Co-Founder of teaBOT, Brian Lee, came by Dx3 2016 earlier in March to chat with Amber Mac about the new robot his team of engineers has developed. teaBOT is a robot capable of creating and customizing loose leaf teas for workers and students on-the-go.
Here is a transcript of their conversation:
Brian Lee: My name is Brian, and our company name is teaBOT. What we do is we build robots that make grab and go loose tea possible.
Amber Mac: You were nice enough to bring me a tea.
Brian Lee: I wasn’t sure what you liked, so I brought something off of our popular blends page. It’s a herbal one. I figured we could just relax and talk casually.
Amber Mac: I love it. You’re telling me that a robot made my tea. That’s pretty exciting.
Brian Lee: It is. It’s a kiosk. It’s a self serve kiosk. You walk up, use a tablet. You can control everything, your ingredients, your ratios, and even the water temperature which is something I think most people find very important when they’re drinking on a walk to work or to class.
Amber Mac: Where do you see these kiosks going? Is this something where I’m going to see them in a mall, in an airport?
Brian Lee: Yeah. In the future. Right now, where we deploy is mostly university campuses and tech corporate campuses as well, where they treat us as service inside the company. It’s a free promo for the stuff.
Amber Mac: Amazing. What made you come up with this idea?
Brian Lee: This idea came pretty organically. My mom owned a really small tea shop up in Sudbury, really small town. I noticed that people were drinking tea, all of a sudden, in our blue collar town. It’s a relevant product. Tea, as itself, in the stores, is not very fast to take off the wall, put in a bag. What we realized is we could build something faster for my mom. When we looked at it, we realized if we add customization and build it more stand alone, we didn’t even need to be at mom’s. We can actually build tea stores the size of maybe one of these chairs. That’s kind of what we’re going towards now.
Amber Mac: It’s interesting because I think of some of the tea shops that I’ve loved over the years. They have a hard time thriving in a physical retail space. In many ways, you’ve solved that problem.
Brian Lee: We’ve just shrunken it down. We changed the game in terms of overhead and infrastructure because what we’ve done is, we’ve made it so the machine is easy to deploy. If it’s a location that isn’t viable, we can actually move it and pull it out pretty easily. We’ve actually found a low risk way of testing where tea source could go in the future.
Amber Mac: I know that we’re focused on tea. We’re drinking tea. The reality is, when you’re talking about something like this, you could move and expand beyond tea.
Brian Lee: Yeah. Totally. I mean, the technology itself could be repurposed into other food categories. Right now, our core is we need to focus on something that we understand, that we know, and prove that this model works, that this type of retail works in this manner. It’s a made to order product versus a vending machine where you get bags of chips or cans of cokes. It’s hyper-personalized. It’s made the way you like it.
Amber Mac: What excites you the most about this business?
Brian Lee: What excites me the most is just seeing the way people can suddenly have control over what they’re consuming, and seeing the fact that their face lights up when they can change the temperature. That’s what we do. We listen to users. We find out what the core pain points are in their everyday purchases, and we try to find a way to streamline it with our tech.
Amber Mac: What does your mom say to you after running a tea business, when you say, “Okay, I’m going to build a robot that’s going to do this in a kiosk.”, what was her reaction to that?
Brian Lee: She was actually really supportive which is surprising because we came from a very traditional family. I did a few years working as an engineer. I just told her, “I’m going to do this.”, and she’s like, “That makes sense.” I was like, “Okay!” Since then our mom’s kind of been our internal champion, our tea sommelier in-house, and helping us. Eventually, I think we’re going to hire her to be our supply chain person because she knows how to negotiate like nobody’s business.
Amber Mac: I love it.
Brian Lee: She’s a tough cookie.