Founder Friday

Spinn Coffee's Roderick de Rode

Welcome to Founder Friday, where we’ll learn a little about the people behind some of the companies doing their thing at Highway1. Today’s founder is Spinn Coffee's Roderick de Rode.

What’s your product called, and what does it do?

Spinn makes a connected coffee machine you can control remotely that uses centrifugal force to brew a cup of coffee. What’s more, it knows how full it is, and when it gets low, it auto-replenishes, ordering automatically from a bean list you can compile from a marketplace of local roasters — a playlist of coffee.

Tell us a little bit about your background.

Dell was where I got really involved in hardware; I ran a sales team of fourteen guys. I noticed something: if you only sell hardware, you constrain the bonuses you can add on; if you start selling software along with it, you can go sky-high with incentives.

We started selling multi-million-dollar contracts with Microsoft products, so much so that Dell became one of the biggest software sales partners in the Netherlands. Eventually, Microsoft came calling themselves, looking for the team doing all that work; I ended up as the business development manager for Nokia in their Windows Phone team. I’d always been interested in startups and the scene around them, so after Microsoft I moved to an education startup called Springest, then to Give.it, a social media gifting plugin.

Where did the idea for this business come from, and what role did you play?

I was on a bike trip with my friends: a tour of Vegas and Death Valley, all on Harleys. One of us knew a guy who’d already done it named Roland Verbeek, now a partner, and over dinner he told us about places to go in California; he also told us about a patent he held on a machine that brewed coffee using centrifugal force.

After the tour, I started meeting with him regularly to do Harley trips, and over a bottle of whiskey we both talked about doing something together, starting a business. I thought about the wave of hardware I’d seen from Dell, all the PCs and mobile phones and tablets entering the market, and said “Let’s make a coffee machine that’s connected, that uses your patent.” I made ten slides and booked a flight to New York, where I knew some VCs — people who’re into coffee.

I got my first investment at Rockefeller Plaza; an investment banker there gave me $25K. Those were the first of the angels that stepped up, and from there I gathered fourteen more and started the business in Amsterdam in November.

How did you find out about Highway1?

When I was in New York, I was talking with people about doing a coffee startup, and somehow word got to Liam Casey. I remember a Friday night out in Amsterdam with another partner, Serge De Warrimont: I got a call from Liam, who wanted to know if I was interested in talking to Brady. I had good calls with Brady and some of the rest of the team at Highway1 like Brian and Kaethe; when we went to CES (just to check it out; we didn’t have a booth), Brady was there and we connected in person.

What’s your biggest surprise or key learning been thus far?

That there’s so much to learn. There are a lot of brilliant people around you here, and it’s really motivating and inspiring to hear from other team members, mentors, people in the industry, investors — and coffee aficionados.

Can you talk about what the focus of your founding team was, and how you met the challenges (if any) of branching out beyond your personal experience?

We learned by doing (it was a lot of trial and error) and by relying on people’s expertise. We created an environment where people can prosper and add the best of themselves.

What are your goals, both while you’re at Highway1 and beyond?

To come up with a great works-like/looks-like prototype, then make a great performance at Demo Day and raise some funding to take the next step in our development and prepare a design for manufacture.

We want to work on our social and go-to-market strategies, to team up with great partners and companies, and build the team; our next hire will probably be an engineering resource. Long-term: to have our technology be used in every place where coffee is available.

Five years from now I want you to walk into any Starbucks or other coffee shop and ask for a double Spinner latte with extra sugar!

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