In this episode of Art of the Kickstart, we interviewed Nate Thuli, founder of HAVA Mug, a self-heating smart mug. HAVA uses a swipe sensor to allow you to control exactly what temperature you want your coffee to be, and over time, the mug will discover your custom preferred temperature. Learn about how a hot beverage aficionado went from breaking open mugs to discover their thermal properties to smashing his Kickstarter goal in just a few days.

Topics Discussed and Key Crowdfunding Takeaways

  • How Nate wants to improve the social coffee drinking experience through the HAVA Mug
  • What HAVA Mug has in common with dating apps like Tinder
  • How HAVA Mug differentiates itself from its competitors
  • Why HAVA Mug relied on customer feedback to find the perfect temperature for a hot drink
  • How HAVA Mug overcame initial product design and technology challenges

Links

Sponsors

Art of the Kickstart is honored to be sponsored by The Gadget Flow, a product discovery platform that helps you discover, save, and buy awesome products. The Gadget Flow is the ultimate buyer’s guide for cool luxury gadgets and creative gifts. Click here to learn more and list your product – use coupon code ATOKK16 for 20% off!

Transcript

View this episode's transcript
Roy Morejon:
Welcome to Art of the Kickstart, your source for crowdfunding campaign success. I’m your host, Roy Morejon, president of Enventys Partners, the top full service turnkey product development and crowdfunding marketing agency in the world. We have helped startups raise over $100 million for our clients since 2010.

Roy Morejon:
Each week I’ll interview a crowdfunding success story, an inspirational entrepreneur, or a business expert in order to help you take your startup to the next level with crowdfunding. Art of the Kickstart is honored to be sponsored by Gadget Flow. Gadget Flow is a product discovery platform that helps you discover, save, and buy awesome products. It is the ultimate buyer’s guide for luxury gadgets and creative gifts. Now let’s get on with the show.

Roy Morejon:
Welcome to another edition of Art of the Kickstart. Today we are talking with Nate Thuli, founder of HAVA Mug. Nate, thank you so much for joining us today.

Nate Thuli:
Hey, great. Nice to be here.

Roy Morejon:
Yeah. I’m really excited to talk about this truly advanced self-heating smart mug. We have a lot of smart products on our show and that launch on Crowdfunding and Kickstarter. Some of them don’t necessarily need to be made smart, but I think a product like this that you’ve innovated to keep the drink at your desired temperature for multiple hours is truly inspirational and I think resonates to the audience that’s out there.

Roy Morejon:
So let’s hear a little bit about your backstory, Nate. What inspired you to create HAVA Mug and what’s brought you to this point.

Nate Thuli:
Yeah. For sure. Thanks. I’ve always loved coffee and tea, and even more than that the ability for a good beverage to be kind of a social catalyst to an interaction with someone else. You gather around that beverage as a way of touching base with an old friend or catching up or talking business.

Nate Thuli:
What I noticed is that the fundamental elements there are kind of interrupted sometimes when your coffee is getting cold, you find you’re kind of rushing through it, or in one way or another it’s not right and interrupts what you’re trying to do.

Nate Thuli:
So really what we wanted to try to accomplish was look at the state of technology and see if there is a way that we can sort of break down those barriers and let the mug get out of the way and let the conversation and the social interaction kind of take precedence.

Nate Thuli:
A couple years ago we were kind of watching the maturity of technology, lithium battery technology and the size of micro-controllers, and thought you know what? I think we’re at a spot now where that’s mature enough to kind of package that up together and start going after some of these problem areas.

Roy Morejon:
So let’s talk about the innovation itself. How did you go about beginning the design features or just the overall functionality of the product itself? What’s the starting point there?

Nate Thuli:
It started real grassroots, real agile. I literally went out to stores and bought up a ton of double wall and single wall ceramic mugs. Then I started cracking them open and dropping thermometers down in there and kind of getting a baseline understanding of sort of the thermal properties involved with plastic and metal and ceramic, single and doubled walled.

Nate Thuli:
Then kind of took that and then brought that forward into more robust testing, kind of looking at the heat distribution and looking at the heat loss based on a combination of materials and surface area, to start backing into sort of what amount of technological interaction we would need, like how much stored energy we would need, how much of a heating coil or battery capacity we would need, and really came up with sort of baseline there.

