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Launch HN: Sudden Coffee (YC W17) – Instant coffee that doesn't suck
301 points by freese on March 22, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 376 comments
Hey HN! I’m Kalle, one of the founders at Sudden Coffee (https://www.suddencoffee.com). We make instant coffee and sell it through our website as a subscription.

I started working on this almost two years ago after my cafe business failed. I was frustrated by how unscalable and inconsistent selling good coffee is.

In 2015 I placed 9th in the World Barista Champs in Seattle. On the flight back to Helsinki I was desperate for caffeine and ordered a coffee which was horrendous. I started wondering what would be a better way than Aeropress + hand grinder combo to have great coffee on the go.

Instant coffee is liquid coffee that’s been dehydrated. It’s normally made with the worst beans that are roasted really dark and extracted up to 6 times at temperatures up to 180C and 15 bar pressure. As a result, they can reach 60% extraction yield. Next, the liquid is boiled down and finally dehydrated by spray drying it with hot air. This process results in the gnarly bitter, woody, rubbery instant we all know.

We start with good beans: currently from a co-op called Biftu Gudina in Ethiopia, roasted by 49th Parallel in Vancouver, BC. In the beginning we brewed the coffee by hand as espresso — I would literally spend 12 hours per day pulling shots. At one point we had a full-time person doing this.

Eventually, we developed our own fully-closed centrifugal brewing system that doesn’t allow for any aroma to escape. We extract the coffee at low temperatures (85-90C) to 21-23% extraction yield. As a result, we only get the good stuff — sweetness, fruitiness, acidity — and none of the bad stuff.

Also, we’ve developed our own freeze-drying technique that’s kind of equivalent to a server farm. Instead of having one enormous machine we have a bunch of small freeze dryers. This allows for greater control and shorter iteration cycle.

This might be too long already so I'll stop here. Looking forward to discussing the coffee business and great coffee in the thread!




I work in the coffee industry and saw Sudden pop up last year so was interested in the technique and hacked it out.

Freeze dried coffee is already what Folgers does and sell you. This is the more artisanal version of that since the big brands have big factories that can pump out plenty of instant coffee grounds.

So this is a ramped up volume play on existing techniques perfected by the doomsday preppers. Youtube search for freeze dried coffee and you'll plenty of people explaining how to do it.

The freeze drying machines sell for $600 to $1000 from a variety of vendors. I think I figured out which one Sudden is using, it's the low end consumer version from Salt Lake City. They just have 20 of these in a SF warehouse somewhere.

From there it's just a method of scaling expensive capital costs, labor intensive processes, and maximizing the calculation of yield, and marketing enough to convince people that $2.50 for freeze dried coffee in a tube is a good deal.

That only works when relative to the crazy world of craft coffee people charging $5 or $7 for a pour over with the Keurig pods at $1.50 anchoring the bottom and buying a big can of coffee to make your own at $1 a carafe.


Happy to answer whatever questions we can disclose! Thanks for starting the thread.

It's somewhere in the middle to be honest. We did not invent freeze dried coffee - it's been around for over a century. However, it is quite difficult to make it work at-scale in a way that's profitable/sustainable, and that still tastes good.

I have a pretty extensive background in operations, manufacturing, & tech and I had to pull out every trick in the book to get this to work at our current scale & price. It was a lot of work.

It is also inherently more expensive to sell. All of the same things that make regular instant coffee taste bad also make it super cheap. We are trying to make it as affordable as possible, but at the end of the day the higher quality does require a more expensive process.


Who is your target? If people want good tasting coffee, like a connoisseur, one would like the option of selecting the type of bean, where it is sourced from, how it's roasted, how it's ground, how it's brewed etc. People even vehemently oppose and stand by brewing methods, which to an ordinary person who doesn't care about coffee, wouldn't care about.

And if someone is buying instant coffee anyways, I doubt they care about the taste, or have preferred methods of milk/cream and sugar that would make any drown out any nuanced/bad flavor of ANY coffee.


I don't have any evidence to support this other than anecdotes, but I would bet there is a much larger group in the middle than you imply. Plenty of people (myself included) appreciate good coffee without being fanatical about it. If you can offer the same taste as pourover without the work, I think you can capture quite a significant portion of the market. But then again, I could be overestimating that based on my own biases.


I really love my coffee. I roast at home.

But if I need to travel or whatever I will pick up the best instant I can find.

If this is as good as they claim, I'd buy it.


Here's a short review by Oliver Strand, the coffee critic at NYTimes: https://nyti.ms/2mK8Frw


Coffee paraphernalia I use semi-regularly:

- Electric percolator with pre-ground Starbucks light-roast coffee (used to be Intelligentsia Honey Badger, before they souled-out to shitty Peet's).

- IKEA steel french press

- Nespresso (Original - not the supersize American version)

- Hario coffee hand mill for coffee beans (much rarely than before for time-availablity issues)

But, my go-to coffee on many days is the Folgers/Nescafé instant coffee.

If your instant coffee is really better (and I mean really) than what's on the market, and you can maintain consistent quality over time, I am in your target demographic.

Sign me up with a sampler!


Email me and I'll fix some for you


I start my day really early and work from home. My first cup of coffee is typically instant, and I can make this very quietly without waking up my family. I make a french press or pour over as my second cup once the kids are awake. I would buy the best instant coffee I can.


We hear this a lot. Same goes for me - I wake up before my wife and she's really happy when I'm drinking Sudden at home instead of grinding and brewing.


How would a French press wake up your kids?


Grinding his own beans? My electric burr grinder is pretty damn loud. My hand grinder is better, but a lot more work.


I'm guessing an electric grinder for the beans.


I'm guessing it's the grinding the beans. Electric grinders are LOUD.


Not all of them are. At least my old one was way louder than my current. Same price range, too ($20-$30 I think, both were presents). I think I could use this one in my kitchen without waking up anyone. There's a good possibility that the old one was also noisier just because it was getting old and perhaps rattled a bit. Both are blade grinders, maybe burr grinders are louder by nature. I think if I really wanted it more quiet I could even wrap it in a towel or pillow :-p


I grind my beans by hand :)


I'm also in this segment of the market. However, only when pressed for time, which is during the week. On the weekends I take my time and brew pour overs.


This it the whole idea - we don't try to replace all your coffee rituals but rather help you drink great coffee when you otherwise wouldn't be able to.


I'm in this portion of the market, and as such, I've subscribed to try it out.


Thanks for giving us a try!


+1 for RussianCow's comment.

Our target customer is the average person who goes to Philz, Blue Bottle, Stumptown as well as Starbucks. These people aren't really buying instant coffee - they spend $2-10 on coffee per day. Some of them buy 2 x $5 latte drinks at a cafe. 100% of these people drink their coffee for the taste (although they have different taste preferences). The average person who goes to Blue Bottle daily actually doesn't know much about the beans, where it's sourced, etc. This is a big misconception that we uncovered last May. These people are Blue Bottle loyalists who love the brand, but they really just want a good cup of coffee that makes them feel good. They don't care what country it came from and they don't really know what light roast vs dark roast is.

This is actually a HUGE market of people. The middle is much larger than the fringes.

Btw, I've said this in other places on the thread - we completely love people who are super into coffee and I still think we make a good product for those really into it, but I just want to highlight the large number of people in the middle who we often forget to talk about.


Is it really a HUGE market?

Here's some trends noted from the 2016 NCDT, which they do admit have only appeared within the past few years: "Behaviors that are slowly growing include lighter coffee consumption (slightly fewer drinkers and slightly lighter cups per drinker per day), drinking espresso-based coffee and drinking coffee out-of-home. Behaviors that are slowly declining include drinking traditional coffee and drinking coffee at home. Note that most of these shifts are occurring over the last few years."

Some other figures based on satisfaction of brewing methods found later in the report include:

86% very satisfied/satisfied with their drip coffee maker in 2016

94% with espresso

90% with single-cup

89% with instant

88% with coffee vending

It seems to me like there is a growing trend of more conspicuous consumption, as well as already high satisfaction across the board with people's status quo brewing methods.

It also seems to me like you're trying to make an instant coffee that carries with it the sort of branding that Philz, Blue Bottle, Stumptown, Starbucks, etc. have with physical locations which have the ability to foster certain groups of people, as well as convey aesthetic or ethical sensibilities through branding within the stores. It seems to me that this kind of branding is somewhat reliant on physical locations. I just don't buy into the assumption you make that you can target the same consumer that these places can.

Like, come on, the title of the NYT review on your coffee is: "Instant Coffee You’ll Actually Want to Drink", if that is any indication as to the mismatched conceptions people already have about instant coffee. It seems like you're climbing an uphill battle, considering the fact a cup of any other regular coffee costs about 7 cents, you're trying to sell instant coffee, but 36 times more expensive, based on branding and convincing people


You hit the nail on the head and this is what excites me the most about what we're doing! We are trying to carry a brand - and more importantly a set of values, intentions, feelings of positivity - without physical locations. We believe that we can use technology as a platform to do that. This is something that a coffee shop would never do. (Except maybe Starbucks since they have a strong tech focused team.) This (to me) will be our innovation in 2-3 years time.

Cafes, restaurants, and bars all make you FEEL something. If they do it well, you feel included, you feel part of a community, you feel like you belong. The average e-commerce experience doesn't do that at all - and yet we have so much information and data at our disposal to make the experience so much better.

However, we are a startup - that means (a) we aren't there yet, (b) we may not succeed - it's a risk - that's why we do what we do. We need support from the community to help us get there. But your comment captures exactly what we are trying to go out and do.

Regarding the market size - just some rule of thumb numbers - specialty coffee in the US is a $21B market. Instant coffee world-wide is a $30B market. Keurig got bought for $14B. I'm not a "we're taking over the world!" startup guy, but these are big numbers. A lot of people drink coffee in the US and the world. I've looked at a lot of different food segments and this one is big.


