When a technology company with over 30 years of experience turns its focus to the beverage service business with its self-designed and manufactured automated kiosks gaining rapid popularity, it becomes an intriguing case study of the key factors that lead to successful expansion into new ventures.
Watanya Amatanon, the co-founder, and chief product officer of TAO BIN and the Business Development Executive and Chief Product Officer of Fort Ventures Co., Ltd., played a crucial role in propelling the smart beverage dispensing kiosk “TAO BIN” to become a shining star in the Forth Group’s portfolio.
In an interview with The Story Thailand, she shared the behind-the-scenes story of Taobin’s success, stating that “TAO BIN is a project that relies on a blend of technical expertise and a deep understanding of marketing, which cannot be avoided.”
New Opportunities in a Changing Landscape
A 32-year-old female executive, Watanya Amatantanont, second-generation heir, revealed that the COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a period of “TAO BIN,” or “TurtleFly” – a time when numerous changes have impacted consumer behavior and created gaps for new business opportunities to flourish.
Watanya explained, “COVID-19 has resulted in people staying at home more and relying on technology increasingly. There is an increased focus on convenience and heightened concerns about sustainability.”
She further elaborated on the emergence of new businesses in this situation, stating that it involves truly understanding the dynamics of change. It also presents an opportunity for individuals to seek possibilities from such transformations or adapt to evolving consumer behaviors, which in turn helps businesses move forward. For instance, robotics and AI are now essential tools for businesses to reduce costs.
Watanya, or Tong, is the daughter of Pongchai Amatantanont, the founder and owner of Fort Corporation Public Company Limited, a technology company involved in various ventures. The company is known for manufacturing the “BOONTERM” top-up kiosks, widely recognized by mobile phone users. She plays a crucial role in the development and design of the Taobin smart beverage dispensing kiosk and oversees all aspects of the Taobin business, including expansion strategies.
With an educational background in computer engineering from Imperial College in the UK and a master’s degree in management from University College London (UCL), Watanya worked at Microsoft in the United States for three years as a UX Designer for the Data Factory project, eventually becoming the lead designer. She later worked at startup companies before returning to Thailand during the COVID-19 crisis.
She expressed that returning to continue the family business was unexpected, as without the pandemic, she would not have considered coming back. The current situation has presented her with unique opportunities.
Initially contemplating a temporary return home, she found herself shouldering significant responsibilities when she took on the Taobin project. As the person overseeing the overall project, she had to deal with various tasks and quickly recognized the market potential, which ultimately led to her decision to fully commit to this endeavor.
Birth of the “TAO BIN” Automated Coffee Kiosk
TAO BIN is an automated beverage service kiosk that can brew nearly 200 different types of drinks in just one minute, all within a compact 1-square-meter space. This innovative vending machine is equipped with smart robotic technology, entirely designed and manufactured by Thai engineers. It operates under the concept of a 24/7 “automated cafe” that caters to customers round-the-clock.
“It was a serendipitous moment for Fort Vending, a company that has been incurring losses for many years due to the low profitability of traditional vending businesses. But then, we were searching for new vending machine businesses that could yield profits, and that’s how the idea of TAO BIN was born,” said Watanya.
She shared that Forth Vending Corporation Limited, a subsidiary of Forth Corporation Group, had been in a joint venture for seven years. However, their vending business had struggled to generate profits due to the high labor costs required for maintaining the machines.
“People in the vending business know that it is challenging to make substantial profits and it takes a long time, about 5-10 years, to see any significant returns. Waiting for such a long period was not feasible for us. So, we tried to find new prospects through startups to enhance our business. We recognized that coffee and tea vending had the potential to yield considerable profits and were in demand among customers.”
Previously, the company had experimented with automated vending machines that served coffee and tea. However, they encountered several pain points that other vending machine manufacturers had overlooked. “We could sell the machines, but the issues lied in the optimization and technology behind the scenes, which we could improve and be better at. That gave us the chance to be a game-changer in the market,” Watanya added.
