STREAMING NOW: Watch Now

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: 266598

Reported Deaths: 5852
CountyCasesDeaths
DeSoto17928195
Hinds17030337
Harrison14510212
Rankin11315223
Jackson11054193
Lee9109147
Madison8663171
Jones6853120
Forrest6260125
Lauderdale6161196
Lowndes5582123
Lafayette5269101
Lamar508765
Washington4965125
Bolivar4164110
Oktibbeha411585
Panola389881
Pontotoc380460
Monroe3727111
Warren3716103
Marshall360172
Union360165
Pearl River3527106
Neshoba3516158
Leflore3132110
Lincoln308389
Hancock300963
Sunflower294277
Tate281862
Alcorn274055
Pike272984
Itawamba271263
Scott264055
Yazoo258456
Prentiss255454
Coahoma252455
Copiah251549
Tippah251551
Simpson244872
Leake238967
Marion228274
Covington224873
Grenada224673
Wayne216336
Adams216271
Winston208271
George206440
Newton201447
Attala197465
Tishomingo196361
Chickasaw190245
Jasper183138
Holmes172568
Clay168637
Tallahatchie158035
Stone153625
Clarke148762
Calhoun142022
Smith131926
Yalobusha124935
Walthall115438
Greene114929
Noxubee114526
Montgomery112936
Lawrence107917
Carroll106922
Perry105931
Amite102727
Webster98024
Claiborne90125
Tunica89621
Jefferson Davis89330
Benton86923
Humphreys85625
Kemper81220
Quitman7169
Franklin71017
Choctaw64013
Wilkinson60125
Jefferson57321
Sharkey45717
Issaquena1616
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 445909

Reported Deaths: 6896
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson651891049
Mobile32138590
Madison28596223
Tuscaloosa21703276
Montgomery20220336
Shelby19584138
Baldwin17496216
Lee13378109
Morgan12741145
Etowah12196189
Calhoun11626228
Marshall10513126
Houston9097168
Limestone842481
Cullman8363125
Elmore8283112
Lauderdale7986112
DeKalb7935112
St. Clair7915139
Talladega6552112
Walker6068184
Jackson605649
Colbert560194
Blount551794
Autauga544065
Coffee470569
Dale415186
Franklin378150
Russell362816
Chilton348079
Covington344681
Escambia342244
Tallapoosa3184109
Dallas314197
Chambers308575
Clarke307339
Pike267735
Lawrence256958
Marion255763
Winston235243
Bibb224751
Geneva214747
Marengo212031
Pickens201831
Barbour188240
Hale187444
Fayette181230
Butler175960
Cherokee167433
Henry161325
Monroe153521
Randolph148236
Washington144027
Clay131050
Crenshaw126245
Macon124337
Cleburne123627
Lamar121324
Lowndes117636
Wilcox109422
Bullock105829
Perry100518
Conecuh98222
Sumter90828
Greene78323
Coosa64619
Choctaw52224
Out of AL00
Unassigned00
Tupelo
Partly Cloudy
45° wxIcon
Hi: 51° Lo: 44°
Feels Like: 41°
Columbus
Partly Cloudy
48° wxIcon
Hi: 56° Lo: 50°
Feels Like: 46°
Oxford
Partly Cloudy
39° wxIcon
Hi: 45° Lo: 41°
Feels Like: 39°
Starkville
Mostly Cloudy
45° wxIcon
Hi: 54° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 45°
WTVA Radar
WTVA Temperatures
WTVA Severe Weather