According to Business Insider, coffee is the second most sought-after commodity in the entire world, with an industry that is worth over $100 billion across the globe. It’s no small feat that a Dunedin coffee-tech startup is set to take the world by storm, starting with the International Coffee Expo.
Kaffelogic spreads the joy of roasting your own coffee beans. They combine sophisticated software with elegant design to make the best 100g-batch coffee roasters in the world. This week we sit down with Kaffelogic founder, Chris Hilder.
Was there a particular moment of frustration or an a-ha moment in which you came up with the idea for Kaffelogic? What was that moment like?
I began developing a coffee roasting system because I came to like freshly roasted coffee and it was frustrating trekking to buy 100 grams once or twice a week.
Once I had a system that worked, it was Bruce Partridge of Biotronics, another small Dunedin tech startup, who asked the question: “Are you going to commercialise it?” Of course the sensible answer was “No”, but over time I became intrigued with the crazy answer “Yes”. I didn’t really have any idea of how to go about converting that no to a yes, and that was where stumbling upon Co.Starters provided another watershed moment.
You came through the Co.Starters programme a few years ago. Did you find the programme useful? Why?
Having a good idea is a necessary, but not sufficient requirement for a startup. It has to be viable, and you have to do all the things needed for a business to be a business. This is where I learned the basics of starting a business. Not just useful, necessary.
Also, through Startup Weekend and Co.Starters I met three key people who have become the backbone of my team.
Is there a particular moment or part of Co.Starters you remember when you think about going through the programme?
I’m an introverted, nerdy geek. Being told to go out and have 100 customer conversations was a challenge when the thought of even one customer conversation scared me. At Co.Starters, if you don’t have the conversations, you aren’t on the map. So I gave it a go. Now I enjoy customer conversations (I’m still an introverted, nerdy geek though).
I’d definitely recommend Co.Starters to anyone else looking to start a startup.
What is the most common question you get asked about Kaffelogic or coffee roasting?
Once people get their heads around that, yes, you can roast your own coffee, they often ask “Where can I get green coffee beans?”
Right now our most frequent question is simply: “Can I buy one?”
What’s the most common mistake or misconception people have about Kaffelogic or coffee roasting?
Home coffee roasting is often perceived as being a huge hassle for mediocre results. Kaffelogic does away with both of those things.
What has been the most frustrating part of building Kaffelogic?
Coming from a software background, building a piece of hardware is, well, hard. You can’t just make copies; it takes a lot of time and effort.
If you could time-travel – what advice would you give yourself about starting Kaffelogic?
I think I already did this. After several business ideas that had not panned out well, I gave myself the advice that I needed to learn how to start a business: enrol in courses, listen to advice. That was kind of like time travel, although I was travelling from the past and not the future.
As for the pain points: you wouldn’t start if you knew how bad they would be, so in that respect, sorry past self, my lips are sealed.
You crowdfunded for Kaffelogic on PledgeMe. Why did you choose crowdfunding?
I wanted to validate my product by having 100 happy customers. Prior to that project I didn’t feel that I had enough evidence of the value of my product to seek investment.
How was your crowdfunding experience with PledgeMe? Can you describe some of the process for us?
Technically it was very easy to set up and PledgeMe provide support with all the steps, plus very good advice. The most important part of the process is having your crowd ready before you launch. Crowdfunding turns a crowd into funding. It does not provide the crowd.
Was any part of the crowdfunding process unexpected to you?
They tell you that most of your sales are in the start and end of the campaign, but the lull in the middle still came as a shock.
We also expected social media to be our publicity medium, and it played a significant part, but very minor compared to print media presence. Print media was the key to our success.
Is there a particular action, thought or idea you remember as being crucial to your success in crowdfunding? If not, what do you think led to your success in crowdfunding?
We had a strong team, prepared to be persistent, and to try different channels. In the end print media was our key, but it could have been any channel. We were doing physical mail outs, emailing, cold telephone calling, press releases, contacting journalists directly, asking celebrities for endorsement, asking professionals for endorsement, public demonstrations, private demonstrations, Facebook advertising, Instagram, attending festivals, joining organisations that would announce us as new members by email and Facebook, plus engaging friends and family.
You’re heading to the Melbourne International Coffee Expo (MICE) in February. How did you get involved with that? What are you most excited for?
