Joy Resolve’s Viral Coffee Making Alarm Clock

Back in 2014, Hypebeast covered the story of the Barisieur, a newly launched coffee machine-cum-alarm clock that went viral and had the internet in a headlock. The beautifully designed bedroom accessory was the brainchild of Joshua Renouf, a product design graduate whose final year project exploring the tactility of vinyl record players inspired his creation. Looking back, the Barisieur would end up with a strong claim to being the world’s first viral coffee machine, turning Renouf’s idea from a concept into the foundations of a successful business today.

2014 was a memorable year in tech: Apple, on the sixth iteration of its iPhone, announced its smartwatch and made Dr. Dre a billionaire when it bought Beats; Meta, then known as Facebook, was only 10 years old but was marching on in force, acquiring both Whatsapp and Oculus VR, two major arms of its business today; and Google purchased home automation company Nest Labs, two years before it would launch its very own Google Assistant. It was a pivotal year for Renouf, too, as he would go on to launch his company Joy Resolve on the back of the success he found with the Barisieur, a product that blended the old-time charm of a teasmade – one of the inspirations behind his creation – with modern technology, and tapped into the increasingly on-demand culture of the times.

With Joy Resolve, Renouf’s mission is to create minimalist home brewing equipment for coffee and tea drinkers who have keen sense for good design. The company’s products are “inspired by a Scandinavian and Japanese aesthetic,” according to its founder, and include the Groove Compact Grinder – a handheld coffee grinder that Renouf says got “25 million views” on TikTok – and the Manual Brewer, a wonderfully simple drip brewer that would look just at home in a kitchen as it would a museum. However, a decade on from its debut, Renouf’s original creation the Barisieur remains the company’s best seller. It has reigned supreme not only due to its novel, almost niche appeal, but perhaps also because of the instant nature of things today. Movies, music, food and transport are all available at the tap of a button, and one’s morning coffee is no different.

Virality aside, Joy Resolve’s products serve a practical purpose and add style to its users’ routines. Sustainability and circularity are built into the design of its product range, most of which is modular, allowing individual components to be swapped and changed as needed. The company is also “incredibly conscious of the materials [used]“, says Renouf, adding that they use sustainably sourced wood and “for every tree that is cut down, another tree is planted.”

Hypebeast recently caught up with the London-based designer 10 years after we originally wrote about his creation. We discussed the challenges that come with being an entrepreneur, his journey as a designer, what’s on the near horizon for Joy Resolve and, of course, coffee. You can read the full conversation below.

Can you tell us a bit about your origin story?

I studied product design at Nottingham Trent University and did my minor dissertation on the resurgence of vinyl records and players. I thought it was interesting how tangible experiences were becoming digitalized and, as a designer, I wondered how our needs will change over time. I started thinking about how I could have a better experience waking up [in the morning] or even getting into a better routine for going to bed – I get quite obsessive about sleep, understanding moods and circadian rhythms, all that stuff. There was a teasmade for sale in John Lewis, but it looked quite dated [from a design perspective]. The store workers told me most customers bought it as a joke present, but some elderly customers would buy it for themselves. I thought, “Okay, cool… but it doesn’t make coffee!” I was quite inspired by my dissertation on record players and having a tangible experience; I like putting things on display and being proud of the product in your home. When I first started designing the Barisieur I was obsessed with alchemy, having a boiling vessel with different tubes the water flows in and out of and being able to see the whole thing happening. I thought I could do that and learned all about different manufacturing processes. I just had fun with it. After I graduated, I put it on my website and sent the link and a press release to a few platforms. I actually think I sent it to Hypebeast back in… I think it was 2015 or something like that and I think Hypebeast were one of the first to write about it!

Your product was still just a concept, but it went viral. What were you thinking?

I was like, “What the fuck?!” I added a ‘Register Your Interest’ tab on my website and ended up getting around 25,000 emails. My website hit half a million views in a few days. The Daily Mail kept calling me because my number was on the website and I had TV producers calling to say they were going to feature it on their shows. I actually went into panic mode, thinking, “Shit, maybe I should get this product to market, but maybe I should be speaking to, you know, lawyers? And do I need to patent it?” Anyway, I ended up launching it on Kickstarter and raised several hundred thousand. The thing is, though, with Kickstarter you [have to] set like a goal and if you don’t reach the goal, you don’t get the money. I’d set quite a high goal because I thought we’d need the money for things like injection mould and tooling. With moulds for the plastic, most factories have minimum order quantities before they’d work with you. It was a lot that I that needed to get into it and get certifications for.

What was your Kickstarter funding target?

The goal was £360,000 [$450,000 USD]. It was really tight, I think we had 10 days left of the campaign [and still hadn’t achieved it]. I think we had around £100,000 left to reach out goal. I’d put all of this effort into the campaign and it felt like a now or never type thing. 

But you ended up doubling your goal, ultimately?

Yeah! So, basically, there’s Kickstarter and there’s Indiegogo. You can move your Kickstarter campaign over to the Indiegogo platform and continue to fundraise there [if you successfully achieve your Kickstarter goal]. I was really close to not making it and one day I got a call from Virgin’s venture capital group saying they’ve got Richard Branson coming in and asking if I was free to come and meet him to talk about the product. It felt like it was a sign. I ended up going and found myself sitting directly next to him – I got a picture with him, too! It really helped to build the momentum for the final push on Kickstarter and we just crept over the line. 

What were you doing during this time?

