Business planning

ACT startup gives coffee subscription a shot

Denham Sadler /

Two young entrepreneurs are launching an unlimited coffee subscription service in Canberra, as a similar startup in Melbourne shuts down operations.


The Cino app directs users to nearby cafes and then allows them to order and pay for their coffee on the platform, eliminating the pesky task of rummaging around for spare change.


It comes as the co-founder of Melbourne-based subscription coffee service UpShot says it is no longer operating.


“We couldn’t find a business model that worked,” co-founder Jerrold Poh says.


UpShot had a weekly subscription fee of $25, and took a 3% commission on purchases through the app. If users spent more than their subscription fee, UpShot paid for the costs.


Cino co-founder James Long says he and fellow co-founder Elise Adams will be meeting with the UpShot team soon to discuss what went wrong for them.


“Our actual business model is quite different,” Long says.


“We’ve been talking to people in Melbourne and getting feedback on how it works for them, and what they want.”


A competitive global market

Cino subscribers will be able to pay a monthly fee of $129 to receive unlimited coffee from the participating cafes, the equivalent of $4.20 a day. Users can also select a prepaid option of either $19 for five coffees or $54 for 15 coffees.


There are no transaction fees for the cafes.


It’s a competitive area globally, with an Israeli startup called Cups launched in New York last year, charging $US120 ($165) a month for unlimited coffee.


Long says his startup’s interface and business model set it apart.


“We’re keeping it super simple in terms of the user interface,” he says.


“A lot of other apps really get in the way of that interaction between the customers and the barista, which is really important.”


Using the Cino app, customers only need to have their smartphone swiped by the barista, as opposed to entering a code.


“It’s the shortest possible way for people to order a coffee,” Long says.

“We’re focused on simplicity and elegance of the user interface.”


UpShot launched in December last year, and by January had partnered with 11 cafes. Poh has previously said this was the most challenging part of the business.


The idea for Cino

Long says he and Adams came up with the idea for their startup only two months ago.


“Elise and I work together, and we’d always go to the same cafe,” Long says.


We’d always have to take down cash, and I eventually convinced my local coffee to let me buy ten coffees upfront in advance.”


The pair eventually decided that Canberra needs a subscription coffee platform.

Long handles the partner cafes, members and communications for Cino, while Adams, who is an animator, graphic designer and software developer handles the app development and technology.


Long says “hundreds” of people have already signed up to the app, and more than 20 cafes are on board.


They’ve also found it challenging to attract the cafes, but Long says there’s a lot in it for them.


“It’s a way for them to get these cashless transactions at no cost,” he says.


“Essentially it’s digitising small cashless transactions online into an app, and into something this is accountable.”


The Cino app should appear in the App Store in the next few days. Long says they plan to expand to the rest of Australia, and even to the US in the long-term future.


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Denham Sadler

Denham Sadler is a former editor of StartupSmart. He was previously a journalist at the publication and has worked as a freelancer for the Guardian, the Saturday Paper and the ABC. In his spare time he likes puns and jaffles.

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