How Big Green Egg CEO Dan Gertsacov is expanding the market for grills


This is our Fourth of July episode, so today, I’m talking with Dan Gertsacov. He’s the CEO of Big Green Egg, the company that makes the famous Big Green Egg grill. Talking with grill CEOs during the summer has become a little tradition on Decoder, and it’s always fascinating how many of the same themes we talk about on Decoder with tech executives come up in the context of cooking in the backyard.

I mean, literally “cooking food with fire” is one of the oldest innovations in human history, and you’ll hear Dan talk a lot about what a meaningful tradition that is to both him and the company. But Dan is also a former Google executive who led expansion into foreign markets, and he has a deep history in both media and food service, so you’ll hear him immediately start talking about some very modern business issues: customer acquisition, recurring revenue streams, strategy pivots, and organization.

Dan has really strong opinions about protecting the long-term relationship people have with Big Green Egg and what kinds of growth are acceptable to the brand. You’ll hear him talk a lot about the grill itself lasting a lifetime — literally, he keeps track of when Big Green Egg comes up in obituaries. That kind of thinking means his approach to decision-making is pretty different than what we usually hear about — and part of that is that Big Green Egg’s future involves a very different kind of corporate structure. 

Big Green Egg is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Dan is only the third CEO the company has ever had, and he’s only been in the role for a few months. The founder, Ed Fisher, ran the company for many, many years and is still around, in his 90s, as its owner, keeping an eye on how everything is going. Fisher’s plan is to take the company to what’s called a foundation model, which means it might not ever feel the short-term pressures of a normal company. That’s a complex process, and Dan and I got into it toward the end of the episode. 

I’m telling you, these grilling episodes often have the most going on in them, and Dan and Big Green Egg are no “eggception.” Happy Fourth of July.

Reklama

Okay, Dan Gertsacov, CEO of Big Green Egg. Here we go.

This transcript has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

Dan Gertsacov, you are the CEO of Big Green Egg. Welcome to Decoder.

Thank you very much, Nilay. I appreciate the invitation.

I am very excited you’re here. It is remarkable how every company has the same problems, even when the product is grills — in your case, very large, very heavy grills.  You’ve had quite a journey yourself. You’re the new CEO of Big Green Egg — you were the president before; you’re the new CEO now. You were at Google. You were at MTV. You were at one of the largest McDonald’s franchise operators that exists.

On top of all of that, Big Green Egg is 50 years old this year. That’s quite a lot. I have a million questions here, but let’s just start at the very beginning: what is Big Green Egg?

Big Green Egg is a ceramic grill, oven, and smoker. We use all those terms because it does all of those things. It’s a kamado cooker, which comes from Japan, originally. It started in the 1600s as a rice cooker and was traditionally made out of clay. In the 1970s, when our founder started importing some products from Japan, specifically, you’d have to go way back in time to the pachinko machine, which is a Japanese pinball machine. He was importing these to the United States, and they loaded some of these clay rice cookers onto his load coming from Japan, and he put one out front to try to drive people into his store.

What is old is new again, so demand generation, as we like to talk about it, driving foot traffic. That was 50 years ago, too, and they used food to do it. So, he said, “I want people to come in for the pinball machine. I’ll put some chicken wings out front on this clay cooker.” We talk about the need for startups to pivot — well, what he saw was people starting to say, “Hey, I like the pinball machines, but what about this strange-named cooker? How do I get one of those?”

And he pivoted. He said, “Well, look, I think the opportunity is really in the kamado cooker.” A few years after that, he shifted the company from what was called the Pachinko House to become Big Green Egg. And as all of us love to do market research and hire all these firms and do all these things, the name Big Green Egg came from doing some advertising. The newspaper guys said, “Hey, people don’t understand what ‘kamado cooker’ is. What should we call it?” And his entire market research was, “Well, it’s big. I like the color green, and it looks like an egg. Let’s call it the Big Green Egg.”

That’s 50 years of history in a quick soundbite, but it’s become a cult favorite, cult community over those past 50 years.

You’ve got it all right there. You’ve got customer acquisition costs. You’ve got a recurring revenue source and the pinball machine. You’ve got a big strategy pivot. You have product market fit. All right at the beginning.

The thing that strikes me about the company right now is that it seems like the product is the same. You are selling Big Green Eggs to people. Have there been any meaningful major changes to that approach in the past 50 years?

There have been. I think it’s really emerged as a lifestyle brand. That’s also kind of a word du jour, but it’s really true in this regard. I’ll give you an example.

A couple of months ago, we got approached by Miller Lite. They said, “We want to do a big summer push. We like to do stuff with barbecue. We kind of came up with this big green keg and could we adapt a Big Green Egg to house a quarter keg of Miller Lite?” They did this as a one-off. They sold it. You could buy it. They put it up for sale thinking they’ll sell 100 of them. We’ve had thousands of people try to get one. And what that tells you about the brand is that it’s more than just a ceramic cooker. People want it as an asset to their backyards but also as an asset to living outdoors and experiencing and hospitality and hosting.

That’s what this company’s really about. If you look at it and every tech company — again, we’ll see all the analogies here: “Oh, we’re not in the taxi business. We’re in the ‘give you what you want’ business” and all those little spins on the mission — this is the case of this company. This company is about gathering friends, family, and neighbors to cook over live fire. That has been going on in human history for [more than] 400,000 years. We’re not changing anything. Gathering around a fire hasn’t been invented by Big Green Egg. We created a product to be able to do that on, but humans have been doing that throughout history.  We’ve just created an experience out of it. I think what’s changed is a lifestyle.

Roughly half of our business is the product itself, but the other half of the business is the accessories to the product. That’s the furniture it sits in. That’s the cookbooks and the spices and the rubs and all the auxiliary, which becomes recurring revenue, as you made reference to. Another piece of that business that’s kind of its own little slice is the charcoal. That’s the razors and razor blades. This company, Big Green Egg — and you can go ask, in this case, Royal Oak or Kingsford, the folks that are the leaders of the charcoal [industry] — started with Big Green Egg bringing in lump charcoal, which was a thing but really not an industry.

The ceramics don’t allow you to put lighter fluid on your charcoal; you do not want that in the ceramics. So, there is no lighter fluid. We don’t want any briquettes that have chemicals in them. It’s all natural lump charcoal. Lump charcoal is just literally carbonized wood. It’s firewood that’s been almost burnt, and they stop the burning process, and it makes it easier not only to light but to maintain for long periods of time. That whole industry was really created with the demand for the Big Green Egg. Now if you go into your grocery store or you look on Amazon anywhere, you can see a whole industry around lump charcoal that really started with this company 50 years ago.

I watched as the Royal Oak bags section in my local stores got bigger and bigger and bigger as the pandemic sort of went on, and now they remain the same size; they’ve not gotten smaller. You’re saying that’s all because people started buying these kinds of cookers, and they wanted that? Or is it that the industry started, and people realized that was a superior product to the briquette?

