Early 2013 I was unimpressed with the temperature of my inherited Rancilio Silvia and discovered the espresso PID rabbit hole : Auber’s, cheap Alibaba’s or DIY Arduino setups. As I had little money and no creditcard to boot I went shopping at Okaphone ( luckily we still have an electronic components shop in Groningen ). I already had an Arduino waiting for a purpose, at Okaphone I bought a SSR and a temperature sensor. Before dinner I had stuff wired up. After dinner I was controlling the boiler. Somewhat.
In the following weeks I tinkered with the setup in the evenings and weekends : I had a job, but I knew my contract would end in June and would not be prolonged. I did a quick tour of the homebrew PID market and decided to do something crazy : to focus 100% on the development of a PID which people would love :
- Easy to install
- Invisible, so your significant other would let you
- A minimum component and wire count
- Highly customizable through meBarista and firmware updates
- All for a fair price
What followed were two very hard years with money running out constantly. At the end of 2013 I had an integrated prototype : my own SMPS power supply, microcontroller, SSR/TRIAC and Bluetooth all on one board. In 2014 some contacts brought the first local customers. As money for food was running out, I started selling belongings. I fell behind on paying rent. Early 2015 I was getting desperate and created the KickStarter which failed miserably. But it drove traffic to the website and people were inquiring about reviews.
Then all of a sudden, in May 2015 a couple of people bit the bullet and ordered through the website : my first sales! A month later, some other sales. A review appeared on a forum, and sales increased, from one a month, to 4 a month, to 9 etc. I had to support users and work on all the feedback : especially the manual has been a pain.
And ever since sales have started, I have had to adapt my workflow to keep up : manufacturing electronics by hand is very hard work. Producing cable sets is hard labour. At the end of 2015 the volume had grown to a point where I could decide to keep going. In 2016 I worked on the accumulated debts and I had to work on myself : being poor is exhausting. It feels bad too.
However, manufacturing by hand was not sustainable and from the start of 2017 I worked on the design for manufacturing and had a batch produced by a local manufacturer on June 16th, 2017. Finally I would be able to take some rest, work on features and firmware again etc.
Boy, how wrong I was : after about 4 weeks it turned out units were inexplicably faulty and I could not figure out what the problem was. My manufacturer was not helpful at all. Finally in early November I figured out the problem : some components were acquired through a broker which had not followed MSL procedures. If components contain too much moisture they might get damaged in the SMD oven. And they did get damaged and I had to work on my manufacturer to acknowledge the problem and work on a solution. They did not assume responsibility although it was theirs.
In the end I had to hire a lawyer and they settled, moneywise none the richer though. I have moved production to a responsible partner in Poland since and they have produced an excellent batch which I have tested extensively. These have been ready for shipping for some time now.
But I turned out I was not ready for shipping : the manufacturing problems broke my back and I had to take some time off after 5 years of poor to minimum-wage, no holidays and running a 1-man army. Running a hardware startup is, ehhh, hard.
Although there have been many hardships it has been incredibly fun too : designing a product is fun, getting a bit of traction is fun, espresso is fun and most customers have been amazing, supportive and kind. Thank you all.
I have been working on meCoffee full time again for some weeks now and will restore operations like shipping, support and warranties on September 11th, 2018. If you are affected : before shipping your order I will contact you.
I am sorry. Mea Culpa.