Whirlpool, the 108-Year-Old Startup

Quick – when you think of Whirlpool, what’s the first thing that pops into your mind? Probably a bunch of appliances, right? Most of us know Whirlpool as a company that makes refrigerators, ovens, microwaves, dishwashers, washers, dryers, etc.

Well, a funny thing is happening to all those appliances. Today many come equipped with sensors and WiFi connectivity. They’ve turned “smart.” And what does that mean? It means that there is no such thing as a stand-alone appliance anymore. All of them are now service portals, connected to user-informed networks that are getting smarter and better all the time.

This is what Jason Mathew, Senior Director of Global Connected Strategy said at a recent Subscribed event:

Our definition of “product” is changing. We’ve been selling “boxes” that perform important daily tasks for consumers for over a hundred years. “Boxes” that get hot to cook. Boxes that get cold to preserve food. Boxes that spin water to clean. Our opportunity goes well beyond performing tasks. We believe the everyday acts of care in cooking or cleaning will always be easier, better and faster with our brands.

This is no longer the same Whirlpool you know. Look at what Whirlpool is doing with their ovens. Lots of times, cooking can feel like a chore, especially after a long day. There are a lot of pain points involved: I don’t know what I want to eat, I don’t know what’s in the fridge, I’m terrified of what’s in the fridge, I’ve got this recipe but I’m missing a bunch of stuff, etc. The whole experience is littered with friction, which helps explain the instant ramen market.

Today, Whirlpool’s Smart ovens integrate to a popular recipe app called Yummly, which helps you find recipes, organize grocery shopping, streamline meal preparation, and then automatically syncs up all the temperature settings and cooking times. Like Peloton and Fender, Whirlpool is wrapping compelling content and analytics around top-class hardware to create really amazing subscriber experiences. They’re solving for an end to end cooking experience.

So instead of selling just an oven, they’re selling a gourmet cooking service. Instead of a washing machine, they’re selling services that also enable you save energy, order detergent or get help getting a stain out. And all of those services improve with engagement.

In the same way that you don’t just buy a single Tesla, you buy the collective intelligence of every single Tesla on the road, you don’t really buy a single Whirlpool microwave anymore. You buy the activity-generated insights of every connected Whirlpool microwave out there, so that the popcorn gets popped just right.

Now imagine what it takes to create all these new solutions, to drive all this change. It’s not easy! Suddenly, Whirlpool has to account and organize for user activity. They have a whole new NASA Mission Control’s worth of data to sort through and analyze. They have to empower their back office to grow service revenue. They probably have to adjust their go-to-market strategy.

In addition to looking at their appliance sales figures, today the management at Whirlpool is looking at connected cooking sessions, recipe popularity, shopping list activity, etc. They’re working on grocery planning and delivery features that are going to be interacting with your connected refrigerator as much as your connected oven. They are re-imagining their company as a service provider.

Of course, this is a much bigger story. We’re in the very early stages of an IoT revolution that is quickly going to result in double-digit gains in global productivity, output, and growth. As I say in the book, thanks to sensors and connectivity, the manufacturing industry is going to become like “the old man who wakes up to find himself young again.”

Whirlpool started out as the Upton Machine Company in Benton Harbor, Michigan in 1911. This is a legendary American company that’s suddenly acting and executing like a young start-up. It’s really exciting.


For more insights from Zuora CEO Tien Tzuo, sign up to receive the Subscribed Weekly here. The opinions expressed in the Subscribed Weekly are his own, not those of the company. The companies mentioned in this newsletter are not necessarily Zuora customers.

And check out his book SUBSCRIBED: Why the Subscription Model Will be Your Company’s Future – and What to Do About It.

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