By Macy Moore, contributor
⏰ 6-minute read
- By using design technology to change user behavior, Bevi is supporting the craze of sparkling water while reducing the use of plastic water bottles.
- The three co-founders divvied up their strengths to create a smart water machine business that dispenses customized, healthy beverages at the point of use.
- Now situated in offices such as Netflix, TripAdvisor and Lyft, Bevi’s various machines are hydrating America’s workforce and conserving our environment.
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a floating island of trash spanning the waters between Japan and North America. The main culprit? Plastic.
Eliza Becton, Frank Lee and Sean Grundy are on a mission to eliminate plastic in the ocean with their product line, Bevi. In the six years that Bevi’s been around, it has already made strides to reduce plastic waste by over 100 million water bottles.
Prior to the three co-founders meeting, collaborating and creating Bevi, they were each involved with environmental conservation. Lee had been working for Driptech, a startup focused on creating affordable, water-efficient irrigation systems for small-plot farmers in developing nations. Grundy was living in China working for a nonprofit organization educating farmers to prevent overfishing and protect the rivers, lakes and wetlands.
“Just by chance, Sean read about Driptech and asked to do a project together,” Lee said. “I looked him up mid-conversation and realized we were going to the same business school in two months, so we became roommates and really close friends.”
Around the same time, Becton was studying at Rhode Island School of Design and finishing up her master’s thesis highlighting the use of design to change human behavior and eliminate plastic waste. Becton grew up sailing in New England and has always been a steward of the ocean, so when she read about the Pacific Garbage Patch, she had to do something about it.
In 2013, Grundy and Lee were connected to Becton, and it wasn’t long before they discovered their mutual connection to water conservation. Becton had the initial idea to found a company with the mission of using design and technology to change user behavior, and Grundy and Lee jumped onboard during their second year of business school.
Bevi co-founders Lee (left), Becton and Grundy (right) initially connected via their desire to eliminate plastic waste.
From the beginning, the product idea was simple: a water machine that dispenses healthy, tasty drinks and is fun to use.
Grundy took on the role of CEO and Becton the head of product design. Lee took and continues to play a more fluid role, however, and his position changes based on the company’s needs. He was an early engineer, took Bevi through its first manufacturing cycle and ran marketing for the initial ramp-up, and now he dedicates his time to resolving any bottlenecks to company growth.
Accelerating Bevi’s growth
Before securing any venture funding, the team spent its first six months applying to business competitions for grants and prize money.
“MIT Ideas Global Challenge and Cleantech Open were our first big wins,” Lee said. “The teams there were also incredibly helpful in helping us stay disciplined when it came to thinking through our business model and ways to test our ideas in-market.”
In parallel, the team also started applying to accelerators. Getting into Techstars Boston was a pivotal point in Bevi’s history in terms of getting interest from VC firms.
“As first-time entrepreneurs with no previous track record, it's really hard to convince investors to fund your ideas,” Lee said. “You really have to be creative in terms of bootstrapping your way until you have a prototype with early customer interests. We all had part-time jobs during the first six to nine months of Bevi.”
“As first-time entrepreneurs with no previous track record, it's really hard to convince investors to fund your ideas.”
With Bevi’s product being unique, the team wasn’t sure which industry or category the brand would fit into. So, it dubbed itself a smart water dispenser company.
Bevi is a "smart water dispenser" whose major clients include corporate offices.
Bevs from B2C to B2B
Bevi started with a vending machine prototype planted in public places around Boston, like gyms. From a business standpoint, this model wasn’t ideal due to lack of brand awareness. Given that Bevi was so new, the team found it difficult to convince gym-goers to spend money in order to try its product.
An initial technical challenge was integrating the credit card reader with the Bevi-branded machine. Lee has vivid memories of trudging through snow in the dead of the Massachusetts winter to reset the card reader.
“It was a darker time,” Lee said. “We quickly realized that having to convince individual consumers to try our prototype was a really hard way to scale. We had a business model issue.”
“It was a darker time. We quickly realized that having to convince individual consumers to try our prototype was a really hard way to scale."
Soon after, Grundy began meeting with office managers and grew their interest in putting these machines in breakrooms. The product evolved into a smaller water dispenser that offered several healthy flavors to choose from and a sparkling water option to allow the user to completely customize their beverage.
And just like that, Bevi went from B2C to B2B with most of its business belonging to offices. Now, it has branched back into gyms as wells as hotels. Some of Bevi’s major customers are Netflix, Marriott, Uber, Thrillist and DoorDash.
“Bevi’s mission has always stayed the same,” Lee said. “The business model and product may have evolved over the years, but since day one, we have always focused on eliminating waste from bottled beverages.”
Though initially founded as a hardware and beverage company, software plays a major part in Bevi’s R&D.
“We’re constantly collecting data in real time off of all our machines,” Lee said. “Before software came into play for us, I was literally using luggage hand scales to weigh each machine’s flavor boxes to predict which flavors [would] run out. It was hard to efficiently operate and service our machines for customers.”
Now, Bevi knows which flavors are popular in specific regions and at a given time of year, so the machine can recommend flavors like Strawberry Lemongrass for warmer areas, such as California.
As a designer and the head of product, Becton is very strict and particular when it comes to the design of Bevi’s machine, which includes a touchscreen. Based on the prototype’s performance, it was clear that a simple user experience would be the key to making the machines easier to sell and service.
The team noticed that with other smart beverage dispensers, it took going through five or six touchscreen pages before actually getting a drink. With Bevi’s machine, it was important to Becton to simplify that process so the user could make their selections all on one page and immediately receive their customized beverage.
“[Becton’s] frame of mind is the user experience,” said Lee. “If it’s remotely hard to use, she doesn’t want it in our product.”
The future is personal
A startup’s first priority has to be finding a product market fit, Lee said. In a way, the co-founders feel lucky that the trends of sparkling water and interesting flavors have grown alongside their product development. Offering office perks like healthy, personalized beverages is also a popular way for companies to attract new talent, and that’s the value proposition Bevi is going for.
“In the coming years, we hope to continue to be at the forefront of that market,” Lee said. “We want to take customization to the extreme for this new customized beverage category. One person may say a low-calorie, caffeinated drink is the best, and someone else will want the opposite. Every person should be able to customize their drinks based on their needs. We look forward to creating even more options, and [providing] choices for our customers will continue to be our first priority in the future.”
“We want to take customization to the extreme for this new customized beverage category."
Signs show Bevi is on a cutting edge: The product found its way into Hollywood with cameos on a few episodes of HBO’s "Silicon Valley” last year. More importantly, Bevi’s founders estimate the machines have saved over 100 million plastic bottles per year since launch. As the company continues to gain popularity, that number is bound to only go up.