Bevi CEO explains how an idea for a product grew into a sustainable startup

Reducing impact on the planet isn’t an afterthought at Bevi it’s the startup’s core business.

Co-founder and CEO of Bevi, Sean Grundy, wanted to work for a company where sustainability was woven into the business model from the start, and shareholder and environmental values were one in the same. So, Sean chose to start fresh and build that very company.

Today, Bevi’s smart water dispensers, which provide customizable flavors using filtered tap water and natural ingredients, have saved the waste generated by over 65 million plastic bottles.

I recently chatted with Sean to learn about how he wound up co-founding Bevi, and how the startup has created an efficient, customizable and environmentally friendly alternative to canned and bottled beverages. Sean was also an EDF Climate Corps fellow with Hilex Poly back in 2012.

Here is an edited transcript of our conversation.

How did you end up co-founding Bevi?

I have a nonprofit background, but I was attracted to the idea of a for-profit company that could make an environmental impact. A startup appealed to me because environmental value could be built into the business model of a company from the very start, where financial return from day one is afterthought to sustainability.

I met my co-founder Eliza, who studied the bottled-water industry at Rhode Island School of Design. She came up with the idea of out-designing bottled water through elegant, very well engineered point-of-use systems that would enable you to create a variety of drinks without wasting a disposable container. So, we decided to try to make a company out of it.

What does your role consist of now? What’s a day in the life like?

One of the fun things about my job is that my work changes quarter to quarter. I’ve run sales, recruited executives, developed long-term company strategies, and have been out fundraising, pitching venture capitalists. Right now I’m focused on improving internal communication and making sure voices are heard from multiple levels of the organization as we continue to grow.

How is Bevi disrupting, and redesigning, the beverage industry’s supply chain?

Traditional supply chains are based on bottling, mixing product ingredients, and shipping final products off. Our supply chain consists of very densely packed beverage concentrates that are shipped to point-of-use machines. Instead of mixing the concentrate with water in the plant, we mix with filtered tap water on the spot so that you can create a fresh beverage of your choice. The end product is the same, but the path of getting that beverage to you is a lot more efficient.

Why is this supply chain better for business?

Our cost savings are very linked to cutting out transportation and packaging, which, conveniently, are also the two major environmental problems with the bottled-beverage industry today.

Very little of the cost of a bottled beverage is actually the beverage it’s labor, transportation, and packaging. These are costs that every bottled-beverage maker has to incur, except us.

How has Bevi leveraged technology to make its dispensers so efficient?

We’re as much a software company as we are a hardware company. Sensors and the IOT movement have really enabled our business model and made quality-management and inventory-management procedures more efficient.

Most of the industry still operates on a route where every week someone will visit the same location. And that’s very inefficient because there ends up being a lot of needless site visits and trucking from one location to another.

With Bevi, every time a user selects a beverage, we can track exactly how much water went through a filter, how much CO2 was used and when it needs restocking. Because this is communicated all online, we don’t need someone physically going to each location to gather this information. So, we’re eliminating any frivolous visits, and minimizing fuel for trucking and costs for labor.

Where do you see a role for collaborating with other companies to improve the sustainability of the entire beverage industry?

Probably the biggest opportunity we have is partnering with reusable-bottle companies. Some Bevi customers enjoy our product using plastic cups, which obviously isn’t helping the plastic problem. We can work with reusable-bottle companies to get their products in more of our customer locations and promote their use, or create incentives for our customers who do adopt them.

Do you have any advice or lessons learned for entrepreneurs?

Take advantage of the entrepreneur and tech community, it is very supportive, and typically, people are very willing to talk and to help. I spend a lot of time talking to other entrepreneurs who are farther ahead, and getting their guidance on what to do. Ask them who they know that solved your particular challenges. A lot of our biggest opportunities came from meetings that felt random.

What skills do you think will be most valuable for jobs in the future and how will you continue to build on them in order to be prepared?

In tech, software and electrical engineering. I don’t see a slowdown being in either IOT or robotics or any of this connected-hardware world. I’m trying to modernize my data-analysis skills, getting comfortable with Tableau and Looker.

More generally, design and customer-experience skills are extremely valuable and will continue to be. Reconceiving old-fashioned-products requires thinking about how can we really design the experience so that every detail is better, more efficient and more convenient for the customer. And the core skill to doing that is design.

What’s next for Bevi? Anything fun you can share with us?

We’re working on the second generation of our product. It’s similar to our original, but it’s essentially better in every way. It’s designed to offer a greater variety of custom beverages, and it increases users’ ability to personalize their own drinks.

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