I think both. Lump charcoal allows you to go both slow… and there’s a whole segment of population that wants to cook for — and myself included — overnight ribs and brisket and pork butts and that whole industry, which is slow and then hot and fast, where I want to do a steak and I want to get it done real quick. What lump charcoal allows you to do is both of those things, and a Big Green Egg or a kamado cooker allows you to do both those things. You can go from 200 degrees to do low and slow up to 1,000 degrees to do a pizza. That 60-second Napolitano pizza will come out of Big Green Egg just like it would come out of your local Italian pizzeria. The diversity of the products that can come off the Egg is also a reason why the product’s been so successful.

While there are specialist products and companies — and this didn’t exist 10 years ago — now you go into any, go online, go into a big box, go into an ACE hardware or any of those folks, and what you’ll see is four pizza ovens and three smokers and four pellet grills. That didn’t exist 10 years ago. It was a gas grill, a cheap charcoal grill, and a Big Green Egg, which is a premium product. We have a lifetime guarantee. That means your product should not break, and we believe so much that if it does break, we’ll replace it over the lifetime of that product. And that’s one of the things that’s remained constant. So, to answer your original question about what’s changed, I think the lifestyle nature of it, the accessories that you can do with it. And look, we have an accessory where you can look at it on your app and control it and so forth.

We purposely don’t put that in the core product. I think that there is both an art and a science to this experience. One of the folks that I follow, like many others, [OpenAI CEO] Sam Altman, and one of his comments recently, they asked not what are the jobs that are going to go away with AI, but what are the jobs that are going to be created with AI? One of his responses was a curator of experiences. And I think Big Green Egg is a curator of experiences outdoors for cooking for others. And I think the whole life is already — and will be more so — connected. You’re going to want a space to disconnect so that you can reconnect with what’s important, and that’s your friends, your family, and your neighbors.

That’s food as a centerpiece of your memories of your childhood. That’s what this company is all about, and that’s what attracted me. And as you mentioned, I’ve had an eccentric career from tech into restaurants, nonprofit earlier in my career. I’ve been a social entrepreneur. I’ve done a lot of different things. What attracted me to this company is exactly that purpose, and that’s the legacy that I want to leave behind in my kids and their kids — doing work that is meaningful.

I do like the idea that Sam Altman is going to put us all out of work so we can spend more time thinking about brisket. He should close that loop. I think a lot of people would change their minds. But anyway: you mentioned the product. The product is now ceramic; it started as clay in the pachinko days. You’ve changed that. I think that change happened early on. How much money does the company spend thinking about the core product? Do you have ceramics engineers? Is that settled? Are you thinking about finishes? Where does that investment go?

The story of the ceramics: what was happening is, as clay cookers were coming over from Japan, something like 20, 30 percent of them were breaking on wrap. It’s a long trip on a boat and so forth. And so the founder, Ed Fisher, based here in Atlanta, went to Georgia Tech — great engineering program — and started asking about other products or other things that we could be able to make this out of. And their response was, “Hey, the ceramic is not only a great product, but there’s a lot of ceramics production happening out of Mexico.” So he went down to Mexico in the early ’80s and started knocking on doors to find somebody that could make a product that was superior to the way that it was being made with clay, have some of the same retention, heat retention practices, but be sturdier as a result.

That’s where we started our partnership in Mexico. So, while that started earlier on, one of the things in me coming on and having a product background, one of the projects I worked on at Google initially was Google’s launch into traditional television advertising way back in the day when they just bought YouTube. Then, I moved on opening up offices in Latin America and the international expansion of digital in kind of the early mid- to late-2000s, the focus on product I’ve tried to bring here. One of the first things I did as president and now CEO was reinvest in that product team. I did a survey to all of our loyal customers, Eggheads. I have over 5,000 responses to a question of: what would you do if you were president of the company? And what I heard from them was: double down on the resources you’re putting in product, not only for the core to expand but also to give us more accessories at that same quality.

I’ve hired a guy — I was able to draw him out of California and move him to Atlanta. He’s a lifetime product designer. While he’s done some grill work, he’s also worked on Microsoft Surface, and he has worked on golf clubs and worked on biotech, wearables, so a very broad thinker, which is exactly what this company needs. We do have ceramics, accessories and charcoal, so the product team is our first investment.

We’re, right now, trying to hire a mechanical engineer that would be able to help us think through all of these concepts. I’m hiring a behavioral scientist onto the team. If you’d say what would a behavioral scientist do for a grill company? That is exactly why we are hiring them. We’re trying to play chess while our competitors are playing checkers — and behavioral science and how you entertain and what you’re willing to pay for certain experiences, how important it is for you to be able to put… how to manage anxiety that comes from not knowing if it’s ready.

These are all leverage points, and that was stuff I got exposed to at Google. I sat down with Robert Cialdini, the professor on influence when I was at Google. I became a student of his literally and then brought him to McDonald’s, and I’ve since brought him to Big Green Egg. So, these principles of applying from outside of our core industry is what I’m here to do in modernizing, if you will, this part of the industry. And it’s a core element of experience.

We have been involved as a company in disputes in people’s wills of who’s going to get the Egg. We’ve been involved in divorce proceedings. And clearly, it’s not about the money — we can go buy another one. It’s about the experiences that people relate to that product. It’s core to their childhoods, it’s core to their relationships, and that is a privileged place to be. That’s when brands transcend products and become part of people’s lives. It sounds trite to say, but this company has achieved it. A quirky name with a quirky product and a quirky egg look has become an essential part of the way that people relate to each other in their homes.

Well, two things. One, I want you to be careful because the anxiety of, “Will I get this pork butt done in time for dinner?” I think is a core part of the human experience, and you don’t want to take that away from too many people.

That’s right. You put your finger on it, and you said two things I just want to pick up on. One is that I think there’s a mistake to make things almost too easy. Now on the flip side, this Goldilocks moment, right? Not too hot, not too cold. It can’t be a pain in the butt. It’s got to be accessible. It can’t be that thing. And I do think that we have an opportunity there. I think a lot of people look at charcoal and be like, “I can’t start a fire. I’m not a core cooker. I don’t know how to do that.” I think we can make it easier. I don’t think we need to flip a button. I think that there is value in starting a fire. And so we’re working on being able to fulfill a brand promise that in 15 minutes, you can have this without getting your hands dirty.

It’s not in five minutes, it’s in 15. And if you’ve got a problem with waiting 15, let’s talk about your other problem. There’s points in your life that have got to slow down. It also shouldn’t take an hour, right? On the flip side of this, it’s got to be… That’s why I think people get so vested in the gaming industry because they go through all of this work to build themselves up, and that’s what brings them core into being part of a community of Minecraft or any of these games that you play out. And I think that happens in cooking.

I would like to make it more accessible, not only generationally but also in gender. I don’t accept that men dominate the outside and women then cook in the inside. That’s complete BS. This thing can cook, roast, do grill, bake any kind of cooking you want to do, and women do that just as well as men do that. Or, that this is a 50-plus product because that’s when you’ve got time to do it.

