The Ember "smart mug" is perhaps the ultimate consumer technology product for the coffee-loving hipster with disposable income. You know, the person who keeps going to the microwave every five minutes to reheat their morning Joe.
The $80 mug has a battery-charged internal temperature control system which connects to an app. On the app you set your preferred temperature for a hot beverage, and the mug keeps the beverage at that exact temperature for at least an hour. Top temperature is 145 degrees to keep people from burning themselves.
"Hot coffee is a big deal," says Joe Jonas, who has invested in the company along with his brother, Nick. "We loved it immediately." Other Ember investors include professional athletes like Aaron Rodgers and Ndamukong Suh.
The mug was created by a self-professed geek. Clay Alexander, 43, has been inventing things since he was a kid going to see the San Diego Padres play. "I made this hat, and it had a cooling fan on it, a big old battery in the back, like a lantern battery," he says. "I had a microphone on it, and I was talking to the players."
Alexander started several businesses over the years, but he hit it big a decade ago when he sold an invention to GE that became GE Infusion LED light bulb. He was flush with cash. Then one morning in 2009, "I was sitting there in my kitchen having scrambled eggs with my wife," he says. "When my eggs got cold, I thought, 'OK, I've got to fix this. This is the 21st century, at a bare minimum, my plate should be able to keep my food at a decent eating temperature.'"
He started experimenting with temperature control circuitry until he had a self heating plate. "It was amazing." But Alexander says he switched from plates to mugs as he watched the coffee market take off.
It took years to get the technology right and contain it all in a sleek travel mug and coffee cup. Alexander says he invested about $500,000 of his own money, money he'd earned on the GE light bulb, but he had several hurdles to overcome. "The biggest problem that you have is waterproofing, wash-proofing, drop-proofing," he says.
Alexander then bombarded Starbucks for two years before he got his product in front of top management, and the first Ember products started being sold in Starbucks in 2016. "We sold about 110,000 units in the first six weeks." Ember mugs are now sold in Apple Stores as well. According to Alexander, the company has raised $45 million, all from individuals, and it's valued at $140 million. Revenues this year are well north of $10 million, though Alexander won't be any more specific. He does say the company is forecasting profitability by the end of 2019, and the long-term plan is to go public or be acquired.
Joe Jonas says his management team knew Alexander and brought the idea of investing in Ember to the Jonas brothers. "Over the short amount of time, the company has grown so much," he says (Jonas says his other investments include Lime rental scooters and bikes, and alcohol delivery service Saucey).
Up next, Alexander wants to expand the technology to temperature controlled baby bottles, temperature controlled apparel, and, yes, those self-heating plates. He's also submitted patents for self-chilled water bottles and wine glasses.
The company is based in Westlake Village, California, where Clay Alexander works in an office surrounded by famous inventions: an Alexander Graham Bell telephone from 1902, a Thomas Edison phonograph from 1904, a patent Walt Disney received for Mickey Mouse. "I am honestly very inspired by these inventions, and that's why I keep them literally surrounding me in my office."
Joe Jonas says he's in the company for the long haul. "Ember is going to do some ground-breaking stuff," he says. "I can't speak about everything, but what they've been working on and their technology, it's unbelievable."
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