Parlaying a Passion Into a Startup
“I always have a passion for food and cooking, and I think cooking is a great way to explore a different culture. I started cooking [when] I was very young. I learned from my grandma. But, the reason I got into the business is actually because I'm a very curious person. I'm very much into technology,” Cao says. His chief interest, however, is in material technology and primarily, a NASA-invented material, which is what sparked his interest in starting a knife company.
He explains, “The product is created because of my [interest] in material science and design. I joined a California-based startup team focusing on bring[ing] a NASA-invented material to the knife industry and began to get to know the industry and supply chain more. In the meanwhile, my decades [long] career in marketing, brand strategy, and brand design give me the ability to look at design and engineering with new perspectives.” However, it wasn’t simply his interest in the material that drove him to launch Hast. “I couldn't find a knife that's strong in design without compromising on its performance, usability, or price. So, I gave it a try and started to design Hast knives from scratch.”
Developing a Product That Does More Than Just Cut
Across all cultures, preparing food is important not just for nutrient intake but for keeping traditions alive. Elliot Cao argues that it extends even beyond that: “I think cooking is fundamental to living, it's also fundamental to sustainability, and I feel like there's a lot to actually [learn from] cooking. You have that moment, you can experience different cultures, you experience different cultures through food and cooking.” Cao says, “We want to offer a solid product that ... can elevate the experience. We want to make the tour easier [and] make the design more relevant to current living style, which is more modern, more suitable to streamlined kitchen design.”
In addition to making more modern, sleekly designed knives and cookware, Hast also breaks the mold in terms of material to make a more user-friendly knife, “Any knife can be very sharp at the very beginning, but the key is how can you stay sharp for a longer period of time so that as an everyday consumer, you don't need to worry about how to sharpen your knives.” Cao says, explaining the choice of material used for Hast’s knives, “That's why we used powder steel because normally affordable knives are made of stainless steel. They can be sharp, but because they're not hard enough, they need constant sharpening.”
For Cao, however, it isn’t only about creating products that customers will love; it is about building something he is proud of, “I think the key is to have a product that you believe in so that you can focus, and you can overcome the challenges, and you can have that drive to learn in multiple fields.”