I want to bring it so on a Tuesday night… And this is a reformed restaurant guy who used to drive people. I was the guy that helped, at least in Latin America, order on your app, skip the line, pay convenience for restaurants. I don’t think it’s a good experience for people to be sitting in a drive-through line on a Tuesday night because I think it’s too hard to cook for their family at home. The home kitchen needs to evolve so that it’s better, cheaper, and healthier to cook for your friends and family and not accept that it’s got to be harder or more expensive or more of a hassle to do that. I think too many… and I did the deal with Latin American Uber Eats — I’ve been on that side of the equation. I think too many people are ordering food for takeout and delivery. Too many people are in drive-throughs.

There is a moment for restaurants. You’re not going to meet a bigger foodie than I am. I love restaurants, but there are a lot of occasions where that should be at the home. I reject the idea that you should ever order in the holiday dinner. That is a concept that we used to market toward. We used to say, “Hey, pick up your Thanksgiving platter because it’s a hassle to do it at home.” I reject that concept, and if you don’t believe what I believe, that’s fine. You just wouldn’t be part of this Big Green Egg community. The Big Green Egg community has a set of values, and one of them is entertaining for your friends and family and the work that goes into entertaining and hosting.

The other thing I was going to say, next to, “Don’t take away too much of the anxiety,” is: There are only two ways to make this simpler, right? You can control the air or you can control the fire. The fuel. And your competitors have different approaches to that. Traeger has an auger; they control the fuel. I have a smoker — it’s much cheaper because I didn’t know how long we would live in a house that could support a smoker on the deck — but I have a , which is basically a computer fan that goes into the bottom, and it just controls the air. Those are your choices, I think, to make the thing more stable, more convenient, simpler, more Tuesday-night-compatible.

Which one do you think is the appropriate one for Big Green Egg? Are you going to sell a product like that that makes it more convenient? Which way do you think you would go?

I can add on a little bit more complexity. The space itself, core ceramics retain heat differently than metal. So there’s the vessel, there’s oxygen which you’ve been putting your finger on, both on the access to oxygen as well as the fan. There’s the charcoal that you use — how you start the fire and how you accelerate the fire. Those are the components that you can play with to make a fire. We already have a product in the market called the Egg Genius that is that fan that you described, and you can control that with your phone and be able to turn it on. I want it at 250, add more oxygen if I need it, maintain the oxygen if I don’t, and keep me at 250 for 18 hours.

I don’t want to have to get up in the middle of the night to check on it. We have an accessory like that. I think that those products are an accessory, so that you are not required to plug in your device, your core cooker unless you want to, need to. And that’s where I think I love… Jeremy [Andrus, Trager CEO] is a friend. I think Traeger is incredible for what they’ve done for the industry, but their product doesn’t work unless you plug it in, and that is not the way we’ve been cooking over live fire for 4,000 years. I don’t reject it, there’s a place for it, but I think you’re missing some of the core experience of lighting fire and creating real-life fire. I think carbonized wood is different than compressed sawdust, and I think you get a different flavor from it. I think the charcoal component adds flavor.

I have 11 grills, smokers, and pizza ovens at home. I’ve been studying… literally, this is what qualified me for the job. For 25 years, I’ve been studying how people put fire to food, literally buying out-of-print books. I’ve gone to 43 places around the world to learn how they do this art of putting fire to food. In that process, about 10 years ago, I got my Egg to complete part of my collection, and I have a place for all those different kinds of cookers. The only one I don’t have, and I may offend some of the audience or some of our partners out there, the only one I don’t have is a gas grill. I don’t think that there’s a role for gas. I don’t think it adds any flavor and the convenience that it brings to be able to press a button.

I would rather light a fire using propane than light my food using propane, and that’s what I think is a personal choice. I think that there’s a role for all of these spaces. This is a $25 billion industry globally, and there’s poor industry dynamics or metrics in this industry, but I’m going to take some data that McKinsey published. It’s a $25 billion industry. This should be a $250 billion industry, and the reason why is because there are too many occasions that are going to QSR, or fast casual, that should be happening in the home and should be happening outdoors. And so, I don’t think we’re going to split up the pie a little bit more with Traeger or Weber or Blackstone and be happy with that. We’ve got to grow the pie and take occasions away from places that they shouldn’t be. It’s finally this idea of a little bit of technology coming back into the kitchen in a positive way that doesn’t distract from the experience.

And I’m not just talking about cooking — I’m talking about curating what am I going to eat, how do I get the ingredients? How do I prep? I was an investor in this space when I left my last corporate gig, and I made about 10 or 15 investments in food tech. And so I’ve been around the hoop on the companies that are out there, and I believe that this is the next shift in how technology is going to make it a better human experience, but not make it easier faster so that food is fuel and I can forget about the experience. Most of your parties, not only in high school, college and now, they end in the kitchen for a reason. Your memories from childhood are about the meals that you had and the fight from your uncle who fell asleep at dinner and this other thing that happened and my grandmother’s recipes.

Food has been the anchor of civilization for hundreds of thousands of years, and I think in our angst to be able to focus on work and focus on other things, we’re losing that space for families, friends, and neighbors. And I use that “neighbor” very intentionally. I’m happy to talk more about that because there’s a loneliness epidemic that I think we could be… we may not be curing cancer, but I think we can help cure loneliness.

You’re a new CEO. You’ve been there a minute as president. What’s your org chart right now? How’s the company structured, and how do you want to change it now that you’re the CEO?

Our go-to market is also unique in the industry. We are the only major brand in the industry that has not decided to sell to big box [stores] or sell on Amazon or sell in the Costcos of the world. We have, over the last 50 years, worked with local distributors and local dealers. We have a partnership with Ace Hardware, but those are all local franchisees, and they’re local into your community. We believe a person pulling out their phone and saying, “This is what I cooked last weekend,” makes it a better customer experience where in some of those other venues, you can throw a rock and not hit a salesperson, just by the nature of the way that they’ve designed their go-to market. So that’s number one. We don’t sell the product directly. Even if you buy it online, which we do, you can go buy a Big Green Egg, we then send that order to a local dealer to fulfill.

I was a senior advisor at McKinsey on the future of food and restaurants. The first thing any of those big consultants will say is, “Oh, I know what to do. You cancel that guy, you take his margin, you reinvest it.” But we are then detrimental to the customer experience because this thing also… you want somebody to come and tell you how to use it and how to open it and get it out in your backyard. That’s what this experience is about.

But just to answer your question on how we’re designed, it’s first direction of the bus, then seats on the bus, then people in the seats. Direction of the bus is that we do not sell the product, and we don’t manufacture the product. We have partners for all three of those line segments that I mentioned: ceramics, accessories, and charcoal.

What we do do, and this is how I’ve designed the team, we do three things primarily. We design the product, and I have a product team. They report to me directly. It’s core to what we do. We market the product, and we are that community-driven brand, and it’s not just B2B companies that create communities of folks that love being part of this community. It’s also B2C communities. That marketing has also been revamped and reports to me. We have a third group in the accountability section of working with our manufacturer and working with our distributors and dealers. And I brought on the number two in command. That whole team reports to him. And so we’ve organized the company to really focus on those three things, and we have finance and accounting and the typical back office functions that support the overall team. But we are a much bigger brand than we are a team.

