May 05, 2016

Teplo Bottle - Interview with Co-Founders Kazunori Kawanobe and Mayuresh Soni

The most technologically advanced piece of tea equipment I own is a variable temperature kettle. It is easy to use -- I use it daily -- and it was budget friendly. It is not the sleekest kitchenware out there but the stainless steel body and base are attractive and it maintains the water temperature for a second infusion. I also own a few tea infuser bottles which have much less tech and which fall along a spectrum of utility. I One might excel in maintaining the temperature of the water while another leaks profusely. All of them are effective at oversteeping. The Teplo Bottle is a combination of some of the elements I appreciate about my kettle and my better tea infuser bottles.

I had the opportunity to view a live demonstration and talk with two of the Teplo Bottle team, co-founders Kazunori Kawanobe and Mayuresh Soni. Kazaunori, Mayuresh, and the third co-founder, Abhinav Sureka, are current graduate students at the Babson Graduate Business School located in Babson Park, MA. For those of you more familiar with Massachusetts, Babson Park is just east of Wellesley, MA.

Teplo consists of a plug-in base, a double-walled glass bottle, and an app. What I saw in the demonstration was as follows: open the app and select your tea; pour boiling water into the bottle; the app alerts you when the preferred water temperature is reached and at this point you insert the tea infuser; the next alert generated by app is at the point at which your tea has been properly infused. The temperature of the tea can be maintained for several hours with the aid of an external battery. The bottle holds 10 ounces of liquid and dry tea will be pre-measured to correspond with this volume. Currently the infuser is a separate component. However, in a future iteration, the infuser will be attached to the interior of the cap, so that when the tea is stepped, the bottle can be flipped to that the infuser lifts out of the water. You would not want to utilize the 10 oz maximum if you want to take advantage of this feature. Also, I think different shaped and sized infusers could be offered depending on your tea preference.

The Teplo campaign on Kickstarter was successfully funded. And now the company has a stretch goal campaign on Indiegogo. I didn't ask explicit background questions because there is a lot of this kind of information on the Kickstarter page. I did ask Kazunori and Mayuresh about the factors that contributed to a successful fundraising campaign. If you are thinking about developing a tea product, you might want to take note of these best practices. One, the three co-founders received incredible support from the Babson community. Two, the team purchased Facebook advertising to target tea drinkers. Three, they asked tea bloggers to review the bottle on their blogs. Four, the Teplo Bottle was entered in the SXSW MBA Pitch Competition. Five, the Teplo Bottle campaign was chosen as a "Kickstarter Staff Pick." Six, when the team met its dollar goals, Kickstarter spotlighted the campaign. Seven, the team regularly communicated with their backers. The major outcome of this strategy was a high level of trust between the co-founders and their funders. A co-benefit was that backers provided feedback and improvement ideas. Eight, the team asked backers to promote the campaign on social media (and were rewarded with an infuser). The co-founders were so pleased with the response that they gave infusers to all their backers. The co-founders launched an Indiegogo campaign to accommodate additional requests to back the company

No process is without its hardships so I inquired about the challenges the team faced during the campaign and in the product manufacturing phase. Kazunori and Mayuresh said one lesson they learned was to start with PR on the first day. They also pointed to the lack of comprehensive information on the Kickstarter page. They did not fully detail the features of the tea app and the teas. The app feature was not discussed in the video posted to Kickstarter because they wanted the video to be a watchable length. Using an algorithm, the app learns the tea drinkers' preferences for tea type as well as how tea drinkers'  like their teas to be prepared in terms of water temperature and infusion time. Tea drinkers can select teas based on taste (sweet, bitter, sour, aromatic), flavor (mint, lemon, cinnamon, orange, floral), and health benefit preference (relax, sleep, etc.). I noticed that salty and umami are missing from the taste preferences. Also, the flavor preferences don't capture the types of tea tastes and smells I prefer.

Tea drinkers can enroll in a subscription based on their preferences or purchase teas individually. I asked Kazunori and Mayuresh about their tea sources, the types of tea they would offer (pure, blends, flavored), and if they would travel to tea regions. The goal is provide a "complete experience, not just the bottle, but also the tea." The team is currently negotiating with tea blenders and will offer 40 options including blends and single origin. In addition to purchasing teas individually, Teplo will have a subscription service with three tiers of tea with price points ranging from $40 to $400. The team is committed to quality tea, and "the story behind the tea." In talking about next steps for Teplo, Kazunori and Mayuresh said they might pursue working with one premium supplier from each region. The co-founders are not currently set up to travel to the regions from which their teas are being sourced. Teplo has an office in India with a staff of four and the smart bottles will be manufactured in China.  Bottles will be delivered on schedule in August 2016.

Here are a couple more fascinating details about Teplo. First, the name. "Teplo" is the Czech world for heat. The co-founders wanted a word that suggested warmth because they use a heater/battery to warm the water and tea "warms the life of people." They used used Google Translate to research "warm" in different languages. Second, what do you see when you look at the logo? I thought it was a stylized version of tea leaves. No. The logo is related to warmth. The graphic represents steam.

I concluded the interview by asking Kazunori and Mayuresh if there was anything they would like me to highlight. They want readers to know about the tea personalization aspect of Teplo. Also, the bottle was designed for people who do not know much about tea. The Teplo Bottle brews tea perfectly; the infusion process is designed to release the maximum anti-oxidants and thus health benefits of tea. Finally, the Babson MBA is very meaningful to them; it is "one of the finest schools for entrepreneurship in the USA." To learn more about Teplo, check out their Indiegogo campaign.

Kazunori and Mayuresh, I appreciate the live demonstration and opportunity to speak with you about Teplo. Images courtesy of Teplo.

P.S. I asked Kazunori and Mayuresh if they would offer matcha packs for a shaken matcha. They reiterated their commitment to customer personalization and said "if customers want it, they will consider it."

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