Nate Thuli:
Then we stepped back and we started to look at if we were to package this up in a way that we can physically fit this inside of a product and get the battery life and the heating temperature up to a level that’s really conducive to a good experience. Then we looked at what’s the right way to interact with that and be… The easy solution, the easy button, and it seems some competitors take as well, is just connect it to Bluetooth and then make the app and make the phone do everything.

Nate Thuli:
We wanted to hold away from that, because if I’m sitting down having a conversation with someone the last thing I want to do is whip out my phone because I’m trying to interact with coffee, right? I wouldn’t use my phone to drink a cup of tea or coffee right now, so why should I have to in the future?

Nate Thuli:
So we started looking at some creative solutions on how embedded right in the mug we could actually interact with the temperature. That’s where we brought on a team of engineers and really started digging into how we can bring in that technology and came up with a swipe sensor that we’re actually able to embed in the side of the mug kind of between the two cores.

Nate Thuli:
What that allows us to do is then you can literally just swipe on the side of the mug and you either swipe right or swipe left, which is a pretty intuitive gesture, to then tell the mug I want it hot or I want it colder, and then really just let the mug take over from there in terms of acknowledging that response and kind of learning from each of those gestures to then develop sort of this program temperature and really build out kind of a customized temperature preference for each user.

Roy Morejon:
That sounds like the tinder for mugs.

Nate Thuli:
A little bit. Yeah. One of our jokes is that you swipe right to heat things up and swipe left to cool it off, and in this day and age that’s a pretty intuitive gesture.

Roy Morejon:
Yeah, especially with just the way COVID is. You got Fumble recently going public, so definitely love is in the air with Valentines Day just past us now.

Roy Morejon:
But in terms of challenges, many first-time founders that we interview and entrepreneurs that we talk to have hiccups along the way, learnings if you will, not failures but learnings. What were some of those in terms of the engineering or working with factories or setting up those relationships that you’ve had along the way to be able to get the product ready to go?

Nate Thuli:
Oh, my gosh, there were a lot, definitely a lot of learnings along the way. A big one is that taking energy and storing it in a battery and then converting that to heat is probably one of the most inefficient things you can do with electrical power. That’s inherently against efficiency. That’s inherently against a kind of an effective use of that stored energy.

Nate Thuli:
So from the beginning one of our biggest challenges was how to essentially power a small toaster using a cellphone battery, right? I mean that’s kind of in the realm of power that we’re looking at in a product like this.

Nate Thuli:
So that was a very big challenge. Actually one of our engineers is a brilliant, brilliant electrical engineer and he’s got his masters in battery optimization and stored energy, and it really did take that level of power management to be able to generate the kind of heat that we need from such a small battery, that you can comfortably hold it in your hand, that it’s not getting in the way of actually drinking. We don’t want this great big product that’s not conducive to having an enjoyable experience, so fundamentally that was our biggest challenge.

Nate Thuli:
Then on top of that, anytime you bring technology into our hands, into an experience where you’re interacting with something like coffee or tea, it’s very important, but it’s also very challenging that that technology does not take center stage. What needs to take center stage is the beverage, it’s the experience, right?

Nate Thuli:
That took a lot of careful decisions on design materials, the shape of the product. We specifically made the ceramic core shaped such that when you put it up against your mouth it’s very comfortable against your mouth. The outside is very comfortable to hold. It’s the kind of product you want to just hold in your hands and just cozy up with.

Nate Thuli:
So those design elements were a lot of times in opposition to the technology. The technology wanted us to drive towards a metal body and a plastic design and things that would have made it easier for that, so it was kind of an uphill battle, taking some very advanced technology and bottling it up in a package where the coffee or tea and the consumption experience took center stage, and really the technology had to be advanced enough to follow suit. Those were I’d say probably the two biggest challenges we had.

Roy Morejon:
Yeah. No, I can imagine. So you’ve been doing quite a bit of prep work in terms of marketing and pre-campaign work before the launch of the product itself going live publicly. Talk a little bit to our audience about some of that prep work that you’ve been doing over the months, years, et cetera, in terms of getting this product in a position to truly understand who that consumer is and how to be able to reach them with this product innovation.