This realization inspired her to collaborate with the Fort team in designing and developing the TAO BIN kiosk, which catered to consumer needs more effectively. The project involved technological back-end design, marketing strategies, and product development, from conceptualizing the TAO BIN’s idea to deciding what to sell, its name, and even its appearance – all of which were Watanya’s brainchild. In essence, she is the “mother” of TAO BIN, giving birth to this innovative concept of an automated coffee kiosk.
Success from Product-Market Fit
The Taobin automated coffee kiosk began its real installation phase at the beginning of 2021 without any advertising, yet it gained popularity and positive word-of-mouth from consumers impressed by its service quality. By the year 2022, the number of TAO BIN installations had expanded dramatically, reaching 4,952 kiosks across various locations nationwide, compared to just 546 kiosks in 2021. The company aims to further expand the service points to 10,000 kiosks within the year 2023.
“Taobin has now reached a take-off point and it’s doing very well,” said Watanya.
She describes this phase as the honeymoon period, like a newly opened restaurant with a long queue of customers eager to try something new. However, to determine the long-term viability of a business, it is crucial to assess whether it can sustain itself beyond the honeymoon phase. TAO BIN’s success can be attributed to its emphasis on pricing, taste, and convenience, factors that its competitors have not been able to replicate.
Watanya believes that the key to business success often lies in identifying and addressing customers’ pain points. TAO BIN adopted technology to solve these pain points, achieving a market fit through innovation. She emphasizes the importance of “timing and precision” in meeting customers’ needs.
“Identifying pain points comes from multiple factors, such as understanding what problems customers face. The reality is that people are consuming more beverages, but there are not many places open 24/7 or conveniently located near their homes.”
In the past, businesses used to create products first and then test them in the market. Nowadays, the approach is different, with companies listening to customers’ demands first and then developing products to meet those needs, reducing risks and increasing the chances of success.
“My father is someone with the vision to identify pain points, dating back to the time when he started the ‘BOONTERM’ top-up service. Back then, scratching top-up cards was a tedious task, and that was a critical pain point. My father could find and understand the problem and realize that technology could solve this issue, eliminating the need for users to travel to convenience stores just to scratch top-up cards.”
Watanya acknowledges that she learned the ability to identify customer pain points, in part, from her father, who has over 30 years of experience in the technology business.
Creating strengths from UX designer experiences
A key strength stemming from the experience as a UX designer is the ability to understand and interpret customer needs, enabling a profound understanding of the flow that resonates with them. It is this very understanding that led to the initial success of the “TAO BIN” vending machine. Customers were enthralled by the seamless user experience and the cutting-edge touch screen interface, making it effortless and delightful to interact with the machine.
The fusion of artistry and technology played a pivotal role in creating a visually captivating and user-friendly design. The meticulously designed touch screen interface not only facilitated effortless ordering but also added an aesthetic charm, captivating users and leaving a lasting impression.
Moreover, the deep-rooted understanding of technology empowered the UX designer to harness its potential to the fullest. The ingenious integration of touch screen technology redefined convenience, bringing forth an innovative and modern approach to beverage vending. As a result, the “TAO BIN” vending machine garnered widespread popularity and admiration, fueling its rapid expansion and earning it a well-deserved place in the market.
The marriage of technological expertise and artistic flair in the realm of UX design culminated in a winning formula. By prioritizing customer needs and translating them into an aesthetically pleasing, intuitive interface, the TAO BIN vending machine achieved unparalleled market-fit. It has become a prime example of how thoughtful UX design can elevate a product to new heights, captivating and satisfying customers while setting new standards of convenience and sophistication.
In essence, the UX designer’s ability to discern and cater to customer pain points, coupled with their knack for blending artistry and technology, has paved the way for the triumphant emergence of the “TAO BIN” vending machine. It stands as a testament to the transformative power of UX design, where the harmonious coexistence of science and art creates an exceptional and beloved product that resonates deeply with its audience.
