Q&A with Simon Bracken: Dispelling the TopBrewer myths
Launching a new and innovative product to an established market can have its pros and cons. We caught up with Scanomat UK & Ireland Co-Founder & Managing Director, Simon Bracken to dispel some of the myths surrounding the TopBrewer that still exist today.
1. What were the main challenges you faced when launching the TopBrewer in the UK?
It’s been nine years since we launched the TopBrewer in the UK, but I can still remember the first few months following the launch. There was definitely the feeling that we were introducing a completely new category of coffee experience, wildly disruptive to anything else on the market. Many people thought we were crazy in fact! In the early days, I think some outside the business struggled to see what we saw. They thought the TopBrewer was merely a gimmick; a gadget that would flounder in the firmly established coffee market. How wrong they were. Interesting now to see how the word ‘experience’ has appeared in so many other products and market sectors since then. In many ways we were almost too early.
The whole concept of the TopBrewer was alien – it was revolutionary, so this made it challenging to explain to prospective clients. Without the TopBrewer being physically there, it was difficult to explain both the design and functionality – you try explaining an iPhone controlled coffee tap over the telephone; with the iconic swan neck tap dispensing all of the drinks, the under-counter brew unit being completely out of view and nearly silent, and of course the fact that everything is controlled by an app!
It’s a lot to take in if you’ve never seen it, so we definitely had people doubting that it really was the ‘real deal’ high-quality, professional performance coffee system that we were claiming. Coupled with our somewhat limited marketing budget, the first few months were a challenge but hugely exciting and energising to be introducing something genuinely innovating in arguably fairly conventional industry.
I doubt I will see another such disruptive innovation in our market in my lifetime.
2. How did you overcome these challenges?
Our approach to overcoming the challenges was multi-faceted and quite detailed, but the main two objectives for us were to educate the public and get the machine out there so people could experience it for themselves. As I mentioned, it can be difficult to explain the TopBrewer to someone that has never come across it before, so we focussed heavily on product demonstrations to build awareness of our brand and product.
As well as this, we knew we had to implement a really creative marketing strategy in order to break into the market. A lot of our marketing focus was (and still is) on producing relevant and valuable content, particularly client case studies and testimonials. We know the TopBrewer is a fantastic product, but it’s much more valuable to hear it from a client, rather than someone directly involved in the business! Our clients span a wide range of sectors and industries and our case studies are really important tools for demonstrating the benefits of the TopBrewer.
Another arm to our marketing strategy is our investment in events across the UK. Initially our events were primarily in London, but we now take part in events across the country. We have a very specific strategy, choosing only focussed events that we know the TopBrewer is a great fit with, and these have been a really important way of gaining exposure in our target markets, decision makers & influencers.
We recently invested in a new product video to enable us to show the TopBrewer in a more effective way when we don’t have an actual machine to hand. The feedback has been great, and having a visual representation of the TopBrewer in real life scenarios rather than a showroom, or having to try and describe it, is a great tool.
The UK coffee sector is quite saturated, so despite having an innovative, top-quality machine, we knew we had to find something that really made us stand out from the crowd, which is why we have placed so much emphasis on the 360 coffee experience. Our highly-trained team of TopBaristas are the backbone of the TopBrewer coffee experience and we rely on them to ensure out clients are receiving only the best TopBrewer experience support by our CoffeeCloud system. They are the bright, smiling face of our company and the guardian angels of our coffee experience!
3. What are the biggest myths surrounding the TopBrewer to this day?
Perhaps the biggest myth is that surely a tap can’t make real coffee?! Surely it must use powdered milk and freeze-dried coffee or coffee pods?! No! We’re passionate about coffee, and we’re proud of the high-quality speciality coffee the TopBrewer serves. TopBrewer uses high-grade, ethically sourced, Direct Trade whole coffee beans sourced directly from our partner farms around the world, which are freshly ground for each drink, as well as fresh milk, chocolate and filtered water (with or without bubbles) which are flash-heated freshly for every drink.