Nate Thuli:
Absolutely. One of the very first things we did is started to go around and look at temperature preference, because right now it’s one of those things where we prefer a temperature, we have a preference for hot or cold individually, and there was a lot of exploration that needed to go into that, because one person may enjoy one temperature, someone else may enjoy a different temperature. So there was a lot of exploration that had to go into that.

Nate Thuli:
We wanted to get early prototypes into the hands of beta users as soon as possible and start learning that. We saw that there’s actually a pretty large range of what temperature people notice.

Nate Thuli:
The other thing we learned was that our palate is actually very sensitive to temperature. We can sense hot and cold within just a couple of degrees. So now you look at the level of precision that we notice, that something goes from being too hot, to just right, to too cold really quickly.

Nate Thuli:
In our experience we saw that actually without technology involved it’s about eight minutes in a ceramic mug. That kind of goes to our preference for something specific as well as our perception of nuance changes. So that was kind of a lot of the early learning.

Nate Thuli:
Then after that we wanted to start putting together marketing materials and really getting this out there and getting it gauged for… You know, this is one of those problem spaces that a lot of us experience. This is I think as of last year about a $40 billion industry just in the US alone, a tremendous amount of users, but we don’t necessarily realize the limitations that we have until we realize the limitations we have.

Nate Thuli:
So when you’re in a ceramic mug you have about eight minutes from the time that it starts off too hot, passes through your ideal range, and gets too cold. Then if you put a lid on that to try to enhance that, or lengthen that rather, then you block the aroma, and aroma is responsible for about 80 to 90% of our perception of nuance flavors.

Nate Thuli:
So these are the limitations that we’re currently experiencing, we’re sort of growing accustom to, and our initial couple rounds of marketing were really targeted at understanding the points of pain and getting some feedback on who else is with us on this, and who else likes it hot? Who else is really tired of going to the microwave to heat up their coffee?

Nate Thuli:
So we went through kind of an early phase of putting content out there and getting feedback really on kind of a consumer learning and consumer education side. Then we pulled that back and we really processed everything that we were gathering to then put together sort of our end-to-end solution now on… You know, we’ve got a good pulse on the points of pain and what’s going on, and now let’s go after that. Let’s fix that kind of once and for all.

Roy Morejon:
It sounds like a Goldilocks issue.

Nate Thuli:
A little bit.

Roy Morejon:
Some like it hot. Some like it cold. That’s interesting though in terms of the data and the science behind it. But, yeah, you’re absolutely right in terms of not only the temperature of things, but certainly that aroma, that other sense in terms of the experience with the product itself and how critical that can be into the overall experience and quality that you have with that product.

Nate Thuli:
Yeah. Absolutely.

Roy Morejon:
So you’ve been working with us at Enventys Partners for a while now. What were some of those considerations when you were choosing an agency to partner with?

Nate Thuli:
The very first and foremost was we actually kind of took a step back first and thought what’s the right way to bring a product like this into the market? Nowadays we’ve got a lot of different options available, whether you go kind of the conventional route or go more of a crowdfunding route.

Nate Thuli:
For a number of reasons we honed in on crowdfunding being the most appropriate solution. So then the next kind of milestone or metric that we were then looking for is experience with crowdfunding. We needed to partner with someone that had experience with that, that was familiar with working with products like this.

Nate Thuli:
Not to name bad names, we actually made the call wrong earlier in the year and we went through several months of working with a different team, and it became very clear that they weren’t understanding the product. They weren’t quite resonating with what we were trying to accomplish despite having experience, really getting into that.

Nate Thuli:
So when we pulled that back we really wanted to make sure that whoever we partnered with understood the product, understood the solution space. Again, we kind leveraged some of their experience going into that. What we noticed with Enventys is that right off the bat we would see the very first materials coming through and the team got it. It resonated right away. So now we can move forward as kind of a conducive team instead of our team working with the other team. We were all on this on the same foot right out the door.

