Brewing coffee to the Golden Cup Standard typically requires a few minutes of percolation. It’s why you wait so long for pricey pour-overs. And it got veteran founder Eduardo Umaña thinking about the market opportunity for a small, rechargeable coffee maker that does it better. His invention, the FrankOne, uses patented vacuum extraction technology to make a perfect cup in just 30 seconds.
Umaña had previously launched a watch company called Classic Engineering, where he learned that thinking through a clear value proposition like this is just as important as coming up with an interesting product. “With Classic Engineering, I let my creativity run wild, creating basically what came to my mind,” he said. “With FrankOne, the design process was more disciplined towards cost, ease of use, reliability, and certain parameters having to do with coffee extraction.”
Having that experience and perspective made it significantly easier to launch FrankOne. Plus, he also got some help from Kickstarter’s Hardware Studio Connection partner Dragon Innovation. In the edited and condensed interview below, he discusses his experience and advice for fine-tuning an excellent product.
Katheryn Thayer: Did you have concerns about feasibility of certain elements? Why?
Umaña: I think there are several types of feasibility when launching a new product. There’s physical restrictions—any product has to conform to the laws of physics. Then there is the manufacturing feasibility question, which is harder to answer for people without a lot of design experience. Lastly, there’s the question of market fit and interest. Testing for each kind of feasibility takes very different skills, but launching a product requires all three of them.
In our case, we had two important feasibility questions. The first was about market fit and interest. Do people want a coffee machine like the one we have in mind? The way we answered this question was by taking a look at the competitors in the market. Our machine would be much easier to use; it would also be the first machine that can make both hot coffee and cold brew. This is when we realized there is value in our planned product. To confirm this, we built prototypes and showed them to the coffee community. We traveled as far as Guatemala to a very famous specialty coffee farm called El Injerto to show them our design. Their response was very positive.
The second question was of the physical kind. Can we fit strong enough pumps and batteries in the small space we have? We spent a lot of time placing batteries and pumps in different configurations before finding the best one. We bought different pumps off Alibaba and printed various test shapes with an Ultimaker 3 to make sure the pump we selected provided an appropriate amount of flow rate. Rapid iteration is the only way to do it. After we confirmed this was possible, we knew we had a product.
Were there elements of this project that you thought would be simple but ended up being a headache? How did they surprise you?
Refining the design—or finishing the last 20 percent of the product—takes 80 percent of the time. When we discovered the form factor for FrankOne we thought we would finish the design fast. It is a simple-looking machine, right? However, getting every single kink ironed out took way longer than we thought it would. It’s always what you think will be simple that ends up being a problem: finding the right prototyping materials, testing tolerances of certain components, and making the glass carafe were just a few of the challenges in our particular case. Each product will has its own hidden set of complexities. I could see how entire product development timelines could be thrown off by these little issues piling up.
How’d you start working with Dragon Innovation?
I met Scott, the founder of Dragon, at an event in San Francisco. At the time I was doing manufacturing for my previous company, Classic Engineering, but in the low-volume space. I knew that when I decided to launch my first mass-produced product it was imperative to work with someone like Scott at Dragon. I never attempted to learn as I go with manufacturing—though that is my philosophy for almost everything else!
What did you feel was the most significant part of working with them?
Showing your design to an experienced manufacturing engineer and receiving feedback is worth a lot. The trip to China to visit factories was also remarkable. I feel my knowledge as an entrepreneur in hardware was widened by working with them and asking a lot of questions.
How far along were you with the prototype when you showed it to them? What were the main points of feedback they provided? And how did those smooth your work with factories?
Once we had a mature prototype, we used its Product Planner software to schedule DFM reviews with their engineers. Here, Dragon did provide very specific feedback on certain aspects of the design, mainly around how to design the waterproof button and the waterproof USB connector on FrankOne. No major redesign was necessary, since I was already familiar with manufacturing processes and had integrated that knowledge into the design.
What do you wish you knew sooner?
Be very careful who you contract with. The first Kickstarter video we did was a disaster, largely based on the company that we decided to hire. We had to settle with them and find a new company to make the video. A few thousand were lost in the process unfortunately…
I would recommend personally meeting with people you are considering working with before getting started. If possible, visit their office to get a better look at their level of organization and professionalism. Have a contract in place in case their service does not fulfill your specific requirements.
What advice do you have for other makers working on similar appliances?
Before designing anything, I would say it is important to know the market need you are filling. Don’t be victim to falling in love with your creation and stubbornly taking it to market to find out not enough people want it. A very good professor I had in college said that “inventors fall in love with their inventions,” and once that happens, a stream of bad business decisions usually follow.
Eduardo is the founder and CEO of Frank de Paula. Eduardo is a mechanical and electrical engineer by profession, a designer by instinct, and an entrepreneur by nature. Before starting Frank de Paula, he started Classic Engineering, where he designed and launched a ceramic watch and enchanted lamp that turns on at the sound of a whistle. He can be reached at eum [ at ] frankdepaula.com.