Seeking sustainable new business opportunities
In search of sustainability, the family business has long aspired to expand into new ventures, seeking relief from the taxing world of technology. The journey began with the creation of “Forth,” manufacturing PABX cabinets for telecommunications. However, the advent of mobile phones disrupted this venture, necessitating a shift towards the “BOONTERM” prepaid top-up service. With the emergence of mobile banking, the traditional top-up business dwindled.
Hence, the family decided to explore new avenues for sustainable growth, steering away from the ever-changing tech industry. They ventured into the food and beverage industry, recognizing its potential for lasting longevity. The key factors for success in this realm are taste, accessibility, and adaptability, as consumer preferences and demographics shift over time.
The “TAO BIN” vending machine epitomized their newfound business approach, utilizing their tech expertise to create an automated food and beverage service. It became a unique proposition in the market, as their tech-savvy edge set them apart from competitors. The blend of technology and the culinary arts opened doors to an array of possibilities.
As their food and beverage business expands, they envision creating a network of “TAO BIN Café” outlets, coupled with EV charging stations named “GingKa.” These cafes will provide a wide range of offerings, including essential goods, via automated vending machines. The overarching goal is to minimize the dependence on low-skilled human resources by incorporating robotics and AI in their operations.
Not only does AI revolutionize their production processes, but it also contributes to environmental sustainability by reducing energy consumption and minimizing waste. The “TAO BIN” cafes, for example, operate on significantly less energy compared to traditional establishments, which is a huge step towards sustainable food and beverage service.
Furthermore, their focus on environmentally friendly materials highlights their commitment to reduce environmental impact. Emphasizing the use of recyclable materials, such as plastic cups, exemplifies their efforts to reduce waste and support a greener future.
Their dedication to sustainability extends to planning optimized delivery routes and inventory management through machine learning. This ensures their vending machines are stocked efficiently, minimizing travel and energy usage.
In this quest for sustainable growth, the family business has harnessed technology, AI, and innovative approaches to redefine the food and beverage industry. Their “TAO BIN” vending machines serve as the perfect example of how technology, coupled with adaptability, can elevate a business to thrive for the long term. Their commitment to minimizing environmental impact and reducing reliance on manual labor reflects a forward-thinking approach that ensures their success endures far into the future.
Continuously advancing towards their ultimate goal
TAO BIN envisions becoming an indispensable part of everyone’s daily life—a truly customizable and accessible hub for all. To achieve this, they understand the need to prioritize health, affordability, and availability, while also being socially and environmentally responsible.
TAO BIN embraces the idea of embedding themselves in their customers’ ecosystem rather than creating their own. As the lifestyles of Thai people change, with a growing preference for electric cars, staying at home more, and living a 24/7 lifestyle, TAO BIN adapts its services to cater to these evolving needs.
The company’s commitment to continuous development is evident through the numerous versions (20-30 versions) that the TAO BIN vending machine has undergone internally. This relentless pursuit of improvement keeps them ahead of potential imitators, as they firmly believe that the best defense against copying is innovation.
When it comes to competition,TAO BIN believes it stands on equal footing with other players. While major market competitors import their devices and models, TAO BIN takes pride in its ability to tailor its technology to meet individual customer requirements, giving them a competitive edge.
Looking to expand beyond Thailand, TAO BIN has signed agreements with partners in Malaysia to introduce TAO BIN for testing in their market. This move not only opens up new opportunities for sales but also establishes valuable partnerships for long-term growth.
The ultimate aspiration of TAO BIN is to become a globally renowned technology company that represents the ingenuity of the Thai people. They seek to be pioneers rather than followers and to lead with distinction, becoming a symbol of Thai excellence on the international stage.
In summary, TAO BIN’s unwavering commitment to innovation, adaptability, and customer-centricity propels them towards their ambitious vision of becoming an integral part of people’s lives worldwide. Through their dedication to staying at the forefront of technology and providing customizable solutions, TAO BIN seeks to inspire not just as a follower but as a visionary leader in the global technology landscape.