Episode 14 – teaBot

Our whole community at Main Campus has been in love with their personalized tea since we first partnered with teaBot to bring their machines to our cafe and bar.  Based at StartWell, teaBot is a startup that has been through acceleration programs including Y Combinator and Creative Destruction Lab and weathered their first 5 years in existence to now have over 100 machines placed globally.

In this conversation we sit down with Noor (Operations Manager) and Rehman (Co-founder, CEO) to discuss how a couple of engineers from Waterloo set out to solve an efficiency problem for a family business and ended up founded a company that now makes the world’s best self-serve robots to brew custom teas on demand.

*More info @ https://teabot.com/

[expand title=”Podcast Transcript”]

Qasim Virjee 0:25
All right, welcome back to this, the 14th episode of The Star podcast. For everyone listening who is well familiar with us. Hello, welcome back. It’s nice to have you again. And for everyone who’s checking this out for the first time, there are 13 More episodes to listen back to everything’s available from our website at circle.co/communityandofcoursetherearesyndicationpartnersincludingtheonethateveryoneusesitunessoyoucangotoitunestypeitinonyourcomputermachineoryourphoneorwhateveryouusetoconnecttotheinternetanddownloadthisstartwellpodcast. You’ll love it. This time around, I am back in the studio at King Street in downtown Toronto, with a couple of fine guests who are our partners and members and residents on the third floor of this campus, our main campus in downtown Toronto. We’re joined in the studio here with Romana and Nora, from T bot. Alright, how are you? Hello. I’m great. So guys, why don’t we just start by introducing to our listeners what a T bot is? Or who Yeah, let’s start there. What is a T bot?

Rehman Merali 1:35
What is a T bot T bot is a robot that makes t so we have these large T bot machines in malls, airports, a lot of schools, universities, colleges, and the customer walks up, there’s a beautiful touchscreen interface, they create their own blend of tea, they can adjust the water temperature, the strength of the different ingredients. And even the strength of the tea itself. And in a retail environment like that they just swipe their credit card or tap or whatever you choose. And then it makes you a really nice cup of tea a couple of loose leaf tea.

Qasim Virjee 2:10
And do you think that that explanation was necessary for most of our listeners for some of our listeners? How, how known is tea bought? Would you say?

Rehman Merali 2:19
I don’t know. I mean, to me, it still feels like a startup. But we have been at this since 2014. So it’s been a few years. And it’s it’s always nice that you know, I go into my pitch mode and I start telling the story. Oh, yeah, I saw one of those. And so as I’m starting to finally get people be like, Oh, of course I know what that is. So that’s really nice. So filling,

Qasim Virjee 2:35
right it is this one recognizes the brand, or at least the brand is tied to the product. Yes, absolutely.

Qasim Virjee 2:42
So tell me a little bit I know this is now five years, five years on did I get that math right? Feels like the end of the day. It’s not the end of the day listeners is three o’clock. For all you hustlers out there you Gary Vaynerchuk fans, it’s just morning. But yeah, so tell me a little bit about the early years. How did you get started?

Rehman Merali 3:03
Yeah, absolutely. So I did an undergrad at the University of Waterloo and mechatronics engineering, which is basically a robotics degree. When I was doing my PhD in robotics, as well, at the University of Toronto, and my friend Brian, he’s an old high school buddy also did engineering, but at McMaster University. And he and I were just out to dinner one day, and he’s like, Hey, I was helping my parents at their tea store. His parents own a tea store. Oh, by the way, he’s like, long line up out the door. I wonder if there’s a way that we could, you know, speed up the line. So the original tea bot was just, you know, a fun project with between him and I is how do we make that line move faster? How do we so the original T BOD was just the top 10 buttons in the store of his you know, like a loose leaf tea store, you can picture hundreds of blends on the wall, and you know, somebody takes the blend down, they scoop it into a bag, they add the hot water, then they have to take that money from the customer. So it takes several minutes, the whole transaction process. So to speed that up, we put the top 10 blends into a machine that we designed and created.

Qasim Virjee 4:02
And how long did that take as this like experiment mode? And like, you know, we’re engineers, and we just had to hack something together. The first machine

Rehman Merali 4:09
I’ve learned a lot, you know, but we had the first machine in market within six months. Wow. Which was really great. And that’s just the two of you working on it. Yeah. And some like, basically unpaid interns, like, some Co Op students and stuff like that. Yeah.

Qasim Virjee 4:22
You had to say they were unpaid. Well, I

Rehman Merali 4:24
think we did pay the minimum wage. Yeah. I think we paid the minimum. It’s all legit. Yeah. But yeah, so first machine in market within six months, which was great. But what really accelerated the business as we took part in this program at the University of Toronto called the creative destruction Lab, which is a business incubator. So they, Brian and I, as I mentioned, were engineers, but they were, you know, a team of really great business people that asked the really hard business questions and turns out I know nothing about business. Right. So I learned that in a hurry,

Qasim Virjee 4:54
because you were how old at that time. Oh, man.

