At Bevi, the talk is pretty much all watercooler talk
Eliza Becton could be anywhere in Bevi’s Charlestown office: at a hot desk near the sales team, downstairs with her design and research-and-development colleagues, or in the workshop looking over the company’s latest prototypes for high-tech seltzer and flavored-water dispensers.
But wherever you find Becton, the company’s cofounder and head of product, she’s likely to have her trusty reusable water bottle in tow. She’s had it since the early days of the company — so long that its pink, rubberized jacket has faded to white.
“I’m kind of emotionally attached to this one,” she says. “People use their bottles as kind of a representation — they’re proud of their bottles.”
Of course, most people don’t think about drinking water nearly as much as Becton, a Concord native who grew up sailing and has long been horrified by the amount of plastic waste making its way into the world’s oceans. She developed the germ of the idea for Bevi when she was a graduate student at Rhode Island School of Design looking for creative approaches to the problem.
Bevi makes drink machines that dispense glasses of naturally flavored water and allow users to customize the taste and the amount of carbonation. Six years after the company began, its “smart water machines” are in the offices of Google, Netflix, and some of the trendiest offices in Boston’s tech scene. One even appeared in an episode of “Silicon Valley,” HBO’s comic send-up of the industry. Along the way, Becton says, the company has kept 65 million bottles out of the waste stream.
Bevi’s offices contain many elements that align with the company’s environmental ethos. Becton recently showed the Globe around the firm’s multi-floor arrangement in the former Schrafft’s Candy Factory near Sullivan Square.
Bevi’s bright-white color scheme might suggest a sort of clinical sterility, but the surroundings are actually teeming with life. The main entrance is set apart by cubic shelves bearing dozens of potted plants.
Becton says these are among several touches intended to keep the workplace mindful of Bevi’s overarching commitment to the environment. The company also has compost bins on site (Becton sometimes brings in her biodegradables from home), and it has named its conference rooms after various ecological settings (Amazon, taiga).
“We try to make sustainability a part of how we do business, from the product all the way to how we are walking the walk,” she says. “We want to have reminders of that in what we’re doing day-to-day.”
The plants are also a labor of love for Bevi’s staff. Office manager Jill Rudnicki this spring repotted the plants by hand, and Rudnicki has developed a decorative motif around the flora. She created a large display of hand-cut paper flowers to hang prominently at Bevi’s main entrance.
Just a regular old coffee machine
For a company whose product is an upgrade of the traditional water cooler, Bevi has a back-to-basics approach to coffee. A Mr. Coffee drip coffee maker was brewing a pot on a recent afternoon, in contrast with the barista-run espresso machines that grace other high-tech offices.
“We‘re minimalists, I would say. We’re not one of those startups that just has a ridiculous amount of perks,” Becton says. “We spend money where it matters.”
But employees do have options at Bevi. There is cold-brew coffee on tap, and in the main office kitchen Bevi has a fancy “Cafection” machine cranking out top-shelf beverages. Becton says that high-end option is mostly for research — though she does cop to enjoying it.
“I like the machine upstairs, honestly,” Becton says. “But I also bring my own.”
It doesn’t sound pretty, but this is what Becton and her colleagues call the experimental version of their water cooler, which “lives” down in Bevi’s shop.
Unadorned by any of the usual slick finishes and mounted on a utility cart, the Roadkill gives Bevi’s designers and engineers a way to try new configurations and features without worrying about looks.
That allows them to experiment with things like pressure, flavor, and even how it feels to hold a glass as the machine fills it with water.
The name is actually a relatively common term in the field of robotics, referring to the stripped-down nature of the design.
“It’s like the guts. You don’t care about making it pretty. You just care about functionality and usability,” she says.