San Francisco inventor grows business to 100 employees selling with Amazon

3 min
April 3, 2024

Fashion meets function with Fellow, an at-home brewing company that reinvents the basics to countertop show stoppers. The business is a lifelong dream of Jake Miller, the founder and CEO, who wanted to build a business that would combine his love of coffee with product design while also creating jobs for his community. Ten years later, he’s crushed his goal of employing 10 people by 10X and is about to go global with his products in a success story fueled by grit, grounds and Amazon.

Fellow started out as a homework assignment while Miller was taking grad school classes at Stanford. The former Caribou Coffee brand manager left corporate to go back to school with the dream of starting his own business. For two years he bounced around, taking courses at Stanford’s School of Engineering and School of Design, and it’s there he began ideating around the idea of putting his passions together to fuel his entrepreneurial ambition.

Close to graduating, Miller embarked on what he calls “a 12-week sprint” to decide if he would search for a new job or create one for others with a company of his own. Shortly after, Fellow was born. The company was built on a vision of bringing the cafe experience home, but without the clunky equipment. Miller wanted his home brewing gear to be beautifully functional and fully intuitive tools that anyone could use.

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“We had built a prototype of our first product. It was the Duo Coffee Steeper, and enough people were excited about the product for us to say, ‘You know what? Let’s turn that job down and live off of Ramen noodles’” for what ended up being the next two or three years, said Miller.

Like a watched pot, Fellow’s first product launch, funded by a Kickstarter campaign, took longer than expected and, in the end, cost much more than projected. But, Miller is a “dream big” kind of guy, focused on the future and on success.

“Thank God we didn’t stop. Our second product was more successful than the first, the third more success successful than the second. And things just really started to pick up,” he said.

Fellow had a unique go-to-market strategy that relied heavily on their Amazon storefront. Without money to acquire customers, Miller said Fellow developed an omnichannel presence “out of necessity.” They went where Fellow customers were already shopping: Crate and Barrel, William Sonoma, and Amazon. They built a website and eventually their own brick and mortar storefront.

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“From day one, we set out to be a global omnichannel brand,” said Miller. “It added a lot of complexity to handle multiple distribution points, but looking back, it was absolutely the right call.”

Amazon was an obvious choice, said Miller. “We wanted to reach our customers, our customers wanted to buy there,” he said.

By year two, Fellow had two employees on payroll. By year three, they had five. Ten years later, Fellow has 100 employees, many of whom are based locally in San Francisco. Miller said it’s a direct result of his partnership with Amazon.

“As a company, we’ve about doubled in size every year for the first eight years, and Amazon’s played a big part in that growth,” said Miller. “Our partnership has really enabled us to reach audiences that aren’t familiar with our brand, so people who aren’t necessarily coffee nerds or coffee aficionados.”

Every year, Fellow launches between three to five new products. Many of those are a direct result of Amazon customer suggestions. It’s what set Amazon apart, said Madeline Dillashaw, Fellow’s Amazon Global Manager, adding that customers are active and Amazon gives small businesses the tools to engage them.

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“[Amazon reviews are] a direct line of communication with our customers,” she said. In addition to gaining product insights, Dillashaw said partnering with Amazon Ads has been a strategic collaboration, allowing them to take those insights and drill down their advertising campaigns.

“We have a lot of control over the levers we can pull,” said Dillashaw. Among those is Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA), which provides the heavy lifting of picking, packing and shipping to Amazon fulfillment specialists. “FBA allows us to really focus on growth on the channel and merchandising the product so that it’s approachable to the customer and we can really tell the brand story, instead of spending all of our time shipping product across the country,” Dillashaw added.

“Amazon makes it really easy,” said Miller. As the company expands to Europe and Asia, he said, Amazon will be his choice partner for Fellow’s future: “What’s so fun to me and the team, is that I think we’re just getting started. I think the next 10 years are going to be even more exciting than the first.”

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