Rehman Merali 4:57
I don’t know. 25 ish 27

Qasim Virjee 4:59

Rehman Merali 5:00
this afternoon after I was in my PhD, PhD, writing European. But anyways, yeah, the point is the questions they ask, were not the questions I expected, I expected, you know, how does this component work? Or how does this do this? And how does this machine work? All the technical stuff that I was ready to answer, right. But the questions they asked were like, Do customers want this? Right? Like, how much are they willing to pay for this? Yeah. You know, what are the margins here? What are all these really great questions that Brian and I had largely overlooked? We knew the cost of a cup of tea. And we calculated the cost of the machine. And we went on that. Yeah, right. But all these other pieces of how do you get real estate space to put these machines? Who’s going to service them? How do you compensate those people? So really tough question, but really great questions, right? But the biggest one was do people want this

Qasim Virjee 5:52
was at the time I know the program has changed a lot, right? Creative Destruction lab is now franchised across the country.

Rehman Merali 6:01
That’s right. We’re in the second year.

Qasim Virjee 6:03
So this was a long time ago. So very different, I’m sure than it is. Yeah, there were

Rehman Merali 6:07
40 companies admitted they cut it down to 20. On like, the first days, or I think only 11 of us graduated. So very small cohort

Qasim Virjee 6:14
was the focus at the time hardware. Oh, sorry. Oh, there was

Rehman Merali 6:18
no focus, which is kind of the great thing. Yeah, you’re right now it has changed within like a machine learning stream and all these different streams. That was just very broad. There was just one stream, so it was just all over the place. Hmm.

Qasim Virjee 6:30
And so then you got that machine together. Yeah. He started showing it to people as you put it, you put it in the shop was it used where it was supposed to be where it was designed for? Shop? No.

Rehman Merali 6:43
He never went it was that store is up in Sudbury, Ontario, where Brian and I are from were actually highschool buddies from Sudbury. Yeah. And yeah, he and I created this company down here in Toronto, which is four hours south, so we just ever brought it up there. Wow. Yeah, in hindsight, we probably should have just kept growing here in Toronto. There’s more customers down here. Yeah. And our first machine was at the University of Toronto, which was really great. And that’s still location today. It’s our oldest location.

Qasim Virjee 7:09
But that machine, I’m guessing has been decommissioned? Yes. So the first

Rehman Merali 7:13
three machines have been decommissioned. And ever since generation four, which we built five of them, we started building, you know, five at a time, then 10 At a time that 20 at a time. But ever since generation four, those machines are still up and running.

Qasim Virjee 7:26
It’s interesting what I mean, years hence, the what would you say to people considering building hardware? Like this, even though the concept is like, you know, you can make sense of it, because it’s a solution to something that you understand. And you set about building it as an engineer, who’s now a business person running a company building 10s of machines at a time or more now. Yeah. Are there any things that if you talk back to your younger self, at the beginning of all this, you would have liked to understand or know?

Rehman Merali 8:01
Yeah, I mean, I’ve learned a ton. There was a lot of great articles, like blogs and stuff like that on on hardware. And like, the common theme is hardware is hard. That comes up a lot. And the idea is that there’s so many technical challenges, and so many supply chain challenges. And as you grow, those challenges just keep changing. So even if you can solve it on a scale of building one at a time, 10 at a time is a whole different game, you have to re engineer everything for 10. If you re engineer everything for 110, again, for 1000. So it’s a lot of work. And it’s very challenging. But I my personal recommendation would be to build a hardware company that doesn’t necessarily make its money on hardware. I’m a big proponent of, you know, build the hardware company, it has a lot of benefits over like a software company, in terms of, you know, competitors and the ability to duplicate and we still don’t have a competitor, which is great, but that’s a real long time. Whereas successful software companies, you know, a competitor can pop up overnight.

Qasim Virjee 9:05
And that’s an interesting point, because I think a lot of people would probably look at, from the customer standpoint, from the user standpoint, a lot of you know, well designed machines like yours and say, This is so easy. I understand what’s going on here. I could build this right. But I mean, even your first generation, you said took like six months with help from other people, right?