Nate Thuli:
Then on top of that we were looking for critical feedback coming back to us too. We definitely wanted a team that would challenge some of the decision we were making and really help us mature this into a solution that’s ready to be public facing, and I couldn’t be happier so far. We’ve had a really good experience with Enventys.

Roy Morejon:
That’s good to hear Nate. Appreciate that. I know the team is super-stoked on getting this product out there and warming up the hands of people all around the world. I’m really interested to see if there’s a nugget or two that you want to bestow to our audience in terms of some of those learnings, or things that you’ve learned through the whole process, whether it be development of the product or pre-campaign testing and validation before launch.

Nate Thuli:
Yeah. I would say the biggest nugget I would have is when you approach something from a place of validated learning you can really break it down in a way that you’ll actually make a lot of forward progress. By that I mean we wanted to prototype and really failed quickly, and a lot.

Nate Thuli:
In the first summer when we started prototyping we would go through prototype rounds where thousands of dollars would go into each of these prototype mugs, we’d get them onto the test stand, and they would do exactly what we needed them to do, but we were also done with them and moving on within about an hour, so we would burn through that really fast and then pivot off of that and keep going.

Nate Thuli:
From the beginning we structured it based on really a series of hypotheses. If we look at the mug as it stands now, it’s the culmination of hundreds of assumptions and hundreds of hypotheses that we needed to validate, and instead of approaching the end picture first, take that really break it down into what can we validate first?

Nate Thuli:
Then once we’ve validated that, we persevere or pivot based on those fundamental assumptions and then kind of move on. That really helped kind of take the end-to-end and break it down into more sizeable chunks that then we could make forward progress on.

Roy Morejon:
That’s been great man. Well, Nate, this is going to get us into our launch round, where I’m going to rapid fire some hot questions at you. You good to go?

Nate Thuli:
All right. Sounds good.

Roy Morejon:
What inspired you to be an entrepreneur?

Nate Thuli:
I would say it really comes down to creating value. I’ve always loved sort of taking something at play and kind of breaking it down to its fundamental elements, whether that’s physics or business or science, and then looking at ways where you could then build that up in a new way that creates value.

Nate Thuli:
Previously I was active duty with the Air Force for a number of years and worked on a lot of very large procurement projects, programs, and I loved the challenge there. But what drove me to entrepreneurship is just how closely connected you can be from this problem space to solution space transformation and how intimately involved you can be in this value creation, so it really resonated with just kind of fundamentally how I approach things.

Roy Morejon:
Nice. So if you could meet with any entrepreneur throughout history, who would you want to have a coffee with?

Nate Thuli:
You know, I would want to meet with Jeff Bezos right now. The big reason is a couple years ago here in LA at the Space and Missiles Systems Center he came and spoke with a number of us. I didn’t get a chance to meet him personally up close, but just in the room with a group of us, and he talked at length about his one way door and two way door kind of concept and how a great idea could still fail with lack of commitment, so there’s this sort of disagree, but commit, and also acknowledge each time are you walking through a one way door or a two way door.

Nate Thuli:
That has been such a significant piece of insight that I’ve carried with me. But I would love to a HAVA Mug in his hands and have a conversation with him and talk about that a little bit more, and get his thoughts on how that kind of resonates with some of the Lean startup methodologies or some of the Agile methodologies, and just have his thoughts on some of the application of that.

Roy Morejon:
Nice. What’s your favorite cup of coffee?

Nate Thuli:
I love a good pour over cup of coffee. I would say my favorite is actually an Ethiopian light roast. It’s got a really beautiful flavor profile. It’s got kind of a natural sweetness, natural blueberry to it. When you prepare that, kind of ground fresh, and then sort of a pour over, it really shows the breadth of flavor that can come out of a coffee bean. I love it.

Roy Morejon:
Impressive. Any book you would recommend to our startup founders and entrepreneurs out there?

Nate Thuli:
Yeah. I read a lot of books. I would say the two though that… Well, it’s one and then it’s kind of a follow-on, is The Lean Startup by Eric Ries, and then he followed that with The Startup Way. That one I’ve read a number of times now, and it’s really… It’s put some things on my mind almost daily, kind of with this build, measure, learn methodology, kind of this validated learning, and sort of getting to these persevere pivot moments as quickly as you can.