We are very light and agile because we have also, in a way, outsourced some of that work to manufacturing and the work to distributors and dealers — and we will continue to evolve. The thing that’s most important — I think tech companies didn’t invent it, but they’ve definitely popularized it — is bringing the customer into the center of that tripod. If I talk about the distributor, the dealer, the manufacturer, or the brand surrounding it, what I had to insert was, yeah, but we’re all revolving around the customer because now they do have more options, and they do… So we’re making changes. Before, from a customer service standpoint, one of the things that… Believing in our own team, we’d say, look on the weekends, our team’s home resting. Well, the reality is on the weekends you may need help with your cook. So we’re going to now extend off hours where we’ve got another team that can take your phone calls and emails on the weekends. So there’s some of these things that I think that tech companies can learn from more traditional companies and a lot of things that more traditional companies can teach tech companies.

You said it’s a small company. How many people is it?

We’re just coming up on 50 people.

And what is the revenue that those 50 people generate?

It’s a privately held company, it’s been that way for 50 years. Our owner is 90 years old and still owns it, so I can’t talk specifics, but we have less than 1 percent share being the third most recognized brand in the industry. I’ve been around a lot of fragmented industries, and that’s why I’m so, so optimistic about the growth ahead of the company. We are a well-known, loved brand. I wouldn’t be able to leave this episode without sharing with you one of the things that I have on my Google alerts is Big Green Egg referenced in people’s obituaries. I track this for ourselves and some of our competitors. We are the only brand that you get 300 words to talk about Aunt Jane, and three of those words are that she loved to cook for her family and friends on the Big Green Egg. That is rarefied air. People might love their Yeti, or they love Nike or Coca-Cola. They don’t reference it in their obituary. They don’t reference their Viking range in their obituary. They don’t reference any of our competitors in their obituary. They reference Big Green Egg because we’ve kind of transcended that spot.

Now on the flip side, while we celebrate that, I also need to make the tent bigger to include a demographic, more folks that are a bit the younger side. I don’t want all of our core customers aging out or passing away, so we’ve got to make the tent bigger. I think that first-time homeowner is going from an apartment to their first home in their early 30s or whenever it may be. I think that’s where we want to be, in there. And we don’t get into that consideration set unless we’re in their heads when they’re in their 20s, and we’re an aspirational brand in that context.

So, to answer the broader question specifically, we are much smaller. Could I take a shortcut and skip over our distributors and dealers and show up on those shortcuts that some of our competitors have done or some of our competitors show up in both places, in this hybrid? We would, but then we would be ignoring the person or the teams that brought us here. If the customer demands us to expand and evolve, we will, but I’d rather give them that customer experience that they value, that makes it a better experience of having a local person they can go ask and engage somebody from their community, from their neighborhood. That’s why we’ve defined this go-to market, and we’re going to stick with it.

You mentioned you’re 1 percent of the industry, which you said McKinsey is pegging it a $25 billion industry. Why not try to get to 5 percent instead of set your goal at 10x the whole industry?

I am referencing a longer-term goal. I do think, in the short term, we have an opportunity to grow our share with the products that we’ve got. But I don’t think this is, as I was describing, kind of a Coke-Pepsi battle, to be able to define it. I think that we can grow our share by just being top of mind with our core customers. 

When I came on, I started asking a question about the women. We have some great female [members] of our influencer community, and we have great fans and not only people that are using it, but people are making the decision, especially around all the big holidays, where Christmas or Father’s Day or some of those big holidays drive gifting, and there’s a lot of women involved in that decision as well as cooking on those decisions.

But when I looked at the gloves, we had these high-heat gloves that you can use so you don’t burn yourself. And the gloves were designed for bigger hands. They weren’t considered from a product design that a woman with smaller hands would use it or a man with smaller hands would use it. So I think that these are things that, from a product design view, we need to incorporate into our set. And that’s why reinforcement and taking down some of those stereotypes… now I’m a man. I enjoy cooking outdoors. I’ve been involved in food for my entire life. That’s what drew me to this opportunity. We don’t have to exclude men in order to include women. We don’t have to exclude 55-plus to include 30-plus.

A brand model example I’ve used internally is Harley-Davidson. They figured out a way that both Hells Angels and soccer moms fit under the same umbrella because they both believe in the open road. They can live different lives, but they believe in the open road, and we believe in gathering friends, family, and neighbors to cook over live fire. 

You can be of any age, any demographic. We’re in 50 countries, so you can be in a lot of different places around the world and share those same beliefs. That’s what we’re going to market with on our why, the “why, how, what” conversation. This is really the “why” of our brand. If we compete on the what or the how, it’s a race to the bottom. We can really occupy rarefied air on that why, that aspirational brand value that the company’s been known for. That’s why people choose to include it in the obituary when they’re talking about a loved one.

I feel like the CEO of Weber is going to read this and send the most insane KPI email to his team after this: “Increase obituary mentions.” I hope that happens, and if it does, please let me know.

You’ve talked about this quite a bit in sort of different ways, your various frameworks I think about things, but I’ll ask you directly. It’s the Decoder question. You’ve had a lot of jobs. You’ve had a lot of roles. You’ve talked about a lot of experiences. How do you make decisions? What’s your framework?

My framework is both bottom-up and tops-down. And I’ll include a third, which I call the game of chess. Let me explain each one.

From bottom-up, it is listening. The first thing I did when I took on the president role, I interviewed 86 individuals all across the organization, from the guy lifting the forklift to the owner of the company and everybody in between, and I asked everyone the same five questions. I had a professor in business school that literally wrote the book, The First 90 Days. I asked the same five questions to all 86. That was a strategy decision-making piece. I do the same when we go into a meeting. So it’s a bottoms-up to hear and listen from all those different perspectives and thus the importance of having diversity in all of its different forms in the room.

The tops-down comes from, nobody told Steve Jobs that the Walkman wasn’t working out and he needed to invest. There has to be a vision that, from my unique experiences in life, I can bring to the table and then make a decision. Now that’s the bottoms-up, tops-down is that first listen and then decide among the alternatives. And the biggest question when I’m trying to make a decision is if the team and I can both identify and mitigate the risks. There are risks and downsides to every decision. You can’t anticipate them all, but if you anticipate two or three of the biggest ones and then come up with a couple of plans to mitigate them, you can get yourself comfortable when you have incomplete information.

Let me talk about the chess game, which is a different analogy. When we’re onboarding, in finalist interviews — I’ve got interviews Friday, I need somebody to support me in an admin role. I sent them yesterday an exercise that says, “Hey, I have this idea. How would you execute it? And secondly, here’s the good, bad, and ugly of working with Dan. Here’s what I’ve learned about myself. Here’s so forth. Tell me about what it’s like to work with you.” One of the things that I put in my good, bad, and the ugly or the way that I like to work is that I want them to be playing their game of chess and moving me around their chess board rather than them being my pawn and I’m playing the game because I’m sitting up high.