Rehman Merali 9:26
Yeah, absolutely. That was just a prototype. It served he had made a cup of tea, but it was not scalable, by any means. So yeah, hardware companies are great in terms of competitive advantage. And I think you should always remember that that’s your biggest benefit from a hardware company. You shouldn’t, in my opinion, at least try to make money on the hardware. We don’t make a lot of money when we sell a machine or we rent a machine. Our money comes from the T that’s where the margins are. So hardware is often a way to get you to captivate your market. But I want you I think you should try to make your money Do something else. And often it’s software, believe it or not, it could just be a SaaS solution, right? They’re paying monthly for the software fees. But the reason they use your product and not anyone else’s is because you have this unique piece of hardware. Sure, that’s very difficult to replicate.

Qasim Virjee 10:14
That’s great advice. And the perspective is always kind of, I’m sure, very welcomed by people who are considering, I don’t know, I guess the journey, that that’s required by starting something new, particularly in hardware. What about the mindset of an engineer, retooling your own brain to become a business person?

Rehman Merali 10:36
That’s been a lot of fun. And that’s one of the reasons I started a company, right? It’s like, Hey,

Qasim Virjee 10:40
you didn’t say anything more? You’re just just guys making face?

Rehman Merali 10:46
Yeah, I mean, I started a company, and I’ve learned a lot. And that’s what keeps me interested. Yeah. Right. It’s a whole different game. And it’s not just the business aspect. It’s not just how do you make money in terms of margins? How do you pay for things that keep costs down? But also the other pieces of running a business? Right? Just the, how do you deal with maintenance, right? We have a machine that goes around Chicago. Those are the challenges with hardware companies. So but maintenance is one aspect sales is another big one, and not something I’ve mastered yet. And it’s the next big thing I’m trying to work on is like, how do I become a good salesperson? And like, that’s not something I went to school for? And you know, you just read books?

Qasim Virjee 11:25
Because it’s, it’s like that. I mean, this is dumbing things down for engineers being binary people who like logic, but yeah, it’s it’s the emotional side of the business, perhaps Absolutely. Less about a product solution fit and more about. Yeah, subjectivity.

Rehman Merali 11:43
Yeah, absolutely. And I think a good business partner goes a long way, in that regard.

Qasim Virjee 11:48
I’ve never had one, you know, it just came to me the other day, I was talking my dad about business the other day. And he’s a seasoned entrepreneur, and we were talking about some of his companies and where their growth I guess were either too quickly, and they couldn’t scale because he didn’t have the right partner to help scale or otherwise, when the company was to a great idea, great product market fit. But he didn’t know the market well enough, you know, anywhere, he kept looking it himself for a partner to fill the shoes. And that became almost the excuse, sometimes for failures in certain companies. And I don’t know if it was through that experience and seeing that growing up or what, but I’ve always been a solopreneur. I didn’t realize that Well, for most of my businesses. Yeah. Until, which is

Rehman Merali 12:35
interesting, because I mean, you’re like a personal person. So it’s not an issue with finding a fit with another person. But

Qasim Virjee 12:41
no, yeah. But then that can also be its own thing. So when you’re a solopreneur, running around doing 500 things at once, at least in the early stages of your company, you can potentially or I’ve found that I have in most businesses gotten to a certain level of expertise with all of my subject matter, that is beyond what most people that I would interview or find to collude with, would have. So it’s really, in your, in my younger years, I think like in my 20s it was a maybe an ego thing where I was trying to do everything at once because it felt like also is an adrenaline rush, you know. And I felt like I could do it the best. So why rely on anyone and I can work faster and everything because I didn’t have a kid mortgage right family.

Rehman Merali 13:26
And that’s a tough skill that I’ve had to learn. It’s yeah, I feel like I can do things better than other people. But like, it’s it’s important to be able to delegate able to manage.

Qasim Virjee 13:34
Ultimately, that’s what is a

Rehman Merali 13:37
team under you, right? Like you, you don’t do everything here as well. So you still have to learn how to manage how to delegate.

Qasim Virjee 13:43
Yeah, 100% specifically was start well, being this physical, you know, kind of very physical business where my a lot of my history is in services that are digital software. It’s been a massive, massive learning curve for me initially on and now we’ve hit a good stride with focusing on a team and it’s, for me, it’s about a team that each member on has the ability to take onus, the ability to make decisions, and all I do is set the parameters of you know, what is fundamentally right or wrong to make decisions within. And then hopefully trust that, that, you know, people can own certain aspects of what we had done, because realistically, we have like, a small team, right, right for people. Yeah. So we’re still all kind of solopreneurs in our own domain. Yeah. It’s it’s been very interesting. But so I guess it’s a great kind of segue into talking about as a company. What is the journey been since the university days with T bot?

