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This S’porean built a $33M coffee tech company thanks to his robot barista


After finishing his research in the UK, Keith Tan went to work throughout varied industries equivalent to property and wealth administration.

The previous wealth supervisor then determined to tackle a totally totally different path and jumped into the world of F&B.

In 2015, he opened the primary Crown Espresso cafe at CT Hub 2, providing Buscaglione espresso alongside panini sandwiches.

“Crown Espresso was one of many earliest adopters of absolutely automated espresso manufacturing, and the model quickly developed into a sensible cafe in 2017,” mentioned founder Keith Tan.

“Nevertheless, simply as I used to be planning to open extra Crown Espresso shops, we bumped into challenges like manpower shortages and excessive overhead prices (like) labour and rental. The ensuing low revenue margin made it onerous for us to get forward.”

This made him realise the necessity for automation to ensure that F&B companies to scale up.

Noting this “white area market alternative”, he put collectively a group of technologists, baristas and low lovers to discover how robotics and zero-touch know-how may be built-in to assist brew a constant cup of espresso.

This was what led to the institution of Crown Digital, a sensible Web of Issues (IoT) startup that addresses issues confronted within the F&B business.

Creating Singapore’s first robotic barista

“I began Crown Digital with a renewed focus to digitalise and empower conventional companies, whereas placing an amazing cup of espresso in each hand, shortly and effectively,” mentioned Keith.

In keeping with this imaginative and prescient, they developed ELLA, Singapore’s first robotic barista and the world’s first profitable robotic barista.

ELLA, Singapore’s first robotic barista / Picture Credit score: Crown Digital

Our creation, ELLA, humanised know-how and demonstrated the potential of robotics and synthetic intelligence to reinvent the commuter way of life expertise and reenergise city retail.

(It) proved that know-how may reinvent consumer expertise in a very unprecedented approach. There’s a critical manpower downside in ageing, developed cities equivalent to Tokyo and Singapore. Crown Digital makes use of robotics and automation to tackle repetitive duties (so people can) deal with (different duties like bettering) the shopper expertise or innovating new merchandise.

Keith Tan, CEO of Crown Digital

Recalling the early days of beginning up Crown Digital, Keith mentioned that it might not be made doable with out the assistance of his enterprise companions and good mates, who helped conceptualise the very first iteration of ELLA.

“Intel’s workplace was near Crown Espresso at CT Hub 2, and their group typically got here (down) to have lunch on the cafe. In the future, after realising the necessity for automation, I walked as much as them and instructed them that I had an concept to automate espresso service,” recounted Keith.

“I used to be launched to their group and their options. At this time, we’re Intel’s Market Prepared Options Companion and are powered by Intel’s structure.”

ELLA was first conceptualised and designed in 2018.

The next yr, ELLA attended greater than 400 commerce occasions, serving a mean of 800 cups per day. Individuals beloved the concept of a robotic barista they usually obtained very encouraging suggestions concerning the espresso high quality.

It was solely in October 2020 that ELLA was formally launched to the general public, the place Minister Low Yen Ling of the Ministry of Commerce and Business graced the occasion because the Visitor of Honour.

ELLA at Plaza Singapura / Picture Credit score: Crown Digital

In all, it took a complete of three years from proof of idea to the present ELLA iteration that’s now able to be delivered to market. In January 2021, ELLA was launched at Plaza Singapura.

Their robotic barista will quickly be a typical sight at practice stations

When Keith attended an annual commerce present referred to as Mixed Exhibition of Superior Applied sciences (CEATEC) in Tokyo, Japan, he had pitched the robotic barista concept onstage.

We showcased the various advantages of getting ELLA at public transport areas. Along with resolving points equivalent to eliminating labour shortages and bettering the profitability construction of cafes attributable to a decline in customers and turnover charges, ELLA additionally meets clients’ rising wants because of the Covid-19 disaster, particularly contactless options.

Keith Tan, CEO of Crown Digital

He was later approached by Japan Exterior Commerce Group (JETRO), which led to an eventual partnership with East Japan Railway Firm (JR East) in January 2021. This introduced the corporate to an preliminary valuation of S$33 million.

JR East needed to evolve the espresso they supply their commuters in Ekinaka (in-station) to make it extra pleasant and handy. They noticed ELLA because the innovation that will enhance the general service degree and assist them actualise their imaginative and prescient of the ‘Past Stations Idea’.

