Product power all the way
How does an industrial designer go from designing mobile phones to launching the most successful Kickstarter project in coffee history? Yue Yu, self-styled “Fish” because his surname is a homonym in Chinese for the aquatic vertebrate, is the Co-Founder and Design Director of TIMEMORE, a premium coffee equipment brand dedicated to elevating products for the slow coffee lifestyle.
TIMEMORE launched in 2012 after James Zhang, Co-Founder and Director of Operations, as well as a mechanical engineer and ex-colleague of Fish, approached Fish to design a logo for a new company he was starting. “At that time, very few people made pour over coffee,” says Fish. “Their lives were getting faster and faster, and nobody thought pour overs would be the future.” Many of Fish’s investor friends didn’t believe slow coffee equipment would ever become a big industry. Still, despite their reservations, James, Fish, and JiuShu Chen, the third Co-Founder and Director of R&D, went ahead to form the foundation of TIMEMORE’s legacy.
Fish has always been a fan of coffee culture. He found designing coffee products a whole lot more interesting than designing mobile phones, an industry he felt was stuck in a rut.
“In a big company, the value of design can’t always be realized. Industrial design is just a small part of the whole procedure. When I started TIMEMORE, I had more capabilities to make a product better according to my wishes,”
says Fish. That, for him, was his primary motivation. Although life was easier as a design employee instead of an entrepreneur, the risk of stepping out was well worth the reward.
Although Fish didn’t have big ambitions at the start, one thing has never changed –
“I just wanted to make something beautiful, easy to use, and of professional functionality,”
he shares. When the company first launched, he took on many of the tasks himself, including product photography, web design, and video production, all while designing the products that would become the face of the brand.
Now, the company has grown to over 100 employees with offices based in Shanghai, Xiamen, and Dongguan. The Design and Development Team consists of dedicated industrial, packaging, and graphic designers, in addition to quality control testers. With a product portfolio that spans manual (and now electric!) grinders, kettles, scales, and brewing devices, the design team is constantly on its toes to bring new updates and delightful surprises to their user base.
“People always think a designer’s life is romantic like it’s all about drawing some pictures and creating images, but in fact, most of the time, we solve problems,”
says Fish. That means his phone is constantly ringing, even when he tries to take his wife and daughter on holiday trips to their favorite destinations in the mountains around Shanghai. As an avid manga fan since childhood, Fish has also managed to combine work and life by growing his manga collection – in his office. “For me, life and business can’t be separated,” he says with a laugh.
Although TIMEMORE has since become a household name in the world of specialty coffee in the last 10 years, the competition is growing on all sides. As a brand with a diverse product range, TIMEMORE may have the one-stop-shop advantage, but that also means facing top-level competitors from individual fields like hand grinders, kettles, scales, etc.
So how does TIMEMORE stay ahead of the game? By going back to the beginning. “We have to keep our philosophy, and that’s about aesthetics, being easy-to-use, professional, and honest,” says Fish.
“At the very beginning, my partners and I also discussed starting a product brand as a Chinese brand, wondering if it wouldn’t be good enough for the public,” he admits. “I decided that we should just be honest. If a Chinese brand wants to be more successful in the international market, it first needs to have a good design. If you design your products from your core values and with professional functionality, the aesthetic can be accepted by everyone over the world.”
He explains that honesty is also about pricing their products fairly, too. Although TIMEMORE’s product portfolio is always packed solid with creative innovations, a major draw for loyal fans is the brand’s reliability in delivering value for money.
Fish cherishes each design as if it was his own child, but the 2017 Red Dot Award-winning Chestnut GG1 holds a special place in his heart – and is a major milestone for TIMEMORE as a company. “[In 2019,] many people missed the door to specialty coffee because they didn’t have a good grinder, and professional grinders were very expensive. Chestnut C solved this problem, and so many people all over the world started their specialty coffee life with Chestnut C series,” says Fish.
For the past four years, Fish and the design team have expanded their focus to encompass electric grinders. It’s a logical progression for the brand, partly born from the motivation to create a beautiful electric grinder that people would be proud to display in their homes or apartments. “We started from zero and studied everything from the burrs to the motor,” says Fish. Some challenges included getting certifications for certain parts and making sure the burrs delivered the best results in flavor and uniformity.
And that’s how Sculptor was born. As a crowdfunded Kickstarter project, Sculptor is backed by nearly 11,000 eager TIMEMORE fans who collectively raised over $5 million US dollars. That’s how much they believe in the brand’s ability to deliver. Sculptor is the most-funded coffee project to date, just surpassing the $4.9 million raised for the Meticulous espresso machine. After four years of designing and prototyping and a few months of crowdfunding, Sculptor is now being mass-produced and should be delivered into the hands of Kickstarter backers soon.
“The most important thing about starting a company is product power,” shares Fish. Not the business model or marketing strategy but the product being sold. “If you can do that well and do a good mass production, you can make something that makes you feel awesome,” he adds.
While the specialty coffee world eagerly awaits the arrival of Sculptor, Fish revealed to I’M NOT A BARISTA that he still has even more exciting plans on the horizon. Spoiler alert: it’s a competition-grade brewing kettle. If you’re absolutely dying to know more, you can take a look at Zou Yang’s 2022 World Brewers Cup performance for a sneak peek at the unreleased TIMEMORE product.
“I’m so glad our products are recognized and accepted by users all over the world,” says Fish. “We will continue to update, innovate, and bring more surprises to our users in the future.”