Monday, September 30, 2013

The Clover of Brewing Machines

Five years ago, the Clover Coffee Equipment company was hand-assembling high-tech, excellent automatic coffee-making machines for the super high-end market. At tens of thousands of dollars each, they were intended for sale to boutique coffee shops, like Trabant and others, who could sell wonderful, precision-made cups of coffee to people who can appreciate the quality interaction of specialty beans, brewing times and temperatures.

Clover’s “factory” was an ordinary-looking building in Seattle’s Fremont district (very close to today’s MakerHaus by the way) and the founders were people who had a passion for the intersection of (industrial) design and the precision coffee experience. Those of us who knew the company and its products thought it was a great idea, and eventually Starbucks agreed when it bought them out.

How would you build something like Clover today? Well, I just saw the perfect example on Kickstarter: the PycoBrew Zymatic beer brewing appliance. At a high level, the hardware reminds me of the Clover: pumps, temperature sensors, relays, heating. Otherwise, instead of coffee beans, it uses grain and malt.

But the really exciting difference is the fantastic new business model that’s been enabled by Kickstarter. Whereas Clover had to be financed through (some deep-pocketed) angels and other traditional investors, PycoBrew can get its startup capital through its first customers. Through a pledge of about $1,500, the people interested in the product can help the new company financially right now, when it has no revenues.

Like the Clover founders, the people of PycoBrew seem very serious: their web site documents their progress through multiple generations of functional prototypes. To manufacture something that complicated, and then ship and support it around the country is a very big deal – the kind of business that in the past would have required (tens of?) millions of dollars up-front.

Think of a bread machine, only instead of bread you get beer. The basic idea is straightforward, and I personally know dozens, maybe hundreds of engineers who are entirely capable of building such a thing – or zillions of other similarly-interesting or useful products. But a great idea is useless without a profitable business to carry it out. Kickstarter and the wonderful set of internet-enabled ideas that go behind it, is lowering the costs and upfront hassles of actually starting and running the business side of ideas.

I can’t wait to see what additional new products we’ll see thanks to the new, really cool business innovation behind this.

Friday, September 27, 2013

[book] Adam Grant’s Give and Take

Seth Roberts blogged that this book is “the best in psychology in many years” and I think I agree. It’s similar to books by Malcolm Gladwell or Daniel Pink, full of easy-to-relate-to anecdotes backed by serious academic research. The claim is that success-minded people are divided into three categories: givers, matchers, and takers. The book presents evidence for why givers are the most successful in the long run – overly represented at the top of most fields – and how to avoid the mistakes that see givers overly represented at the bottom too: as doormats and pushovers.

Besides Seth Roberts’ blog, there is an excellent New York Times Magazine summary of the ideas, so I won’t bother laying out more details, but there was one concept in particular that interested me: the work of Amanatullah and Morris on negotiations. The women they studied weren’t particularly aggressive when negotiating for themselves, but got results as good as their male counterparts when negotiating on behalf of another.

If you’re a natural giver – you see yourself as doing things generally out of generosity or good will toward others – then one way to avoid being used is to imagine you are negotiating for somebody else. When the women studied were asked to negotiate a salary for another person, they ended up with much better results than when they negotiated for themselves.

Besides the obvious implication that I really should have my wife do all the negotiating in my family (which I already know is true), the easy trick is to approach any negotiation with the perspective that you are actually fighting on behalf of all the people in your life. You want a better salary or a good deal on a car, not for your own selfish gain, but because you want something better for your family. This idea of “relational accounting” is the purest form of giving, because you think through all the consequences of your actions, rather than simply demuring to the wishes of your counter-party.

The book is full of similar observations that make it well worth reading and I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Don’t brush after mealtimes

Advice from the WSJ health column:

"When you eat or drink something acidic, the pH in your mouth goes down and can take some time to go back to normal." The ideal pH of a mouth is about 7, while a soda—even a diet one—can be as low as 2.5 or "about the same as household vinegar," says Dr. Cole. Acid demineralizes and weakens the tooth surface, making it more prone to decay.

Instead of brushing (which, more than once or twice a day is hard on your teeth), they recommend rinsing your mouth with water to neutralize the pH back to levels that aren’t so helpful to cavity-causing bacteria.

Day 241/365: don't forget yer toothbrush

Sunday, September 08, 2013

BodyMedia and Me

My data for the past week, presented using Excel's graphing functions.


Can't believe, after all these years, there's no easy way for Excel to save this in resolution-independent graphics.