Drop is the iPad-connected kitchen scale and digital baking assistant that helps you on your way to creating one perfectly yummy masterpiece after another. We sat down with CEO Ben Harris to discuss building the right team, working with PCH, and how the Drop team is hoping to change the way we cook.
We re-imagined the kitchen by creating a connected cooking platform that centers around an iPad app. We’ve got a pipeline of products that sync to that platform, and the very first one is Drop the iPad-connected kitchen scale, that makes perfect baking easy.
Jack, my co-founder, is brilliant with words and I think it was on one of the flights between Dublin and San Francisco that he put his thinking cap on. We were considering a few different names, and Drop really resonated because that’s how easy it is to bake with: you just drop each ingredient in as you go along. It’s also the shape of the product and it’s accurate enough to weigh a single drop.
Coming up with the concept for Drop, there wasn’t a single “eureka” moment. The whole team is very design driven, I am an Industrial Designer, Jonny is an award winning graphic and interaction designer and Jack and Tim have been working together for over 10 years developing creative technology projects. It was a real collaboration of looking at the heart of the home and seeing all value we could add.
We work incredibly well together as designers. We started to talk about the kitchen space, and the different products we could develop. One of us said “scale,” and the reaction was, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if it did X, Y, and Z?” From there we implement each one of those aspects, including the interactive recipes too. We’ve made a huge leap with Drop, but there is much more to come!
We’re incredibly excited about getting people back to the kitchen and back cooking again. The kitchen is ripe for innovation right now and there are so many data points that we can give people that will help them to be a better cook.
I’m an industrial designer by trade; I studied in Brunel University just outside London. That’s where I was developing products to remove ambiguity from the kitchen, such as a perfect egg boiler that made perfectly hard or soft-boiled eggs, and a meringue maker that made meringues using a vacuum instead of heat. It’s a space I’ve been interested in for years. From there I went on to James Leckey Design, a company based out of Belfast that develops postural management equipment for kids with special needs. They are among the top two or three companies in the world that make equipment for kids with special needs. I was there for four and a half years, where I led product development right from sketch all the way up to mass production, where we were shipping products globally. I sent hundreds of components to mass production in China. My office there was based in the assembly line in Belfast too, so I got a huge amount of experience in getting products ready for mass production. If I made something difficult to assemble, the guys knew where to find me!
Back in Dublin, I have a MakerBot and that really helps facilitate the hardware part of things. Jack and Tim are our electrical, software and firmware specialists, that know their way around a hardware hack. They took apart a few scales, got a few Bluetooth modules and pulled them all together. We put them inside a little 3D-printed case that we made and started to develop the app.
A couple of people that I know I have manufacturing experience asked me this. Then I wondered why I didn’t feel I could do it myself. It’s because I’d done it myself that I knew what value PCH could bring, and what Highway1 could bring. It was the perfect fit for us because we are designers and technologists, so we want to keep developing products. We don’t want to be running around the backstreets of China getting all the products together. We know PCH is doing an amazing job of that, so the company is a perfect commercial partner for us.
One thing that didn’t play into the decision to go there—but was actually one of the huge pluses from it—was the camaraderie with all the other teams as we went through the program as well. We’ve learned a lot and made a lot of great friends along the way.
We had been in the depths of development for so long from Dublin and then onto Highway1 and this was the first time we announced the products and the company to the world. We were on stage in front of 3,000 people and we got that “wow” response that we were hoping for. It’s great to get that response from two or three people when we show them the product, but getting it when you’re in front of 3,000 is amazing.
“It’s great to get that response from two or three people when we show them the product, but getting it when you’re in front of 3,000 is amazing.”
Highway1 really facilitated a lot of that. We’ve got put in touch with Madeline Duva, who has been a great advisor to us. She found our acting V.P. in marketing Alice Chan, who really understands the tech startup space but also has her own food blog and really loves the food space. She was our unicorn of a marketing specialist to get involved. We now have a core team of six based out of Dublin, that’s our back end development team. Our front-facing company out of San Francisco is an extended team of four or five. Some are contractors and some are full time.