My anecdote:

I think I'm in your market, too. Basically, enough people around me like good coffee that I'm spoiled. I'm not a big coffee drinker and not terribly picky, but I do have a taste for the good stuff.


I'm probably in the target market too - I've never really gotten into coffee because it tasted like crap. Except, occasionally I get a coffee and it's actually not bitter for once, and I'm like "oh that's actually kind of nice". But frankly, I'm not willing to go out of my way to pay $3.50+ for it. That really adds up over time.

If it were cheaper, I'd be all over it. Like, $1.50/cup, say. I mean, it still adds up over time, but by an order of magnitude less. Plus, it doesn't add up in terms of sugar like soda does. https://xkcd.com/1793/

...so, maybe I'm not in the target market just yet. Hopefully you'll get a decent economy of scale going. ^_^


The cool thing with instant coffee is that the whole concept is something that just works much better at scale - sourcing, roasting, brewing etc. We have solid plans to bring the cost down while improving the quality as we scale. At some point we'll build our own mega factory.


I don't know how common it is but I bring an aeropress and hand grinder whenever I travel. It's a ton of work and sucks. I drink pour over everyday (dial in temp, grind, ratio, and draw time for every new coffee), make iced coffee during summer, and subscribe to a coffee service. In theory, this would work better. I have no idea if the addressable market is big enough but I certainly wouldn't mind trying it.


I do this as well, it's so hard to find good lightly-roasted beans in most places outside of big cities. (Even big cities in europe and asia seem to prefer a very dark roast everywhere)


Luckily there are so many great roasters with online stores now that getting fresh beans has never been easier.


Would love for you to try it - if you go here, you can do a 2-cup mini subscription as well: https://www.suddencoffee.com/?trial=true

We have a lot of customers who go through a similar experience. They use Sudden maybe 1-3 days a week when really busy and then pour over on others days when they have time. The pour over is still pretty enjoyable if you have the time.


I don't like your subscription model and I don't like how your positioning yourself in the market. It feels like the Nespresso (I think that's Keurig in the US with a similar model) of instant coffee.

But I would like to test a couple of cups of your coffee with friends. I never drank a good instant coffee so I really wonder how a good instant coffee tastes.


I'm not a fan of this model (yet) either. It's a big reason why I haven't cycle-"automated" other services I use. But if there's an on-demand sales model available, I'd love to try it out as well. I enjoy good coffee, but I also drink lots of bad coffee - I'd go broke on coffee alone otherwise.


I am the same.. as soon as something is a subscription model I am asking myself if I really want it.

But a cup of great instant coffee could be awesome. Especially when you are camping or on music festivals. These were the only times I was using instant coffee. If their price point stays the same you won't save much on their model.

From a price standpoint I don't know if there is something much cheaper than buying coffee beans and making your own coffee.


Can you elaborate on the earlier point above - what don't you like about the market positioning? (We aren't exactly going for Nespresso to Keurig, but really curious what rubs you the wrong way about that.)

Definitely won't save money compared to buying your own beans. It's the same as cooking - it's cheaper to grill a nice steak than buy one.

As a music festival goer - Sudden at festivals is about taste and speed. It tastes amazing. I usually pour it in a cold water bottle and shake it up (while in the middle of a performance) - really awesome. Definitely tastes better than festival coffee. Furthermore the coffee line at festivals is usually 30 minutes and they charge $5! This is obviously a personal pain point for me :-)


Festival coffee is horrible. If you get one. Normally I take my own gas cooker with me (made some noodles too) and make my own instant coffee.

That's the only time when I'm buying instant coffee, but all the ones I've tried were bad or horrible.

To the Nespresso or Keurig model: it is the single serving in plastic tubes which rubs me wrong and which reminds me of these models.

I'd prefer something like a Nescafe glass with better coffee (and it can be really small, like 20 servings or something like that). More flexibel and less waste. But I understand that I may not be your target group and that the model right now is working much better for you.

And the Nespresso model is working great for them and is preferred by many people I know - it's just not for me.


I actually like to process of grinding and pressing. Bag space is the only downside, and the reason I don't take my aeropress and grinder with me when I travel.


I know lots of people who would pay for good instant coffee for a few weeks out of the year. I like to backpack and many people love their coffee and jump through hoops to get their fix in the backcountry. They would definitely be into good coffee that is portable and instant with just hot water.


Yes. You definitely need to market this to the backpacking crowd. They'll blow $100's on light, compact gear and then shove beans + grinder + aeropress on top... and then deal with the mess. Or at least, I will :)

The subscription model isn't great in this respect.

I travel up to a dozen times a year and backpack at least a couple weeks per year (in aggregate).

So that's 3x2x12 (3 cups per day of travel for each work trip) + 3x14 (backpacking trips). And probably another dozen or three here or there for random stuff (full-day bike rides, long drives, run out of beans @ work, etc.)

If I like Sudden, and especially if it's better than Starbucks drip served at airports, I'd use it for all of these things.

But I'm not going to+ sign up for a subscription because the vast majority of the year I'm happy with my espresso machine at home and decent drip at work. It's not like hygiene products where I just need a steady drip. My demand for instant coffee is very bursty. I expect that's true of others as well.

Maybe the logistics just don't work out without a subscription model, which is fine. And I certainly won't pretend to know what I'm talking about. But you're definitely losing one potential customer by forcing me to do a monthly subscription :)

Also, something is confusing in your ordering page. How many servings of coffee do I get for $19? I feel like that'd be useful information to have somewhere on the order page. Is it 8 cups of instant grounds? Or enough instant groups for 8 "cups" of coffee?

--

+ well actually, I am to try it out. But I won't mess with starting/canceling the subscription in the future. If you gave me a way to schedule things though, that would convert me for sure, assuming I enjoy the coffee.


It definitely does work well for backpacking and based on your amount of usage - sounds like something that could work well. Definitely have run some campaigns with a travel focus. However, the bursty demand you mentioned is what we hear from travelers and backpackers - that makes it a lot harder to serve (it's hard to get in front of you right around when you'll need it).

A big part of our mission is serving coffee for everyone's need - we have some people who use it camping, we have others who use it on the way to work. There is room for both.


With the 4-6 (+) shelf life you mention elsewhere on-thread, could you setup a seasonal subscription? "Camping time! Send me x ounces every: May [x] June [] July []"


Yeah that could definitely work. We're limited technically at the moment (e.g. can't really extend our platform to do things like that), but hiring a team to enable things like that.

What would be really neat is if we learned exactly how much you need and sent you the right amount at the right time.


Just let me schedule it. Trying to "learn" the right time and amount probably won't work well with such small datasets, and has a high risk of annoying your customers.

At most, send me a reminder email asking if I want to repeat last year's order.


Totally. If you can make instant coffee that tastes even okay, it would be revolutionary for backpacking.

Coffee is the most important thing my partner and I check to make sure we have before we enter the backcountry. And it's always instant, not out of preference or cost concerns, but weight.


I like good coffee: I don't care where it comes from. I like how I'm making coffee right now and where I get my coffee from, but this seems interesting for stuff like camping, hiking, and so on.

You can like good coffee and be interested in good instant coffee.


+1


Bought 40, by the way, to give out. Will buy more if people love them.

Won't replace my whole-bean subscriptions, but will be a great way to get a good cup of coffee away from my home, and a great gift for my dad who likes instant coffee.

One suggestion: let us buy without a subscription, even if it costs 10-20 percent more. I don't want to subscribe to this service for the above reasons. :)


+1 for the non-subscription request. I've told a few people about Sudden few weeks earlier, and the subscription only option is a bit downer.

A pop-up store type experience in major coffee cities in N.America (including Canada pls.) would be a good way to get the word out about Sudden.


We've been planning a pop up for a while now. First one will probably be in SF, then hopefully around the continent!


I wouldn't mind good instant for traveling. I used to use the Starbucks stuff, but they seem to have abandoned it. I've also taken my grinder and a bag of beans with me, which is... less than ideal.


Yeah... I just can't be bothered by carrying those around anymore.


I would love to have this when I'm on a flight!

There might be some customer facing bigcos with a service component that might buy into this as a differentiator, especially in their premium cabins.


Even though I own pretty much every coffee brewing device I use Sudden at home every morning. It's just so much easier. It's never going to be better than a really well brewed coffee but it's just sooo easy and still really solid.


Is Sudden a California CFO? Are there food safety and facility standards, licensure, insurance and documentation requirements to setting up a food processing operation?

http://www.cdph.ca.gov/programs/Documents/fdbCFOfaqs.pdf


We've pushed over that limit. The regulations really vary depending on what type of food, how big your operation is, etc. We brought in an expert to verify that everything we are doing is up to code. We are pretty rigorous about quality control, cleanliness, and organization behind the scenes. The things that you need to do as a business to be efficient (bring down cost) and maintain high quality are also the same things that lead to a clean and safe working environment - so it all lines up. That's my area of expertise.


How long do opened and unopened tubes last?


Currently we promise 4-6 month shelf life. We recently started to flush the tubes with nitrogen. As long as you keep the coffee in dark, cool and dry place it will last probably longer - we're still not sure since the oldest samples haven't gone bad yet!

Edit: when you open a tube it will age much faster.


Define 'tastes good/bad'


So first off, taste is a subjective thing, but generally things that we classify as tasting good internally: - smooth/ juicy taste - naturally sweet without sugar - has a good fragrance

Things that taste bad in coffee might be: - dries out your mouth - watery/ tasteless - really bitter - tastes like wood - smokey/ burnt

FYI, it's hard to pick up on these taste characteristics if you drink coffee with cream and sugar, so if you want to do a taste test, try it black and at a warm (not hot) temperature.


