While Kickstarter has lowered the cost of entry for youngupstarts and industryveterans alike, there's something to be said for working hard and saving up so you have some 'liquid assets' in the ol' rainy day fund when inspiration strikes. That's what Aaron Panone and Joshua Resnikoff did to realize their wildly successful Cuppow, which has since proven its usefulness by facilitating the production of this very publication, via daily doses of caffeine.
Today marks the launch of the second model of the Cuppow, which has a smaller outside diameter to fit regular mouth canning jars—the original is designed to fit wide-mouth jars—as well as the new diamond-shaped "Straw-Tek" spout. (They've also got some sweet lifestyle shots to accompany the product photos.)
But it takes a lot of legwork to get a chicken Cuppow into the hands of a happy customer, as Aaron learned over six months of self-guided enterprise:
Joshua and I went into this project with a combined $3,000 to invest and without really knowing what to expect. Both of us are engineers/designers, and I had released a few small products in the past, but neither of us knew anything about really "producing" something in a sustainable way or running a business or high-volume manufacturing logistics.
We'd initially planned to produce Cuppow as a relatively short run product, but then when we sold out—in two days—of the initial 500 pieces, we realized that we needed to scale production very quickly. In scaling, we didn't want to lose any of the production quality or make anything overseas, or give up any of the elements of the supply chain that made it something that we were proud to produce.
When we started, we were manufacturing our Wide Mouth Cuppows at a short-run injection molding facility in Minnesota, and having all of our packaging letterpress printed by a one-man shop in Somerville, MA. Money was coming in and the demand for the product was strong and manufacturing and packaging production was bottlenecked because we didn't have enough money to really scale production appropriately—which required a complete re-design of the packaging plates and dies, more durable (steel) injection molding tooling, and a new high-volume manufacturing facility. We didn't want to lose momentum by suspending sales, and we couldn't get payment terms from any vendors, because we had no track record as a company. Our assembled product was costing us so much money that it was becoming difficult to finance any growth.
So what we did was only make as much product and packaging as we absolutely needed (we ran out a few times and it was terrible terrible terrible), and put the rest of the money into parallel investments in what we would need to start the process of getting our new tooling made. We did two of these development cycles back to back—one for the Wide Mouth Cuppow and one for the Regular Mouth Cuppow—and we are just coming out of the second development cycle this week with the release of the Regular Mouth Cuppow.
A side-by-side comparison of the first-generation, wide-mouth Cuppow (left) and the new regular mouth one (right)
Our ideal supply chain involved sub-contractors/facilities that were as small as possible (1-50 employees) and as local as possible (within an hour drive) and in practice this produced exceptional results. On top of supporting our local economy and keeping industries alive in our backyard, the advantage of using small and local is twofold: 1.) We can call up and talk to the owner of a company (or someone important who knows us by our first name) in our supply chain at any time during the day; and 2.) We can drive out and touch and look at things in person, or talk face-to-face. When I called up our fulfillment center during week one after our initial product launch and left a frantic message about how we needed help shipping hundreds of Cuppows, I got a call back from the owner of the company at eight o'clock that night telling me that they would love to work with us and that they had the solutions to our problems, and that was great.
We had new two-cavity (produces two parts in one cycle) automatic (does not require a full-time operator) injection molding tooling cut in Norton, our new injection molding facility is in Sturbridge, we use a local trucking company from Chicopee, a fulfillment warehouse in Plainville, and we still make our packaging with the same one-man shop in Somerville. Through all of this we have also become much more focused on keeping local retail alive, and have come to really respect the process that occurs in the background for every product that we see.
The past six months have contained some of the best learning experiences of my life, and I have grown as an engineer and designer because of these experiences and the things that I have seen and the problems I have had to solve. The value is in learning by doing. I think that everyone should do something that is unfamiliar or uncomfortable because it is easy to get stuck in the processes that you are familiar with and it makes life more interesting.
Now to put it to the test... I don't know what the weather's like up in Somerville, but it's definitely iced coffee weather here in New York. Get 'em hot off the injection mold at http://cuppow.com/.