Feature

Architects of the Future: Taiwan's Startup Stories

Danish Entrepreneurs Reshape Coffee Roasting and Rigid Work Culture

2020/02/18 ,

Interview

Jeremy Van der Haegen

Photo credit: Aillio

Jeremy Van der Haegen

Jeremy is a Belgian journalism student interning for The News Lens in Taipei.

What you need to know

Ailio, a Taiwanese startup founded by a pair of Danish twin brothers, developed a sustainable coffee roasting technology with an appreciation of the Danish lifestyle.

Since the late ‘90s, a bustling specialty coffee scene has emerged in Taiwan, a traditional tea-drinking culture. The arrival of Starbucks introduced the concept of daily coffee consumption, and eventually local coffee brands including Cama Coffee and Louisa Coffee debuted to fulfill the growing demands. A new generation of java geeks is aiming to take Taiwan’s specialty coffee market to the next level, like the Taipei-based startup Aillio. 

Founded in 2015, Aillio is transforming the traditional way of preparing coffee with its custom bean roasters. The Danish-born founders strive to influence beyond Taiwan’s coffee culture by incorporating elements of hygge — the Danish concept of coziness — in their workplace.

Aillio_-9
Photo Credit: Aillio
Aillio's office boasts a relaxing space.

Aillio’s 15 employees have a lot of office space to wander about and their work stations are also more spacious than those of the traditional offices. An average office desk measures around 90 to 100 centimeters, while Aillio’s office provides each employee with at least 160-cm of workspace that’s convertible into a standing desk.

Jonas Lilie, Ailio’s co-founder, believes big space breeds big ideas. “I really think space affects the mood and performance of people. If you feel cramped, I don’t think you could even come up with big thoughts,” he told The News Lens

Although Lillie was born and raised in Denmark, he built most of his career in Asia. Before settling in Taiwan, he spent a decade in Hong Kong as a fashion photographer. In his studio, he used to offer quality coffee for his clients and he became more fascinated with specialty coffee over time. 

In Ailio, Lillie created a work culture that crossbreeds hygge with his personal views. The Danish term, which loosely means “a feeling of content or well-being,” translates into a culture of horizontal structure in the workplace. The former photographer also embraces the idea that any company should add a creative flair to its routine and products.

Allio’s flagship product, The Bullet, is one of the most eco-friendly coffee roasters on the market. The torpedo-shaped roaster features a digital interface, boasting a futuristic and trendy appearance. It’s the smallest product that can roast a full kilogram of coffee using only 0.3 kilowatts per hour, roughly the same as a halogen light bulb. In the last three years, Aillio sold about 3,000 units and it’s looking at a potential 2,000 more to go over the counter this year.

Aillio_00164-large
Photo credit: Aillio
The Bullet is neat piece of sustainable technology with a sleek design.

“It's not just 10 or 20 percent more efficient. It’s up to 75 percent. This style of coffee roasting will save you a lot of money. Let’s assume one kilo of decent roasted coffee costs a business around US$30. If you roasted it yourself, it would cost you only US$10,” CEO and founder Jonas Lillie said. “If you're drinking a lot, this product earns its money back easily.” 

One unit currently costs around US$3,000, plus shipping. It’s a steep but savvy investment that boasts sustainable coffee roasting, according to Lillie.

To execute his business vision, Lillie studied engineering, product design, and 3D design by himself. “I had no technical background whatsoever, but I guess I'm still good at learning stuff,” he said and chuckled. 

Lillie built his own 3D printer and started manufacturing the prototype on his own, while his twin brother Jacob Lillie, an engineer, offered to develop the electronics and the software.

At Ailio, the Lillie brothers instill a sense of mutual respect with their employees. The lack of hierarchy means each individual holds a greater responsibility. Every Ailio employee functions as his or her own manager.

“We only have one person responsible for shipping. The challenge is that he has to work as a manager as well,” Lillie said.

Aillio_-169
Photo Credit: Aillio
"You cannot look at your staff as a liability. They are the biggest asset you have," said Jonas Lillie.

The employees are expected to put in around 40 hours per week but have the liberty to choose how it will fit their week schedule.  Working from home is also possible. The average salary is around NT$80,000 (US$2,665), a big step up from Taiwan’s average salary of NT$39,191 (US$1,285). Aillio is experimenting with profit-sharing this year as well, possibly increasing that salary by another 50 to 80 percent, according to Lillie.

Lillie believes paying employees a good salary is an investment that will always pay off in the long-term. 

“European companies have known for 30 to 40 years what the Taiwanese companies don't understand yet,” Lilie said. “If people are offering 40 hours of their life to me and my company per week, I have to value that. If they all left tomorrow, I'll be dead. You cannot look at your staff as a liability. They are the biggest asset you have.”


READ NEXT: SKRT Streamlines Taiwan’s Scooter Rental Services

TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee (@thenewslensintl)

If you enjoyed this article and want to receive more story updates in your news feed, please be sure to follow our Facebook.

Next article:

Taiwan’s Craft Beer Industry in Search of a Local Identity


Architects of the Future: Taiwan's Startup Stories:

Innovation didn't seem like Taiwan's strong suit as the tech industry largely remained conservative and stagnant since the 2000s. However, a new breed of entrepreneurs in Taiwan is changing the business landscape with fresh ideas and bold approaches. In our brand new series, we'll bring you stories about Taiwan's new industries and visionaries.

All feature article