Storm in a coffee cup? Hong Kong-based Nbition tells angry Kickstarter backers their Arist smart coffee maker is coming - just not the one they ordered

Beset by missed shipping deadlines and controversy, two brothers at helm of start-up promise customers they will be able to exchange their ‘mobile barista’ for the version they originally purchased at a later date

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 March, 2016, 4:15pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 09 March, 2016, 4:52pm

A Hong Kong coffee machine start-up criticised by crowdfunding backers for missed delivery deadlines is promising to ship a version of its product four months down the road.

The catch? What customers pull out of the box won’t be the same as what was initially advertised.

Nbition Development, creators of the Arist coffee machine, said they now have three versions of their smart brewer - commercial, professional and one for the home - and vowed to soon deliver the professional machine to Kickstarter backers. They said this can later be swapped for the home version.

“We will first ship the professional version [which is] higher quality, more powerful and originally it should cost more, but because they are backers and they helped us get started, when we have the Home machine ready, we will ship it to them free of charge,” said Nbition co-founder Benson Chiu.

Original Kickstarter backers will also receive a free upgrade for the next two generations of the Arist Home machine, the company said.

READ MORE: Arist-ed development - controversial Kickstarter project endorsed by Hong Kong government slammed for empty promises, failed delivery

Benson Chiu gave details of the US$10 million in Series A funding that Nbition received from IDG capital, which he said had allowed the start-up to continue developing the machine.

He said the venture capital firm’s investment would help cover increased shipping costs now the company needs to send two machines to backers.

Nbition Development, which won the Best ICT Start-up Grand Award, part of the government-backed Hong Kong ICT Awards in April, attracted HK$6.5 million (US$845,000) in crowdfunding at the end of 2014 to produce its Arist coffee machine.

READ MORE: Ten great Hong Kong projects made possible by crowdfunding

Yet several missed shipping deadlines, accusations of copyright infringement by a Danish coffee machine company and irregularities in its Kickstarter campaign left backers calling for answers and refunds.

An investigation by the South China Morning Post found Nbition had invited friends and family to back the Kickstarter project with the promise they would be refunded in cash, a move that breaks the crowdfunding platform’s rules.

WATCH: Arist brews coffee like a top barista - anytime, anywhere

In the first public appearance for the company’s latest machine, brothers and Nbition founders Nelson and Benson Chiu demonstrated the Arist Professional machine at a press conference at Hong Kong Science and Technology Park on Tuesday.

The machine brewed an espresso, made an Americano and a cappuccino from orders made via a dedicated smartphone app.

Instead of heating the water for the Americano and the milk for the cappuccino inside the machine, the liquids were heated in the cup and the espresso shot added from the machine. The company did not allow reporters or backers to examine the machine more closely, however, when requested, and the exact specifications of the machines were not given.

The Arist Home will retail for US$899, up from the original Kickstarter price of US$300, while the Arist Professional will cost US$1,499, the company said. Benson Chiu said the price of the Arist Commercial would not be made public at this time.

Backers gave mixed reactions to the announcement. While many were intrigued by the unconventional design of the machine, they were unsure if they would see a working version of the original product they paid for.

“They have promised that we will get the professional machine. That would be nice, but I’m worried that they will be exchanged later, so is the first version not really the final and properly working? If they take back [the professional version], it’s a bit of a concern,” said one Hong Kong-based backer who gave his name as Markus.

Sean Wang, investment manager at IDG Capital, said the company’s ability to ride out criticism had shown courage and that the smart coffee machine fitted well with current trends for intelligent technology to enhance lifestyles.

“No matter what kind of machine or model they provide, the investment is in the story behind it, which remains unchanged,” Wang said.

Nbition has now partnered with Korean coffee chain Tom N Toms, which will use the Arist Commercial machine in their upcoming Hong Kong stores.

Felix Se, South China CEO for the Korean coffee chain, said the Chiu brothers had done well to ride through the negative publicity they had received so far.

“Before, when we saw the videos, there was a huge ‘wow’ factor, even with all the controversial news articles in Hong Kong … they were able to still accomplish so much,” Se said.

The Chiu brothers tried to clarify questions over the number of patents they had filed for the machines, explaining that the company was now applying for 12 patents with one already approved. They declined to give more details on the specification of the machines owing to the patent applications.

A patent number previously released by the company contained the wrong number of digits and is therefore unsearchable on the Chinese patent database.