Robotic Coffee Competition Brews As Cafe X Expands To SFO

When Austin-based Briggo opened up its robotic coffee bar in San Francisco’s International Airport (SFO), I sensed some brewing tension.

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After all, there is already a venture-backed robotic coffee shop actually based in San Francisco: Cafe X. The company raised $12 million Series A about a year ago, and has three locations currently across the Financial District – but until now it wasn’t in the airport.

That is about to change according to Cafe X founder and CEO Henry Hu when the company expands to SFO in November.

Is there enough room for two robot coffee shops in the Bay? More importantly, is there a need? I caught up with both companies to learn about trends within food automation, interesting go-to-market strategies, and the idea of experiential java.

Austin-based Briggo Brings The Brew

Briggo, which started by serving fully autonomous coffee in 2011 at University of Texas, has raised $19 million to date, and is currently raising a Series B, per CEO and co-founder Kevin Nater. For the upcoming round, Briggo has already secured one investor: S3 Ventures, an early and growth stage venture capital firm based in Austin.

The company opened up a “robotic coffee haus” in SFO in August to serve 24 hour coffee. This is the company’s first location outside of its home state of Texas.

While its roots are in Austin, Briggo’s SFO location serves Verve and Sightglass, two San Francisco brands.

“[Airports] are a great place for international exposure,” Nater said on the phone to Crunchbase News. He added that the company, to increase focus on the airport market, has recently signed large contracts to expand into multiple states across the largest airports in the country.

Briggo’s Nater said its competitive advantage is the fact that its been on the market longer than most autonomous coffee robots.

“We flat out have longer experience and more engagement with customers in the Bay than Cafe X,” Nater said. “Their purchasing experience is pretty much a mirror of what we were doing already.”

He added: “And they’ve got a wonderful 60 degree access robot that entertains the customer. But yeah, we’re probably a little bit more industrial food driven, and not so much entertainment driven.”

I caught up with Cafe X to learn if “entertaining the customer” has been an effective strategy.

San Fran’s Cafe X Brings The Fun

This fall Cafe X will be offering an “experiential” coffee shop to airport goers. Since raising its Series A, Cafe X has created three locations, and with that, taken lessons from each Hu said.

Fundamentally, a barista robot might seem focused on speed but now Cafe X is devoting more energy (and resources) to create ambiance.

For the upcoming location, Cafe X wants to be less robot, more old school coffee. Think menu board and backdrops.

“It’s not just going to be like a lonely robotic coffee bar sitting there against the wall,” Hu said on the phone.

At first the company outsourced a ton of its hardware engineering talent. Now, with 38 people working at the company, Cafe X has moved those processes in-house and it has helped efficiency, said Hu.

“Instead of using people to do repetitive tasks, like pushing buttons, we think labor should be used to do more productive and more impactful things like educating customers on our ingredients and expanding the menu and doing customer service,” he said.

A Cuppa Innovation

We are, rightfully, not in the business of making predictions about the success of startups. However, after talking to Briggo and Cafe X, I do believe there’s room for differential innovation within this space. As innovation within coffee enters our lives, it will be interesting to see where automation collides with other parts of our palate.

Illustration Credit: Li-Anne Dias


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