Editor’s note: AeroPress founder Alan Adler is not related to FreightWaves’ Detroit Bureau Chief Alan Adler.
Welcome to Conversations with Dusty, a regular column where Bitcadet founder Dusty Dean speaks with senior executives about their experience selling direct to their customers, major challenges, and lessons learned along the way.
A Conversation with Alan Adler, founder of AeroPress
If you’re a coffee lover like me, you’ve heard of (and probably own) AeroPress, one of the most popular coffee brewers on the market. Not only does it make a great cup of coffee each time, AeroPress is environmentally friendly; uses compostable paper filters, requires no electricity and is free of BPA and phthalates. Over 14,000 Amazon reviewers give it a 5-star rating.
AeroPress, Inc. was founded in 1984 by inventor and retired Stanford University engineering instructor Alan Adler. Under his direction, the company has built a reputation for manufacturing revolutionary sports equipment, including the Aerobie Pro flying ring, which set a Guinness World Record for longest throw. In 2004, Alan began studying the brewing process and machine designs with a simple goal in mind: brew a superior cup of coffee. The AeroPress debuted to critical acclaim in 2005 and is now available to coffee lovers in over 80 countries.
I’ve always admired people who can engineer innovative products and figure out how to build a successful business from those inventions. Alan Adler is one of those rare individuals. AeroPress is a great example of a multi-channel sales approach – selling direct online as well as through multiple retailers including Amazon, Walmart and Target. While Adler concentrates on the technical side of the business, General Manager Alex Tennant manages distribution and marketing.
The pandemic drove more people to start cooking and brewing their own coffee at home. When it came to transitioning to online sales, Adler said the approach is similar to offline sales, although there is more support for retailers with photography, product description and other materials that are used online to drive sales.
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AeroPress manufactures all its products in the United States, something that Adler believes is important for increasing brand loyalty.
I had the pleasure of catching up with Adler and he was nice enough to share some of his observations on his business and background and offer some advice to future entrepreneurs.
Dusty. How has the distribution of your products changed from the days of the Aerobie to more recently with the AeroPress?
Alan. We sell to retailers of all types; online, store, etc. Export has always been to distributors, who in turn sell to retailers in their country. There has been no fundamental change except expansion.
Dusty. You put the customer first in your interactions – from easy online sales, to the “Ask Alan” on your website, to promising a person if a customer calls in. How do you think this has helped your business?
Alan. Customers thank us for this. A great reward for my work has been the pleasure of making friends with customers. I greatly enjoy these contacts.
Dusty. Aeropress has been a huge success. It’s won over even the most particular coffee aficionados. Was its runaway success a surprise to you?
Alan. When the Aerobie first appeared nationwide on Tom Brokaw’s NBC Nightly News being thrown out of The Rose Bowl, I expected an increase in orders the next day, but that day was like any other day. But when The San Jose Mercury News reviewed the AeroPress and mentioned a local retailer, Cook’s Junction in Los Altos, there were 10 people waiting in front of that store at 10 a.m.to buy an AeroPress. That small store sold 70 AeroPresses per day for the next six weeks. People love good coffee, so the success of the AeroPress wasn’t a huge surprise.
Dusty. The people I know who use your most popular products such as the AeroPress or the Aerobie often are very passionate about it. They don’t say they “like it” but rather they “love it.” What advice do you have out there to product engineers and inventors who want to create products that evoke similar reactions?
Alan. Product designers need to use their own designs. We all have had the disappointment of buying products that don’t work. And that’s probably because the designer didn’t use his own design. Of all my inventions, the Aerobie and the AeroPress have been embraced with the most enthusiasm. I feel very lucky to have invented two things that are so loved. I would have been lucky to have one.
Dusty. You hold numerous patents and have designed instrumentation systems for military aircraft and nuclear reactors to name a few. Are there other products besides Aerospace that you can tell us about?
Alan. Although not as widely known as the AeroPress, the various sporting toys that I invented were lots of fun. I remember saying to Alex, “Even if these golf discs aren’t huge sellers. I’m having fun designing and testing them.” Some other sporting toys you may not have tried are:
- The MegaTop
- The Superdisc
- The Orbiter Boomerang
Dusty. What advice would you give inventors today who want to create a direct-to-consumer sales strategy?
Alan. I’ve taught inventing at Los Altos public schools for years. My single most important teaching is, “Learn all you can about the science relating to your invention. That increases the chances of your invention performing well.”