If you’re looking to build a great team, you need to find people with similar interests to yourselves. You don’t need to have identical personalities, but make sure that you complement each other. Our team has been put together pretty serendipitously, we’re like family; I think that’s the important thing. Make sure that the team that you do start to work with are people that you’re happy to be sitting there in the trenches with. We’ve found people everywhere.
We always got connected through the community. It was my brother that connected me to the rest of the Drop crew, and then we found Zachary Davison through Twitter. We picked up some great people along the way, and I think once we do build up that rapport with them, they integrate nicely. It was more down to Tim and Jack’s integration in the creative technology scene in Dublin that gave us a huge connection there.
I went over to China with my two co-founders Jack and Tim back in March of last year. It was the first time we had all been, it was to see a company that we had built a rapport with and had been communicating with for a year. Through those emails you don’t have an understanding of what that company is or how established they are. They came to meet us at the ferry port and there was a very young-looking guy ready to collect us. He looked about 18 and he picked us up in what looked like his dad’s car.
We all shared a glance with each other thinking, “What have we gotten ourselves into?” Luckily, we got to the factory and it was actually a brilliant company to work with and we got some great components and expertise from them as well. We’ll hopefully work with them into the future. It was great that the team went back in November with Highway1.
It was a hell of an adventure. I think that’s why we built a rapport with PCH very quickly at the start, because they understood that we’d gone out there before, done it ourselves, and tried to make our own path.
“I’m usually just flying along on this conveyor belt and I need to make sure to just look up every so often.”
We just said, “Let’s get on a plane. Let’s just go out there. Let’s stop arsing around.” There were email exchanges that were going on for six months back and forth. Liam Casey convinced me to just get on a plane and get out there. When we ended up finally going there, we got a huge amount done in two days.
The third time I went was a real whirlwind. Time was tight with a lot of stuff going on here. I ended up flying out of San Francisco and getting into the Four Points Hotel in Shenzhen at three o’clock in the morning. I had a nine o’clock meeting the next morning, where I met Liam, the engineering team, the packaging team, the media team, and the electronics team in meeting after meeting. After that I had a great lunch with Liam where we got a chance to shoot the breeze. Then back for more meetings in a jet lagged deliria. I was in a taxi back to the airport at 8pm that evening. I was on a plane back to San Francisco within 20 hours of landing in China.
The amount of work we got done was ridiculous. It would have taken a month of time for that information over email. It makes a huge difference to just get on a plane and get out there. If people go out there, I would recommend they make sure they don’t just see PCH. Immerse yourself in the culture and enjoy their food. Respect their culture as well. It’s very different to the American way of things and I think it’s important to respect their way of doing things.
I’ve had blinders on for the last six months while working on Drop. We’ve had our heads down on everything Drop-related, and if it’s not within our line of vision right now, it doesn’t get to see the light of day. I’m sure there are a couple of things that are great out there, but I’m the type of person that focuses clearly on getting to that next goal. I’m looking forward to lifting my head for the next few weeks.
What’s your current state of mind?
When and where were you happiest?
What is your idea of misery?
A nine to five job.
What is your greatest fear?
Not reaching our potential.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
We’re building towards it, now.
What is your greatest extravagance?
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“Ripe for innovation”
What’s your favorite quote?
“Of all the things that I’ve lost, I miss my mind the most.” -Ozzie Osbourne
Which talent would you most like to have?
What book are you reading right now?
The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch
Not enough. Every so often I have some really nice moments when I need to pinch myself. Like when I went to Maker Faire. That was somewhere I’ve wanted to go to for years and then I was right in the middle of it demoing Drop.
Every time I’m in China I have one of those moments. I try to remind myself to look up and absorb it and make sure I’m enjoying it. It happened in New York a little while ago, again. I don’t do it enough. I’m usually just flying along on this conveyor belt and I need to make sure to just look up every so often. Every time I do it really gives me a huge amount of energy.
What question would you pose to another founder or influencer?
Have you been making sure to enjoy the journey as you go along?