Every pot I make and every cup of coffee I drink at home is made with stale coffee beans. That’s the sad assertion from Michael Mayer, a coffee lover and entrepreneur who believes he’s developed a better way — in coffee-crazy Seattle — to make sure there really is freshness in my cup.
Mayer is the founder of Bottomless, a startup that combines original hardware, an online marketplace, machine learning and more to determine when you’re running low on coffee, predict when you might need more and get fresh beans to you before you run out.
In a city that’s home to the world’s biggest coffee giant as well as an everlasting stereotype about how much of the stuff its residents consume, setting out to improve upon people’s coffee experience in Seattle is both a predictable and pretty smart move.
“I’m not the world’s greatest expert on coffee freshness, I just … I know the difference,” Mayer said, after hearing how I keep a container of store-bought, ground coffee on my kitchen counter for at least a couple weeks at a time. “I’m not an authority on this but from what I know, coffee is best between three days after roasting to 14 days. I did a tour of the all the grocery stores in the Seattle area and I looked at all of their local roast offerings, and usually the beans were 14 days old, typically.”
Mayer and his wife Liana Herrera started Bottomless about two years ago after moving to Seattle from Portland, trading one coffee town for a bigger one. The couple met at Portland State University. Mayer got a degree in economics and worked at Nike as a developer on Nike.com. He quit that job to start his own company and now calls himself a “self-taught developer/technologist.” Herrera is still a senior consultant at Workday.
“It’s a pretty simple story,” Mayer said. “My wife and I, we really love fresh coffee beans, sort of like the stereotypical Seattle resident. We love to get it fresh from the roaster.”
But like others of their generation who have become accustomed to clicking a button for what they want, Mayer said it’s not always convenient to visit a local roaster, and running to the grocery store in a coffee emergency is only going to get you stale beans.
“I don’t think people’s lives are improved by having to run errands,” he said. “I think people’s lives are improved by doing stuff like getting out with friends and going hiking and stuff like that. … We tried doing subscriptions from roasters and it didn’t really work — the timing never seemed right. We just wanted to build a solution to have super fresh coffee on hand at all times.”
The solution, in part, is a rechargeable scale on which users set a bag of fresh beans that they’re using to make their daily coffee. The scale is connected to WiFi (and to Bottomless) and as the bag becomes lighter, it triggers an order for more beans. Users select from one of about a dozen Seattle-area roasters — Caffe Vita, Ladro Roasting and more — who are partnering with Bottomless.
Users pay a price for coffee that is comparable to what grocery stores charge as well as a $2.99 per-month charge to cover free shipping. Bottomless never touches the coffee, it’s all sent direct from roaster to consumer.
“I think there’s something magical about really fresh coffee beans,” Mayer said. “And I think it’s just an incredible experience to be able to actually have fresh beans available to you at home when you’re making your morning coffee. And I wanted it for myself. I was pretty tired of just having to grab last-minute coffee that wasn’t ideal. And I thought other people would also enjoy it.”
Other people are enjoying it so far — Bottomless has more than 100 beta testers using scales in Seattle. Investors are also taking notice of the idea, too, as the previously bootstrapped company raised $245,000 last month.
“[Coffee roasters] want to present their products in the best possible light,” Mayer said. “When they think about selling through grocery stores or selling through subscriptions and having people have their coffee pile up or whatever, they don’t like the thought of the coffee being stale by the time people drink it. They put so much work and effort and love into making the best possible product that they can.”
While it may seem like coffee routines are pretty standard and people would use the same amount over a consistent period of time, Mayer said his data indicates user consumption does fluctuate enough that the machine learning adds value. Predictions have proven to be much better than just a linear extrapolation, he said.
Mayer and Herrera have turned their one-bedroom apartment into half living space and half mini manufacturing facility. Mayer is not a hardware designer, but he bought a 3D printer and taught himself how to make the prototype scale case. Then they bought a bunch of components and they spend their time soldering stuff together.
It’s like a scene etched in the Seattle startup handbook: Ambitious tech-focused couple, the smell of soldering irons mixing with the aroma from a fresh coffee pour-over.
“I think that’s pretty much accurate,” Mayer said, laughing.