Yes, 'taste' is incredibly complicated and there are many elements to it, from texture, to smell, to temperature, to emotional state, to blood pressure, etc. We are still discovering what tastes humans actually possess and where they possess them in their bodies. What you are classifying as 'taste' is many things other than the definition of taste; you include smell and texture in the lists above. Especially on the bitter part, human sensation of bitter is highly variable from person to person. What you may consider bitter may not be able to be sensed by your customers and what you cannot sense may be tasted by your customers, hence why many confectioners tend towards a similar mean taste profile (pepsi/coke). You mention that things may 'taste like wood', this is a cultural association that you may want to be aware of. Try getting other people from other cultures/environments to drink your stuff and see if they also report these sensations. As far as 'drying out your mouth', this is again highly variable depending on hydration, humidity, personal preference, etc. For example, a friend of mine loves seltzer water for 'the burn', while I hate it for the exact same reason. I also drink my coffee black these days, but I will change my taste from time to time. Mostly I am just addicted to caffeine and coffee is the cheapest way to get the fix.

For more information on the sensation of taste and all it's myriad complexities, you may want to check out these resources:

http://www.ucdenver.edu/academics/colleges/medicalschool/dep... Sue is a world expert on taste, along with Tom Finger, and her work is excellent in every way.

https://www.amazon.com/Principles-Neural-Science-Fifth-Kande... The bible of neural sciences, though thick and dense, the sections on gustation and olfaction may prove useful to your endeavors.

Edit: Here are some other resources on how to modify your taste sensation to better understand how your taste buds work:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Taste_modifiers

There is also a supplement that you can take that will elliminate your sensation of sweet for a few hours, but I forget the name

Lastly, to understand umami, try getting a few bags of chips of similar salt content and hold your nose the entire time. One of just regular Lays potato chips, one of something like Doritos, and one of those baked Parmesan cheese ships from whole foods. While eating them with your nose held close, try to recognize the changes in the umami taste.


anything Keurig. It's watery gruel that smells awful and lacks flavor.


Keurig is several orders of magnitude better than instant and can be bought for as low as 50 cents a cup.

At Sudden's 8 cups for $19 it is CHEAPER for me to buy a quality pour over at the local cafe where they charge $2.25 a cup.

Also this appears to be targeting "coffee snobs"; most of that crowd isn't interested in instant coffee.


We started by targeting "coffee snobs" but we're now realizing that they indeed are not the best segment for us. We're shifting our focus toward more everyday coffee drinkers who are still interested in great coffee.

Edit: Definitely makes sense for you to go to your corner coffee shop. However, Sudden offers you an option to drink kick-ass coffee when you don't have access to any other option


I'd love to give you guys a shot. (pun only partially intended) I love coffee, and sometimes the convenience of instant would be great. I am disappointed with Starbuck's attempt.

//

Honest feedback, I hope you take it in the spirit it is given: Is there really no way to just order a sampler from you, without 'you will be automatically subscribed unless you cancel?' I straight up refuse to do subscriptions. The entire 'but you can cancel at any time!' model makes me think of low-quality, as-seen-on-TV crap, and is a strong negative in terms of my brand perception. Let your product stand on its own merit. If it's good, customers will come back. Like I said, if you posted a link where I could buy a one-time-only, no other actions required on my part sampler, I would buy it immediately. As it is, the 'your sampler becomes a sub unless you cancel' is just Another Thing to Deal With, and I already have enough of those. So do most other people.


Another vote for a non-subscription option.

I'm happy with my grind-and-pourover setup at home, but would love to have a reliable alternative for travel. I've tried to travel with Aeropress + handmill + beans, but it's only worth it for small town, remote area itineraries, whereas decent coffee is usually available in major metros. But for the times it isn't, or when staying with non-coffee friends, or for on the plane, or for rushing out the door, it would be great to have a decent backup option.


I would definitely buy this, and know of around 20 other people who probably would do also, but only if it was available as a one-off. I appreciate why you're chasing subscriptions, and I wouldn't have a problem with paying (some) premium for one-off orders, but I honestly think that buy not offering any non-subscription packages you're leaving a lot of money on the table.


Yeah, for me this would be 'travel coffee'. We hate to fly internally in the US so we drive long distances, ofter over night. Right now I have a french press etc. for that but if I could find an instant coffee that was like 90% as good as pour over that would make me happy.

Is there a non-subscription / trial offer?


Email me and I make get you a travel box


none of the things you just mentioned are easy or cheap, so i feel like minimizing the "what they're doing" part is a bit strange, or maybe that's just how i read your text. most businesses when analyzed on paper like this are very simple, or are re-packaging existing ideas. that's not something i would put against a business idea.

having said that, the primary reason i pound cold brew instead of making 2 or 3 aeropresses every morning is because i don't like boiling water, and grinding, and waiting, and cleaning up. some people find it all very mindful and relaxing and zen and whatever, but for me it's just a pain in the ass, so for me personally $2.50 for something i could just pay $1 (on average) in a big concentrated cold brew growler is perhaps a weird price point.


The tone might have been negative, so my apologies.

There's a lot of value add that Sudden is bringing to the table. Most obvious being sourcing, second being operations, third being logistics of getting the boxes to you, then lastly fourth--and most important--is marketing.

Coffee for the most part is bullshit, much like the wine industry. A small part of the audience want to hobnob about taste. For some reason everyone complains about Starbucks coffee or McDonalds coffee and somehow suddenly everyone knows what coffee gruel tastes like. The rest of the audience will just take what you craft and pour in milk and sugar to their liking, aka Philz.

Along with having so many people in the industry, cutting through the signal to convince you to remember the brand, to get you to try it, and to get you to believe it's superior is almost all the work.

On the global scale it's the equivalent of coffee farmers in Yunnan, China spending millions of dollars to convince you that Chinese coffee is just as good if not better than coffee from elsewhere like how wine people try to convince you something grown out of Napa or Champagne isn't good.

And to be fair the last time someone did this was some folks in South America using the marketing idea of a guy in a poncho and hat with his mule, and that worked really well.

So it's to say the challenge is process and marketing. Both are hard. But hard is good. Most people shy away from hard work to min-max their way through life.

Coffee people tend for the most part admire and adore hard work. It's the reason why they insist on doing things the long way, hard way, right way.

And that in turn is what makes this exciting.

But to flip it back, identifying the context of this was my aim.

1. Instant coffee is already a CPG thing you can buy off the shelf.

2. Then the preppers came up with the freeze drying.

3. And now someone is mechanizing it.

And it's going to be hard.

And whether that's going to be a better thing or not, well, maybe it wouldn't matter.

Techies could be drinking Ensure or Slimfast but instead they choose diarrhea-inducing Soylent because marketing is all that matters.

PS. Hard also means they're locked out of a lot of things. This won't be mainstream, there's no economies of scale for margins to give to retailers to have it be on shelves. And if and when they do upgrade to industrial scale they lose the hipster cache. Tough calls to be made, but either way hard is always more fun.


Great response - appreciate the clarification and all makes sense.

Yeah, those are all the real challenges we face. Marketing for us is a big one - as many people have pointed out about our website :-)

I think it's our job as a business to figure out a way to make it mainstream. It's going to take creativity, hard work, and a great tasting product - but that's the challenge we are signing up for to be honest. We are not here to make a niche product. Everything we are working towards is making this something the majority of people can enjoy. If you talked to my parents in the 70's, the idea of a Starbucks style cafe where you pay $5 for an iced latte was ludicrous, but now it's mainstream (I'm not saying its a ripoff either, its just something we didn't know we'd want).

What we see is a huge gap in the market. If you live in a select few big cities, you have this huge exposure to specialty coffee and it tastes great. If you live anywhere else - it is a whole lot harder to experience coffee that tastes this good. We believe that the average person truly does want to experience great tasting coffee - they just don't have access.

*Caveat that I always add - that doesn't mean there isn't room for other coffee either. McDonalds is a mainstream burger restaurant but there is still a place for 10 other fast food companies, a whole spectrum of high end burgers, etc. We aren't trying to replace every way to drink coffee - just provide a new alternative that tastes awesome.

Really enjoyed your comments - thanks for writing!


To be honest I was rocking the Sudden Coffee red sticker on my laptop in the south bay for the last four months!


Hahaa! Awesome. The circle or die cut one?


Circle. When you going to send me the die cut one??


email me and I'll send you two!


Yup. In theory making good instant coffee is a pretty simple idea but I can tell you that if I knew what I know about the process I'm not sure I'd start this business all over again.


> I can tell you that if I knew what I know about the process I'm not sure I'd start this business all over again.

And yet, those often make the best businesses. Businesses that do not require extensive domain knowledge are easy to copy, businesses that have no 'moat' (barrier to entry) tend to be overrun by competition initiating a very early race to the bottom in price where the only thing that matters is to hit the largest possible scale as soon as you can.

Having a moat like this gives you breathing room, so cherish it.

Hard is good in startups.


Hard is good when something can be patented, kept secret, heavily regulated or otherwise defended.

Mr. Wonderful and Mr. Coffee will knock this off in μseconds if there's any traction.


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Now that you put it that way I definitely agree with you.


You seem like you know what you're talking about. I know pretty much nothing about freeze drying. 600$ to 1k$ actually seems reasonable enough for my personal production. Would I need anything else? My mental model of the process is...grind (I think it needs a different grind than pourover), put into the magic freezer machine, wait and have instant coffee to take to work :P

What's yield/power consumption etc. (for such a lower end consumer version). Anything else I should be aware of?


Instant coffee is liquid, brewed coffee that then gets dehydrated.

1) grind the coffee 2) brew it however you like 3) cool the coffee from 90C --> cold 4) freeze the coffee 5) freeze dry for 24-48 hours

Fundamentally this will work but you're likely to run into a few problems. Your yield is going to be pretty low - one batch will likely get you ≈10-15 cups. Secondly, that coffee is really hygroscopic, meaning that it's so dry that it will absorb any moisture from the air. Unless you keep it in vacuum pouches it'll turn into a rock within days.


> This is the more artisanal version of that

So, it's in a paper wrapper bag with vintage font that displays a feel-good message? (Note: I'm susceptible to these kinds of marketing gags, but feel dirty when I buy something that turns out to be mediocre stuff.)