If you are leading CRM on our team, CRM is owned by you, and if you need me to do something to remove an obstacle out of your way, push me to do it. And you don’t need to be leading CRM. You could be the analyst on CRM to be able to own that and feel like you’re playing. And that’s what I’ve done in my entire career. I was thinking through what I thought was my game of chess even though I was clearly not in the most visible position of leadership in the company. So, I try to create that environment. I’m upfront with every person in the organization that you’re playing a game of chess and you’re moving around folks, getting influence and leverage on your relationship so you can get help from the customer service team or the product team or marketing so that you can accomplish your goals, which go up to the company goals, and I like that. I like that active, ambitious style of growth.

Something I learned at McDonald’s, and this is working for a guy that’s got 2,400; he’s the largest franchisee in the world of McDonald’s. He was a mentor of mine from when I started my nonprofit in Latin America right out of college, and then we developed a relationship over the years, and he finally said, “Hey, I need some help thinking through digital for our couple thousand McDonald’s in 20 countries.” His advice was: Occupy the space. We are a company that if it’s not defined who’s going to do it, you should put yourself in and occupy that space. Not run away with it and leave everyone else behind, but occupy that space, and when management and leadership give you that permission, good things start to happen.

That’s how a franchisee of McDonald’s gets to 2,500 restaurants — because he’s thinking through scale and growth and bringing people on, who’ve been there for 25 years. It was an incredible experience. I didn’t think McDonald’s would have such a shift on my way of thinking as it did. I went from Google to being a FinTech CEO, venture-backed, one of the first ones at Silicon Valley invested in Latin America. And then I went to McDonald’s thinking that this was an old-school company and I would be there for a year or two at the max. I ended up staying for five years and continually learned and reinvented myself and realized that the food industry is where my future would be, and I think I finally found my place to leave a legacy here at Big Green Egg.

I want to talk about that Google experience and the McDonald’s experience together in kind of the next piece of the puzzle here, which is Google is an advertising company. You led some aspects of Google’s advertising and television and its growth in other markets. What it does is it goes and finds people with interests and targets them relentlessly until they convert into a purchase.

Big Green Egg markets itself at the high end. It’s one of the more luxury products in this market. People know it; you have this enormous mind share for the brand. It’s hard to convert, right? For the reasons you’ve said, you send people to local distributors, you have this extremely hands-on approach to selling the product and supporting the product.

One of the biggest decisions I imagine you’re facing is that the McKinseys and the private equity companies of the world are showing up at your door and saying, “Let’s just blow this out. Let’s just make all of the money.” How do you resist that pressure?

This is a tribute to the prior two CEOs who were in my seat, because they got multiple calls a week to be able to do exactly that. And the company held out not for the quick buck or for the… even if you would say euphemistically, they could have all that capital to grow. They took the slower route to growth because they believe the core values. This would be a pump and dump. We’ll grow, and literally by the definition of private equity, they have LPs that need to get out over a period of time, and they only get out with liquidity. You could say in a strategic acquisition you’ll be around doing the same thing. They always say that in the courting period, very few times does that happen in fruition, and this company did not want to be one of those other companies, roadkill by the side.

And so they took a slower route to growth. They took a slower path. It’s been organic. There’s never been any external investors, really very little debt on the business. This has been very much a business that’s really grown out of people’s backyards. I wanted to make a connection to say, “How does Google’s business have anything to do with how Google converts and makes money to how Big Green Egg does?” There is a moment at Google, when they turn information into advertising is how they make money. You’re searching for something, and the right information pops up, and because it looks like information, you click on it and get a good experience, and that ad quality score and all that stuff, every SEM / SEO guy knows it’s great. What happens in our experience is that people are over for a Thanksgiving meal — they’re over in their backyard or their neighbor and they try the food and they say, “That was incredible.”

This is the biggest word of mouth advertiser or brand a customer acquisition that I’ve ever seen. It’s always been. A couple of our competitors, as you’ve mentioned, are public, so we see how much they spend on advertising. We are literally outspent 50:1, and yet, the same kind of affinity for the brand doesn’t exist because it is the people that are proselytizing the brand. My job in our marketing orientation right now, the playbook that we’re running, is to convene that cult, recognize and reward them. I do not want to turn it into a transaction and affiliate codes and “how do I make an extra buck?” Customers see right through that.

This is what I’m asking about. The comparison for me to Google and McDonald’s and everything else is that Google makes it very easy to buy something, right? It determines your interest, it tracks you, it shows you an ad for a thing you’re interested in. The click-to-purchase is right there. It is almost all modern commerce. It’s just very easy. McDonald’s is famously very convenient and easy. You can ask Siri to order you McDonald’s at this point.

Big Green Egg is hard. Almost at every step, there’s another set of decisions you have to make. Even, “I’m going to light a fire and wait 15 minutes” is another decision that you’re setting yourself up for. It’s more expensive than a $200 Weber kettle or whatever. How do you resist the pressure to grow by compromising on the difficulty of the product? Because that, to me, is the most interesting piece of the puzzle here.

The answer to your question is that we have a set of core values. If you look at any of this stuff — [Jim] Collins and [Jerry] Porras from Built to Last to Good to Great — the definition of core values is, something you’re willing to… it may be the reason why you fail and yet most often it’s the reason why you succeed.

But if I look at your competitors and particularly the newer competitors that have exploded in popularity — I’ll pick Traeger and Blackstone just because they were on the show. But there’s Ooni, right? You mentioned pizza several times. Although Ooni is very difficult; my sister gets mad at her Ooni all the time.

But what they are selling is, you just have to turn it on. You have to plug in your Traeger, the Auger will spin, the pellets will go, and this thing is going to make a brisket perfect every time. With Blackstone, you can make a Smashburger at home. You’re not really worried about a griddle. You just clean up, and you’re done. Ooni, again, they promise you a pizza; whether or not that’s easy — different story. But they are selling a particular kind of transaction. You pay money, you get convenience. You might get a viral TikTok or two out of it.

That isn’t quite where Big Green Egg is. Do you see the pressure on that? Do you feel that pressure? Do you say that’s just not for us at all? Or is that: “Hey, we’ve got to market to younger people. We have a new head of product. We need to make something that’s a little bit easier, a little bit less expensive, to grow that younger audience and bring them up the chain toward the more expensive one when they get older”?

I mentioned that Goldilocks moment. I’m not too hot, not too cold. This is an example of it. I think our accessories are in a place to make it easier and make it more consistent and make it even more predictable and so forth. We have a role to play in that, and it exists, and we’re getting better at it. Now, on the flip side, if you look at this — it’s happening in the restaurant industry, it’s happening in retail, it’s happening in entertainment, and it’s happening in the grill industry — there’s a bifurcation between experience and convenience, and getting caught in the middle is where a lot of the chains that are getting killed in restaurant industry or retailers are getting killed. It’s really not that great of an experience, and it’s really not that convenient. So, you get caught in the middle.

We are going to be on the side. If that’s a one in a 10, we are on the side of experience. And I will forego revenue or that quick buck because we are going to be the best experience and the best memory creator. That’s been our legacy to get from zero to 50 years, and it’ll be our legacy and my job to take it from 50 to 70 to 100 years to go forward. So while I don’t think we’re going to be a one where it’s like, “go start a fire in your backyard with a bunch of wood, we have accessories to make it easier,” I think we’re going to be on the side of experience with some accessories. So, when you choose, “You know what, it’s a Tuesday night, I got to get dinner on the table in 20 minutes,” you can get dinner on the table in 20 minutes.

