In 2014, entrepreneur Roderick de Rode ran into an inventor who had created a centrifugal machine to brew coffee. When De Rode left the meeting, his mind was racing with ideas on how he could create entirely new customer experiences by merging the possibilities enabled by the centrifugal technology with the possibilities enabled by Internet of Things (IoT) devices.
As Walter Isaacson points out in his book on Leonardo Da Vinci, some of the world’s most impactful innovations have often resulted by connecting ideas from different fields. DaVinci himself memorably combined concepts from science and art, while Steve Jobs, a person he inspired, famously said that Apple was made up of “musicians, poets, and artists, and zoologists and historians who also happened to know computer science.”
de Rode decided to bring the world of technology and coffee together to create Spinn, which he describes as a “hardware enabled coffee marketplace.” He created a ten page slide deck and took it to investors.
“I knew we had a solid idea, but I was surprised by just how positive the reception was,” he says.
Centrifugal technology is central to Spinn’s coffee brewing experience, and is what helps the brewing machine extract every ounce of flavor from the espresso beans.
As some undoubtedly remember from classes on Newtonian physics, a centrifugal force is the outward force acting away from a physical body revolving around an axis. In your day-to-day lives, you experience a centrifugal force when you round a sharp curve in your vehicle, and the force pushes your vehicle to the edge of the road (which is why many roads are banked).
Creating pressure is central to the coffee brewing experience: making espresso requires 9 bars of pressure. The espresso machines in prior decades used steam to create this pressure, while more recently, espresso makers used vibratory or rotary pumps for the same purpose. Spinn breaks with this approach by using a centrifugal force to create pressure. According to re Rode, this approach results in increased aeration, and results in a brew with complex and nuanced tastes.
As wine drinkers might know, aeration is the process of exposing a liquid to increased levels of oxygen. For wine, aeration softens the tannins and allows latent flavors and aromas to expand and breathe. De Rode says that Spinn’s technology results in this elevated experience for coffee.
“With Spinn’s technology, our customers are able to get the same great taste at home that they would only experience otherwise at the roasters,” says de Rode. “By allowing customers to change the speed of the centrifuge, and alter water, coffee ground and rotation speed levels, we are able to serve a wide assortment of coffee recipes – from a latte to a ristretto or a Nitro and so much more.”
Roasters play a central role in helping ensure that Spinn’s coffee marketplace delivers this elevated coffee experience to customers. When a customer scans the bar code for a new bag of beans, recipes developed by the roaster are downloaded to the machine. The machine then brews coffee exactly as per the roaster’s instructions.
For customers that opt in to a subscription service, the Spinn coffee maker also automatically reorders beans from preferred roasters when supplies begin to run low. Spinn utilizes AWS IoT Core technology to enable these functionalities, and allow devices to connect to the cloud.
de Rode says that the company’s commitment to providing an “elevated” experience extends to other facets such as environmental ones: over 40% of homes in America have single-use coffee machines, and estimates suggest that over 120 million pods go to coffee refills every day. He also says that the commitment to elevating the experience for customers encompasses the future-forward hardware.
De Rode says that elevating the customer experience around the box will be a philosophy that guides future development efforts.
“Developing great hardware is only one part of the puzzle,” de Rode says. “However, what really drives success is things like content, services, or improved customer experiences – what you are able to deliver over the box to deepen customer engagement.”
He points to Spinn’s integration of Alexa as one example of how the company has elevated the customer experience. With the Spinn Coffee Skill for Alexa, customers can interact with their Spinn Coffee Maker using their voice. They can ask Alexa to brew their favorite recipe, or ask Alexa to make a custom recipe from one of the four available slots on the coffee maker.
According to De Rode, over 40% of customers who have purchased a Spinn coffee maker have enabled the Alexa functionality. From a development perspective, he says that building the Alexa Skill was simple with the Alexa Skills Kit, and the team was able to go to market with a new Skill in a couple of weeks.
De Rode says that he never ceases to be amazed by how far Spinn has come since its founding two years ago – from a ten slide investment deck to a company with tens of thousands of customers, partnerships with leading roasters, and investment from leading Silicon Valley investors that include the Alexa Fund.
“Over two-thirds of people around the world begin their day drinking coffee,” says de Rode. “Drinking a cup of coffee is a profoundly meaningful experience, and explains why customers are beginning to make sophisticated choices with coffee just as they do with wine. We are excited to collaborate with companies like Amazon, and elevate every aspect of the brewing experience.”