Posts for Innovation Category

Let’s Make it Official: Starbucks Should be the Next Big Thing In Coworking

blog, Innovation - Monique Woodard
Another day at Starbucks by Ed Yourdon, on Flickr

Photo credit: Ed Yourdon, Flickr

When 6 out of 10 of the world’s most valuable brands are tech companies, you can understand why non-tech consumer brands would want some of that tech fairy dust to rub off on them.

The Starbucks highlight reel is full of examples where the brand has used technology to connect with their customers and give them the best experience both in-store and online. Chief Digital Officer Adam Brotman has pushed forward a digital strategy that smartly combines web, mobile, social, and in-store to make them one of the most tech-focused food and beverage brands. They made a $25 million investment in Square, using their technology to power their POS system and the CEO of Starbucks took a year-long board seat at the payments company. The Starbucks mobile app is one of the most downloaded from a food and beverage company, with mobile payments making up 14% of their in-store sales. They’ve rolled out wireless charging stations in some Silicon Valley locations and their Clover brewing machines are controlled from the cloud.

Starbucks has also been acquiring companies and taking steps to make themselves more than the place where you get your morning coffee fix. They’ve  introduced beer and wine in select locations to extend patronage into the evening and acquired La Boulange bakery to improve their food selections. Since acquiring Teavana, the chain is taking advantage of America’s growing tea culture by opening Teavana Fine Teas + Tea Bar locations in both New York and Seattle.

But Americans still spend the largest part of their day doing one thing — working. And as more people embrace freelance careers and entrepreneurship, the need for permanent office space has declined while the hunt for flexible workplaces has risen.

Coworking and the new gig economy

I live in a building that has a Starbucks in the lobby. When I go downstairs for my daily macchiato, I run into startup founders, I overhear lots of business chatter, and I can look over at the next Macbook and see lines of code being written. I’ve been known to take many meetings over a latte or bring my work there for the silent companionship that I can’t get at my home office. Starbucks isn’t just for coffee anymore. It has become the de facto workspace for the creative class and in urban cities like San Francisco, it is a gathering place for entrepreneurs, freelancers, and anyone who doesn’t need to be tethered to a desk.

According to an Intuit report on the future of small business, over 40% of the US workforce will be freelance, temporary, part-time, contract, or specialists by the year 2020.

The US government hasn’t counted this growing sector of the workforce since 2006, but even then, there numbers were impressive — 42.6 million or 30% of the total workforce were these non-permanent or contingent workers. Today, more than 80% of large corporations report that they plan to increase their use of contingent workers in the coming years.

As the number of freelance and contingent workers has risen, so has the of number of people starting small businesses. There are almost 28 million small businesses in the US and 52% of all small businesses are home based or without formal office space.

A growing number of entrepreneurs and CEO’s have begun to embrace the ‘coffee shop as office’ concept not only for themselves, but for their employees as well.

The shift to mobile devices and cloud technology combined with the ubiquitous availability of broadband has made location flexibility feasible for many more types of workers. Technology has helped make the worker sitting in a Starbucks in SoMa just as connected as the one sitting in her cubicle. She can share documents using Dropbox, use the Asana app to update you on her progress from her smartphone, and be an active part of your weekly team meeting via Google Hangout.

The future of work is more independent than ever before and as the global workforce shifts to freelance, many of them will be looking for a place to set up shop.

How much better could Starbucks make that experience by taking the office hack that people are already doing and improving the time that workers spend in their location?

The business model behind coffee + coworking

Starbucks branded coworking spaces would exist completely outside the current retail locations and provide flexible workspaces on an hourly, daily, weekly, or monthly basis. And of course, the coffee would be discounted with a monthly pass.

These spaces would be customized to meet the needs of the technologically savvy and  untethered worker. Desks and seating areas that are more conducive to spending long hours in front of a laptop. Nooks with privacy screens for more intimate conversations. Faster wi-fi. Better lighting. More power outlets. Please god, more power outlets. Allow customers to both pay for their coworking time and order up a frappuccino directly from the Starbucks mobile app.

These coworking spaces would merge the independent worker’s pre-existing affinity for the Starbucks brand with more desk space and the human desire for community and camaraderie. Independent workers have already adopted Starbucks as their unofficial office space and they will pay for something they’re already doing for free if it provides a better experience.

Challenges of real estate and operations

Coffee plus coworking isn’t a new concept. The biggest challenge has been getting the economics to work out. And despite what you might see in your neighborhood coffee shop, Starbucks isn’t in the coworking business, they’re in the coffee-selling business.

Running a coworking space isn’t a trivial task. There are both real estate and operational challenges to consider. The larger footprint required would mean increased real estate costs for the company. Coworking spaces would need to be located in urban business corridors where their storefronts can generate foot traffic with street frontage and prominent signage.

