Robo-Barista Artly Raises $8M Pre-Series A Round
Can the company hit venture-sized scale?
Remember a little over a week ago when I shared an Instagram video of Artly’s robot barista in action?
Well surprise, surprise, surprise (← Old person reference), shortly after I published that story, Artly reached out to me to say that they have raised an $8 million Pre-Series A round of funding. Investors include SV Tech Ventures, Amino Capital, LDV Partners, and Aimtop Ventures.
As I went to write this up, I thought “Oh wow, I’ve been writing about Artly (née Blue Hill Coffee) for forever, good for them for sticking with it.” Then I looked it up and Artly just launched last year. Time has no meaning.
As I wrote previously, here’s the skinny on Artly’s automated coffee system:
Artly’s hook is that it uses a combo of computer vision and AI to help train its robots, and help robots better understand their environments. To train the robot, Artly’s technology “watches” videos of human baristas in action. In doing so, Artly’s robotic arm can recreate human barista movements, and even perform tasks like applying delicate latte art on top of coffee drinks.
But Artly’s computer vision also helps the robot navigate its setup. So Artly’s robot can recognize a “spoon” and “oat milk,” wherever they may be. You don’t have to set particular items in a designated spot. If the oat milk gets misplaced, or a coffee grinder is moved, the robot can still identify what it needs, wherever it is.
Artly is definitely more on the craft end of automated coffee, rather than a big vending machine. When I spoke with Artly’s founders last year, they said they were going after a premium coffee experience. They are more about, well, art(ly)istry rather than pure speed. As such, Artly has been installing their robots inside more retail locations than high-traffic transit hubs like airports.
I think the bigger takeaway from this news is that Artly was even able to raise money at all. I haven’t seen much, if any food/beverage robot funding news this year. I mean, the food robot sector was never frothy, but over the past few years, you’d see funding announcements from automation companies on the regular.
Today? Not so much.
In today’s press announcement, the company reinforced its messages around “craftsmanship” and “quality.” Nowhere does it mention “speed” (or Speed 2). And as I wrote before, the company isn’t gunning for high-traffic locations such as airports (like CafeX) or train stations (like Crown Digital).
Artly needs to thread a needle with its go-to market. It has to entice people who want a craft cup of coffee — without alienating them with a sterile robot, which on its face lacks the human touch (even if Artly’s robot can recreate human movements).
So how are investors going to get that sweet 10x return in 5 - 7 years? That’s a good question. One thing Artly has going for it is that its robot isn’t an all-in-one solution (at least for now). Artly uses existing espresso machines and grinders and carafes. So it’s not trying to re-create the wheel, or cram everything into a custom-designed (and manufactured) box.
The computer vision’s recognition powers means Artly’s bot could be set up in any physical space, in any configuration and the system will learn where everything is. Change where the fridge or latte machine is and the robot will figure it out just by looking around.
Still, that doesn’t guarantee a path to scale that investors will want over the next 5 - 7 years. In the near term, Artly is expanding locations across the west coast (tough luck, New Jersey). We’ll see how far this fresh $8 million will get the company, and how soon its robotic arm will be looking for another handout from investors.
Current Artly locations:
MUJI, Portland, Oregon
Stoneridge Mall, Pleasanton, California
San Francisco Premium Outlets, Livermore, California
Stonestown Galleria, San Francisco, California
Stewart 101 near Pike Place Market, Seattle, Washington
Vintage Faire Mall, Modesto, California
Washington Square, Portland, Oregon
1099 Stewart near Amazon campus, Seattle, Washington