We're decidedly anti-artisanal coffee. Our mission is to take really good coffee and make it accessible and approachable to the mainstream coffee drinkers. My 83-year-old grandmother's friends in Finland are subscribers because they love how easy it is.


I set the limit at 0.50 per Keurig pod and my wife has decreed that we will brew pots of coffee in our new digs.


Downvote me to hell, but I think people drink too much coffee (and caffeinated drinks), it's just not necessary and is an addictive substance. I think it's a toxic substance honestly, tires the adrenals and heart out. Anyone else on here who abstains from caffeine?


Uptownfunk, I also severely limit my caffeine intake (right now zero). It's a tool that mitigates fatigue at the expense of anxiety, irritability, and sleep disruption.

Through an anthropologist's lens, caffeine helps adapt unreliable human mental concentration to an industrial/capitalist society. (Just like ritalin and adderall!) See ern's comment regarding "forced to take coffee to keep up with my fellow developers". I've observed that coffee is the most common beverage (after water) which employers freely distribute in the workplace.

This said, many folks prefer a caffeinated existence and don't experience the side effects. If it works out for you, then enjoy it!


I've actually had caffeine help regulate my sleep at times - I figure it helps me use my energy up earlier in the day, leaving me with less difficulty getting to sleep at night.

That said, I do get a day or three of withdrawl headaches if I go cold turkey these days. I recently went through a 4-5 week abstinence - not my first - but was extremely surprised when, this time, I temporarily became a morning person for the first 3 weeks of it. That's new. Then my schedule reverted to it's normal night owl behavior - presumably after deacclimatizing from my previous caffeine intake levels.

I'm not abstaining currently, but I am trying to keep it in moderation. My main source of caffeine comes with too much sugar (in the form of energy drinks), which I'm a bit more worried about. Fewer drinks, smaller drinks (e.g. consuming half portions), healthier & decoupled substitutes (real fruit for the sugar, tea for the caffeine.)

I never acquired a taste for coffee, for better or worse.


There is widespread evidence that coffee provides nutritional benefits not found in any other plant or food. And moderate caffeine can be a sum positive effect on the body, as long as you don't go overboard. The anxiety you mention is not the norm if coffee is handled responsibly, and actually it can help stabilize anxiety over time if used consistently.


Yes, I used to be an avid coffee drinker, but I would get so irritable that my relationships would suffer so I quit. Things are much better now, and I find that I have more energy now naturally than I had before when I was a caffeine-addict.


> I think it's a toxic substance honestly, tires the adrenals and heart out

Do you have any evidence for this or is it a hmm-I-better-not-vaccinate-my-children-because-I-think-it-will-give-them-autism type statement?


I tried looking for anything that would concur with his point, but all the sources Google Scholar gave me were very untrustworthy.

I did, however, find this neat little article on the "myth" of adrenal fatigue, from Crossfit.[0]

There's a part that says caffeine overuse can trigger general fatigue (or adrenal fatigue as refereed to the alternative medicine crowd).

http://library.crossfit.com/free/pdf/CFJ_2015_07_Adrenal_Exa...

((Of-topic, are there any other good research aggregators besides Google Scholar?))


Cochrane (http://www.cochrane.org/) is often a good aggregator for medicine-related subjects. Unfortunately, it doesn't look like they've got anything good for this one -- just a few things relating to caffeine and pain, pregnancy, etc.: http://uk.cochrane.org/news/caffeine-and-health-evidence-coc...


I like examine.com, they have a reasonable summary. It looks like there's not much strong evidence on any claim. The ones shown seem positive. https://examine.com/supplements/coffee/


I'm forced to take coffee to keep up with my fellow developers, but I agree with you. I suspect that the world would be a calmer and happier (albeit slower moving) place without caffeine.


I think you're making a great point - coffee is the legal drug at the moment. Personally, I drink coffee for the flavor, not for the caffeine. I'm a big fan of high-quality decaf coffee and it's something we're looking to do with Sudden.


> Personally, I drink coffee for the flavor, not for the caffeine. I'm a big fan of high-quality decaf coffee

> On the flight back to Helsinki I was desperate for caffeine and ordered a coffee

Denial is a common sign of addiction :)


I think you would have a shot at a solid niche with the decaf angle. Think about this: At practically every workplace you can get real coffee, which will probably always beat freeze-dried stuff. But if you want decaf you are SOL.

I am currently forced to drink Nestlé Gold Decaf and it is just barely tolerable. I don't know how your product compares but personally I would spring for anything better in a heartbeat, price be damned.


This is really great to hear. We've had a good amount of demand for decaf option and are working on it. Email me and I'll keep you in the loop


I'd dig good instant decaf. I don't want any caffeine but coffee can be delicious. Give me a shot at coffee snobbery!


Totally agree with you! Email me if you're interested in staying in loop with our decaf version


Coffee is no more a drug than sugar.



It is a great mystery to me how so many people drink so much coffee.

In the early days of my work life I started drinking a cup of coffee here and there. It helps if you're tired in the afternoon, and I like the taste. Then I started having a cup after lunch since everyone else went for it. Not long after, I'd have a cup first thing in the morning, and not too long after that I would be a complete zombie without drinking coffee from the morning and into the afternoon.

It took hard work kicking that habit, but I did, only because: (1) I don't like having such a strong dependency, it just seems unhealthy, and (2) I become irritable and jumpy in the evening if I have had coffee during the day. Maybe I'm just more sensitive, I don't know.

It sucks because I love the taste of coffee. These days I have a big jar of Nestle Instant Decaf at my desk and I dip into that every other day, just because I miss the taste of coffee, for which the instant just barely qualifies, but those are the lengths I go to. Now, if someone would come up with a decent instant decaf I would happily throw my money at that.


We're hearing this from more and more people. Luckily, there are some great decaf whole bean coffees but if something sucks it's the decaf instant coffee. We're working on a decaf version that will taste awesome, so stay tuned.


I would try the decaf, but to be competitive you'd have to beat out or match the quality I get from blue bottle, phils, or Peet's. I won't even mention charbucks.


I do the same. I see it as a performance enhancing drug, and as such I'd prefer to keep it for when I need it, instead of constantly staying dosed on it and then suffering withdrawal when I go off.

For those who naysay the withdrawal, I've seen multiple people complain of debilitating cluster headaches after about 3 days of no coffee.

The other thing that I've seen is people who complain about anxiety, but start every day with 2 coffees. If you were injecting adrenaline and then complaining about anxiety you would be laughed out of the room, but for some reason with coffee it is acceptable.


Wasn't a problem with "bad" instant coffee largely solved by Starbucks VIA, which too utilizes a novel tech that produces very decent results? Even the mega snobs of /r/coffee were largely OK with it came out few years ago.

Also, re: this -

    Instant coffee is liquid coffee that’s been dehydrated.
    It’s normally made with the worst beans ... Next, the
    liquid is boiled down and finally dehydrated by spray 
    drying it with hot air.
From what I remember this is how Nestle was making its first version of instant coffee back in 1930s. It then switched to the freeze-drying method in mid 60s, which is still used to make Nescafe Gold.

It's very cool to see that you made your own brewing/dehydration tech, but twisting facts and bad-mouthing your competitors is not the right way to go about promoting yourselves.


So I'd say look at it like a spectrum. In the cafe world there is - average/ not-so-great drip coffee --> Starbucks --> Speciality/ Third Wave Coffee.

I don't know how VIA makes their product, but if you do a side-by-side taste test with Sudden vs VIA, I 100% guarantee you will notice (and prefer) Sudden. We do in fact use a pretty unique bean selection + brewing process to achieve it.

Re: drying techniques - it really varies brand by brand and when you go to a store shelf in the US, most of the brands you see are spray dried, not freeze dried. In the US, you specifically have to look for brands that say 'freeze dried' and it's usually reserved for the more expensive instant coffees. Spray drying is much cheaper, but yields a lower quality product. Freeze dried coffee is a lot more common outside of the US. Even within freeze drying - we use a smaller batch freeze drying process. I've worked in large scale manufacturing before and with a smaller batch process we are able to achieve much higher quality levels.

Re: beans - most coffee beans bought and sold are bought as a commodity product - think rice, beans, etc. They can literally be years old before being brewed. We have seen lots of these beans and they visibly have mold and insect damage. The beans we use are hand-picked when ripe. Much closer to picking grapes from a vineyard.


I'm not trying to be an asshole, but do you really see this company taking off? You're battling the known perception of instant coffee being awful and trying to sell a super premium product within a group that's tailored to buy cheap coffee because they just don't care. That's just a brutal uphill battle from a consumer education standpoint and a price comparison standpoint.

I get that you're not trying to compare your product, which I'm sure has great quality, to the $8 jar of instant coffee but that's what the general consumer is going to do.

I will openly admit, I hated coffee until I tried a fresh cup from a friend who owns his own small business roasting coffee beans and it was incredible.

I truly hope you do succeed as that'll ideally allow you to run larger production runs to drive down costs to more affordable prices for everyone.


When I was starting to work on Sudden I knew that the biggest challenge would be around the perception of instant coffee. It's a lot of work but we have a pretty solid plan and traction right now!


I think your biggest challenge is going to be to convince people to pay such a premium to save the 10 minutes they would need to make a coffee (of more or less equivalent quality) with a French press. I'm a coffee lover but I am not a coffee snob, so I don't dismiss your product based on it being instant coffee, but £60 a month is enough to cover a new French press every month plus the best beans that my local coffee shop sells and still have enough money left to go to the local café every now and then when too lazy to go out. And that's only if you don't like Nespresso-type coffee, in which case after an initial investment of 50-ish pounds for the basic machine, £60 a month is enough to buy me 150+ cups of coffee a month.

And this is just the price for 32 cups of coffee a month, which is at most 1/5 of my normal consumption.


I wouldn't necessarily view it as something that replaces your French press or every coffee in your life. I'll bet that the majority of the time you make coffee at home, but a few times a week you spend $3-4 on coffee at a nice cafe.

