Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Ecosystems: Why I’ll Never Lock the Bonaverde Marketplace

Let’s start by getting one thing clear:

The Bonaverde Coffee Cloud is not a closed marketplace. And as long as I run this company, it never will be.

There’s been some confusion around this lately. It’s easy to see how our decision to place NFC tags in each of our coffee pouches could be misconstrued as some kind of exclusionary move, an attempt to control the coffee traded through this new ecosystem to our own ends. In fact, it was just the opposite. The Coffee Cloud is a completely non-proprietary, DRM-free system — and it’s the NFC tags that make this possible.

NFC isn’t the lock on our ecosystem. It’s the key.

NFC technology opens up the ecosystem on every level, making the Coffee Cloud accessible to anyone who wants to join the movement to change coffee. Before I can illustrate a couple of the huge ways it does this, however, it’s important to make clear some key things about NFC tags. NFC tags are cheap, costing less than a cent a piece. They’re also readily available. They’re the same simple devices found in shoplifting prevention, office ID badges, and underground passes. They’re even used to track casino chips and time marathon racers. This is not new technology. We’re simply using it in a new way. If we truly wanted to keep people out of the ecosystem, we would have created a far harder-to-climb gateway, not something as inexpensive and ubiquitous as NFC.

But we’re not trying to own an ecosystem. We’re trying to change coffee. And NFC is going to make that happen.

Allow me to demonstrate…

Case 1: The Bothersome Bean

Coffee beans are a little like snowflakes. Each variety is completely unique, with its own quirks and nuances. That’s what makes great coffee, like great wine, so sexy. It’s also what makes coffee roasting an art. Coffee beans are not one-size-fits all, and they won’t settle for off-the-rack. Every roasting profile must be tailor-made. Otherwise the results are disastrous, ranging from the travesty of bad coffee to full-on coffee machine fires.

A prime example of this is the Indian elephant coffee bean. As you might suspect, this particular coffee bean is huge. It’s earned its name not only with its size, but also with its elephant-like thick skin. Try to fit this delicious varietal into a standardized roasting profile, and you’re going to encounter a series of problems. By not accounting for its characteristic size, particular pre-roasting moisture content, and substantial chaff size, roasting this bean in a standardized profile courts disaster for both your machine and your caffeine fix.

If we stuck with the ten roasting profiles in our original prototype, we’d have to exclude the Indian elephant bean, and the farmers who grow it, from the Bonaverde coffee ecosystem. Changing coffee, however, means changing it for everyone. We couldn’t in good conscience turn away farmers just because we hadn’t programmed their beans onto our machine.

This is where NFC comes in. We put an NFC tag in each coffee pouch and program it with a serial number unique to that particular batch of coffee.

Case 2: The Behind-the-Scenes Machine Maker

Fun fact: The company emblazoned on your coffee machine didn’t make that machine. The same is true of almost every appliance in your house, from your kettle to your printer. These machines are actually put together by Original Equipment Manufacturers, or OEMs. These OEMs have a lot in common with coffee farmers in the current ecosystem. Like coffee farmers, their product passes through multiple middlemen before it reaches the consumer. More significantly, it gets branded along the way, while these original producers remain hidden behind the scenes.

The coffee machines built by OEMs are perfectly usable. In fact, they’re the exact same machine before the label goes on as they are after, brewing the exact same cup of coffee. The only difference is the branding, and the sizable mark-up in price that goes along with it. As a result, OEMs, usually based in the developing world, sell their products at low prices while brands make a substantial margin on the final sale, effectively just for passing things down the line.

Bonaverde’s use of NFC changes this. By making our NFC readers available through our developer kits to anyone who wants them, we make it possible for OEMs to build their own connected coffee machines. We’ve already relinquished the intellectual property rights to our roast-grind-brew coffee machines, enabling any one with the drive and desire to design their own version. Finally, by allowing OEMs to enter the ecosystem as themselves — rather than behind other companies — we allow them to become the brands. Just as the Coffee Cloud gives farmers faces, it has the potential to personify OEMs, empowering all producers to build their own brands.

These two examples are just the beginning. NFC has major industry opening implications, from helping farmers connect with consumers to powering transparency through product tracking. For the skeptics among you, however, I suspect even these will not answer the nagging question in the backs of your minds: Bonaverde is a for-profit company. How does it make money in a completely non-proprietary, DRM-free system?

We do it the same way our fulfillment partners do: by facilitating and supporting the ecosystem. We offer the necessary technology, maintain the Cloud, and provide RFIDs to those who would rather buy them from us. Of course, if you’d like to obtain your own RFIDs and use them to sell your coffee through the ecosystem, that’s fine with us. The more coffee in the ecosystem, the better. In fact, opening up the ecosystem makes us feel extremely lucky. Because we profit by helping the ecosystem grow and flourish, our earnings are directly tied to a positive social impact we’re passionate about. It’s the kind of incredibly fulfilling day-to-day I envied during my days in corporate law. Supporting this open ecosystem is an absolute dream.

We’re changing coffee. We’re doing it together — the more the better. I’m just overjoyed to get to help.

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