Jake Miller‘s affinity for coffee began while he was working as a product manager for a Minnesota-grown coffee company. The four years that he spent with them sparked a lifelong commitment and passion for coffee – beginning with sourcing and ending with serving. Along with coffee, Miller has always been passionate about product design, “[I wanted] to create something that didn’t exist before,” he says.
Miller decided to pursue his dream by enrolling at the Stanford Graduate School of Business in 2013; he took an entrepreneurially geared class that prompted students to go from idea to company in just 12 weeks. “Clearly an MBA isn’t a necessity if you want to venture out on your own,” he says, “but I can tell you from my experience that it certainly smoothed the transition from employee to entrepreneur.” It was here that Miller identified a problem with the design of a French press coffee maker: the black sludge that sits in the bottom of a French pressed cup of joe. His solution? The inception of a company called Fellow, and its principal product, the Duo Coffee Steeper.
As the class progressed, the early Duo team was formed and Enlisted Design was brought onboard to develop the product’s industrial design. “We set out to create a new way to brew coffee by taking what we loved about the French press and combining it with what we loved about a pour-over,” he says. “Like the French press, with Duo you control water temp and grind size. Unlike the press, you have complete control over your brew time.” The dual-chamber, dual-filter steeper allows users to create a sludge-free immersion brew – simply by adding coarse ground coffee and hot water into the upper chamber – in 3-4 minutes. “The upper brewing chamber houses the grinds and hot water, extracting rich coffee. Then, when you’re done brewing, you twist Duo’s top to release only the coffee into a bottom glass carafe.” By separating coffee from grounds, users may let the coffee sit in the device without the risk of it developing an over-extracted, bitter taste.
Determining the product’s final form, shape and weight came together through the assembly of 40 “scrappy, duct-taped together” prototypes. Fellow’s brand manager, Hanna McPhee, tells us the team aimed to create a product that provided an excellent user experience while also being mindful of aesthetics. From the pour, to weight distribution, to the two stage stainless-steel filter, every part about Duo’s design is carefully crafted. “We had to think about what Duo feels like in the user’s hand when it’s empty, and when it’s full of coffee. The pour for us mattered most, as that’s when the balance of weight matters the most to a user. We therefore made Duo slightly top heavy, to counterbalance four cups of coffee sitting in the glass carafe,” she says.
The product’s initial design was locked down in 2013 and the three-person Duo team turned to Kicktarter to evaluate the market’s receptiveness, “We liked the product, but weren’t sure if anyone would buy,” says Miller. When $193,000 – nearly four times the goal – was raised on the crowd-funding site in just over a month, the team began investigating manufacturing logistics.
But transforming the duct-taped Duo prototypes to a scalable product wasn’t easy. “Duo is made out of stainless steel, glass, plastic, and silicone, so we needed to set-up an entire supply chain and assembly facility. Plus, each material has it’s own challenges and acceptable tolerance range… then all the parts need to work nicely together,” says McPhee. 50 days and 5 trips to various manufacturing facilities overseas later, the final Duo came to fruition in mid 2015.
A hybrid of Miller’s love for not only coffee, but also product design and entrepreneurship led to the creation of a better way to brew a full-bodied cup. There’s even more on the horizon for Fellow, including the launch of a sister product, Stagg, just last week. Find out what else brewing on Fellow’s website,