Rehman Merali 14:50
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, camera refers 2014, though he did the CDL program. We went to Mars. We were incubated at the Mars Discovery District. We also have to But they’re still there today. That was our first permanent location, the U of T one went in and then out, but then back in, and now it’s in. And then we went down to Y Combinator in 2015. In the summer of 2015, we were lucky enough to get into the Y Combinator application process or Yep. Okay. Yeah, it’s an application process and an interview process. We flew down there for the interview. And then came back here the next day, actually, to launch to U of T. So that was a hectic time. But yeah, we were fortunate enough to get into that program. We move the whole company down there. I think we were about eight people at the time. moved into a little three bedroom house. People and then yeah, ran the company there for three or four months. continued to build machines there, you know, wow, soldering in the living room, or whatever was necessary shows

Qasim Virjee 15:48
to the Silicon Valley. Oh, it was Yeah, Bachmann’s house.

Rehman Merali 15:52
There’s a guy sleeping on the floor in the living room when you’re soldering on the table next to it. And yeah, it was good, fun.

Qasim Virjee 15:58
super interesting. And then coming back to Canada from that.

Rehman Merali 16:03
Yeah. So when we finished that program, we raised a seed round from Silicon Valley investors, some VCs down there, also some great VCs here in Toronto, and some angel investors. And then we brought that money back here. Because mainly because this is where our customers were at the time, right? All our big customers were here in the Toronto area. But then soon after that, we launched Chicago, we launched Boston, we started then selling into the US from Canada.

Qasim Virjee 16:27
And with what you mentioned, about sales being something that you have had to and are learning how to get better at how have you found the sales process? You know, I guess, the inbound versus outbound, you know, question coming out of those programs, did that help drum up interest in the product? Or is this all kind of your efforts that have driven sales,

Rehman Merali 16:52
the program helped in terms of getting advertising. So we were on the front page of TechCrunch, which was really awesome. A lot, we got a bunch of inbound from that. But, you know, we don’t do a lot of outbound. And that’s something I need to change, probably. But, you know, for better or for worse, you know, we have good inbound coming in. And it’s just a matter of managing that. We’ve also changed our business model quite a bit over the years. So the early days, we would be the ones approaching universities in the the airports, but now we deal with foodservice providers. So those are our customers. So it’s kind of a channel partner, which is a whole other business. It very

Qasim Virjee 17:31
much is. It really is. Yeah, absolutely. Because the the, the, when you’re not dealing with the end customer, or someone who knows the end customer in terms of their unique, you know, kind of like needs and wants. Instead, someone who plays a more functional role in service, I find, yeah. They might be used to playing the numbers game and the brokerage kind of game better than saying, this is something that’s compelling for the end customers customer, right. Yeah, I’ve been finding that. And that’s,

Rehman Merali 18:04
that’s something I wish you had asked earlier, what I wish I knew earlier on with that, I wish I would have explored that a bit better. Like when we launched Chicago, I was, you know, I came to work with a go bag. So like with my passport, and my, my bag in my trunk. And if necessary, I would literally drive to the airport that day, wow, fly to Chicago, be there at 7am, fix their machine fly back. Still do that that’s trying to do less of that. It’s not scalable, right. And that’s honestly what we learned. So using these channel partners, they are on the ground, they have local people, they’re probably they’re servicing another machine anyways. And that’s how we scale and we really had to take a step back and look at the business and understand that we can’t continue to scale this business. But it was a great learning experience. I actually don’t regret doing it. Because I got to see all the problems firsthand. I had that relationship with the foodservice director at you know, Google office in Chicago, and got to hear his direct feedback. The the issue with the channel partner is sometimes you don’t get all that feedback immediately. Right. Now, absolutely. Or ever, maybe or ever, which is much worse. Yeah. That was very interesting. I

Qasim Virjee 19:10
mean, like, it’s kind of related. You mentioned airport, and we’re talking about food service. So let’s bring up this anecdote. I was in an airport, I was at, you know, Pearson here in Toronto. And when was this a week, two weeks ago, we can half ago, two weeks ago. And I was starving. And there was a pub next to my gate. But our plane was about to depart and we’re supposed to board. And then they got pushed back. And then I was like, do I go to the pub and eat? It’s close enough. But the seats that were available were all like facing the other way. And I kind of was like, Well, I’m too tired. I don’t want to think about missing my flight. And the flight for like an hour. I kept getting pushed back, push back, push back. So I was like, I wish I could you know just get someone to bring me food like we would in the office or at home in downtown foodora or UberEATS, or whatever. And I saw a poster lo and behold, as I’m scanning the crowd for people that I know, at some point, and UberEATS started delivering to gates in, in Pearson Airport, really. And it was week number one that I was sitting at the airport for the service, I found out later. So I pulled it up on my app, and the app doesn’t necessarily have the specificity that you would expect, you know, have geolocation in the app. So you kind of say you’re at Pearson, and kind of guesstimate what terminal you’re at. And then you put your finger down, and you say, Bring me the food. And it shows you the right vendors, it’s only the restaurants that are participating in the gates near you. For me, I was at Terminal One. And I was ordering food from paramount in terminal three, I think or the other way around. And I’m just like, I don’t even know how they’ll make this delivery time because the apps 13 minutes for, you know, a show or something. Yeah. And it ended up taking about an hour, oh my God, and they came huffing and puffing, and it was someone from the restaurant, oh, carrying that Uber bag with food services director from I forget what the company they use that Pearson is right. And so he kind of like was trying to train her and figure out how to make this work because they’re like, and then you know, they’re huffing and puffing. And luckily, my flight was so delayed that, you know, I got your food, got my food and got on the plane and ate it and was feeling great. But he was telling me that Uber hadn’t given them any direction on how to roll out the logistics of this service at the airport, they had done some sort of a deal that forced it to be tested with these restaurants. And so they pushed it through the channels, logistical channels to make it happen. And then the food services company took on the owners, maybe because of security clearance or something to say that we will ensure the delivery of this, but they had no idea how to make this happen. Because the software, right, and there’s so many angles that need thought being thought through and all this stuff. So yeah, it’s very important for for for any company, I guess, to be able to have a direct interface with this customer and know how to manage that. Yeah, I think the customer