Now if you say you need to do it in five minutes, we’re probably not the best solution for that. And that’s something we’ve got to… you can’t have core values and be everything to everybody. So, our core values… and I don’t want it to be an hour. I don’t want it to be 30 minutes. I think that’s where most people jump. “Oh, that’s so much of a hassle.” I think we have a marketing story to tell that it’s actually not that big of a hassle. It’s not that big of a deal. We can continue to evolve it, but it’s an experience, and I think people yearn for those experiences. Coming back to the Sam Altman comment, I think it’s going to become more important going forward.

One example, I looked at this when I was at McKinsey. If you look at major innovations in the kitchen industry, if you want to try to find a product that’s gone over 80 or 90 percent adoption in the kitchen, the only product you can find looking back over the last 100 years is the microwave oven. The latest one, the last 100 years. And people say, “No, no, no. I love my air fryer, and I love my Vitamix, and I love…” all those are great products. None of them have gotten over 70, 80 percent. And the reason that the microwave oven was able to do that… In 1962, it launched. In 1982, it only had 10 percent household penetration. By 1992, it had 90 percent. And the way that it did it was hot dogs in 30 seconds. It went the convenience route to get penetration. Now what’s happened, and you’ve seen this from David Chang and some other folks say, “Wow, the microwave is actually a more sophisticated cooking device than people give it credit for.”

And because they’ve never been able to… but people won’t… I met the executive chef for Ferrari North America, he’s an Italian. Right from Italy, a famed chef, he cooks for Ferrari; he makes his pasta in the microwave. And people think, “Oh my God, it’s pasta.”

You just got the executive chef of Ferrari excommunicated.

He does this at their corporate event. He tastes his pasta, and it’s fantastic. It’s fantastic! So, I think a lot of companies made a lot of money, continue to make money for microwaves, but they’ve kind of painted themselves into a corner by taking a low margin, we’re going to make it easy and simple. There’s nobody talking about how much they love their microwave. That doesn’t show up in their obituary. This doesn’t exist.

And so I think part of that work that’s required, I think we can make it easier. I’m not saying that we have to make you run a gauntlet to be able to cook for your friends and family. I think we can bring it down and make it easier, and that’s what our product team is for. But there is going to be some time invested, and I think people are yearning for it. I think you are looking for a place to disconnect so that you can reconnect.

When you think about that growing market — it’s millennials, it’s women, it’s people who are just coming into homeownership. They might not have all the money for your high-end products. Are you thinking, “Okay, we’ve got to make new products for them that are simpler and easier”? Are you talking about expansion of the product line, or is it that accessory line that sort of uses tech to make the core experience simpler?

This is what we learned from McDonald’s in Latin America. McDonald’s in Latin America is an aspirational brand. Latin America has one of the highest street stall indexes in the world. Even surpassing, as a region, Asia, so like informal street food throughout Latin America is hugely… So, McDonald’s goes to a competitor with a guy or a woman and  their family opening up the trunk of their car selling incredible food, and they don’t pay rent, they don’t pay taxes, they don’t pay anything. That whole segment. So, what McDonald’s does do is make it an experience that’s great value for the money, and that’s different than making it cheap. I hear this one all the time; but the Weber co… I’m sorry, by name… lower, the charcoal kettle grill costs 200, 300 bucks. I can buy it at the grocery store. That’s right. And within two or three years, you’re going to be buying another one.

And because it’s going to rust out, it’s not going to be protected from the elements, you are buying when you’re stepping up. This equivalent product for a Big Green Egg could be 1,000 bucks or 1,200 bucks, but you’re buying one that you’re going to pass down to your kids. And so that is a decision that I think it’s up to marketing to tell those stories and to engage in that and to be able to create… Like I said, this is creating an inclusive brand tent, but it’s not for everybody. If you think it is a hassle to host friends and family and neighbors, there’s other products. Nobody cooks on a Big Green Egg for themselves.

But when you look at the segment of — let’s just pick millennials. They’re coming into homeownership at higher and higher rates now. It is the biggest generation that is coming into that kind of ownership. Famously, millennials destroy everything in their wake, right? There was story after story 10, 15 years ago when millennials were coming into the workforce.

Now they’re , and they’re largely choosing cities, or they’re choosing more walkable places to live. They’re not choosing big suburban houses, necessarily. Okay, well now you’ve got to sell a product for a deck on an apartment. Is that a different product than the Big Green Egg you have today?

I think over a period of time, it will be. We could expand under the Big Green Egg umbrella, things that are not an Egg. I think all of the things will be related to live fire, so you’ll still have to contend with the smoke. I think there is technology that would be able to draft out the smoke or figure out a way of dispersing that and turning it vape or whatever you may do. So I think there’s an opportunity not only to expand in the outdoor market but to eventually go indoors. But what’s important is having that relationship and trust with the customer so that you can expand and that, when you talk about quality, one of our core values is to never settle on quality, and that is quality of our relationships, whether it’s our go-to market, quality of our products, quality of our communications. And if we’ve fallen down, it’s because we didn’t hold ourselves to that bar and we brought ourselves back up to that core value.

I think millennials catch too much… There’s a lot of positive… they’re values-driven. They want to believe in the why of the company. They want to have an impact. They’re asking questions about “Is this the life cycle of the product?” All of those things we can talk about. I think about our capital structure and the way that the future of our company will be the only one in our industry to kind of follow a Patagonia model of being able to be owned by a foundation for the future and preserve these core values as a result and the profits being reinvested on our purpose. What it allows us to do is have regenerative capital — capital that goes back into the business versus extractionary capital. That’s what I think, and — I’ve been part of it. I went to Harvard Business School. My classmates are in private equity and hedge funds. It’s all about extraction. And we’ve condoned that, and I think we need to be talking about regeneration.

I wrote my thesis in college on enlightened capitalism 25 years ago and that there’s a model of capitalism where you can do well by doing good. I feel I’m in a position 25 years later to execute on that plan and walk the talk. And that is not about being perfect. It’s about getting better. That’s on our environmental footprint, that’s on how we treat our employees. That’s how we treat our shareholders, all the different stakeholders. I do not profess we are or ever will be perfect, but I can tell you we will have a plan to get better in our relationships with all those stakeholders.

Big Green Egg is interesting as a company. It’s privately held. There’s a foundation that will allow it to keep going without the pressure of the public markets. How does that work?

Our founder turned 90 years old as the company turned 50 years old. Another story of starting a business when he was 40 years old and being a mid-career entrepreneur. And he still owns it; it’s still privately held. The plan for his estate and his legacy is that his shares would pass to this foundation. There are a lot of different models and, luckily, a lot of different companies that we are looking to for inspiration. One of them is Newman’s Own, and Newman’s Own actually changed the tax code to allow for a foundation to own 100 percent of a company. Another model, which is a variant of it, is Patagonia, where they have both a trust and a foundation that the trust benefits. 

