The beer industry is full of innovative and creative people figuring how to make things happen. In an industry comprised of bootstrapped do it your selfers it is no surprise that these people don’t wait for problems to be solved by experts, they do it themselves with what they have available.
The thought process and story behind these steps to innovation are highlighted in our Behind the Scenes series that looks at the efforts these people take to make their ideas become reality.
Joel Bigham was on his way to meet his brother in Sarasota. They had found a rental house in the area and were both big into hoppy beers. Joel was excitedly bringing 12 different IPAs that his brother had never tried before until he realized that glassware would be lacking. He had a couple options.
A. Throw back to college days and use red solo cups.
B. Use what ever glassware was available in the rental.
C. Pack Spigelau IPA glasses.
The idea of drinking these great full aroma beers out of solo cups was more than he could muster but had no way to safely pack his pricey IPA Specific glassware and resorted to using the glass provided by the rental.
“Driving down, I wondered: how is there not a plastic version of this glass? It’s not the glass that makes it work, its the shape … I couldn’t get the idea out of my head for months”, recalls Joel.
When the idea wouldn’t relent Joel knew he had to act and B-Cups were born. Here’s how it happened:
TRP: What did you see in the market that made you think this filled a need?
JB: What I saw (and still see) in the market is that glassware really matters. People who are serious about their beer have experimented with the latest Spiegelau glassware, and the proof is in the comparisons. Compared to a shaker pint, they perform 4000% better. The education is now growing with more and more people understanding that a proper vessel can actually make a difference depending on the beer type you’re drinking. This is the key – people have to want to use specialized glassware before they consider buying a style-specific plastic beer cup – and I believe we are there.
TRP: What was your thought process for bringing this product to life?
JB: I had no idea what I was doing since I’d never done this before, so I took it in small chunks. Without trying to figure out the end process, I simply began. I was ready to abandon the product at any stage if it proved to be too hard, too expensive, or some other shortcoming made it a bad idea. I just knew the idea I had in my head and tried to make it a reality somehow – with the help of some kind people along the way to let me pick their brains. As a marketer, I was filled with ideas about how to market this product, that’s what really drove me forward.
That said, I imagined 4 separate cups at first. I sketched them all out, sketched out potential packaging as photo-real as I could. I circulated the drawings to get some feedback from close friends.
Then I settled on one cup. Making 4 was cost-prohibitive for sure – and completely unnecessary if the only purpose is to gauge the market and see if they’re ready for proper plasticware ™. Since IPA sales make up more than half of all craft beer sales, the first cup decided itself.
I thought about making 6-packs of cups, but then scaled back to 4 packs. The 6 packs were obtrusively large in a retail setting, and really unnecessary. Most drinkware comes in 4 packs, so I decided not to buck the system.
The funniest thing is that I was looking for these to be disposable. All my early designs said “disposable”. I pictured them as flimsy-ish plastic. We spoke a lot about the wall thickness of the cup, but I didn’t know how to visualize what it would be like. They told me they couldn’t do a wall thickness any lower than a certain point, so I went slightly above that mark. When I got the prototypes, they were so transparent, sturdy, and beautiful that I instantly knew they had to be reusable. You have to be open to changing your product as you’re developing – and this made the cups better than I ever thought they would be.
I had no idea what I was doing since I’d never done this before, so I took it in small chunks. Without trying to figure out the end process, I simply began.
TRP: What was the first step after having the initial idea?
JB: My first step was to find a 3D modeler who could make my idea a reality in a computer. I knew a 3D print was going to be the best way to prototype. So I went to the Shapeways.com forums to find someone who did freelance work. I sent him pictures of the Spiegelau glass so he could get the idea and explained the kind of dimensions I was looking for.
TRP: How did the form factor come about?
JB: It’s a tip of the hat to the Spiegelau glass for sure. B Cups are shorter than Spiegelau glasses, but employ a similar “bulb” area and mouth opening restriction to capture aromas. The B-shaped base is made to continually agitate the beer each time you tip it back to take a drink. This makes for great head retention and beautiful lacing when drinking your favorite IPA.
TRP: How many different shapes and form factors did you play with?
JB: Generally speaking, the shape and form factor never changed from the initial design. I knew I wanted them to stack and thought the built in “shelf” would help them to lock together a bit.
Originally I made them as tall as the Spiegelau but I saw shortcomings for packaging and storage with that height so I shortened them just enough so that a full pint still fits in the cup. I also played around with the overall height and width of the bottom of the cup, where your hand holds it.
TRP: How did you go about prototyping?
JB: 3D printing with Shapeways.com was a god-send for me. For a small fee, it enables you to really see your design come to life.
TRP: What did you use for the initial prototypes?
JB: Initially, everything was done in 3D. The first physical prototypes were done in white plastic by Shapeways. Production prototypes came after the molds were built and were essentially what you see today.
TRP: How many prototypes did you go thru before you settled on the form/materials you liked?
JB:I managed to hit it on the second physical prototype, which was the shorter model. The materials just had to be 1. fully transparent, and 2. BPA free. PET seemed like the perfect material for this.
TRP: How did you find your manufacturer?
JB: I felt out many manufacturers. Most told me that what I wanted to do was impossible. The few who told me I could do it all wanted a lot of money that I wasn’t comfortable spending without testing the market first. Committing to 100,000 cups seemed ludicrous when all I had was my gut feeling it would work. I wound up negotiating with a US based company who outsourced the manufacturing to China. They gave me a great price when I showed them the direct-from-China price I got from another company. It was useful to play them against one another for sure. In the end it was still not cheap, but way cheaper than what the first 4 quotes were.
TRP: What challenges did you encounter during the design phase / development phase?
JB: Specs and timelines. Everything needs to be spec’d. The whole bag, the entire cup, all bends, measurements, height of text, color codes, etc. I found a lot of help online and managed to cobble everything together – but my timeline really suffered because I had a full time job and a family. I expected to have production prototypes in June at the latest, and didn’t get them until October 2014.
TRP: Was communication an issue with an overseas manufacturer?
JB: Thankfully I have a buffer with my US-based company. If I tried to do it via China directly, it would have been a nightmare, I’m sure of it. I speak no Chinese, and their English, while pretty good, isn’t very good when you’re talking about technical spec and other specifics.
TRP: What was the initial marketing strategy?
JB: My strategy was to get them in the hands of as many beer nerds as possible. As I said before, they’re really mostly suited to people who use and enjoy proper glassware, so it made sense to pilot them with that crowd. I sent a free retail 4-pack to 50 beer bloggers who I called out on Twitter. I actually called out about 400 @twitter names on twitter by building tweets in excel not to exceed character lengths and then imported into a tweet scheduler. I had 50 signups by noon that same day.
In addition, I choose to go very local with my approach. I sold to local craft beer bottle shops, breweries, and other stores that had the best selection in the area. If you visit the map of stores that carry B Cups, it’s a who’s who of some of the best craft beer selections around Tampa Bay. We are now in about 15 locations.
As a full time beer traveler I was very interested and somewhat skeptical when I received my complimentary set of B-Cups to review. On one hand they were beer specific vessels that you could take practically anywhere without worrying about breaking (the product and teh law) on the other hand I had tried “travel specific” beer glasses before and had always been disappointed.
SiliPints were too statically charged to keep in a house with pets, and collapsible pints glasses like the Port-A-Pint never seemed to hold liquid as well as they claim. I’m happy to say that the B-Cup has become a staple in our cupboards as well as our pack packs when in need of an outdoor beer vessel.