Rehman Merali 22:08
ideal scenario, Uber would have put its own employees in there for the launch week, right to do it, do the deliveries themselves understand the logistics, you know, hop on this train and go through this gig didn’t really analysis, social security clearance. And then yeah, do the analysis, find the actual times that it takes and, you know, make their product better.

Qasim Virjee 22:29
And oh, man, it’s back to the Gary Vaynerchuk. You know, like hustle porn, that is problematic. It’s startup culture in North America, I think. Yeah. But yeah, bring it back to home. So how does it look? Now in terms of the you’re saying there’s been a couple pivots in terms of taking the feedback of how your business model is? Yeah, manifest and AI trading, changing things evolving? So what does T bot look like as a company now? And where are you guys in terms of, I guess, machine reach product development? Any any real aspects of give me the picture?

Rehman Merali 23:09
So yeah, when we moved back to Canada, we started manufacturing these machines, we have some great manufacturing partners around the GTA Greater Toronto Area. But we did final assembly and QC testing in house. So we had a huge facility on the west end of Toronto, where we could build these machines, we could do all the product testing and every single machine was tested by us before it went out the door. And then we have names that each machine

Qasim Virjee 23:33
like the warehouse in Westworld. You do. Yeah. What’s the most kind of crazy name that you’ve

Noor Merali 23:42
just like T boop.

Qasim Virjee 23:45
This is changing one.

Rehman Merali 23:49
She’s very creative.

Noor Merali 23:53
They’re all women. Okay, good. Yeah. They’re all she’s like boats.

Qasim Virjee 23:59
Like boats. Yeah, boats are women. That’s a weird one is true. Yeah. That’s fantastic. Anything that people put their true, you know, like, fear of God into like, trusting has to be a woman. Yeah, cuz you can’t trust a man. Okay. So so your army of T bots?

Rehman Merali 24:21
Yeah. And you know, it got crazy when you’re building 40 machines at a time. So we found a way to outsource that production, which is been a huge help. And that’s actually what allowed us to move into start well, we started in an environment like this a co working space at the Mars building. Right. But we were terrible neighbors. Right. We would

Qasim Virjee 24:40
be also that was a little room, right? Yeah.

Rehman Merali 24:44
Yeah. And, you know, we were drilling and soldering and like we were not good neighbors when everyone else is just, you know, typing on a laptop. So then we got our own space, bigger space, bigger space, etc. Until we had our own workshop and everything. But now we’ve kind of went the other way where we’ve managed to source of the manufacturing piece, you know, or engineerings or, or finally, like solid enough that we can just replicate the machines now, there’s less and less r&d going on. And that’s what allowed us to move into this space. So we can focus on the next phase of the business, which is sales and growth.

Qasim Virjee 25:18
And I mean, I think it’s without see, it’s funny, because like, we’ve had the the bots here for over a year. Yeah, I think so. And it’s funny to look every day at people’s reactions to it, when they first see it, when they get introduced to it. And now I’ve even been telling, you know, like the concierge and baristas don’t over explain it, don’t tell people this, so works, to jump into it to like, you’re not, this isn’t a vacuum in the 80s. Like, you know, let them explore it because it’s self explanatory. And, and the delight that you see on people’s face, and then you subsequently see it, or I do every day when people like come in early, so that there’s no rush at the water station next to it, and like make their tea. It’s, it’s, it’s amazing. You know, it’s very few products that you see that love that people have for it. So it’s a wonderful thing to see it because I think that that definitely is that the kind of ratification of this stage that you’re at, which is like the products defined? Yeah, people love it. And it was just about making sure that you can get as many of them out there that is sustainable. And yeah, and expand the offering a little bit like so do you think I mean, you mentioned this kind of service side of the business or the supply side, the subscription side? Are there changes coming up in that side of things?

