Why is it that the coffee you make at home never tastes as good as the cup from your favorite café? According to Jake Miller, it’s your setup. To help people bring the coffee shop experience home, Jake launched Fellow in 2013. The brand redefines at-home brewing with kettles, grinders, and steepers that perform better and look great.
The Shopify team joined Jake in San Francisco to discover how he launched a company that prioritizes design over everything else and creates new products that align with the company’s ethos.
How to scale a company that prioritizes design over everything else
If you’ve chosen to build a company centered around design, discover some of the ways you can stay hands-on in your production process and continuously grow—even when copycats come along.
1. Explore outside your comfort zone
Design was always something Jake was passionate about, but not necessarily his area of expertise. His first step was to get curious and begin exploring new fields of study.
“I’m a marketer with an MBA, but I was able to take classes at the Stanford School of Engineering and at the [Design] School and that’s where Fellow was started,” Jake says. In his classes, he came up with Fellow’s hero product, the Duo coffee steeper.
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2. Research, research, research
When he came up with the idea to start the business, Jake turned to other entrepreneurs in his network to ask for advice as part of his research process. Through those connections, Jake was able to get referrals and tour factories in person. “We ultimately landed on our factory shortly after the Kickstarter campaign closed,” Jake says. In order to find the best partners and resources possible, it’s important to know all your options and familiarize yourself with what’s available to you.
According to Jake’s research, nine out of every 10 cups of coffee are still consumed at home. Fellow aims to make those nine cups as good as possible. In order to do so, Jake has a dedicated team focused on research and development.
To continue expanding its research, Fellow partnered with NextWorld Evergreen, a growth equity group that led Fellow’s Series B fundraising. “We talk a lot internally about building a hundred-year company, so that $30 million [raised in Series B] will go toward big investments on the product side, [as well as] research and development,” Jake says. Picking partners who are equally as passionate about research makes scaling a company much easier.
3. Listen to reviews
“Customer reviews are pure gold. Every entrepreneur and employee should obsess over what feedback you’re getting from your customers, [because] the voice of the customer is essential,” Jake says.
When it comes to creating new products or fine-tuning old ones, Jake and the Fellow team turn to the consumer for answers. “Weekly, as a company [we get together] to read the feedback that we get both on the good stuff and the bad stuff, and then our product team translates the bad stuff into product improvements,” Jake says.
By listening to the community, Fellow has been able to perfect some of their most popular items. “Our products are sold in the New York Museum of Modern Art, and, you know, all the Kardashian sisters have them,” Jake says.
4. Protect your intellectual property at all costs
As a design-focused company, the heart of the business lies in the products themselves. “We try to protect our work with utility and design patents. … We’re going to continue to out-innovate, and we’re going to continue to launch new products,” Jake says.
Filing patents and protecting your originality does not come cheap, but it’s worth it. Jake suggests that even when you’re limited on cash, you should prioritize and invest in protecting your intellectual property over marketing or sales, even in the early days.
The possibility of launching a company with design at the forefront is an exciting one, and with Jake’s approach you can start a brand that prioritizes and celebrates design, all while growing a profitable business.
Check out the full Shopify Masters episode and discover Jake’s best advice when it comes to scaling a business using a design-focused approach.