When I was in Wellington demonstrating the Kaffelogic Nano 7 at Ripe Coffee Roasters, Jason Hall (their managing director) said: “This will really be a knockout at MICE.” So I had to go and find out what MICE was. It’s expensive to get in to MICE, but our marketing manager has done the groundwork by forming a relationship with an Australian company that will be our distributor in Oz, and we are sharing space in the MICE Roasters’ Alley with them. That’s Green Bean Coffee, stand #R4. We’ve been re-designing the base unit colour scheme and artwork and will be launching the fantastic new look Nano 7 at MICE, along with our new foam-free packaging design, a masterpiece in cardboard engineering.
Kaffelogic is up for the Product Innovation Award at MICE. How do you find your chances? Any competition that stands out to you?
The competition is really slick this year! Espresso machines to die for. The commercial grinder re-invented by an Australian company. A gorgeous micro-roaster. Over ten other products and, of course, us with a nano-roaster from the land of Kiwi ingenuity.
We are stoked just to be there. Our big point of difference is that our product is a crossover piece of tech. It is a professional sample roaster that can turn out precisely replicated commercial sample roasts all day, and also go into the home of a coffee enthusiast to produce freshly roasted coffee at the touch of a button. Having that consumer appeal might give us some advantage in the People’s Choice award.
You seem to have a fantastic team around you in David Cohen and Rachel Elder. Is anyone else involved in Kaffelogic? How did you go about finding and choosing your team?
First I looked for people who would be willing to meet with me to give feedback on Kaffelogic… in exchange for coffee. In the lead up to the crowdfunding campaign I asked David and Rachel if they would be willing to form an advisory group for me, initially as volunteers. The original idea was to validate the product through having 100 customers, but as it turned out, demonstrating the product in the lead up to the crowdfunding campaign validated the product already. We demonstrated to several professional roasting businesses and had immediate validation of the product from their response, and strong interest from some of them in investing. This allowed us to get established with investment funding from Coffee Workshop Holdings Ltd, and to bring John Robson on board as our Director of Marketing. John is using his tremendous skills to build a strong retailer network for the Kaffelogic brand. We also now have Peter Bernhardt who joined our advisory group because he liked the smell of our coffee.
If you could recruit one famous person to Kaffelogic right now, who would you recruit? Why?
Beatrice Hill Tinsley. Then we could get a scientific answer on whether coffee preparation is really as complex as galaxy formation.
Describe your perfect coffee and how it is made.
I am always looking for a coffee that startles the taste buds. The perfect coffee is not something you achieve, it’s something you dream of. Behind that dream is the hard work of the growers and processors of the beans. Coffee plants that are well cared for, where the beans are hand picked and sorted for ripeness, then processed straight away, can be selected as ‘specialty coffee’ and sold for a premium price. Getting hold of specialty coffee that is ethically traded is the first step. Something like a Yemeni heirloom would be the most amazing coffee that I have tasted recently.
We are working towards retailers providing a downloadable profile to go with the coffee, but in the absence of that I’d load my favourite profile and roast up a sample. Here I’m aiming to keep the incredible range of flavours while getting rid of any underdeveloped grassy tones, so I would limit the time after the coffee has started cracking to 20% of the total roast time. This is easily done by supervising the first roast of a new coffee so you can hear the first crack and record it on the roaster. I do love espresso, but I think I’ll go with my trusty Aeropress as being my favourite for afternoon coffee, grind just slightly coarser than for espresso, inversion method, 15 sec stir, 45 sec brew, 30 sec press out through a fine metal filter.
What were you working on before Kaffelogic? Has any of your past experience helped you develop Kaffelogic?
I was working for another Dunedin startup that has now grown to a significant size developing information systems for medical professionals which give them access to information and decision support about medicines and treatments. That gave me experience with quality control and project management which has been invaluable. Moving from the health sector to manufacturing has been a huge change, but in the end, it’s about solving the problems and delivering a better outcome. In that respect it’s the same, although being small and new is particularly exciting.
Plug to the people - what action do you want our audience to take?
We only get one chance at the MICE Product Innovation Awards because next year ours won’t be a new product, so we want to encourage people to go to MICE and vote for us in the people’s choice award. So the call to action is make sure that all your Melbourne friends know about MICE, and get them to come and sample our coffee at stand #R4 in the morning of 9th Feb 2019. (Public voting for the people’s choice is only possible between 10am and noon, by MICE attendees on that day.)