Rehman Merali 26:40
Yeah, we’re we’re streamlining the business. Right. So how do we grow? We’re right now we have a US supplier and Acadian supplier, we’re trying to streamline that to one supplier. Just the way people receive their tea in the olden days, I mean, the early days, we

Qasim Virjee 26:55
hoped the olden days of 2014. Yeah. When electric cars were pulled

Qasim Virjee 27:02
by horses just had a pot on a stove. Fire.

Rehman Merali 27:09
The Yeah, we had some crazy engineering things where we would like ship, the tea canister, the full full solid canister back and forth. Because we were paranoid about other people putting other tea like lower quality tea into our machines and things like that. So for refills, it would be like, Wow, refills were insane, because you have to mail these things back and forth across an international border, which was all kinds of fun. So now, you know, we’ve streamlined it. So we have like one package size. And we let our customers fill the T on the on the on site. And that’s where these channel partners come in. You know, they have food service partners that are used to filling coffee machines. And it’s really no different to fill a T machine. Right. So you know, streamlining in that regard, has been one big change that we’ve done. And the other benefit of working here and start well has been that we can see these new users coming in. So we often sit by the machines, and we can see the feedback from new users. Because when we had our own private office, it was really just the same 20 people using it every day.

Qasim Virjee 28:02
We’ve got an interesting, diverse segment of people coming to use it right, exactly.

Rehman Merali 28:07
And if we do try a new feature, we can get their genuine, you know, first time reaction to this like they’ve never seen this before was the flow easy. So I appreciate that. You’re, you’re telling us stuff not to over explain, right? Because then we get genuine feedback on hey, this wasn’t clear. This was difficult, or this was great.

Qasim Virjee 28:26
So now of course, we do have security cameras that to capture people using the machine.

Rehman Merali 28:32
Oh, really? The blooper reel, then

Qasim Virjee 28:36
just put a sign that says, you know, you’re part of you are a guinea pig in the experiment

Noor Merali 28:42
points down there fiddling and fixing things and adding things to it. So like a lot of people come by and they don’t really know I work for TiVo. And I’m like, oh,

Qasim Virjee 28:53
like that’s not how you use it. Yeah, go. No, I figured out how to hack it.

Rehman Merali 28:57
Oh, the best is when I go to an office and someone explains to me how to use it. That’s a great feeling. Wow. Pride, right. I just pretend like I’ve never seen one before. Let them explain. It’s awesome.

Qasim Virjee 29:07
I feel that same way when when our members are touring other people around. Yeah, right. Yeah. Yeah. So what do you think in the next little while, I mean, it’s, it’s wonderful. And for our listeners, you know, there’ll be more content coming out. And they telling these stories about T bot and and also, what we’re doing with T bot on campus here. Absolutely. And all of these stories, we’re gonna try and create some more content around it, because we are partners and we shouldn’t tell these stories. But yeah, let us know a little bit about what’s what you’re seeing for 2019. Yeah, the ramp up to 2020.

Noor Merali 29:43
Why 20k?

Rehman Merali 29:45
Yeah. So Nora has been doing a great job, make it? Great. So because we’re moving less from the retail environment, as I mentioned, we started in malls and schools. Now we’re moving towards the office market, right? So it’s a really it’s changed the user experience too, because now you have the same people. using it every day at the office, right, as opposed to a college campus where you could have new people every day. So how do we do more in terms of remembering your favorite buttons? They’re becoming more conscious about the papercut. People don’t want to you know, they’re sitting in the office all day saying, I

Qasim Virjee 30:15
meant to ask you about that, because I know you guys have been trying to play with the filters and ceramic cups, and yeah, all that. What we’re finding is that people are interested in the, you know, eco conscious solutions. But the convenience of taking a paper cup with the filter lid is just brilliant, like, everyone would much rather or that 99% would much rather just do that.

Noor Merali 30:38
Yeah. But it’s about creating an option for you know, if you want to have an equal option, it might take another three seconds in a user process. And it’s about finding that that kind of balance where, you know, we want to have something that’s like, still convenient and easy to use. And but like, also, if you want to do the more green and eco way of doing things, there might be like an extra step involved. And you know, it’s just about like, having that ability to, to build that into the user experience.

Rehman Merali 31:09
Yeah. So we just got a notification today that our stainless steel strainers arrived.

Noor Merali 31:14
School, we tested here we tested.

Rehman Merali 31:17
I remember a whole bunch of different ones here, then we found the winner we,

Noor Merali 31:21
yeah, I would create people at their desk. How do you like your teeth? Are you Where did you work here?

