Lead(H)er - Eliza Becton, Co-Founder and Head of Product at Bevi
“Water has always been an important and constant part of my life. Growing up outside of Boston, I spent a lot of time sailing out on the ocean. As a result, I was naturally interested in sustainability and ocean stewardship,” said Eliza Becton, Co-Founder and Head of Product at Bevi.
But Eliza’s path to founding her own company wasn’t directly from sustainability. She grew up loving both art and science and graduated with a Bachelor's of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Yale. After working in New York for a few years at an engineering firm, Eliza quickly realized that she wanted to work on something with a mission while also utilizing her creative skills.
“Fortunately, I soon discovered industrial design and went back to school for a masters degree at the Rhode Island School of Design. It was completely life-changing. It taught me how to ask the really hard questions like why are we doing what we’re doing? As a result, it was not just about creating things for the sake of creating them. It was about purpose and people and user-centered design,” Eliza said.
During research for her masters thesis, Eliza learned about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, an ever-expanding, floating mass of plastic waste in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
“That was really shocking to me and got me thinking about how I could design a product that could eventually replace those plastic bottled beverages. How do you create something that’s easier to use, more convenient, and more enjoyable for people?” Eliza asked.
She completed her master thesis with a product design concept that aimed to eliminate bottled beverage waste. After graduation, Eliza went back to Boston to work for startups as a designer, but she always kept this concept in the back of her mind.
And then plastic water bottles started showing up in the news. The town of Concord, Massachusetts, banned bottled water as did many school campuses. Eliza realized that this was the time to pursue her project, if she was ever going to do it.
“About this time, I was introduced to Sean Grundy, Bevi’s CEO, through mutual friends. He was an MBA candidate at MIT Sloan but also a sustainability nerd, like me. We met for coffee one day and spent hours chatting about our ideas. He was crazy enough to work with me and together we began entering business plan competitions. We eventually convinced Sean’s roommate and close friend, Frank, to join as our third co-founder. Sean and Frank Lee met in China before they even started at Sloan, both while working on water-related projects abroad,” Eliza said, describing the catalyst for her future company.
Bevi's founding team: Sean Grundy, Frank Lee, and Eliza Becton.
Bevi incorporated in August of 2013. By then, they had proven to themselves and others through several successful business competitions that it was possible to use design and technology to change user behavior from relying on bottled beverages. When they first started out, the Bevi team was doing really crude market tests with cardboard boxes and trying to get people to pay for things as early as possible.
“It was really embarrassing and we failed a lot, but we learned and moved on to the next idea or iteration. Those small failures were very important to understand and learn from,” Eliza remembers.
In the spring of 2014, Bevi was accepted into the Techstars Boston program, which became their early big break. With access to amazing mentors and peers, the team felt really lucky to learn what they did there. Techstars pushed the team a lot and they came out of the program finding Bevi’s product market fit—commercial offices.
“Once we figured that out, our first product, the Standup Bevi, started to take off in sales. People actually liked it -- they wanted it and were willing to pay for it. It felt like things had finally clicked. Our next challenge was figuring out how to scale. We kept improving our product for performance, reliability, and costs,” Eliza said.
In the fall of 2017, the company released their second product, the Countertop Bevi. Launching a product with a more established, bigger team was a much different experience, than the original product which was built with a team of just five people.
“Moving forward, we will have to constantly ask ourselves the same question -- how do we work smarter and move faster? It’s a lot to do, but it’s a great challenge and fun to think about the sustainability impact that we are making. Right now, we’re saving about 2.5 million bottles per month. I feel lucky everyday that I get to work on something that I truly care about that has a real impact,” said Eliza.
Rapid Fire Q&A
BS: What do you like to do in your free time?
EB: Well, I have a two year old son so I like to spend my free time with him and my husband. I also enjoy cooking a lot. It’s kind of my new creative outlet these days, since I’m not doing as much design as I used to.
BS: How do you manage stress?
EB: [laughs] Not very well! I mean again, creativity is a great outlet for that. I think when I’m really stressed, I also try to make an effort to exercise or be outside. Additionally I enjoy seeing friends. Everyone has their own challenges in life so it’s nice to be able to talk to someone, be there for them and forget about your own stuff.
BS: How many cups of coffee do you typically drink in a day?
EB: I’m actually pregnant right now so I try to limit my coffee for hydration purposes. On a regular day, though, I drink maybe three to four cups.
BS: Where is your favorite spot in the Boston area?
EB: I love being on the water so I really enjoy the seaport. Sitting at a restaurant on the water is pretty amazing. The smell of the ocean, the fresh air—I love it.
BS: If you had to choose one thing other than family, what would you say is your greatest accomplishment?
EB: I’m really proud of Bevi, everything we’ve done and all the amazing people I get to work with every day.
BS: Ten years ago, is this where you would have seen yourself?
EB: No way! In fact, I would love to meet someone who fully anticipated where they were going to be in ten years and congratulate them on that. But I almost feel like I would be doing something wrong if I were living up to all my plans in life. I don’t know if I had even thought about where I wanted to be in ten years, ten years ago. I knew I wanted to be doing design. But other than that, I didn’t have any plans. I just wanted to feel like I was making an impact on the world and I feel like I am.
BS: What one piece of advice would you give to a recent college graduate?
EB: I feel like I’m lucky to have found what I want to do in life that also makes me happy. I’d recommend finding whatever that is for you and to consider paths that maybe aren’t as conventional. I’ve seen too many people take the safe route and do what their peers are doing, and one day they wake up realizing that their job isn’t fulfilling for them. If you have a vision for the career that will make you happy, go for it and work hard to get there. If you don’t yet know what will make you happy, take the time to understand what you really care about and find fulfilling. The saying is true: life is too short to waste your time doing something that you don’t love.