No matter where the Munich startup vendl makes an appearance and pitches its idea, it always receives widespread approval. It’s because vendl’s innovation is as simple as it is brilliant: a bottle you can turn over and use as a beer glass. Beer to go, so to speak. Despite the positive feedback, it has not always been smooth sailing for the two founders Dominique Felsch and Simon Nüesch. We talked to Simon Nüesch to find out more about obstacles they’ve faced, whether the two have ever considered just giving up and what they have planned next.
Simon, could you bring us up to date: how is vendl doing right now? When will we be able to enjoy our first wheat beer out of one of your bottles?
We have manufactured our first small pilot series with roughly 500 units that we have also filled with beer. So you turn vendl over, open it, a perfectly creamy head develops, then prost. We are in serious negotiations at the moment with some breweries about a market launch in 2018. At the same time, you have to already be in contact with manufacturing partners, because a lead time of at least 6 months is necessary before the first round of vendls will roll out in serial production.
“The crux of the matter is manufacturing”
You have had to deal with some setbacks along the way. What happened, and how did you overcome those problems?
In the beginning, we thought we were developing simple packaging, a cup and a lid, that we would screw together and sell. Now a year and a half have gone by already, and we have come to realize that we are dealing with beverage technology and that a few large companies have failed with this kind of packaging. The crux of the matter is manufacturing, and it requires an extremely high level of expertise. We have developed a new preform, meaning a preliminary model of the bottle, and had to try various approaches in terms of manufacturing technology. That is known for consuming a lot of time when it comes to a hardware product. At the same time, you have to fit into the highly optimized supply chain (filling, logistics, sales, even reverse vending machines) without needing to make any adjustments. That means this kind of project involves quite a few parties who also need to be kept happy.
Have you ever considered giving up? What has kept you motivated to keep going?
Until now, no. Even when things looked awful in late 2016, when we were on the brink of debt overload and insolvency and it really looked completely hopeless, we still got up every morning at 7 and only went to bed when we were dead tired. We still firmly believe in our idea, and knowing that companies like Heineken and Paulaner have already worked on similar concepts reassures us that a market exists. Plus, you always have to offer mutual support when one of you might feel a bit down.
Has it been easy getting into the beverage industry? What kind of experience have you had, both positive and negative?
The cool thing about the beverage industry is its openness to new things, because it fundamentally is an industry that is not just distinguished by an innovation boom and hundreds of apps. If you are persistent enough, it is possible to get into contact with practically anybody. And sometimes you just have to be a bit brash and write to an AB InBev board member (the world’s largest beer company and the largest company in the EU), and even that can work.
The only skepticism that remains is towards plastic, but it is worth noting that the product is not meant for restaurants or home consumption. It is simply the better option when considering so many other situations like its resistance to breakage, weight and the bottle-and-glass-in-one concept.
“BayStartUP probably has Europe’s best financing network”
You have been a member of the BayStartUP Go program for the last few months. How did that happen, and what have you gained from it?
BayStartUP already provided significant support during our first investment round, so we already knew the team very well. What’s cool is the direct feedback from the coaches, because you can just knock on their doors if you have a question. Startups often struggle with the same concerns. Since the BayStartUP coaches also work with other startups and know how to solve those very problems, they give you extremely valuable input. At the same time, BayStartUP probably has Europe’s best financing network and is extremely professional in how they deal with anything in terms of financing. In this context, I would like to send a heart-felt thank you to the BayStartUP team.
So what’s next? Do you have any other projects in the pipeline? If yes, what are they?
We are currently meeting with sparkling wine manufacturers about creating a similar system (like a 0.2 liter piccolo alternative). Now through drinktec, a large number of other beverage manufacturers have contacted us who can also envisage the system for iced tea, juice and carbonated soft drinks.
We are also working on a glass solution, but I cannot reveal too much more about that yet. But we are already negotiating with a renowned pilsner brewery.