This Boston startup is redesigning water coolers for today’s office

February 6, 2017

Seltzer water is having a moment in the U.S.

LaCroix sparkling water, for example, has seen its sales triple since 2009, even though it’s been around for decades. Boston startup Bevi is taking full advantage of this craze, focusing on the environmental impacts a company like theirs can have on office life.

Launched out of Boston in 2013, Bevi was created by three friends — Sean Grundy, Eliza Becton and Frank Lee — who were fed up with how many people were buying bottled water over drinking tap water, often trashing plastic bottles after a single use.

“We started Bevi with the goal of taking plastic bottles and containers out of the beverage supply chain,” Grundy said. “Initially we really viewed this as purely a social environmental enterprise.”

The trio spent their first year as a fledgling startup. Grundy and his co-founders guessed that most people preferred to avoid the extra cost and waste associated with buying bottled beverages, but thought they needed the convenience of having bottles whenever they wanted. So, the Bevi team’s first prototype was a machine that dispensed plastic reusable bottles.

Bevi tested this business model by putting a few of these vending machines in gyms around Boston.

“That’s when our current business model changed,” Grundy said. “Putting out these machines we began to notice user trends. Not many people were getting bottles because they already had reusable bottles. But they would pay to refill them.”

Grundy and the rest of the Bevi team were surprised to find that people found value in just refilling the reusable water bottles they already owned. They didn’t need any more containers.

When Bevi asked gym-goers what they did want, many said their offices were crazy for seltzer water, but threw out hundreds of empty cans per week. Grundy used this input to pivot away from gyms (though it still sells Bevis to fitness centers), and instead focus on offices.

Powered by the municipal water supply, Bevi machines filter water directly from the tap, providing at least 10 varieties of seltzer flavors that range from coconut and lemon, to blueberry cucumber, raspberry and citrus mango. There’s no brew period or wait time – employees use a touchscreen to choose their beverage and the machine produces within a quarter of a second of making your selection.

Part of what Grundy hopes will set Bevi a part from its competitors is its software, which feeds Bevi real-time data regarding which flavors employees are choosing and where, and status updates about fruit concentrates that need refilling and filters that need changing. Bevi monitors the inventory for them and works with local distributors around the U.S. that handle the heavy lifting. 

Bevi estimates that its machines are saving over 4 million bottles a year from the landfill, and they’ve only just begun.

They currently have between 300 and 400 customers in 15 states, Grundy said, but he credits local startups for getting Bevi off the ground.

Cambridge-based Akamai was one of Bevi’s first customers, and Needham’s TripAdvisor and LevelUp hopped on board shortly after. Other big brands like Netflix, Lyft and Indeed have also started to offer Bevi machines as a free employee perk. 

“Boston has been critical to our success,” Grundy said. “The fact that we were a local startup made them choose us before our product was even good. They were willing to stand by us through product breakdowns because they wanted to help out a local company.”

In 2017, Grundy said Bevi is focused on expanding beyond the 15 states it currently operates in. The company is also considering an international pilot, or a partnership with a big-name brand outside of the standard sparkling water and flavored water world.

While they scale the business, however, Grundy said it’s critical that Bevi stays true to its environmentally-conscious values.

“The one thing we’ve done really exceptionally is getting customers to think about Bevi as an alternative to bottled beverages,” Grundy said. “A lot of employees join us because they want to have a for-profit salary but their heart is more like a non-profit type of person who wants to do something they believe in.”

 

Photos via company

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