Sudden is the same thing. Continue making coffee at home, but 2-3 times a week if you want something that tastes different or that's easier - go for Sudden. At that rate, spending $5-7 a week is much closer to treating yourself at a cafe.


I'm glad to hear it.

As others have said, if this was at REI or other stories and priced the same or higher I would totally grab some for when I go backpacking.

In any case, I'm truly impressed by your responses in this thread. Most founders don't take criticism in stride and that's, in my opinion, a main difference between those who succeed and don't.

I'll be a subscriber in the near future as I'm going to be traveling quite often the second half of this year and I'd love to avoid drinking Keurig hotel coffee.


Current customer here. I was in a similar position as yourself and subscribed to Sudden in the early days pre-YC. Just wanted to chime in that it's perfect for the frequent travel and hotel use case (as long as you have a source of hot water). I keep a few in my backpack to save myself from K-cups in offices.


Every flight I've been on with Starbucks VIA has been absolute trash. Airplane coffee quite literally tastes like it was made with toilet water. That's honestly the only way I can describe it. I'm bearish on any improvements because I'm convinced the problem is the water they use.


The decrease in air pressure and humidity also have big effects on your sensation of food(smell and taste)

http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20150112-why-in-flight-food-...

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9408563


Apparently the companies making coffee for planes have (de)pressure chambers to conduct tastings.


If that is true, they they are running incredible margins to afford that. A human sized negative pressure chamber is not any easy thing to obtain or maintain, even to airplane climates specs. Most likely, they rent out time on someone else's chamber or just take a chartered flight and test on the plane.


Not true, I took an Aeropress on an international flight and made fresh coffee throughout the flight. It tasted great. The hot stewardesses had no problem letting me use their hot water which was nice.


You're actually arguing that the environment of a plane doesn't have any effect on people's sense of taste because one time you totally liked your cup of coffee on a plane?


You're spot on re: the water quality. An investigation at DFW a few years ago found hazardous levels of e.coli in the potable water tanks used to refill aircraft.

I wonder why the airlines aren't doing anything about this. I'm not a frequent first-class passenger, but if I were, high-quality coffee would be a big deal for me.


Plane water is really nasty. Even Sudden made it will not taste great. You can mix Sudden with cold water by shaking it in a bottle and that's what I usually do when traveling


> I'm not a frequent first-class passenger, but if I were, high-quality coffee would be a big deal for me.

Many transatlantic and transpacific flights now have a proper grind-on-demand coffee machine (allowing for lattes, cappuccinos, etc) in business / first class. Doesn't necessarily solve the water problem, although they can fill them up from bottled (I don't know if they actually do).


Definitely looking to do plane coffee at some point but the water quality remains biggest issue.


I don't think I've ever been on an airplane that served "tap water". It's always been bottled.


drinking water is but hot water for brewing coffee comes from big tanks that get really gross


I make Starbucks VIA instant coffee at home and it's quite good. If I make it at work it's horrible so I'd say water quality is a big factor. At both home and work I used tap water both from the same city source.

For the airplane I wonder if the water isn't getting hot enough due to lower atmospheric pressure. The flight attendant see it boiling so they assume boiling means hot but it may only be 80C not 100C.

I know when I make the Starbucks VIA I make sure the water is boiling well (I live at sea level) and it's really hot otherwise it doesn't work out.


I actually liked Starbucks VIA until I got violently sick off of it once. I'd probably try it again though, it was pretty darn good for instant coffee.


I agree with you here. VIA is not bad - it tastes remarkably similar to what you'd get at a Starbucks. I think it's up to everyone to determine whether that's coffee they like or not


I'd like to echo a huge need for this in backpacking and travel areas. For instance I went on a cruise recently and could not get a decent cup of coffee for a week. I would have loved this option for travel.

If I saw this at a premium price and it was marketed and positioned properly as a much better alternative than Starbucks Via at REI or some other outdoor retailer I'd definitely buy it. I wouldn't subscribe for it simply because it doesn't meet my daily needs. I already have a nice electric grinder and do either pour over or Aeropress for coffee. Maybe I'm not your target market, but I think I could be if I can simply order it for travel and backpacking or on the go use.


Thanks for the comment! I hear ya. We're considering retail as an option in the future. Right now the subscription simply is the business model that makes sense for us - our current margins are too slim for retailers.


That makes sense. If you offered a batch where I could just buy a bunch and it stays good for a long while then I would definitely buy some in that model. That way I can simply stock some away and pull it out for trips or when I don't feel like making it / in a hurry etc.

If you want to hit the backpacker market get some freebies out to blogs like Andrew Skurka, Section Hiker, Adventure Alan, Gear Junkie, etc. I don't know that the market is big enough to target, but I suspect with how profitable REI is there may be something to it.


I'm not sure what the shelf life is currently… maybe a couple months?

Personally I subscribe for a similar use case and then just defer a week or two or skip on the months where I haven't used it all yet. Their subscription management options are very fine grained which is nice. I've been really happy with it so far.


These are all great - thanks! Although we don't advertise it on the website you can always email me and we can figure out something in terms of orders ;)


And one more thing, can you figure out a great instant creamer? I've tried many instant creamers and they all taste terrible. I really like the Coffeemate Natural Bliss creamer line, but I've had trouble finding an instant creamer that I like. Maybe it's out there and I just haven't found it yet.


Working on it. They're all really bad, and I'm pretty confident we can make something a lot better.


Another thumbs up for backpacking and back-country camping with little amounts of gear. I load up on the "slim" packs of coffee for these trips. Looking forward for Sudden if I can ever buy it without a subscription.


So, I am curious -- A while ago I experimented with making a better instant coffee. I came up with a few different solutions. I'm curious as to whether you've looked into them:

1) Pouring a ristretto into liquid nitrogen. At reconstitution time, put into boiling water and stir. Issue: Cold coffee, potential colloid separation -- solutions might include some kind of stabilizer

2) Taking a ristretto and removing water content to concentrate it, and then pull a vacuum on it and package it. Said package can then be opened and dissolved in boiling water. Issue: Complexity. Removing the water can be complicated, pulling a vacuum on it, and then heating it while at vacuum is hard.

3) Coffee puck: Take traditional coffee, and put it into a permeable membrane that when exposed to water above a certain temperature is permeable. When that temperature drops, it stops being permeable. Problem: Said polymers were hard to find.


1) You need to keep it frozen, right? That makes it a lot more complicated + probably issues with the colloids (we experienced that at one point)

2) The bigger challenge is actually brewing large amount of ristrettos/espressos, not necessarily concentrating it.

3) just sounds way too complicated to me to rival/equal soluble coffee

Edit: haven't really looked into any of these as a feasible option for us.


This might be a trade secret, but how are you keeping the colloid solution coherent?

I'm kinda surprised you say that brewing the ristrettos are the hard parts. I know that centrifugal brewing is all the rage these days (as siphon, pour-over, and espresso were before), but it seems like automating espresso is a solved problem. Are there no industrial-scale burr grinders?

I think the biggest problem would be tamping and getting that to be consistent.

Is there anyone who needs industrial scale espresso?


The part re: colloids is a trade secret at this point, but definitely a real challenge.

As far as we could find, there is no common solution for industrial scale espresso. If someone has one, please post it here. This was a personal obsession of mine last spring - "How does this not exist?!?"

Kalle is the coffee expert, but as the 'non-coffee guy', I have no idea why this wouldn't exist - I would have thought someone out there would need it?


industrial scale espresso: what about those automatic espresso machines you can sometimes find in office buildings? they pull single, double, or triple espresso shots from a touch screen interface. Can do lattes etc. too, but assuming you wouldn't need that part.


They're called super automatics. Generally, they're really expensive, and they make coffee very slowly (.5ml/second if you're lucky). They also tend to be built by companies who don't readily provide documentation on how to fix / modify them.


OK, I'll try it. I've been interested in an instant/easy cup of coffee for a long time and yet to find anything worthwhile.

From a tech standpoint the order process is a bit lacking and confusing. I'm prompted to create an account after ordering, but then emailed an activation for an account that was automatically created.

I'm unsure if my month starts now, and I can expect a shipment soon, or if I have to wait till 4/22, which is what your site says my next shipment will process.

You linked to a 'super secret' area (https://www.suddencoffee.com/?trial=true) where it says your trial will convert to an eight cup subscription for $24/month, but I signed up on the normal page for $22/month.

I'm looking forward to trying the coffee, as well as having a more intuitive and less confusing site to manage my subscription. How is that for a coffee/tech snob? :D


Thanks for pointing all these out!

Agree that the order process is a bit lacking. We just hired our first engineer to work on it. We're currently using Shopify + a bunch of apps since our focus has been the hardware (brewing + coffee). Also - just had a meeting yesterday to figure out how to make the site more clear.

Your month starts now. We'll ship your coffee tomorrow and the subscription will renew on 4/22.

The pricing for the trial is a bug. We lowered the price recently and clearly forgot to update the description - I just fixed it.

Really appreciate the feedback!


Hi Kalle, I love my daily pour over, so I might not be your target market, but I'd definitely be interested in purchasing a few coffees without a subscription. Have you thought about offering that?


Same here - I'd pay $20 for a 5 count sample without a subscription.


What prevents you from subscribing and then unsubscribing just afterwards?

(I don't know, maybe the webpage does, but there's no mention of minimum times anywhere and recurringcheckout has let me unsubscribe without problems in the past)


You have to call the New York Times to cancel your digital subscription. Why would I trust that some online coffee merchant I've never heard of isn't up to the same tricks?

https://www.nytimes.com/content/help/account/purchases/subsc...


Just use a single vendor credit card. I do this all the time with Final (getfinal.com).


Cancelling your card != Cancelling the subscription.

You could get collections sent after you for doing this, bad for credit.


>Why would I trust that some online coffee merchant I've never heard of isn't up to the same tricks?

