The Chime chai tea machine

Some say it’s important to be focused when you’re a startup. Chime is planning to put that theory to a test with its first product: an app-controlled chai brewer.

How does the connected chai maker work? The Chime makes chai tea by using individual chai tea pods (called caps) and allows the consumer to adjust the milk ratio and the strength of the brew.

You can watch the Chime in action here:

In a way, this kind of focus makes sense. There are hundreds of nearly indistinguishable coffee makers on the market but exactly none – at least that I know of – push-button chai brewing machines. Chai also requires a little more work than your traditional Earl Grey type of cup, which means some might be willing to pay for the convenience of a chai-bot.

Is the market big enough? Chime founder Gaurav Chawla believes so, pointing out that the US chai market is $1 billion. While that’s a fraction of the $90 billion global tea market it’s substantial nonetheless, especially if there aren’t any specialized pod-based chai brewers currently on the market.

Still, there will be challenges. I believe the biggest test for Chime will be getting consumers to trust a startup enough to be willing to bet on them as the sole source of their chai tea. Chime requires the end user to buy the chai caps – which will cost 90 cents a piece – from the company itself, not a big deal when you’re Keurig or Nestle, but a bit more of a leap of faith if you’re a startup.

Either way, I’m interested to see how Chime does later this year when they ship. I caught up with Chawla to ask him a few questions.

See his answers below.

Wolf: When is Chime expected to ship?

Chawla: Chime is expected to ship towards the end of the year.

Wolf: Do you have any retail relationships established?

Chawla: We do not have retail relationships currently. Our plan is to sell directly to the consumers initially.

Wolf: Can you tell us anything about the typical profile of the preorder customer for Chime?

Chawla: Our typical customer is tech savvy chai lover who knows what real chai is and cares about the taste of chai and the ingredients that go into making a great cup of chai. Our consumer cares about the quality of chai and wants to make their life easier by having a device that can make their chai without all the hassle. Our typical pre-order customer doesn’t shy away from new technology and believes technology exists to make their life easier.

Wolf: Your business model looks like it will depend on your own modules (Caps). How do you expect to raise awareness? I also expect some would have doubts about a startup as sole provider of chai – how will you overcome these doubts?

Chawla: We are doing online community building but we will also be doing events and taste testing from time to time. We have already started testing the tea blend and we will come up with a variety of tea blends. We chose from high quality tea and are working with tea suppliers who supply to big brands. We have already started establishing our tea supply chain and we will test it out before we launch.

Wolf: Have you raised financing and, if so, how much?

Chawla: We have raised angel funding of close to a million.

Wolf: What is your founder team background?

Chawla: The core team comes from varied background with a lot of experience in delivering consumer products, to enterprise hardware and software. Industrial Design, Mechanical Engineering, Software Engineering and Supply Chain management.

Wolf: How big is the chai tea market in the US? Globally?

Chawla: Globally the chai market is a big chunk of black tea market and in our estimate about $20B globally. The global tea market is estimated to be $90B. In the US our estimate is that the US chai market is over $1B. However, Chime is first of its kind product and we believe it has the potential to increase the chai market and make chai accessible to folks who don’t drink chai currently.