Luckily, [Ed Fisher] is in great health. We are going to transition this in his lifetime so that he can see the benefit of his legacy live on. And so the benefit of the profits, when you are supporting Big Green Egg and the Big Green Egg community, you’re supporting a purpose that goes beyond a product. And that’s the legacy that we want to leave behind. So that’s how we’re going to be structured.

Currently, it’s the model we’re moving toward, and we’ve got all the intentions of being around for the next 50 years and 100 years beyond that because people believe in what we believe: cooking for their friends, family, neighbors over live fire.

What’s the timeline on getting to the foundation model?

It’s not years nor weeks. We’re just right now in that process. This is the kind of thing you want to measure twice and cut once. We are literally talking to the folks that designed it at Patagonia and designed it at Newman’s Own and trying to learn the pros and cons of each model. If we were going to sell for the quick buck, that would’ve already happened. This is a situation where Ed Fisher and his foundation, The Ed Fisher Foundation, really are mission-driven around making sure Big Green Egg holds on to its unique way of doing business for generations to come.

When you think about how products are marketed online today, it’s fandom-based, it’s community-based, Reddit and TikTok and people talking about it. You’ve talked a lot about your customers evangelizing your own product or people just eating the food and thinking, “Okay, I’ve got to get one of these.”

Is that your channel? Are you thinking about the communities that have formed around the product and how you need to serve them directly? I’ll give you one example. Roger [Dahle] from Blackstone was on the show, and I asked him the same question. I was like, “Look: in the pandemic, I saw a million TikToks about Blackstones. I’m assuming this is your biggest channel.” And he was like, “No, no, it’s still TV ads.”

There’s a split there between sort of what is perceived online and then the actual things that work. Do you have the same sort of split, or is it that online fandom, that community that’s still driving it?

The moment of truth where people do research and try the food, then they look online, then they see it in a store, and so forth. I think most of our decisions and interest in the Egg happen before they go into the store, and then people want to go to talk to somebody who’s an expert. And that’s why we’ve created this authentic experience in a local independent [seller] in your neighborhood. To get to the question around how we think about marketing, you asked me how I designed the broader team. Let me talk to you about how I designed the marketing team. The playbook here is: direction of the bus, seats of the bus, and people on the seats. This is a “seats on the bus” conversation.

First, you decide what you’re going to do in house and what you’re going to do outside the building. What are you going to turn to agencies for? What are you going to turn to tech tools for? Where do you buy, build, or partner? So, that’s the first filter on that. The second is the design of the team itself. Specifically on the marketing team, we call it our brand pyramid where we look at our different constituents, and each role that we’ve remapped is to manage one of those constituents.

As an example, a close friend of mine from… I just saw her two weeks ago, at my 20-year reunion, and we sat on a panel together, she’s the COO of Reddit. We have an enormously engaged Reddit community. And in a good way, we have not participated because it’s organic and it’s not commercial. And in a bad way, we have not participated. We have not been learning and listening from that community and incorporating.

We just remapped a role that’s going to be responsible for those social media channels. And they’re going to not be like, “Can I come up with a quippy thing to say on Twitter — or, sorry, X — but can I engage in this community? Can I curate this community?” This is a playbook out of B2B. That’s how a lot of B2B companies are set up. Like, who is the person managing whatever accounting software, and how do I create communities of those people that manage accounting software? We’re doing that within, so there’s a community manager if you will, around some of our social channels. We have a community manager around our Egghead community, which is these millions of fans and being able to communicate directly with them. So, independent of how you bought it through a distributor or a dealer, you’d be able to have a direct communication with the brand.

I have a different community. Those trained salespeople that I referenced, we have 15,000 of them around the United States; 15,000 people have gone through training, participate, maybe have an Egg at home. They’re part of this community. We’re now communicating directly with them, so we’re not only getting from them, but we’re giving to them or pushing, but we’re pulling. That’s where I’m going to get a lot of the insights. They’re a lot closer to the customer. We have literally designed our whole team around these communities of folks.

I think we are one of the original and still one of the most authentic cult-like brands that exist. And we needed to figure out a way to curate, if you will, that cult and be able to communicate and recognize that cult. I don’t think that cult wants a discount. That cult wants recognition. They want to be part of something exclusive. They want to feel special. That’s why we’re hiring a behavioral scientist. Those are not transactional CPA acronyms. Those are things that are bigger and more important than what traditional marketers would do.

It sounds like that’s a really great opportunity. You’ve got this devoted base of fans who use the product in ways that maybe surprise you, that have feelings that maybe you can study with a new behavioral scientist and you can really spin that flywheel faster.

Another way of looking at it is that you have what I always think of as the Microsoft Excel problem, which is you have power users who expect the product to work exactly the way it’s going to work and to grow or to attract new users or to make it more accessible, you’re going to have to piss them off somehow. You can see even a newer, simpler use Big Green Egg might piss off the power users.

Do you think about that challenge that your community right now looks and acts one way? It is largely older, it’s largely male, and you want to grow into younger people, and you want to get more women using the product, and you might have to make some concessions that irritate them.

It’s a real issue. It exists. I also think that there is a presumption that there’s kind of reference to this case, back to [Jim] Collins on the tyranny of the “or” — that it’s got to be one or the other. I think there are examples where people create an “and” — they’re able to reinforce the core customer, and they’re able to expand the usage. 

I think if you put it around a “what,” you’re always going to come back to: Does it have an auger? Does it not? How does the fan work? That’s the what. If you focus on the why and the beliefs… if what 32-year-old female who’s buying her first home has in common with the 58-year-old male that they both believe in entertaining their family and friends, they come together, and they can use… maybe the 58-year-old wants or doesn’t want the technology. Maybe that 32-year-old wants or doesn’t want the accessory, but the core is around that belief. 

I’ve gotten a lot of feedback saying, “Yeah, but you’re growing the industry for other people in ceramic cookers, or you’re growing the industry for other people that are in this.” And this is where the 10x of the industry versus the 5x of our share. I’m fine with doing that. I think that there are more people that have to understand and really discover this isn’t a teaching, but we as a species have acted like this for thousands of years. We’ve only acted the way that we think is normal for two or three generations, so let’s not get lost in the sands of time that everything is take out and easy and convenience and millennials only care about this. That’s the easy fortune cookie summary of what’s going on.

There’s a broader thing. Look, when the radio came out, people said, “Oh my god, it’s the end of newspapers.” And when the TV came out… and look, all those things have shifted in media, clearly, but they still all exist. And that’s only entertainment! Sorry, I get a little nerdy here, but the Maslow pyramid — at the base of it is being able to eat breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack every day or your life. You can only do it in two places. You either do it inside the home, prepare food inside, or prepare food outside. That’s it. You get to choose. In the United States, 60 percent of the occasions are inside the home, and it’s 40 percent of your budget. And then 40 percent and 60 percent for outside the home. I think that we can make it easier, healthier, and better to inside and outdoors of the home but inside the home environment to make that experience better.

That’s my set of beliefs. Now I’m the first person to go to a restaurant for that special occasion or I’m in a city or I’m traveling. Clearly, there are occasions and restaurants will continue to dominate, but there are certain occasions that the outdoor kitchen needs to claim because food does taste better outside, I’ll tell you that. And the home itself needs to evolve and adapt to make it easier for people to feed their friends, family, and neighbors.

