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A year ago, this company had 750 customers. Today it has 6,000

Startup Bottomless uses a connected scale to measure customers' coffee consumption and send automatic refills. Its co-founder explains how the pandemic has affected business.

Posted: Oct 23, 2020 2:41 PM
Updated: Oct 23, 2020 2:41 PM

Subscription services can bear a resemblance to the story of Goldilocks: Sometimes you end up with way too much of what you ordered, risking spoilage. Other times, you run out faster than planned. The answer, according to one company, is a scale.

Seattle upstart Bottomless set out to nail that "just right" aspect by creating a coffee subscription company that makes the reordering process automatic and determines the ideal day for the next bag of beans to land at your doorstep, by using a smart scale to tell when you're starting to run low.

"We were obsessed with this question of, 'What if the supplier knew exactly when you needed something and when was the right time to ship to you?'" Bottomless co-founder Liana Herrera told CNN Business.

Customers place their bag of coffee onto the Wi-Fi-enabled scale after each use, and the algorithms on the backend analyze consumption activity and then layer in logistical data from dozens of roasters and the US Postal Service. The subscription service includes the scale and starts at $5.99 per month with coffees that range from $12 to $20.

It's an approach that has served Bottomless well -- especially as its business has ballooned during the pandemic. More Americans are holed up at home, resulting in skyrocketing e-commerce purchases and increasing demand for delivery-based services such as subscription boxes.

As of this week, Bottomless counted 6,000 active customers. This time last year, that number was 750.

"More people are changing their habits to buy online," Herrera said, noting that she expected the trend would take a few more years to tease out. "It's been accelerated just in these few months."

The company has come a long way since its inception in 2016 when Herrera and co-founder Michael Mayer -- neither of whom had backgrounds in hardware development -- conceptualized and invented the smart scale that would serve as Bottomless' backbone. In true startup fashion, the duo bootstrapped the firm and spent the early days hand-soldering 3D-printed scales in their tiny apartment. They partnered with some roasters and signed up a couple hundred customers.

Herrera applied her lessons-learned from her own humble beginnings. She emigrated from Peru at the age of 18 and didn't speak any English at that time. She held a variety of jobs until she was able to attend university in Portland, Oregon.

"Growing up, I saw my parents working very hard," she said. "I never believed there was an alternative route to success other than hard work. This served me well in building my career."

After some early stage success, Bottomless landed in the Winter 2019 cohort at Y Combinator, the legendary Silicon Valley startup accelerator, where the company received venture capital backing, business connections and mentorship.

Gone were the days of handmade scales as Bottomless conducted its first manufacturing run earlier this year.

The timing would prove significant as Bottomless' business experienced a big-time boom shortly thereafter. The at-home cup of Joe has leveled up as consumers shifted their specialty coffee shop rituals to their residences.

What has resulted is a "premiumization" of coffee purchases at retail and grocery stores, said Jim Watson, senior analyst for beverages research at Rabobank. People are spending more for whole bean coffee and pricier grounds, he said.

While grocery stores typically do have a solid selection of premium and specialty coffees, they tend to be from the national or global brands.

"Probably one of the biggest opportunities out there is to tap into local roasters," he said. "I think that's one of the reasons why a company like Bottomless and some of the others really do well because the groceries aren't meeting that [local roaster] need all that well."

The trends are working in Bottomless' favor; however, the drastic economic shifts in the early part of the pandemic wreaked havoc on the finely tuned system.

Some roasters experienced higher turnover after stark drop-offs in sales during the spring, so new employees had to be retrained on the Bottomless process. When the USPS timelines got knocked out of whack, Herrera and Mayer had to rebuild their machine learning models. Some existing customers, after suffering a job loss, have traded down in their Bottomless subscription.

Now nearly eight months into the pandemic, those aspects have stabilized and Bottomless is seeing steady growth in both sales and new customers, she said. The activity is fueling optimism for a future where Bottomless could expand its technology into other product categories such as pet food and personal care.

But for now, the company remains focused on coffee.

"We still think we haven't even scratched the surface to where we can go on coffee alone," she said.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 295295

Reported Deaths: 6724
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto19672230
Hinds18799386
Harrison16710278
Rankin12685264
Jackson12592226
Lee9687160
Madison9457199
Jones7962146
Forrest7208136
Lauderdale6833226
Lowndes6022137
Lamar588080
Lafayette5733113
Washington5218130
Bolivar4609123
Oktibbeha441393
Panola430394
Pearl River4167130
Warren4129114
Pontotoc408869
Marshall403192
Monroe3989126
Union395374
Neshoba3807168
Lincoln3541102
Hancock347374
Leflore3375118
Sunflower318386
Tate302474
Pike300195
Scott293870
Alcorn291861
Itawamba289975
Yazoo289262
Tippah278765
Copiah277857
Coahoma277568
Simpson274878
Prentiss269758
Wayne253841
Marion252678
Leake252471
Covington248879
Grenada247377
Adams234377
George231745
Newton229652
Winston221675
Jasper213445
Tishomingo212365
Attala206569
Chickasaw201151
Holmes182270
Clay179150
Stone172429
Tallahatchie170539
Clarke169371
Calhoun157828
Smith152731
Yalobusha144836
Greene127633
Walthall124140
Noxubee122829
Montgomery122438
Perry121634
Lawrence120321
Carroll118225
Amite111533
Webster110630
Jefferson Davis101731
Tunica99023
Claiborne98429
Benton93324
Humphreys92827
Kemper90223
Quitman77114
Franklin76119
Choctaw69516
Jefferson62527
Wilkinson62426
Sharkey48817
Issaquena1676
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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 493769

Reported Deaths: 9931
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson710731374
Mobile36139727
Madison32425455
Tuscaloosa24184410
Montgomery22586500
Shelby21968215
Baldwin19758283
Lee14967153
Morgan13667251
Calhoun13300286
Etowah13184319
Marshall11262209
Houston10104261
Elmore9385185
Limestone9363134
Cullman8897181
St. Clair8827223
Lauderdale8607211
DeKalb8459175
Talladega7523163
Walker6524255
Jackson6495102
Autauga627091
Blount6102127
Colbert6004118
Coffee5249102
Dale4642107
Russell404930
Franklin399177
Covington3960106
Chilton3876100
Escambia377672
Tallapoosa3588142
Clarke343650
Chambers3413110
Dallas3403141
Pike293472
Lawrence283484
Marion281995
Winston246867
Bibb245060
Geneva239970
Marengo236455
Pickens224654
Barbour211651
Hale210568
Fayette200756
Butler196866
Henry182441
Cherokee177038
Monroe166139
Randolph163740
Washington156535
Crenshaw144854
Clay144454
Macon142043
Cleburne137839
Lamar132833
Lowndes131151
Wilcox121825
Bullock116936
Conecuh106724
Perry105627
Sumter98531
Coosa88923
Greene88232
Choctaw55123
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