Because they use "recurringcheckout.com" as a payment processor, which lets you do this.


Nothing prevents you from doing this and you are totally welcome to do it! You can email our support email as well and we'll cancel it for you. We'd obviously prefer that you stay on with a subscription, but are just happy to have more people give us a try.


I would also not sign up for a subscription service that does not let me cancel without contacting customer service. It's a dark pattern that too many subscription services adopt. The only reason for this is to make it more difficult to cancel. I was about to visit your site and try it out (depending on price), then I read that comment. If your willing to make it hard for me to cancel to try and squeeze in an extra buck then what else are you willing to do. I feel like it's shady and makes me not trust your company.


We do have a cancel button as well! Sorry if I was unclear. The UX on our site isn't the greatest - we use a platform to handle subscriptions. However, you definitely DO NOT need to contact support to cancel. Some people just find it easier to hit reply and say 'cancel'. FYI, we also proactively notify customers 3-4 days before a subscription renews. We want to make it as obvious as possible and give you the option to make adjustments. Transparency is critical for it to work.


This is enough of a hassle that I will never make the purchase, despite being interested.


Email me and I'll hook you up with a one time order!


You don't get it, do you? He doesn't want to email anyone just to order coffee.


Nothing, but it's annoying, because it takes 2 transactions instead of 1.


Or even just a jar/tub instead of individual servings.


Looking into that. We haven't done it yet because we are worried the coffee will get stale. Individual servings ensure the coffee stays fresh - that's why we do it.


Co-founder of Sudden here. This question comes up a lot. We have tried offering one-time purchases and it didn't work very well/ wasn't sustainable for us. 3 reasons we believe in a subscription model:

1) A big reason we started this company together was our shared belief in making customers feel good through hospitality. It's more than just the coffee itself. We want to build a better experience - if you are a Sudden subscriber, the experience should evolve over time, you'll learn more about coffee, try new things, have fun with it. To us, this wasn't about making something to have once a year on a road trip, but a way that we could connect with customers and create a larger community. A subscription is the best way for us to build a lasting experience at our current size.

2) For a lot of folks out there, it is super easy & convenient and they wouldn't have it any other way. They like that Sudden Coffee just arrives and they don't have to think about it. It's something they can add into their life.

3) Subscriptions mean we can offer the same product at a much cheaper price. We can spend a lot less time & money making ads or sending emails to remind you to buy again. This is the reality of what most CPG companies do - think about how often you see a toothpaste ad for a toothpaste you already own, even if you love it. We pass the savings directly on to customers. We ran the numbers, to offer the same coffee without a subscription, we'd have to charge $4-5/cup.

To clarify 2 things: A) You definitely can still be in the target market for us. Our most popular subscription is 8/cups a month. This is meant to ADD-TO not REPLACE your existing coffee ritual. We find Sudden works best as your 'second-cup' of the day (at least as you try it out). We have plenty of customers who make a daily pour over and then use Sudden in the afternoon.

B) We recognize that giving people a way to TRY before subscribing is a big gap in our service and we are actively experimenting with the best ways to do that. It may come in the form of referrals from other customers or special sales. We just brought on someone last week to think through the experience and were brainstorming about it this morning.


Why not focus on subscription but have a one-time option that just quietly sits there and people that are looking for it will find it? Charge the $5/cup, and that will make the subscription an obvious choice for anyone that is going to drink the product regularly.

I'm definitely one of those that pretty much refuses to have anything to do with monthly payments, plus I'm not a huge coffee fan. So I'm never going to get a subscription. But I do like a good coffee every now and then, and I'm curious, so I might try a one-time order.


I will likely never be a subscriber, since I don't like coffee. I'd love to have a good instant option to offer to guests without having to own a coffeemaker that I'll never use otherwise, have to store, etc.


A subscription also doesn't allow for any fluctuation in demand. If you're having a bunch of people over and want to offer them great coffee, how do you do that without depriving yourself for the rest of the month?


Good point. It's a work in progress, and we're exploring what's the best model. You can always order me by emailing us. We just saw that having a one-off model completely cannibalized our new subscriptions.

Email me if you want to order a one-off and I can hook you up ;)


Wouldn't that indicate that you are missing out on a significant portion of your market? Maybe I'm misunderstanding what 'completely cannibalized'means but, personally, I'd probably follow the money; because that's where your market seems to be. Subscriptions can be good, especially if your product is sticky, but why ignore the demand for single orders?

Perhaps having packs of 10/25/50 is a viable road. After all, what's so different about sending out kits monthly to a subscriber vs sending one out to someone who purchased a month supply as a test?


I second this. I've been burnt too many times by burnt instant coffee to subscribe without a sample.


Happy to get you a one-time order - just email me


Sometimes the market speaks REALLY clearly!

(1) I, too, would love to try it out.

This does mean that if it is not much better than my Keurig (wasteful) single use, I may not re-up. Would be interested to see.

(2) Also, would be great if the trial packets were available someplace that already had my credit card (like Amazon).

(3) Do you have half-cafs?


Regarding your Keurig comment. I really hated the amount of plastic waste going into landfills so I bought one of those plastic reusable cups. I wasn't impressed with the output or the work needed. I recently found Presidents Choice (large Canadian brand) has K cups for $0.50 a piece. They are compostable and made of spent coffee beans and other plant based material. If you are in Canada, go to your nearest superstore to test it out.


Costco carries San Francisco Bay coffee, which replaces the bottom 3/4 of the plastic K-cup with some kind of cloth filter. They claim it's less waste.


Thanks for the tip. I am not in a large city so if I can get it on Amazon in half-caf, I will definitely buy that.


Co-founder here - love the idea of having trial packets some place that's easier to buy, like Amazon. Will think on that.

We do want to make it a lot easier to try (see my comment above) - figuring out the best ways to do that.


Make it available S&S only on Amazon. People are a lot more comfortable setting up subscriptions through Amazon, and Amazon allows you to skip a month, bring forward, cancel, etc.


Use the same model as Soylent... they have a very good system.


Thats the first thing they teach you at YC, always be having that recurring revenue.


It's also one of the first things to turn off a new consumer thinking about taking a chance on an unknown brand.

You're fighting the reputation of generations of scammers who promised "cancel any time" and either weasel-worded the small print or just outright ignored cancellation requests to charge as much as possible to recurring bills.


Automatic recurring billing is a "dark pattern" from back before anyone made up that term. The only reason it makes more money than one-time purchase or an honest subscription (where customers have to explicitly pay to resubscribe every month or year) is that people will forget or get frustrated when it's time to cancel. Do you want to run that sort of business?

"Fun" fact: I bought a used car, only to discover that it apparently has free XM radio. I would not be surprised if someone unsuspecting person's card is being charged for it every month.


Co-founder here - I actually want to challenge that...for science. I've gone pretty deep on this.

There are definitely sets of products for which people want to 'set it and forget it'. At a basic level - electricity. I'd love to never think about my electricity bill ever. I do not want to explicitly pay for my electricity bill. Automated payment on electricity is amazing!

There are also many products in my life that I truly love and would use a lot more, but I am too lazy to buy or order them. I love LaCroix sparkling water. I would have no problem if it showed up at my house for $20 a month. However, because I'm lazy I never actually buy any - instead I get Coke at the corner store - worse for me.

Our goal with Sudden Coffee is to make it really really easy to get something you like. We are definitely not trying to pull wool over anyones eyes - we try to be as transparent as possible with this. We will never give you the run around if you need to cancel - that's just not who we are.

Closer to our hearts - a subscription allows us to actually make it an 'experience' instead of just cups of coffee. We can educate you about coffee, send you new recipes, guide you through coffee tastings - over a longer period of time. When we talk to customers at cafes - those extra moments of delight make the experience memorable - not just a cup of coffee.

That said, Kalle is also right. A subscription ultimately means we can spend less money & time on marketing, more money where it counts - on coffee, and give it to you at a lower price. I mentioned this in an earlier thread - for us to deliver the same coffee without subscriptions, we'd have to charge $4-5 per cup. However, I can also tell you that we have many happy subscribers who love that it's a subscription - it's not something that feels forced, but rather something that makes life easier.

Would really love for you to give us a try! Promise you will not be met with resistance if you need to cancel!


Thanks for the thorough reply.

I have a very different perspective. I religiously avoid auto-billing. For basic necessities like electricity and gas, I like to know how much I'm paying, and to be able to dispute the charges before I pay in case there's a mistake (this occasionally happens).

For luxuries, the periodic reminder that I'm paying $x for something prompts me to reassess whether they are worth it to me, with a default answer of "no." That may be bad for your business, but it's good for my cost of living. Since I'm not in a position to hire a servant to look after my day-to-day financial interests, good defaults matter.


Yup, I hear you. I've definitely talked to people on both sides of it - there are preferences either way. I think both can work. FYI, before our subscriptions renew - we notify customers a few days before, so they can increase, decrease, or cancel the order. We do want to proactively alert you before it renews rather than hide it from the user. It should be very clear to you what's happening (thats our goal at least). Our platform for subscriptions doesn't let us force you to hit accept before billing - that would be hard to implement.


I'm just a lowly project manager, but my understanding from the tech wizards around here and those I work with is this:

It is possible, using the advanced technology available today, to make on your website a button which allows a subscribed user to independently cancel a subscription that was made online.

Through this technology, one no longer has to compose a pleading e-mail to customer service. No need to take on faith the co-founder's confusing promise that they want to make it easy for you to cancel while they simultaneously withhold a "cancel" button, with no stated plans to add one.

I mean, look, if you really don't intend to make a serious amount of dough off of people being too forgetful or busy to unsubscribe from a subscription they no longer want... what's the harm?


There definitely is a cancel button too! I just tell people they can email us as well because some people find that easier.

