Several weeks ago, a New York fitness startup, Aaptiv, installed a new, high-tech water cooler in its downtown offices. The five-foot-tall, Internet-connected contraption dispenses still or sparkling water, and still or sparkling flavored water, with hints of fruits and vegetables. In other words, it’s LaCroix on tap. Before the machine arrived, Aaptiv had been swept up in the same post-cola craze that turned the sparkling-with-a-hint-of-pamplemousse beverage, beloved by Midwestern moms, into a pop-culture icon, referenced in Halloween costumes and T-shirts demanding that girls choose “LaCroixs Over Boys.”
“We were going through so many cans of LaCroix every day it was ridiculous,” Aaptiv’s employee-experience manager, Kate Blain, recalled. She discovered Bevi, the company that makes the new water coolers, at a networking event, and campaigned to have her office acquire one. “It was a little sad how excited I was to get it,” she said. “I did a post on Instagram: ‘I finally got my Bevi!’ ”
To mark the occasion, Bevi decided to throw a party at Aaptiv’s offices. (The company does this sometimes.) One Friday evening, a d.j. blasted Billboard Top Fifties from a standing desk, while Aaptiv’s employees, dressed in sneakers and hoodies, perched on stools or lounged on ivory-colored sofas. Near the snack cupboard, like a squat refrigerator, was the new Bevi, which dispensed water with four flavor options: lemon, coconut, pear, and blueberry-cucumber. (Flavors are typically made by boiling the peels of fruits and vegetables.) Clients select their machine’s flavors from a list of twelve options; Bevi employees can monitor the levels from their desks. The setup starts at around four hundred dollars a month.
Two Bevi representatives—Jenny Seto and Avi Greenberg—had set up a bar in Aaptiv’s kitchen, with a mise en place for fizzy-water cocktails: Mason jars, fresh mint and lime wedges, vodka, and rum. “Are you guys making it for us?” an Aaptiv employee asked.
“We’ll start ’em for you,” Greenberg said, muddling some lime and mint in a Mason jar. Seto added a dash of rum. “And then you head over to the Bevi machine and add coconut sparkling,” Greenberg said, pointing to the cooler. The machine’s touch screen read “May the Pour Be with You.”
Three people huddled around the Bevi, taking group selfies. “Can we get a Boomerang of us cheers-ing?” a young woman asked. They lifted their cups.
Sean Grundy, Bevi’s co-founder and C.E.O., who is thirty-four, wandered into the party, wearing a blue-and-white gingham shirt. He grabbed a compostable plastic cup with the beginnings of a soda-water mojito. Grundy and his fellow co-founders, Eliza Becton and Frank Lee, teamed up in 2013, while Grundy was studying at the M.I.T. Sloan School of Management. He had just quit his job at an environmental-conservation group, and Becton, a mechanical engineer turned designer, was passionate about replacing disposable water bottles. The trio created a Bevi prototype and parked it at a gym in Somerville, Massachusetts.
“Our first machine was super bootleg,” Grundy said. “We purchased a vending machine, built this white plastic frame around it, and then hacked a touch screen into it.” It broke down all the time. Despite this, some of the gym members inquired about installing a machine in their offices. The thirst for water with bubbles in it seemed unquenchable. “We got twelve companies in Boston to sign up for the second version,” Grundy said. Now more than two thousand offices across the U.S., Canada, and Hong Kong have a Bevi installed, including the fictional Pied Piper office from the HBO show “Silicon Valley.” The company estimates that in the last year or so they’ve helped save twenty-five million bottles and cans.
Blain, the employee-experience manager, said of the flavor options, “I treat it like I’m taking my SATs. I have to sit and think, Do I want the strawberry lemongrass, or the coconut?”
Danny Groner, Aaptiv’s director of communications, said that the machine was helping him drink more water, which he called “about as boring an option as you can get.”
“Water boredom” is a concept Grundy didn’t fully appreciate until recently, he said. “There’s a whole subset of people who don’t like water and they also, for health reasons, don’t want to drink super sugary drinks,” he explained. “We track those things, we try to understand.”
People at the office party were starting to indulge in a little bit of dancing. Some had moved on from Bevi cocktails to shots and glasses of bourbon.
“Technically, I’m going to the gym after this,” Grundy muttered.
“Good luck with that!” Seto said. ♦
This article appears in the print edition of the August 27, 2018, issue, with the headline “Bubbly.”