Most not too long ago, Crown Digital additionally inked a partnership with Stellar Way of life (previously referred to as SMRT Business) to deploy ELLA at 30 MRT stations by finish 2022.

It will likely be deployed at retail areas of MRT stations to boost the commuter expertise, permitting them to pre-order and choose up freshly brewed espresso from ELLA.

“Time-starved commuters can quickly have quick access to high-quality espresso on the best way out from the practice station. … (This is able to) work amazingly properly in Singapore’s busy MRT system,” quipped Keith.

ella robot barista crown coffee singapore
Commuters can pre-order their espresso via the ELLA app / Picture Credit score: Crown Digital

Espresso orders may be positioned upfront via the ELLA app, which can be despatched to the cloud. ELLA would then spring into motion to organize it, and a notification can be despatched to commuters to gather their drinks upon arrival on the vacation spot MRT station.

WIth a retail footprint of lower than 5 sq. metres, ELLA has a secure, cashless and contactless interface and may serve as much as 200 cups of connoisseur espresso per hour.

Shoppers can scan their distinctive QR code despatched to their app to gather their espresso through a delegated “pigeonhole” on the kiosk that swivels 180 levels to open for assortment, leading to minimal contact factors.

Explaining how they took place securing this partnership, Keith defined that that they had at all times needed to deploy ELLA at MRT stations in Singapore, and noticed a possibility to enhance commuters’ existence by bringing forth a contactless future for F&B.

“Each firms had been aligned on the plan to boost commuters’ way of life experiences via innovation and know-how in public transport community areas and past. Stellar Way of life noticed the chance in having ELLA in additional practice stations to boost the approach to life of their commuters; therefore they determined to put money into us and have become considered one of our strategic companions,” mentioned Keith.

He added that this strategic funding validates their bigger enterprise imaginative and prescient to carry high-quality espresso to Singaporeans on the go. Moreover, Crown Digital now has a goal addressable market of 1.4 million riders day by day in Singapore.

The corporate has since scored an funding from JR East Enterprise Growth SEA (a Singapore entity of East Japan Railway Firm) in December 2020, and an extra funding from Stellar Way of life in June 2021.

To this point, Crown Digital has raised S$6 million, and need to begin Sequence A funding within the first quarter of 2022.

2021 has been yr regardless of Covid-19

Recounting his business trip thus far, Keith described the pivot from a restaurant to a tech firm as a “enormous step”.

They needed to rethink their enterprise mannequin, in addition to consider methods to extend cashflow to maintain the enterprise alive to allow them to obtain their mission of automating the F&B retail area.

We’re a full-stack startup, which implies now we have to design, construct the {hardware} and software program, and develop a profitable enterprise mannequin — (these had been) difficult duties for a bootstrapped startup throughout our (early) days.

We needed to get every part achieved with minimal assets. Our largest problem was convincing traders that automation and AI within the F&B retail area is the long run. As a way to overcome these challenges, it took a whole lot of grit, onerous work and perception in our providing.

Keith Tan, CEO of Crown Digital

Whereas many different companies suffered because of the Covid-19 pandemic, it truly offered a enterprise alternative for Crown Applied sciences as contactless options turn out to be extra essential than ever within the F&B retail area.

ella robot barista crown coffee singapore
ELLA’s robotic arm / Picture Credit score: Crown Digital

“As firms are striving to adapt to new types of contactless options, it has made ELLA a gorgeous funding for firms to have an clever, automated resolution of their workplace, restaurant or different retail area attributable to its contactless interface,” mentioned Keith.

Thus far, they’ve obtained nice curiosity from company shoppers to have ELLA deployed in workplaces.

The truth is, Keith feels that 2021 has served to be yr for them, particularly since they secured key partnerships and investments with East Japan Railway Firm and Stellar Way of life, which boosted their development.

Later in December, it’ll begin on its check advertising and marketing in Tokyo and launch the primary ELLA kiosk at an MRT.

WIth a confirmed resolution and ecosystem that’s extra related than ever in right now’s post-Covid world, Kevin is assured that Crown Digital is poised for growth.

“As ELLA deploys throughout main Asian transit hubs, Crown Digital now brings its experience and insights to search out new methods to make sure that robotics create worth for everybody and assist construct a extra equitable society.”

“Crown Digital’s core capabilities are human-robot interplay. This allows us to increase our resolution past espresso into different areas of meals and retail, and the betterment of humanity. The longer term is thrilling, and we’re simply getting began.”

Featured Picture Credit score: Crown Digital





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