All of the drinks are dispensed form the same, iconic swan-neck tap, but there is no risk of drinks being mixed together or cross-contamination between drinks. The innovative design means the coffee, chocolate, milk, and water are all dispensed from different lines, and the milk line is flushed with fresh water after every drink, meaning the daily clean is quick and easy – much simpler and faster than conventional alternatives
People often see the simple, stylish swan-neck tap and iPad and assume that the under-counter mechanics (including the brew unit and fridge) must take up an enormous amount of room. This isn’t the case, and the inner workings of the TopBrewer take up one standard kitchen cupboard. Not only does this design free up lots of counter space, it also means that you have complete freedom to design, as the TopBrewer can be installed nearly anywhere! One of our clients even repurposed an old truck front for a bar unit, into which the TopBrewer is installed! (Click here to read more)
Another common misconception is that the TopBrewer cannot cope with high volumes, and thus is unsuitable for busy sites or areas. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, the TopBrewer can deliver a super fast beverage without compromising on quality. Due to its ultra fast self-adjusting grinders and brew unit mechanics, recovery time between cups is second to none, with an espresso-based drink dispensing in as little as 25 seconds, making TopBrewer the perfect choice for busy areas, with capacity of 350-400 drinks per day (Professional Model).
4. What has been your biggest highlight since TopBrewer launched?
It is hugely rewarding for us to see the consumer using and embracing the TopBrewer experience in the way we had imagined all those years ago. To see millions of drinks being served, in a personalised way, just as people like it, is tremendously satisfying. To see our client base develop & scale so seriously in the way we had planned and targeted is also very rewarding. In quieter moments, which are few and far between, we still feel this is just the beginning. The TopBrewer was never a gadget or gimmick and I think the industry and the market take us a little more seriously now as we continue to deliver not only significant growth but new innovations and seriously disruptive forward-thinking ideas that will define the future of the consumer coffee experience and more.
5. What are generally people’s first impressions when they see the TopBrewer for the first time?
The TopBrewer certainly has the wow-factor and so the first impression is often incredulity. Lots of people don’t believe the TopBrewer can actually do what we say it can. However, after explaining the system, down to the fresh coffee beans and milk, and talking through the process of customising their own drink the initial disbelief turns to fascination. The TopBrewer app and user interface has been designed in such a way that it is super simple to use, so even those who have never seen the TopBrewer before have no problems with using it. It’s great to see people using the TopBrewer and enjoying their customised beverage.
6. If you could launch TopBrewer all over again is there anything you would do differently?
Well, if you promise not to tell anyone, we may have held back a few months to iron out some glitches we experienced early on! If you think about it the iPhone was only 2 years old – no wonder we had some strange reactions in the early days! On a serious note, we are extremely grateful to our earlier trailblazer customers who had faith in our idea and acted as a platform for us to get to where we are today. Yes, there are lots of things we would do differently but I feel that about yesterdays decisions, too!
7. What advice would you give to other start-ups and businesses launching a new product category?
It is so important to trust and have faith in your product, your strategy and most importantly your team. It is so easy to get distracted, particularly in the early days, and question if you are on the right path – it can be a lonely place full of doubt, but making smart decisions early on will pay off. For example, there may be various sectors that you could target with your product or service, but if you spread yourself too thin then you will be setting yourself up to fail. You don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket either so a strategic approach is key – know your limitations. One big advantage start ups have over large organisations is their ability to be nimble and agile, but as your team grows you will need to get smart processes in place to ensure that everybody is on the same page. In our infancy, we only had a very small team so communication was easy, but as we have grown we have had to develop our internal communication processes to ensure the right people know the right information at the right time. When your business scales quickly it is only natural to experience some growing pains but finding good people who believe in the business as much as you do will certainly help to alleviate some pressure. Finally, I would say that networking is extremely important to start up businesses, both through social media and face-to-face. It is important to find out who the key influencers are in your target sectors and make friends with them as quickly as you can. These new friends will be invaluable in helping you spread the word about your product or service and provide referrals and connections to help your business grow.
In summary, never lose sight of the goal, be willing to change direction and listen to your customers and team. Be prepared to say no to relationships that don’t make you money and offer a leg up to those that are following you.