I was working at a design store in Shoreditch, but ended up quitting my job and went to China with the guys from Mous to learn how to manufacture the product. They helped me out early on. We had to find and visit all these factories and it was quite… quite an intense time trying to find the right factories, because some were quite small and required high order quantities to make it [worthwhile financially]. We met 10 or so different factories and, actually, at that time we didn’t know for sure if [the product concept] was even going to work.

So, during the fundraising campaign, you didn’t know how the final product was going to work?!

No! I’d kind of proved the concept and knew induction could work for this, but had trouble finding an induction coil small enough to fit. We also had the challenge of needing a minimum order quantity to make it economically viable. It was stressful but we found an amazing factory partner in China and convinced the boss that this product was going to do well and that we’d continue to order with them! We did a small batch before going into production and I asked for 10 of these units to be sent over to me in London which I then hand-delivered to some of our earlybird backers from Kickstarter. You know, with a first product, there are bound to be issues, but I wanted feedback from people using it. I dropped them all over London and as I was pulling up to this house in Hampstead someone I was with said it was Jonathan Ross’ house. I ended up actually delivering one of the very first Barisieur to Jonathan Ross!

Was he a backer? Did he use his real name?!

I think it his wife bought it for his birthday, something like that. Anyway, we started to get feedback within a week or two and realised we had a problem with the milk vessel – it was freezing the milk. I spoke to the factory and they sent over new PCB boards to replace the ones in the machines, but also told me that our order was already manufactured and on the boat. We had thousands of units on the way I thought, they’re all going to arrive and they’re all faulty. So I ended up going to the warehouses when one of the warehouses in the UK to check them all. And, thankfully, they were all fine.

Can you tell us a little more about how it works?

It’s pretty simple, actually. Basically, you add water up to the fill line. Add your coffee grounds or loose leaf tea. Set the alarm and press the button to activate it. It starts to brew before your alarm goes off. The steam [going through the tubes] turns to water out and flows into the coffee at an engineered temperature of 94 degrees [celsius], which is optimum for brewing coffee. It starts to brew before the alarm goes off. You start to hear it bubbling, then you start to smell it. It’s great. 

How do you balance being a designer first and foremost with being a business owner?

I have to admit, at first I was really emotionally driven – coming from more of a creative background. We’ve had a few products fail in the past as we wanted to adopt the start-up mentality of “move fast and break stuff”. And, don’t get me wrong we still adopt this, but it turns out you can’t just throw cool stuff at the wall and hope it sticks, especially when you now have a cash flow to adhere to. So, I show my designs to as many people as possible and even give prototypes out to get feedback ASAP. We even speak to our community and send surveys out to vote for products they like. Once we’re confident we then try to get some small orders with the factories to see the market response before placing larger ones. And that’s when the excel spreadsheets come into play. I really resisted the business dev side of things. But as I have progressed as a business owner (with my business partner Markus), I’ve learnt to love Excel and diving deep into the cash flow. You’ll now get me planning absolutely everything on Excel from my own personal finances to holiday itineraries… who knew Excel could be so therapeutic?! It’s like Sudoku for entrepreneurs – addictive and oddly satisfying. Oh dear, that’s quite sad isn’t it…

Can you tell us about your favorite functions and features of the Barisieur?

I think my favorite thing is seeing the water move and flow. It’s the same thing for me with vinyl record players; there’s a kind of magic to it, you don’t know how that music is coming out of that plastic. I also just like the way everything fits: you’ve got the little drawer which has your spoon neatly inserted inside its lid; and the same again with the milk vessel. Some of these feel like little surprises. A lot of thought and effort went into the design of the features you want customers to like and be satisfied with. 

How do you take your coffee?

It depends how I feel! I wouldn’t say use [the Barisieur] every day, but if I’m going into the gym early then I’d like to be able to have a drink before. Here [in the office] I like flat whites – they don’t do drip filter [coffee] here! But, yeah, I like to keep it simple with a flat white.

How does coffee culture differ in the UK from elsewhere?

Well, I’m not sure I can speak for the [whole] UK because I live in London and feel that it has its own microcosm, not only of culture, but coffee culture, due to its diversity and cosmopolitan atmosphere. Obviously, as Brits, we have a long-standing love affair for tea. I was pretty much born with a tea bag in my hand ready to dunk. I think London has been at the forefront of the third-wave coffee movement and café culture which now seems to be integral to the fabric of London life. Not too dissimilar to the UK’s pub culture I guess! The Barisieur brews filter coffee and is way more popular in the USA as they like a longer drink; typically filter or pour over coffee is much more popular over there versus, say, Europe where they typically prefer a shorter drink like espresso. Here in London and the UK we are somewhere in between, with flat whites – and dare I say – lattes. We like more milk-based drinks.

What’s the future got in store for you?

That’s a good question. I think our launch product was slightly niche and it’s why we went down different routes and introduced new products like the coffee bean grinder. It’s a simple, handheld, electric coffee bean grinder, but it captures so much attention. It got 12.5 million views on TikTok one month, then 25 million views the next month. It captured the imagination of consumers. We recently launched our new ClearBrew Moka Pot which we keep running out of stock with due to demand. We designed the top to be made from a thick borosilicate glass so you can see the brewing action, but also how much is left in the pot. We also have the Barisieur Grande coming out this year which I’m pumped about. The Barisieur Grande will allow for a double serving (2 x 150ml) or a larger [single] serving (300ml), [as well as] a serving for a jug. I can’t thank our community enough for pre-ordering this product and their patience whilst we’ve navigated R&D, certifications and manufacturing for this. Oh, and we’re not stopping at coffee gear. We’re branching out into homeware, bringing our design magic to every corner of your home. So, watch this space.

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