A lot of the companies who come on the show, that I think of as hardware companies, I ask them about their investment in software. And they say something along the lines of, “It’s dwarfing our investment in the hardware.”

You have a Wi-Fi product, right? The fan for the egg. It has Wi-Fi. You probably have to call some developers to make that thing. You’ve talked about other kinds of tech that you might develop. Is that a tension there? Do you see yourself saying, “Oh boy, we’re going to have to start maintaining the software for our temperature controller over time,” and that will just be an endless cost with no revenue associated with it?

Now here comes back to the typical build, buy, or partner. And we go, and the decisions we’ve made to date — and I think they’re the right ones — is to partner. We have a third-party developer who’s responsible for that Wi-Fi app. We have a third party for that digital thermometer, that wireless thermometer. I think that those things are changing so quickly. We will need to continue to analyze it as it… build, buy, or partner. What is the best way—

But even that’s a cost, right? So you’ve got an app.

iOS 18 just came out, and now there’s a bunch of AI in the iPhone, and you need to update the app intents of your app, so you can just talk to Siri and tell it to control… Someone has to go do that work and you got to pay for it, whether that person works for you or works for someone else. Is that a cost that you’re thinking about recouping in terms of subscription fees? Is that just built into the business? How are you organizing that?

I think that there is a model where people… look, what people are willing to pay for and the most scalable of these recurring revenues is content, access. I think that there is a model down the road. I don’t think we’re there in the short term. Down the road where there’s access to content that you would be able to… where software bridges into the hardware and you make it easier. Some of the investments I made in my food tech investment career were along those lines. I think that those are going to happen in commercial instances first before they happen in residential. I think we’re five or 10 years away from that in a residential, so the answer is I am not betting on that in the short term for the company.

We made reference to the size of the company. You go down this route, your call center on a shift may be bigger than our entire company, so this is where you have to make tradeoffs. I was talking about the seats on the bus — what you’re willing to outsource or what you want to do in-house. I believe that we need to own the design, the marketing. Our purpose-driven efforts, which is what I was describing, makes us different, and we need to own that accountability of the channel, both backward to our manufacturers and forward to distributors and dealers.

To vertically integrate more than that, we don’t need to tip over the apple cart in order to grow. I do think that this is a 50-year playbook. Literally, you don’t get enough. Because of equity structures, you’re not allowed to think over a longer period of time. I can tell you this idea of being owned by a foundation and then a regenerative capital, that is something a lot of our competitors are willing to do. A lot of the things to copy us, very few will follow us down that path, and that is something that makes us not only unique but is core to the value system of the company.

I think having a longer-term view to be able to make decisions that are in the best interest of the community of folks that believe what we believe is our core competitive advantage. To answer your question, technology is an enabler of the experience but is not the experience. You have a lot of other places in your life — you searching on Google and figuring out, send me that book that I ordered, or whatever it may be — where convenience and technology trump. This is the place in your life you’re going to want to go to be around fire again, to be around an experience. It takes a little bit more. We can’t overstep it, but it takes a little bit more time. And for the folks that are like, “I don’t want to do that; that’s too much work,” you are not going to be part of this community.

I have room on the bus for everybody, but you’ve got to decide to come on the bus. And if you don’t, we’re not the brand for you. You want to replace your product every two years? Go buy that product. We are not that product. Yeah, we’re more expensive. You’re making a lifetime investment. We’ll stand by that for a lifetime, but we are not going to go to the lowest common denominator because we have an investor group that needs to get out the LPs. We have a quarterly earnings call, and we’re down. We have a strategic acquirer that this is no longer their priority. We don’t have to make those short-term decisions. And I respect all the folks in our industry. I’m in it as a passionate lover of the space. I study this as my hobby, but we do not… I think a lot of them have been forced to make short-term decisions that are putting the long-term customer experience at risk.

You mentioned recurring revenue. We’ve talked about it a bunch of times, Traeger sells pellets, Blackstone, I think Roger told me they sell a lot of accessories like spatulas and stuff, because you can buy all new stuff for a griddle like that. Weber, you just got to buy a new one every three years. What’s your recurring revenue? Is your growth plan, “We’re going to sell more grills to more people,” or, “We’re going to sell more stuff to existing grill owners?”

Both. We do have space to grow on the Eggs because, given the nature of folks that feel like, “It’s a lot of work, I can’t do it,” I think we can… like I said, we can recoup a lot of that group. I don’t think we’ll get everybody, but there’s a lot of that group that we can get back. And so I think there is an opportunity to grow in the ceramics. From a recurring revenue standpoint, we believe in fuel and accessories. So you’re not buying new furniture, but we have a mod system where you add on where you house it, and then you add on another table, and you add on another. We do have a lot of folks that buy a larger grill, and then they want to buy a smaller one. We have seven sizes.

This would be absolutely the mistake that I would make.

I got stopped in the airport. I put this up on my LinkedIn. The stewardess on the plane, she’s got four Eggs at home. And the entire flight from South Africa to Atlanta was about what she likes to cook and pictures of what she did for her family. This is an experience that you don’t get from any other… even a rabid fan base, you don’t get the same. To answer your question, our recurring revenue, there are spices and rubs and the spatula piece. There is charcoal, which is a big piece. Our charcoal is at a quality that’s consistent with the quality of our ceramics. And I think that is an opportunity to grow.

I think that the bigger opportunity is to put more people under the umbrella, be a more inclusive brand, be able to get away from this tyranny of the “or,” of either it’s hard and old-school or it’s easy and new. I think that that’s a tradeoff that I’m unwilling to accept, and I think that is what’s going to make us — either I’ll be out of a job in a couple years, or we’ll be really successful, but I’m going to stick with that plan.

You’re never going to lock in DRM charcoal. I see this from other companies, where they’re like, “We have a proprietary fuel that only works in ours.” We had Keurig famously DRM the pods, right? You don’t see that coming?

Not in our plan. I think we should have a quality of product, and it can be a great customer experience similar to… But you could put firewood on a Big Green Egg. You could put charcoal on a Big Green Egg. You can put natural briquettes on a Big Green Egg. They’re just going to create more ash, but that’s the nature of briquettes. But you’re not going to put artificial briquettes on a Big Green Egg. You’re not going to put lighter fluid on a Big Green Egg. All you’re going to do is damage your Egg, and you’re going to damage your food. Who wants that in their food?

There’s a great quote from Danny Meyer, the eternal restaurateur I got to know a little bit over the years. Danny says, “The customers aren’t always right — they just need to feel heard.” So, we are hearing they may not be right. “Oh, I just want charcoal and light a fire. That’s what I want.” We hear you, but this isn’t the place for it. I don’t think we need to lower the standard to let more people in. I think we’ve got to make it more aspirational to be part of the standard that we’re at.

Dan, thank you so much for giving us all this time. Happy Fourth of July.

Happy Fourth of July to you as well! I hope you’re all cooking on whatever apparatus you have in your backyard, but I really hope it’s a Big Green Egg.

Decoder with Nilay Patel /

A podcast from The Verge about big ideas and other problems.

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