Clay Alexander has a beautiful vision of the future. It's one in which your chicken never gets cold and your beer never gets warm.
His Los Angeles-based startup, Ember, is trying to disrupt the dishware industry. That's right: The company wants to radically change the way you eat and drink.
Alexander, an engineer and inventor who in 2009 sold his energy-saving light bulb to General Electric, started Ember in 2012. Its newest product is an $80 ceramic mug that keeps your coffee or tea at the exact temperature you like it. Just pair it with your phone via Bluetooth, select your preferred number of degrees, and enjoy all the hot caffeinated goodness. The mug will be sold at more than 4,600 Starbucks locations starting Thursday.
Ember's new mug is a scaled-back take on its first product, a $150 coffee mug that keeps liquid at a constant temperature between 120 and 145 degrees for two hours. That's a hefty price tag, but Alexander says the company has sold tens of thousands of them since the product's release last year.
Ember decided to simplify things the second time around. Its new mug is far less futuristic-looking than the original one, which greets you with an LED "Hello" and displays your drink's temperature on the side when you tap it. "We wanted to launch with our premium product," Alexander says. "It's more sexy, and there's a show-and-tell when it comes to the technology."
The idea of trying to get people to drop $80--or $150--to solve a minor, very First-World problem might sound a little nuts. But apparently, Ember is onto something. Alexander says the first mug sold out within a week of last year's Starbucks launch. He declined to give specific financial results, but said the company's 2017 revenue is on pace to be in eight figures.
Inc. tested the original mug earlier this year, and it worked more or less as advertised. The mug uses microchip technology for heating and a waxlike, heat-absorbing substance within its walls for cooling. In Inc.'s test, the cooling process took some time, though the new ceramic mug has no need for cooling technology because it has an open top.
Alexander has high hopes for the new mug: He says his goal is to sell 1 million of them within a year and a half.
Ember doesn't have venture-capital funding, instead relying on celebrities and other high-profile investors. The roster, which collectively has put up just under $25 million, includes NFL quarterback Blake Bortles; musicians Demi Lovato, Tyler the Creator, and two of the three Jonas brothers; and the CEOs of RocNation and StubHub.
The 44-employee startup has been poaching from some high-profile companies of late. Former Under Armour head of global manufacturing Philip Poel recently came on board as its first chief of operations. Ember also hired 72andSunny chief development officer Tom Johnstone as its new CMO. Alexander says the company has pulled in designers and engineers with experience at places such as Apple and Microsoft in recent months.
Down the line, the entrepreneur is looking to commercialize some of the dozens of devices he's already received patents for, including beer steins, baby bottles, and plates that keep food or drinks at constant temperatures. The plate, he says, will be able to detect the temperature of food placed on it and separately heat or cool different sections of its surface.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Ember is based in San Francisco rather than Los Angeles, and that founder Clay Alexander says the company's 2017 revenue is on pace for between $1 million and $10 million, rather than "in the eight figures."
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