Qasim Virjee 31:31
I think it’s brilliant. And it’s about that, but it’s also about the software right and improving. Are there particular things to the tablet interface? I’ve seen you guys change the mounts? Yeah, stuff like that changing

Rehman Merali 31:42
the tablet? Again, favorite blends is something that we want to work on.

Qasim Virjee 31:46
I love that, because I’m always tapping the same thing.

Rehman Merali 31:49
Exactly. And that’s mostly,

Noor Merali 31:51
I mean, so my right, yeah.

Rehman Merali 31:53
So how do we make it easier for Qasim to walk up and it just says, Welcome back as usual, you can just click one button, and it’ll make your tea at your temperature at your dispensing ratios. Well, we’ll

Qasim Virjee 32:04
be talking more about that offline, I think the next few months, because with our new software platform that we’ve rolled onto, we’ve got some really cool stuff, we can do their API. Awesome. And we’ve got a new Android and iOS app coming out in the next week, from what I understand. Great. So we added the like, interface for the T bot on your phone. Love it, you know, I don’t know, it might be a whole new thing. We need some sort of proximity sensor or something. chips in brands, if you come up towards the T because you don’t want people ordering it. And then they go down and someone’s still in their tea. But you come up to the machine, you press the button in the app, you don’t need that, you know, there’s lots of lots of ways we can absolutely create some cool stuff. So yeah, otherwise in terms of growth in the company. I mean, what would you like to see? Not that everyone needs to race towards becoming a billion dollar company. But yeah, obviously, this machine is something that people I would like to see everywhere I go, Yeah, I miss it. When I get home. I’m sure you hear that a lot. Like I don’t make tea at home anymore. Even though I want tea. I’m like, It’s not

Rehman Merali 33:11
the same. That was one of my favorite quotes in the early days when I went to the Google office just after the Thanksgiving long weekend. And the employee literally said I missed coming to work because I missed my T bot.

Qasim Virjee 33:25
That is the best feedback. It’s amazing,

Rehman Merali 33:27
right? And that’s what I told the food service director right like this person missed their job, because they couldn’t get this ginger jasmine tea anywhere else.

Qasim Virjee 33:39
That’s very important. So all HR managers listening to this podcast must oblige us to get in touch get a T bar? Absolutely. No, it’s just one of the one of the many things but one of the most important things at start well, that I feel improves everyone’s day. And it’s it’s that’s a ubiquitous kind of feedback that we get. That’s great from everybody.

Noor Merali 34:03
It’s a really cool, like when people are doing office tours for new hires or other people like it’s like a stopping point, right on like an office tour, which sometimes when we’re servicing we get to actually see that and it’s really interesting. It’s like, oh, this is the T bot. It’s this is

Rehman Merali 34:22
they’re proud of it. Yeah, absolutely. So pride for the Yeah, which is great.

Qasim Virjee 34:27
Absolutely. And because it’s self service, it’s one of those things that’s like you feel nourished by feeding yourself through the robot. And as you say, robot, it’s interesting in the beginning, right, that was the descriptor because it is I tell people that it’s a robot that proves beautiful, fresh, customized T but it’s not a robot like a scary 1984 AI that everyone’s afraid of. You know, it’s it’s an appliance. Yeah, but it has personality. Yeah. So it’s really interesting. And I should say, she has press yes, she has pretty Sounds wonderful. Um, I do have one more question on this idea of kind of growth, or at least, how T bots can be rolled out more easily. Yes, we here at Campus, main campus at start, we’ll have two machines, right? So we’ve got the small one, which you call Discover, discover, and then we’ve got the larger one. So the Discover has how many varietals in it or so it

Rehman Merali 35:25
has seven ingredients in it, okay, because of the user interface, because you can mix and match and create your own blends, it really translates to hundreds of different blends. Right? Right. So it’s usually more than enough radio,

Qasim Virjee 35:35
and then the larger machine that we have in the event space has 18

Rehman Merali 35:39
ingredients. Oh, yeah, it was. Yeah, it’s in the 1000s. It’s more buttons than you’d ever need.

Qasim Virjee 35:48
And so I could see demand being very personalized in terms of people asking you time and time again, for a smaller and smaller and smaller and smaller machine. Mm hmm. Is that coming up? Or are you going to focus on these two models for

Rehman Merali 36:00
now? We do get that feedback. I don’t know what to do with that. Yeah, it’s tough,

Noor Merali 36:05
like people want like a personal home tea box, right? It does come up. And that’s like, Wow, I can’t even think of

Rehman Merali 36:13
that. Right. My answer typically, is what I would rather do is, you know, have you used the T bot as is create your perfect blend, and then I can send you your blend your Oh, yeah. What you could do today?