Nate Thuli:
I think whether you’re on a small project or working a very large program or a large effort, either way you can break something down and build, and then learn, and then make corrections quickly. If you’re out hiking in the woods, right, it’s really obvious if I want to get from point A to point B I’m not just going to look at my feet and start my feet and walk. You’re going to look up, right? You’re going to look for references. You’re going to look for milestones and make sure you’re on the right path.

Nate Thuli:
It’s very intuitive there, but not necessarily as intuitive in business. It’s great the way he breaks that down and kind of shows how that can apply both in small startups with The Lean Startup, and then The Startup Way, how that can expand into very large efforts.

Roy Morejon:
Absolutely. Definitely a solid must read for the audience out there as well. Nate, the campaign hasn’t launched yet, but I know you’ve got quite a bit of experience from the sidelines, but I’m interested to hear your take in terms of what does the future of crowdfunding look like to you?

Nate Thuli:
Crowdfunding is interesting. If you look at the roots, I think it goes back to kind of the music industry. What’s interesting about that is that the music industry is particularly challenging, because you can look at a record and you can think hey, we’ve got something great on our hands, but until you actually get that in front of a live audience, or a recorded audience, or an audience of some sort, you just don’t know for sure.

Nate Thuli:
So there’s subjectivity to this creative side of things, and that’s true with art and design and a lot of these more niche markets. With that, if you read Malcolm Gladwell’s book, Blink, that’s kind of where you get into thin slicing and a very, very quick analysis of if something is good or bad.

Nate Thuli:
What I love about Kickstarter and crowdfunding in general with Indiegogo and other platforms is that it allows you thin slice. It allows you to get right down into your target environment and really interact very closely with your customers. There is a community there. It’s great for products that really want a little bit closer connection to that.

Nate Thuli:
The future of that… I think the projections are by 2025 I think it’s projected around a total revenue of about $300 billion the last I saw. It’s growing for sure. It’s not slowing down at all. I imagine that’ll expand really heavily into nonprofits and real estate and events and niche markets, again many of these times where you kind of want to decentralize eCommerce and get down into these platforms where you can thin slice something and get really closely involved with your consumer community.

Roy Morejon:
Absolute. Well, Nate, this has been really thoughtful, and a real pleasure having you on the show. This is your opportunity to give our audience your pitch. Tell people what you’re all about, where they should go, and why they should check you out.

Nate Thuli:
Yeah. Thank you. Yeah, check us out on havamug.com. I’d actually like to leave everyone with an observation. Next time you’re having a cup of coffee or tea pay attention to some of the compromises that you currently have in order to enjoy that beverage, whether that’s shorter consumption time, eight minutes on average in a normal mug, or the loss of aroma, 80 to 90% of that for nuance flavors by putting a lid on that, or just the inconvenience of travel mugs or apps and trips to the microwave.

Nate Thuli:
When you do that, think of HAVA Mug. We can make that all go away and really let the technology take over and be completely conducive of the drinking experience and the social interaction you have. Check us out on Kickstarter coming soon, next week.

Roy Morejon:
Awesome. Audience, thanks again for tuning in. Make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com for the notes, the transcript, links to the campaign once it goes live, and everything else we talked about today. And of course thank you to our crowdfunding podcast sponsors, to Gadget Flow and Product Hype. Nate, thank you so much for joining us today on Art of the Kickstart.

Nate Thuli:
It’s been a pleasure. Thank you.

Roy Morejon:
Thanks for joining in to another episode of Art of the Kickstart, the show about building a business, world, and life with crowdfunding.

Roy Morejon:
If you’ve enjoyed today’s episode awesome. Make sure to visit artofthekickstart.com and tell us all about it. There you’ll find additional information about past episodes, our Kickstarter Guide to Crushing It, and of course if you loved this episode a lot leave us a review at artofthekickstart.com/iTunes. It helps more inventors, entrepreneurs and startups find the show. It helps us get better guests to help you build a better business.

Roy Morejon:
If you need more hands-on crowdfunding strategy advice please feel free to request a quote on enventyspartners.com. Thanks again for tuning in, and we’ll see you again next week.