- In 2013, Eli Salomon and Josh Avins invented Ground Control, a high-tech coffee batch brewer.
- Voga Coffee’s raised $1.6 million in its mission to get into coffee retailers all over the world.
- Its pitch to shoppers focuses on comfort, type, and necessity, its head of sales mentioned.
- Visit the Business part of Insider for extra tales.
At least one behavior wasn’t upended by the pandemic: We’re nonetheless sipping coffee within the mornings and through the workday, albeit at dwelling.
But in accordance to a 2020 survey by the National Coffee Association (NCA), which represents corporations throughout the coffee provide chain, over a third of us miss visiting coffee retailers. Between the pleasure of a higher brew and the prospect to socialize, coffee retailers usually present sure comforts we simply cannot replicate on our personal.
Unfortunately, the trade has taken fairly a hit, with one analysis agency reporting the pandemic worn out a quarter of coffee store’s sales in 2020. Sales at US-branded retailers, which embody Starbucks, Peet’s, and Dunkin’, fell 24% final 12 months to $36 billion, and will solely develop to $40 billion this 12 months, nonetheless under 2019 ranges. For the primary time in 9 years, the overall variety of coffee retailers within the US is on the decline, in accordance to Bloomberg.
Voga Coffee, a startup based mostly in California, thinks it has the solutions to holding our favourite cafés open. Its invention, referred to as Ground Control, is a high-tech batch brewer that goals to produce a extra constantly scrumptious cup of coffee. Adopting the know-how, the corporate argues, would enable cafés to brew coffee at a sooner clip and cost a increased value for a top-notch brew.
In 2013, Eli Salomon and Josh Avins, longtime mates and school buddies, had been obsessive about the concept they might enhance upon siphon know-how, which uses steam stress and a number of chambers to produce coffee.
Theirs was the scrappiest of beginnings: The pair labored in Salomon’s kitchen to get their thought up and working. Avins, who has a PhD in chemistry, purchased tools on Amazon, and they used a spare air-mattress pump to take a look at extraction strategies.
While they perfected their first machine, Salomon and Avins saved their day jobs — Salomon labored at a pharmaceutical startup, whereas Avins was a chemistry tutor. Eventually, they raised a small quantity of money from mates and household earlier than pulling in a larger spherical of funding from non-public traders. In all, the workforce raised $1.6 million. It was two and a half years earlier than they had been prepared to unveil their machine at a native café in San Francisco.
According to trade publications Sprudge, Daily Coffee News, and Barista Magazine, Ground Control is likely one of the finest batch brew machines being made — even higher than a pour-over, a ritual that highlights to prospects that it is effectively well worth the wait.
Not all are satisfied. James Freeman, founding father of Blue Bottle Coffee, advised the Wall Street Journal in 2018 he’d take into account serving batch-brewed coffee “when hell freezes over and there is a skating party.” When Insider checked again in with Freeman, he mentioned he nonetheless stands by that quote. “My interest in coffee was always more about the possibility of transcendence over the convenience of consistency,” he mentioned.
How it really works
Ground Control’s course of begins with the grounds being immersed in contemporary, sizzling water and agitated. A vacuum pump then pulls out the brewed liquid, lifts it to a glass bulb on the high, and dries the grounds. This occurs two extra occasions. It could sound time intensive, however it may make 20 cups in about eight minutes. In 2018, the futuristic-looking machine gained “Best New Product” award from the Specialty Coffee Association (SCA).
Tell anybody within the coffee world that you simply’re reusing coffee grounds, and you may be laughed out of the room. “Our brewing method on paper sounds really stupid,” Salomon advised Insider.
But it really works. And it is why the workforce filed for patents. To date, three have been awarded.
During this era, they had been joined by Jason Sarley, a third cofounder and sensory analyst.
Selling to small companies
One roadblock for small enterprise house owners? The Ground Control machine prices about $7,000.
So the cofounders had to persuade patrons that drip is strictly the place cafés ought to focus. In a research by Square and SCA, the recognition of black coffee had eclipsed lattés in 2020. Along with it, costs jumped from $2.47 in 2018 to $three.13 in 2019. Lattés in flip had solely gone up by six cents.