Noor Merali 36:22
Yeah, make your own blends, and we package it up and send it to you like, no problem.

Qasim Virjee 36:27
I think that’s a fantastic solution.

Rehman Merali 36:29
I think so too. And I think you know, it’s cool idea to have a tea bot in your house. But at the end of the day, we’re all gonna have you know, like, I’m gonna have my jasmine peppermint tea. Yeah, you’re gonna have gosens blend, she’s gonna have Newars blood.

Noor Merali 36:40
I look at it. Like, don’t get that at home. Unless you’re like hosting fancy tea parties.

Rehman Merali 36:44
Sure, yeah, maybe we can make like a little mix kit or something.

Qasim Virjee 36:49
I like it. I liken this to, you know, these machines in many ways to firepit. Like, you wouldn’t probably have a fire pit in your backyard, and just put some logs on and stare at it. You might have fireplace, you know, it’s against a wall, or, you know, barbecue to roaster shish kebabs, or make steaks, but like, it’s very, it’s about functional, but this machine, so that’s where you’re brewing your tea, and you’re sitting on, you know, wherever you’re sitting in, you’re drinking your tea at home. This machine is very much about like people gathering around. It’s about the theatrics of the use case, somebody called

Noor Merali 37:25
it like, water cooler. 2.0.

Qasim Virjee 37:29
I can’t see that. Because we already have water cooler. 2.0 with sparkling you know, reverse osmosis tops? Yeah, this is way beyond 2.0. Next level, dark

Noor Merali 37:39
color future future.

Qasim Virjee 37:42
I’m in terms bring it back to the company of T bot before we wrap because the studio is about to turn over to another crew. And we’ll pick this up definitely for more Conversations coming up. Sure. But growth in terms of the company, are you looking to connect with any specific people you want to give a shout out to who might be listening any potential hires or partners or distributors or anything?

Rehman Merali 38:07
Yeah, I mean, you made a shout out to HR people. And it’s interesting, it’s usually the HR people that love tea bought. And so we found that that’s a great angle to get into offices with with regards to sales, as opposed to going through the food service companies, right? The food service companies that are at the end of the day, the ones that are going to maintain it. But again, T bot is something that your employees will talk about that the love the love coming to work because of this. You know, on the first day, there’s always a lineup, regardless of where we launch. So yeah, employees really genuinely love it. And you know, you could throw a pizza party one time or whatever the one time thing is, but bringing this in permanently makes them love coming to work every day. Absolutely. So that would be my only pitch

Noor Merali 38:49
and can reduce caffeine intake for coffee drinkers. And yeah,

Rehman Merali 38:53
we didn’t even talk about that. Yeah, tea is if you’re considering pot machine or soda machine, of

Qasim Virjee 38:59
course. You’re considering any sugary machine. Just delete this podcast, don’t listen to us ever again. Go away. Don’t do that stuff to yourself

Rehman Merali 39:10
or to your employees. Yeah.

Noor Merali 39:12
Companies want to do want to encourage healthy interactions with their, with their customers and with their hires.

Qasim Virjee 39:20
No, I think in our for our, our kind of wellness programming channel for 2019 that we’re doing with talks and stuff in our event space. We’ll have you guys on a panel soon to discuss kind of I think there’s a whole topic here know the ingredients some of these ingredients and how

Rehman Merali 39:37
they know those a lot of that stuff. She’s been teaching me actually,

Noor Merali 39:41
I have a background in ru VEDA. So Indian medicine which we incorporate a lot of herbes and things like that, like ginger isn’t a known anti inflammatory and is great for all different types of healing and some of the ingredients that we use are internationally known for I mean, Who hasn’t been told? You know you’re having trouble sleeping have some lavender right now. Right? So all these things like there is science to back them up for sure. As far as the health benefits of tea goes, Yeah, excellent.

Rehman Merali 40:13
Yeah. Whole other podcast. We should we should get into

Qasim Virjee 40:15
it though. Lastly, links for people to check out your website. Is that just t

Rehman Merali 40:21
bar.com tvot.com. Excellent. And we’re gonna post

Noor Merali 40:26
you can follow us at my T bot at my T bot. grams. Yes. social medias mighty bot.

Qasim Virjee 40:33
I love it. Okay, and we’ll post all these links with this episode. So if you go to the Show page at start well.co/community you’ll see a link there. And yeah, explore learn more. And stay tuned because we’ll have more content telling you more about T events where you can come and sample T at start well meet these wonderful people in the microphone with me today and all that jazz. So with that, I want to thank you guys for joining me.

Rehman Merali 41:01
Thanks for having us.

Qasim Virjee 41:01
Awesome. It was a pleasure.