We're just now building an in-house engineering team to make the process easier. If I had my way, you could cancel, pause, adjust timing, etc with a couple clicks. I am stating our plans to do these things :-)


If I wanted to start a scammy business running on recurring subscription I wouldn't have gone into all the trouble of developing new instant coffee ;)

Obviously, we want to build a product that we and our subscribers love and choose to keep subscribing. Right now we have a lot of them.

The biggest thing with the subscription is clear CAC vs. LTV. With our current model this equation works and we can profitably acquire new customers. This allows us to grow, make the product better and bring the cost down.


Isn't this just restating what I wrote in VC-speak?

> The biggest thing with the subscription is clear [Customer Acquisition Cost] vs. [Long Term Value].

i.e. "recurring billing results in more people failing to cancel, because they either forget or are deterred by our 'customer retention program.'"

> With our current model this equation works and we can profitably acquire new customers.

i.e. "we wouldn't be able to profit and grow without doing this."

It seems like you genuinely care about good coffee, but what's the desired end-state? If it's "great instant coffee at $1/cup with no auto-billing," that makes sense. If it involves negative option billing, it's shameful.


LTV = Lifetime value

No, it's not what you said. Your explanation misses the segment of customers that want the product every month but wouldn't exert a manual effort over and over again when it could be automated. Hence an increased LTV per customer with no change to the CAC. This doesn't really have anything to do with Sudden but rather subscription business economics. Automatic billing is not inherently bad; it's largely positive and convenient.

Also remember this company is not random — there's a ton of diligence involved with getting into YC as well as with VCs which they are backed.


Well hopefully through this thread at least we've convinced you we aren't scammers :-)

Seriously though, definitely something we are not about - would love to grab beers with anyone (in SF) who wants to learn more about our company/values text us/me (650) 823-4287.


I disagree. If the price point is right, I am a big fan of subscriptions.

A great example of this is: meundies (oohhhhhhhh ba doop boop boop). Fresh undies come every month for like $15/mo. I've had it going for a couple of years (I think), and it's slowly replaced all of my other (terrible) boxer briefs.

Just my 0.00002 BTC.


They probably also teach you that any customer can turn into a recurring customer.


+1 would love to sample before kicking in for subscription


I agree...Looks great but I would want to try a few before I subscribe.


I've been a subscriber for Sudden Coffee since Christmas and I love it. The coffee is definitely as good the corner cafe here in San Francisco. I love it because it takes me 1/10 the time to make a great cup of coffee in the morning. I just upped my subscription so I can get more every month. On top of that the customer service has been top notch so far with Kalle himself answering my questions.

My initial worry was that it was too pricey but they released this blog post which I found enlightening: https://blog.suddencoffee.com/transparent-pricing-what-goes-...


This reads like a run-of-the-mill marketing blurb.


I'll try to use less marketing terms next time? I'm just a satisfied customer and happy to see them do well. I'm an engineer in SF, see my Keybase: https://keybase.io/btholt


Thanks for the feedback! Glad you're loving it. I'm Kalle's co-founder/ wrote that blog post, so glad to hear it was helpful.


> The coffee is definitely as good the corner cafe here in San Francisco.

I've only tried a few since I don't even live in SF, but IME "as good [as] the corner cafe here in San Francisco" could be anywhere from horrible to excellent, depending on the particular corner cafe.


Okay, fair. I'm from Salt Lake City where the coffee is decidedly not as good. What I meant to say it's as good to me as Philz.


We did a blind taste test at YC - 72% of the founders in our batch prefer Sudden over fresh Philz ;)


We aren't going to beat out the best of the best cafes with trained baristas, but we will definitely beat out the average corner cafe (where people often spend $3-4 on a coffee).


Maybe I'm biased, as a fellow YC founder, but I don't understand the negativity.

1) Sudden is the first company that I've actually considered buying instant coffee from. In the US, there's a pretty strong stigma against it, so that's not an easy task.

2) $3 per cup isn't a lot of money, roughly equivalent to a cup of coffee elsewhere in SF. Especially if I don't have to stop anywhere and can just put it in a water bottle. Actually this would be great for camping.

3) I have no idea how they are making it, but having read numerous writings by the founders, this sounds a lot harder than I imagined.

4) Having spoken to many investors, fellow founders, and others, this is really compelling to a lot of people. Again, I live in the bubble of Silicon Valley, but "better, faster coffee" doesn't feel like an elitist product.

I'm all for Sudden Coffee being successful.


There is definitely some SV bubble around this. I can buy a local cafe pour over cup for less than this product.

I can buy my own beans and heat the kettle and pour that over in less than 5 minutes.

If I'm desperate and in hurry then I can make a cup of Keurig for a fraction of the cost.


I don't in any way disagree with you. If you're happy with those options then that's great - as you said, you'll save money. However, we're seeing that Sudden is a really compelling product to a lot of people. Most of our subscribers are outside of any larger cities and we ship to 42 states.

Sudden is not for everyone and we're totally ok with that. As YC says "it's better to have 100 people that really love you than 1M that just kind of like you" ;)


> There is definitely some SV bubble around this. I can buy a local cafe pour over cup for less than this product.

Sorry, but I've been to dozens of pour over coffee shops across the country and this claim seems exaggerated.

Sudden is $2.38 per cup in the base 8-pack. If you could show any cafe in the country that does a pour over for less than that price, I'd be surprised. The market trends much more towards $3.50-5.50.


Definitely can't buy a pour over in the bay area for under 4 dollars so this is a better price than that - also I can just put this into hot or cold water and instantly have high quality coffee? That's pretty nice.


Thanks Chris!


I don't understand the point of this product.

You're obviously targeting people who already like coffee, such as myself: I already buy beans, grind them myself, and manage the process using an Aeropress, and I'm hardly some coffee hipster because I use goddamned Eight O'Clock Columbian Peaks.

Yet, you are trying to sell me instant coffee, which I automatically am wary of because instant coffee is the shittiest coffee you can drink... yet you have no way of convincing me otherwise. Subscriptions are only useful if you can convert the customer, "the first hit is always free."

Also, your entire website is a hastily developed trainwreck: "Copyright $copy; 2017."... Copyright who? The email harvesting call to action in tan needs to follow the rule of thirds to stand out, your contact page needs serious loving (seriously, Google on how to make these), and your front page hero image is goddamned tiny and isn't even full width of the page, and the Sudden/Instant comparison block below it is formatted horridly.

Please hire a web designer, you need someone with experience on how to do this right.


Short answer is - we're working on it :-)

We hired an engineer and a head of marketing in the last 2 weeks. We are very aware internally that our site has a lot of errors and a lot of what you're seeing are tests we are running. We have a larger design project going in the background.

We do want to figure out a way for more people to try the product - so expect more there.

The target market is actually interesting...there are a TON of people who are really interested in speciality coffee, but simply don't have access, know-how, or want to put in the time. As an example, someone who visited SF, tried Blue Bottle, but lives in Indiana without a Blue Bottle nearby. There are also folks who love great coffee, but really don't have the time (doctors, nurses, etc). A big surprise for us after working on Sudden for a year was that plenty of people who go to the top coffee shops in a city, every single day, don't know too much about the coffee itself (single-origin or pour over are foreign terms) - they just like the taste. A big mission we have is creating ACCESS. We want to help everyone have easy access and UNDERSTAND what great coffee is about.

So responding to your initial question - we would absolutely love to have you as a customer, and I do think you'd love Sudden, but there are a lot of folks with a much more limited understanding of coffee who still love great tasting coffee (this was very surprising to us) - and we've realized there's a huge opportunity to open a new range of coffee to those people.


The design is fine. Certain things can be tweaked but great web design isn't really going to drive the product. The taste, market-fit and brand probably have more impact.

I'd suggest offering samples for a small price. Convincing customers about the taste with only a website can be an uphill battle unless they've been recommended the product, or actually tasted it. Perhaps free taste samples in stores can be a sales channel to the web site.


Thanks for the suggestion! We're exploring what we can do here. Ideally we'd love to make sampling really easy & inexpensive but with our current costs it's simply not feasible right now.


There must be some price where you would break even shipping out a single tube.

You could charge that amount for a sample, even if you consider it overpriced.

You might be surprised at how many people want to try it, but don't want to commit to a subscription right away.


And on Firefox, their SVG logo reads "Sudde offee".

(http://i.imgur.com/HZ1Hnwg.png)


Hmmm that's odd. Thanks for pointing out!


[flagged]


Last time I noticed, I wasn't seeking YC investment. Also, ad hominem attacks aren't really tolerated on HN.

But hey, lets not help YC companies and let them squander that investment. If there is a market for their product, I hope they succeed; but they aren't going to succeed with the current state of that website.


I agree with you that our website needs a lot of work. We just hired our first software engineer to work on it and are currently working with a design agency to make it a lot better. All feedback much appreciated!


I buy instant coffee 3 or 4 times a year when I go backpacking. Because it's that rare, I'm not going to subscribe, but if I saw this for sale at [Big Box Outdoor Store] when I was buying supplies, I'd probably pay a premium for it.


Great, thanks for the feedback!


Honestly I'm mostly interested in the centrifugal brewing system. 85-90C doesn't seem very low to me, maybe just below my brewing range across methods (192-204). Sounds like your current method would be similar to an Aeropress.

You said you'd spent 12 hours a day pulling shots- were you using espresso for the coffee? Is this freeze dried espresso, with more water added to it (like an Americano)?

I'd truly love to know more about your brew technique and process.


In the beginning we were brewing the coffee as espresso since that was an easy way to get a higher strength (≈10% TDS) coffee brewed in low volumes - kind of took the YC mantra "do things that don't scale" to heart. So yes, until Aug 2016 it was basically dehydrated espresso.

Our current setup is quite different and in terms of flavor profile and brew dynamics does represent AeroPress. I'd love to go in more detail but can't disclose more.


I'd like to try it for backpacking, but not interested in a subscription. Give an option to purchase a sample pack.


Amen to this. I would be much more inclined to try Sudden Coffee out if there were an option for a one-time purchase, especially if registration were not required (I really don't want to deal with yet another password).

