Grown in over 60 countries, Coffee is the world’s second most traded commodity. Despite its ubiquity (or perhaps because of it) there are proportionately few businesses diverting a decent portion of profits back to the farmers who plant and grow the actual coffee beans.
This conflict is a guiding light for the team at Bonaverde—a young startup based in Berlin, Germany.
Although their solution is an ambitious, multi-faceted plan that includes an intelligent coffee machine and a digital marketplace, it sprouted from a simple revelation:
“We looked at business and how it’s been working for 50 years, and realized that technology has recently allowed businesses to shift earning power. Think Uber for transportation or AirBnB for housing. We thought that Bonaverde could do the same for the coffee market.” – Ricardo Mählmann, co-founder
To provide some context, coffee beans can change hands up to 15 times after they’ve been harvested by a farmer with each pair of hands grabbing a chunk of the profits as the beans travel to their ultimate destination: the consumer.
If the goal is to shift more earning power to the farmers, then a few of those hands, or all of them, must be removed.
The best way to remove them, says Bonaverde’s co-founder Ricardo Mählmann, is to provide a direct-to-consumer marketplace for farmers to sell their raw beans, and to give consumers the ability to roast the beans they’ve purchased.
This was also the guiding principle of Kaffee Toro, an early (and similar) effort by Bonaverde’s founding members. Despite a promising period of significant interest and backing from a handful of Angel Investors, the team struggled to finalize a working product, and ultimately lost the support of their Angels. They went bankrupt in 2013.
As is the story with resilient, stubborn startups across the globe, the team regrouped, rebranded as Bonaverde, and decided to salvage the first step of their grand plan: to design a coffee machine that allows consumers to roast, grind and brew their own beans.
Instead of seeking investment, Bonaverde would test their concept via crowdfunding.
The results were promising: by the end of the campaign, over 2,000 Kickstarter supporters stood behind Bonaverde’s idea to the tune of $680,000. All seemed right in the world, until a series of design conflicts arose prior to shipment.
Their crowdsourced design was completed by a group of architects, and when vetted by the engineering department an unfortunate truth emerged. The machine was structurally gorgeous, but functionally problematic.
Unfortunately, the golden thread tying Bonaverde’s grand vision together was the machine’s series of clever design elements.
If farmers were going to benefit from a direct-to-consumer approach, then Bonaverde’s digital marketplace, which allows farmers to sell their beans to consumers at any price they choose, would be necessary. In order to prevent large companies from undercutting the farmers, Bonaverde planned to provide a network of packing stations where farmers could not only package their beans, but add an RFID tag to each pouch.
“Right now we’re a coffee machine company, but 5 years down the road, our ultimate goal is to have a fully thriving ecosystem that connects farmers and consumers.”
When the consumer receives their shipment, they tap the pouch on the machine’s RFID reader, which identifies the farmer, their location, and checks with a Cloud database to see if the code is valid. It also checks the preferred roasting setting for the farmer’s beans. The consumer can then roast, grind, and brew.
Of course, the machine’s collective features (the RFID sensor, Bluetooth and Wifi capabilities, the roaster) must operate properly in order for all of these dominoes to tumble in the appropriate order. And so, Bonaverde had to scrap their design post-campaign and start from scratch.
A Berlin-based designer was quickly hired and a new design cleared, but another hurdle emerged: the backers funded the early model, and were not shy to express their discontent with what appeared to be a completely different product. A mountain of PR work followed, and a lifetime of lessons were learned: just another day in the life of a startup.
Despite their misstep, hundreds of farmers caught word of Bonaverde and reached out to ask how they could join their marketplace and become a part of the ecosystem.
As it stands, the machine is presently shipping, and the coffee trading platform is set to launch late 2016 / early 2017, to the delight of coffee growers worldwide.
The next step is to hire a network of scouts to recruit farmers and set up the packing stations that prep the beans for shipping. Solving the problems of the world’s second largest commodity is no small undertaking, and thankfully recent chats with a handful of NGOs have been promising.
According to Mählmann, the ultimate solution seems simple enough: “Allow the consumer to take care of the roasting by giving them a device that roasts and brews, so there’s no need for an intermediary.” The reality, of course, is that the path to every business solution is littered with a thousand invisible hurdles.
Bonaverde, however, seems to be just a few steps away from the finish line, clutching an idea that can change the way farmers operate and the public consumes their wildly popular product.
Designing their vision with Crew
When it came to working with Crew, Bonaverde was looking for a handful of illustrations that would easily explain and flesh out the different stages of their multi-faceted process. After receiving applications from several illustrators, they chose Karolina Szymkiewicz, whose quirky, cute approach lends a playful air to their branding.
“Her style stood out right away, and we’re really happy with the work she did for us.”
You can see Karolina’s work and find out more about Bonaverde’s plan to uproot the global coffee business by checking out their site here.
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