They hacked McDonald’s ice cream machines and started a cold war

As their problems grew, they went so far as to mount Nest cameras in Frobot cabinets to capture video of what might not be happening inside. On one occasion, they saw the mixture of ingredients inside a Tesla Factory Frobot bubble up and out of the Taylor machine, causing the liquid yogurt to bleed into the surrounding cabinet catastrophically. Seven hours later, they saw a Tesla food service employee casually open the cupboard, leave the sticky mess intact, and quietly replace a missing plastic pallet component he forgot while cleaning the machine.

Their business, it soon became clear, was the complete opposite of automation: no one at Levi’s Stadium or Tesla seemed able to set up or maintain a Frobot without the constant practical help of the founders of Frobot. And the problem was the Taylor machine at the heart of Frobot. “Holy shit,” O’Sullivan recalls when he realizes. “These machines suck.”

O’Sullivan and Nelson began to realize that they would need to pivot. And they had already unwittingly built a prototype of a different product, which offered a solution to the very problem that is killing their current business.

For the following year, they perfected the small Frobot computer component that listened to data from Taylor ice cream machines, creating features that allowed visibility and control of all machine variables, including some that automatically bypassed the 5-2. -3-1 code to access its service menu – a software interface to diagnose and troubleshoot the machine’s many hiccups, and a sleek case for the Raspberry Pi mini-computer that powered it.

In the spring of 2019, they relaunched their business, this time under the name Kytch. (A sign of the greatness of their ambitions, they chose a name that suggested the idea of ​​a fully connected kitchen, leaving open the possibility of products that went well beyond Taylor’s ice cream machines.)

When Kytch launched in April of that year, Nelson scoured the Bay Area looking for a restaurant using a Taylor machine, showcasing franchisees on LinkedIn and offering a six-month free trial before it started. ” a subscription of $ 10 per month. After finding a few initial customers at Burger Kings and Super Duper Burgers, they eventually began to tap into their true target market, the franchisees who represented not only the largest collection of Taylor machine owners, but also those who used the most complex. , most of the time. digital borked version of Taylor’s product: McDonald’s.

In the fall of 2019, as they began to penetrate the baroque cogs of the McDonald’s world, O’Sullivan and Nelson were stunned to learn that most restaurateurs had never looked or even heard of the menu. service that unlocked variables like the temperature of the machine’s hoppers or the glycol used for its ultra-picky pasteurization process. “It was a real ‘aha’ moment,” says Nelson. “Why are these so important features hidden behind this menu that most people don’t know about?”

Meanwhile, many McDonald’s owners were paying Taylor distributors thousands of dollars a month in service fees, often for making simple changes locked behind that menu. So they added a feature to Kytch called Kytch Assist that could automatically detect some of the machine’s common pitfalls as they happened, and modify those hidden variables to prevent some of the crashes before they happened. .

A franchisee, who asked WIRED not to identify him for fear of reprisal from McDonald’s, told me that the ice cream machine at one of his restaurants fell down almost every week due to a mysterious failure during its pasteurization cycle. He had scrutinized the assembly of the machine over and over again, to no avail.

Kytch’s installation almost instantly revealed that an over-relentless employee was putting too much mixture into one of the machine’s hoppers. Today, he wakes up every morning at 5:30 am, picks up his phone and confirms that all his machines have passed their treacherous heat treatment. Another franchisee’s technician told me that even though Kytch has almost doubled its prices over the past two years and added an activation fee of $ 250, it still saves their owner “easy costs.” thousands of dollars per month ”.

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