July 22, 2020 - We’re excited to announce the closing of a senior secured credit facility with Fellow, an SF-based brand bridging incredible product design with a deep love for coffee. Our team is thrilled to officially welcome them to the Assembled Brands portfolio.
Today, we sat down with Fellow’s founder Jake Miller, to learn about the brand’s Kickstarter roots, software platforms he can’t live without, and the importance of scaling with long-term growth in mind.
What was the driving force behind starting Fellow?
Fellow is a mash-up of our love for specialty coffee and our passion for product design brought to life as a business by a team of incredibly talented people. Our first product in 2013 started out as a class project while I was pursuing my MBA.
Stanford’s d.School has a class called Launchpad, where the goal is to go from idea to product in one only quarter. After months of prep and countless prototypes, Fellow launched its first product, the Duo Coffee Steeper, on Kickstarter. Something about the product resonated with coffee lovers and we reached nearly $200k in pre-sales in 30 days.
This early crowdfunding success signal gave us the confidence to move forward with Fellow. Since then, we’ve turned the success of our first campaign into a portfolio of over 20 intuitively-designed products sold in 50+ countries.
What should a founder be aware of before launching a brand?
Fellow is seven years in and it still feels like we’re just getting started, although the speed at which we move increases each year. First-time founders need to understand that brands take a long time to build. Honestly, it has taken us seven years to get to where I thought we’d be in three years.
Optimistic founders naturally overestimate the speed at which we can move. However, once you do get going, and organizations start to build momentum, what you’re able to accomplish in a given year will actually be more than what you once thought was ever possible. Founders need to be patient.
Don’t sacrifice your vision for speed! Wait for the flywheel to really start spinning and then you’ll be amazed by how fast your team can move. During our pursuit of acceleration, we never lost focus on our original customer, a specialty coffee lover, and the insights that made that first product so appealing.
What are the software tools you can’t live without?
Honestly, nothing too exciting here at Fellow. Without Asana, Google Suite, Zapier, Slack, and Shopify I don’t think we’d be able to do our job.
At our stage and size, everything is duct-taped together and our goal is to just make it work. We’ll reach a point soon when we’ll need to invest in a customizable ERP system, fancier CRM, etc.
Up until that point, our belief is that extra cash should be spent on products and providing a meaningful customer experience, not expensive systems… until the duct tape breaks of course, then pay for the expensive system.
What macro trend is Fellow riding?
Thankfully, our passion, specialty coffee, aligned with the broader macro trend of an increased desire for and appreciation of better coffee.
When we first started in 2013 we were a bit of a niche player, but now that the industry has grown, others have joined in. Because we were there from the start, we are seen as authentic by the specialty coffee industry.
We’re not just another brand hopping into a growing but crowded space.
Also, since we are so close to specialty coffee, and have former baristas on the team, I believe we have better insights than most when it comes to design and designing for this niche industry.
What companies in the modern brand ecosystem do you look up to?
Blu Dot, the modern furniture design company, is one of my absolute brand idols. First and foremost, they are incredible designers who have put out timeless designs that are useful, affordable, and desirable for over 20 years.
Brands dream of having that track record. However, they back up these great modern designs with a brand that is fun, playful, and approachable.
Layer on top of that a business model that is a hybrid of relationship-first D2C and select brand-enhancing B2B wholesale accounts (we’ve followed the same approach) and you have a formula that is going to work for the next 20 years.