When the three launched Ground Control, buzz for the product was good, however sales had been sluggish. Its first two prospects had been roasters with glorious reputations: Highwire Coffee Roasters in Berkeley and Equator Coffees in Mill Valley. After that, the cofounders had been in a position to sell machines by means of phrase of mouth, stellar critiques, and publicity at coffee expos.
Salomon mentioned they had been inundated at commerce exhibits. “We served about 1,500 to 2,000 cups of coffee,” he mentioned.
Eager to decide up the momentum, they put the machine in a van and drove round asking house owners to pattern their drink. In the primary two years, they bought solely 18 machines. “It’s a challenge as a young company — to sell a quality machine that people can’t try,” Salomon mentioned. By 2019, they’d begun making progress with about 50 machines within the US and a few overseas in China, Taiwan, and Saudi Arabia.
Looks are arduous to ignore, and a key purpose Voga garnered consideration past small companies. Equator Coffees initially showcased its machine contained in the coaching lab at its San Rafael HQ. A spot for each wholesale shoppers and a employees coaching hub, it is the place cooks Dominique Crenn and Tyler Florence spied the eye-catching design. Both cooks hope to buy machines for brand spanking new eating places they’re planning in San Francisco.
Pulling by means of the pandemic
“This is cool, but I don’t need it,” is what Jeff Garon, Voga’s head of sales, often hears. It’s his job to persuade house owners that what they’re doing is damaged, even when it is not. He additionally should create urgency to shut the deal — not a simple feat when companies are barely scraping by and could not have the funds to buy new tools.
Orders for Ground Control primarily stopped from March by means of May 2020. “When COVID hit, the team quickly realized we needed to completely change our business focus from selling high-end coffee brewers to focusing on the aspects of our system that would allow our customers to weather the storm,” Salomon mentioned. He utilized for a PPP mortgage in April, and adopted that up with a small enterprise mortgage, each totaling $75,000.
Eventually, the enterprise restarted, and within the again half of 2020 Voga’s month-to-month sales picked up. “In my experience, a lot of hard problems resolve themselves, and answers become apparent through a combination of patience and serendipity,” Salomon mentioned. Clients embody Intelligentsia Coffee in Venice Beach, Founding Farmers within the Washington, DC space, Sump Coffee in Nashville, Tennessee, and St. Louis, Missouri, and Black & White Roasters in North Carolina.
Each sale has “a lot of touchpoints,” Garon mentioned. He focuses on the operational promoting factors: It’s extra versatile and environment friendly, it is constant, and it may scale back tools wants. His profitable pitch is that house owners might be extra reactive to enterprise relatively than proactive. Making chilly brew the day earlier than a snow day serves nobody. With a Ground Control machine, staff could make it on demand.
Much is claimed about the place beans are from and how they’re roasted, however little time is spent making certain the precise drink is as good. In addition to accessing caramel notes that usually go missed due to over extraction, retailers can dial in infinite recipes to create distinctive, single-origin cups of coffee.
“We’re giving them the capacity to highlight their coffee that they can’t get through another solution,” Garon mentioned.
While places of work proceed to endure a sea change, company accounts are putting in machines, too, the cofounders mentioned. Bill Billenstein, senior director of meals excellence at ISS-Guckenheimer, which operates cafes in places of work all over the world, mentioned his high-level shoppers are “always looking for innovation.” Billenstein has positioned a number of Ground Control machines in Bay Area places of work. His promoting factors are consistency, sustainability, and pace of brew. Cold brew, he mentioned, “has become king in the corporate, tech, and pharma environment.”
Bon Appétit Management Company, which additionally supplies food-service administration to firms, has bought and put in machines at 4 of its shoppers.
Salomon is satisfied that 2021 would be the 12 months Ground Control breaks out — in December alone, the corporate bought 19 machines. The firm is hiring new assemblers to sustain with demand, they’ve leased a larger warehouse in Oakland, California, and they’re investing in infrastructure and to help development.