So Wang turned to online sales, trying to sell the Instant Pot everywhere from Amazon to eBay and electronics retailer Newegg, as well as Instant Brands' own website.
"It turned out Amazon is the perfect marketplace for us, because we get reviews from customers and those reviews really help us to determine what we need to do in the next iteration of the product," Wang tells CNBC Make It.
Instant Pot made its first Amazon sale in November 2010 for $140. Wang says he still remembers how ecstatic he was to think that someone believed in his product enough to buy it on Amazon. "It brings tremendous joy," he says.
Sales on Amazon started to trickle in, with about one or two units moving per day at first, and then within three months that increased to roughly 30 sales per day. "And then we shift our attention to Amazon entirely," Wang says.
It was in 2011 that Wang started religiously reading every single customer review of the Instant Pot on Amazon. Last year, he told CNBC Make It that he'd read nearly 40,000 Amazon reviews for his products, and it's a practice he continues to this day, though Wang says now he's lost count of the total number of reviews he's read.
In one case, in 2012, Wang read a review from a user who suggested that Instant Pot add a yogurt-making feature. When Wang added that function to the popular Duo series Instant Pot, he made sure to track down the reviewer and send him a free model, "as a token of gratitude," he says. (The Duo is now the most popular Instant Pot model, Wang says, and "millions have been sold.")
"They are honest customers telling us what they like, what they hate and what they wish for," Wang says of the customer reviews. "Those are the three key parameters that we always take into account in designing the next iteration of Instant Pot."
In 2011, Wang introduced the second-generation Instant Pot, which included a saute function. That version also featured a remodeled interface, because some customers had been confused by the earlier generation's mysteriously blinking dashes when the Instant Pot was plugged in. Wang made sure that later models clearly displayed "On" or "Off" to let users know whether their Instant Pot is cooking or not.
It was that second-generation Instant Pot — the Lux 6-in-1 Multi-Use Programmable Pressure Cooker, which also sold for $140 — that made Wang's company profitable. The updated device became an Amazon best-seller in the multicooker category by the summer of 2012, selling 2,000 units per month, Wang says.
But there was much more to come.
In 2015, Instant Pot launched its Facebook page because Wang "realized we need additional engagement with our end users, getting feedback [and] understanding what they use Instant Pot for," he says, plus he chose to rely primarily on word-of-mouth promotion because he had such a limited budget and he wanted to spend the bulk of it on the product. He felt Instant Pot could have the potential to go viral, so he also sent a few hundred free devices to a list of food bloggers with large followings and celebrity chefs to help get some exposure. By the following summer, in 2016, the buzz around Instant Pot had grown to a fever pitch.
That led to Instant Pot's true breakthrough moment, when Amazon sold out all 215,000 of its Instant Pot inventory on Prime Day that July. Wang remembers the day well: Though he'd worked with Amazon for months to plan for the sale, it felt "unreal" and "very unnerving," he says.
Each subsequent Prime Day has also been a banner sales period for Instant Pot, as has the Black Friday through Cyber Monday sales period after Thanksgiving in the U.S., Wang says. However, he also notes that the revenue from those periods does not account for a lopsided amount of his company's total annual sales, suggesting that Instant Pot products sell relatively briskly year-round. (Amazon did not respond to requests to comment for this article.)
There are now roughly 10 versions of the Instant Pot for sale on Instant Brands' website, ranging in price from about $65 for a Lux Mini 6-in-1 three-quart model to nearly $180 for the Ultra 10-in-1 eight-quart model. (The products' prices can vary by retailer.)
In another nod to Wang's hero, Steve Jobs, the Instant Brands CEO tells CNBC Make It that his company follows a "pretty strict release schedule," introducing an updated version of the Instant Pot every 12 to 18 months. "[A]fter having Instant Pot for over 12 months, and the next shining Instant Pot is on the market, people do upgrade and the older one is either given away to family and friends or being used as the second unit at home," Wang says.
Instant Pots are now also sold by dozens of other retailers like Best Buy, Target, Walmart and Williams Sonoma (the latter of which even collaborated with Instant Pot on a line of meal-starter sauces and spices).
Not everything has been perfect of course. Instant Pot had a pair of product recalls: In 2015 it recalled more than 1,100 "Smart" model pressure cookers after receiving a handful of complaints about users getting an electric shock when the product was in use. Then in March, the company recalled more than 100,000 Gem 65 8-in-1 Multi-cookers due to reports of the product overheating causing a possible fire hazard.
Wang says the latter issue was a manufacturing defect and it did not have anything to do with the product's design, including its burn protection feature. "Safety is a primary concern to the company," Wang tells CNBC Make It, noting that it voluntarily recalled the product. "We have to be responsible to our users."
As a privately held company, Instant Brands does not release its revenue, but Wang says "several million" people have purchased Instant Pots and the company's sales have doubled every year since 2011.