As a side question: what's the shelf life of Sudden?


Thanks for the feedback - duly noted.

The shelf life is around 4-6 months - we recently started to flush the tubes with nitrogen so as long as you keep the in cool, dry and dark place they'll last for a while.


+1 to the above. The first thing I looked for on your site was how to try it. I don't want a sub before I try it.

Has anyone 'hacked' your coffee - I'm thinking of the Aeropress community and the nifty things they've done.

Have you demoed this anywhere in person?

For instance, in Austin people stand in line early in the morning for BBQ, and I'm sure you would make a huge impression if you gave out free samples a few times.


Super impressed with this - one of my coworkers has been giving out samples of it, it's absolutely perfect for mornings when I'm in too much of a rush to deal with grinding / brewing, and also for camping trips.


Awesome - really happy to hear that! I use it every morning at home and it's soooo easy.


I _actually_ subscribed, 8 cups for ~$19 seems pretty decent to me. Keep selling subscriptions ... it's a better business.

How do your yields compare to cold brew?


Keep selling subscriptions...to corporate clients, to whom you can give volume discounts.

You can sell a shit-ton of this (if it's great) at half the price. But almost $2.50 per cup is more than Nespresso, and the customers willing to spend that month-in and month-out are already going to have Nespresso, etc.


We're making ≈35% margins by selling it as a subscription. More about the price here: https://blog.suddencoffee.com/transparent-pricing-what-goes-...


Much higher than cold brew. Cold water is not great for extracting coffee - it has much lower extraction potential and creates a different flavor profile. It usually ends up tasting pretty oxidized because of the long brew time.


Hi Kalle, the best coffee I ever had was an espresso macchiato at Freese Coffee in Freesenkatu (Helsinki, Finland - and yeah, that guy's lastname and company's name matches the street name due to some history). I used to live couple blocks away. Awesome stuff :)

Please, don't offer these only with subscription. Let me do one-off purchases and you have me as a customer.


Hahaa! Really happy to hear that :) Thanks for the feedback re: one-off.


> On the flight back to Helsinki I was desperate for caffeine and ordered a coffee which was horrendous.

This is what I hate about caffeine, the dependency and withdrawals you get when you're not taking your dose. I love coffee and black tea, but the dependency and habituation to the effect of it is what makes me wean off from time to time.


I get the desire for recurring revenue, but I really want to buy and try once; pledging easy cancellation near your call to action would really massage a lot of the complaints in here.


Totally get it - thanks for the feedback. You can cancel anytime simply by emailing support@suddencoffee


Oooh... Ouch... Cancelation by emailing somebody is really not cool... That should be the sort of thing that can be done automatically with the hit of a switch. If you could get your programmer to set that up it would be a good step.

Also, no shipping to Japan?

I'd like to try this out but without shipping to my region I suppose that's me out.


I want to challenge your idea with the question of whether it's really needed. True, having good instant coffee would be an improvement. But I guess we have just accepted that it is as it is. If you want good coffee you sit down, take your time, it's also a culture a thing. If you just need something warm to drink at the bus stop or a caffein shock before a meeting, badly tasting coffee is "good enough" for most people. So, who'll buy "suddencoffee"? (and is that really a good name for it? sudden doesn't feel like high quality)

PS: Btw I really think if this thing has a market you are probably the guy to make a product for it. I can believe that. Great. But if there's no market, better focus on other stuff, e.g., how to get the premium locations were people come to get great coffee.


I already prefer instant coffee (sublimated) to the usual coffee machine-grinded bean coffee (it always tastes off for some reason). Instant with milk always tastes perfect.


I had a batch of this and can confirm – not only did it taste like pour-over, it tasted like one of the best pour-overs I'd ever had. I was shocked.

It just happens to come in powder form. (I'm your typical SF tech coffee geek, like a lot of us I'll seek out the good stuff.)

Sell on Amazon already! :)


Thanks Ed! We're considering/exploring Amazon.


At the current pricing, there is no way I would purchase. Flavor isn't worth THAT much to me.

At least for me personally, mediocre but extremely inexpensive coffee > "great tasting" $2-3/cup coffee. Not to mention, it being "instant" to me, means even at this price it will still be inferior to high-end bulk coffee.

I already thought Keurig pods were expensive (and they don't make great coffee either so I avoid them), this makes those look reasonable.

Maybe I'm just not your target market. The product itself sounds like it may be great, just IMO not worth the cost, and I have no idea what your target market would be, but it seems it would be an extremely small subset of coffee drinkers (I could be wrong)


Have you considered letting the coffee speak for itself and offering a paid/free one cup sample to get people interested? I'm not going to take a $19 leap on coffee I don't know if I'll like, no matter what people say or how good your marketing is. The fact that it's currently offered as a subscription makes it even less likely that I'll bite.

However, if I tasted your coffee and found it reasonable, I would probably sign up, even for a subscription. If you had an option to just buy a $3 sample cup I would, and if what people say about your coffee is true, I'd probably turn into a customer. I think a lot of people would be in the same boat, as well. Just something to consider.


I totally get that we have a high barrier of entry. We tried lowering it last year when we offered one-off purchases. However, that just doesn't work with our current user acquisition model. Even if we get a lower number of subscribers their LTV is much, much higher.


It's not about LTV of your customers for you. This could easily be interpreted as 'when given a chance to try the product without a subscription a large percentage of the trials led nowhere'. That you get a larger LTV out of an automatic conversion is a given, it would be extremely surprising if that were not the case.

I would suggest that you try to get to the point where your LTV of customers trying one paid/free sample and then converting into regular paying customers or subscribers is proof that the product works rather than to get into the bin where the unsubscribe barrier is what keeps you going.


Short answer - we're starting to experiment with trial options. This is a link to a 2-cup trial that converts to a sub: https://www.suddencoffee.com/?trial=true

Longer answer - sort of but not that simple in our current state. Even if you absolutely love a product, often times you don't buy again. Many reasons for this - it's a pain to checkout again, you don't have your credit card on you, you forgot about it, you're just too busy with other stuff.

If we had an Uber-like app - one click to order, saves your credit card, sends you push notifications to remind you - it would be a lot more feasible to send you a single cup of coffee and make it really really easy for you to buy again. Unfortunately, it's hard for us to do that right now and we end up losing a lot of people who truly did love the product.

Before LTV or any of that stuff - the big question is if we call up our subscribers, are they happy? We hear again and again "Yes, I love the product, I love that it shows up, it tastes great and saves me time". We would not be building a subscription service if that were not the case.

However, we are absolutely testing different trial options to get at what you're talking about.


This is a product where clearly some kind of free sample is necessary, because when you make claims like you are about your coffee, people want to try it before subscribing to it. If you're giving free samples, you need to collect credit card information to avoid fraud anyway, so you may as well add the customer to a subscription after 30 days unless they opt out. The rebill model is profitable for a reason.

I would go so far as to say you should create an affiliate program. I know the "rebill" affiliate marketing model was quite scummy (acai berry, teeth whitening back in 2008-2011), but it worked very well and doesn't have to be so scummy. The problem then was that the major products were hiding the terms of the rebill and made it impossible to cancel without multiple angry calls to callcenters. But it doesn't have to be this way. Lots of reputable products have rebill models, but they are clear about the terms when you enter your credit card info, and you can opt-out of auto-renew with a button click at any time in the next 30 days. If you can do this you can capture the advantages of the rebill model without high chargeback rates and reputation damage. The rebill model will increase customer LTV and enable you to pay competitive commissions to affiliates who drive signups.

Once you know the percentage of customers who convert from free trial, you can start measuring the average length of subscription to calculate LTV (if churn is negative the average LTV will increase over time). Then you can use that LTV to determine maximum customer acquisition cost (CAC). With that, you can launch an affiliate program (by registering as an advertiser on the few big affiliate networks) and pay a commission as some percentage of customer LTV (hopefully around $20 if you want to compete with other affiliate offers). As LTV increases you can raise commission for your best affiliates.

This is the kind of product that affiliates can sell very efficiently. You should let them do your marketing for you, and use the funding you're raising to bankroll your affiliate program.


I think there are ways you can get repeat purchases without the subscription model. Yes, having the CC details stored (actually, having some kind of token stored, ala Stipe) would make repeat purchases easier.

There are probably other things you could do to speed up the process. Maybe a sticker (or mug) with a QR code that leads to the purchase screen. Something that's always in front of my face that I can scan when I realise I'm down to my last cup.

Subscriptions are fine, and there's no way you should drop that model, but having both options would be way better.


This is super interesting!

I had always assumed coffee was made via liophilization at scale, any insight on why it's not?

On the subject of extraction, how are you measuring yield? What are the main differences in the 40% coffee yield you're leaving on the table?


In normal conditions you can only extract up to ≈30% of the coffee beans mass, ie. no matter how fine you grind and long you brew you'll only get 30%. The rest are insoluble solids: cellulose so basically wood.

When the big boys brew the coffee in really high temp and pressure (165-190C, 15 bars) the structure of the bean changes and previously insoluble parts of the hemicellulose become soluble. This means you get a higher yield but what you get are nasty, woody, heavy bitter compounds.

Here's a diagram explaining more: https://goo.gl/dJTsxM


Ah ok, with you now! Are you guys mainly a hardware company then? Anything cool going on software-wise for you guys?


Yeah, mainly hardware now. We just hired our first dev (and are still looking for a VP Eng!) and have some software stuff coming up. First we're working on making the ordering process better and building tools for our subscribers.

Here's the job posting in case you're interested: https://jobs.lever.co/suddencoffee


Ok cool, thanks for sharing!

A big part of artisanal coffee is that it uses high quality water (usually magnesium enriched after filtering via reverse osmosis iirc) - is there anything you can do to control for this / shitty water at the customer side?

If you're brewing with Mg-water then, most of it will be left behind when freeze drying, of course, but water used to rehydrate the coffee will be a big one...


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