff.”
This quest for authenticity has recently led Chip and Jake to a small town in France that has been making knives for the last 700 years. “We’ve partnered with fifth-generation knife-makers,” Chip explains. “It’s one of the few places in the world that creates a full knife from one single piece of metal.” The result is a new product — their first made outside the US — that’s helping to redefine the very message behind the brand name. It’s now “Made In as in ‘made where it should be made in’,” Chip explains. “So we have ‘Made In America’ cookware and ‘Made In France’ knives. They all follow this philosophy of us doing the research, sourcing the manufacturers, and designing the product with them to make something awesome.”
Made In’s cookware is used in the kitchen of our restaurant Prim and Proper, and is available to buy in-store and online. Asked why they decided to partner with Neighborhood Goods, Chip says, “Surrounding ourselves with like-minded brands that are unique and innovative and inline with the retail concept we’re trying to do… It makes sense on every level.” He believes that our generation appreciates subtlety in marketing, and that having an offline presence presents unique opportunities. “It’s important to establish ourselves as not being an amorphous group of internet people up in the sky somewhere, pushing buttons.”