Starbucks is great at running coffee shops, but bona fide coworking would be a new concept. They could partner with a company whose business is coworking to manage the operational aspects that make these spaces work. The partner would contribute market knowledge, operational expertise, and agility while Starbucks contributes the firepower of a global brand.

Started from the Bottom: Garages to Coffee Shops

The Menlo Park garage where Google started

Larry Page and Sergey Brin in the Menlo Park garage where they started Google

Even though technology keeps us constantly connected, I can tell you that being an independent worker can be a lonely business. There is no office water cooler where you gather to exchange industry gossip, trade contacts, or help your fellow worker. Social media and industry blogs give back some of those connections, but shared working spaces foster those face-to-face interactions that create community and help those in the new economy remain connected to other professionals.

Creating this new type of Starbucks experience is less about coworking or even about freeing up space in the retail stores taken up by customers who camp out for hours at a time. It positions Starbucks as a brand that understands the modern consumer and the place of work and community in our evolving lifestyle.

The tech company that started in a garage is a very Silicon Valley story. Apple famously started in a Los Altos garage. Google started in Susan Wojcicki’s garage in Menlo Park. Much further north, Jeff Bezos started Amazon out of his garage in the suburbs of Seattle.

With more people starting tech companies and barriers to entry lower than ever, the next wave of startup mythos could very well be the story of the billion dollar company that started in a Starbucks.

Starbucks, when you roll out these coworking spaces, I only have one request: don’t make the music suck.


Yo dawg, I heard you like Starbucks

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There, Not There: Anonymity and Timebox Constraints as Catalysts for Innovation

Before SnapChat, we lived with the understanding that things we shared on the internet were permanent and potentially public. Somewhere, somehow, they lived on in someone’s photo stream or in a hamster-driven server farm where they were waiting to creep back up on us just as we were plotting our run for political office.

SnapChat’s self-destructing photos and videos have given us back some semblance of privacy and encrypted text message apps like Wickr have made it easier to share sensitive information with people we trust.

Where Google+ and Facebook are increasingly reliant on online identities being connected to our ‘real’ names (sometimes to the detriment of marginalized people who want a layer of discretion), the current breed of mobile-first social platforms based around a username or no name at all, have given us the freedom to make new distinctions between public, private, and so private that it’s very presence is fleeting.

When it works, the rise of anonymous sharing and ephemerality have been able to give us back the illusion of privacy and the gift of free expression. When it doesn’t, we see just how exposed we really are.

The effects of apps like Secret and Whisper can also be seen in the ripples through our real-time interactions. Recently, an anonymous post on Secret exposed accusations of sexism and launched an internal investigation inside one of the tech industry’s most respected startups.

Anonymous apps haven’t come without criticism. Venture capitalist, Marc Andreessen, and tech journalist, Paul Carr, have both questioned the ethics behind these apps.


The criticism is valid. Like any platform that allows user anonymity, these apps can be a breeding grounds for gossip and mean-spirited interactions.

But despite the potential for trolling, anonymity is extremely useful for sharing things that could get you fired or even cause you harm. There are still places in this world where a 16 year old queer teenager doesn’t have access to an LGBTQ community of their peers and can’t share their feelings without being safe from violence. There are still places in this world where a woman has no voice or her voice is limited by her gender. When whistleblowers fear for their personal and professional safety, virtual anonymity can be used to give them a place where they can make their voices heard without fear of retribution.

I believe that the risk is worth the gain. Let’s not forget that these are fairly new products. You have to allow Secret – still under 6 months old – the opportunity to find its level. Both Secret and Whisper have the power to be more impactful than they are today. Many products started out as something that felt trivial and less ambitious but grew into systems of great impact.

Products like SnapChat, Secret, and Whisper can push us beyond sexting and spilling industry tea. Their privacy and lack of permanence have the power to make us more honest, more creative, and more apt to use technology to safely express who we are in a very specific moment in time.


Pilot Projects as Time Constraints in the Physical World


San Francisco's Living Innovation Zone

Acoustic whispering dishes exhibit in San Francisco’s Living Innovation Zone

Technology makes it easy for things to disappear, but there is this idea that objects that inhabit public space have to be permanent. But eliminate the constraint of permanency, and how creative could you be?

San Francisco’s preexisting parklet permit and the newer Living Innovation Zone permit are two pieces of policy that create flexible frameworks that give people and organizations the opportunity to express themselves on city-owned space with projects of varying permanence.

The Living Innovation Zone (LIZ) project is an example of local government getting creative with public space. Created in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Civic Innovation, Planning Department, Department of Public Works, Yerba Buena Community Benefits District, and the Exploratorium, the first Living Innovation Zone on Market Street at Yerba Buena Lane was launched as a pilot to activate city-owned property and highlight innovative technologies and creative projects.

Pilot projects in the physical world can provide us with smaller scale and short-term opportunities to iterate and improve on a project before scaling it to a wider audience. In the first LIZ, the Exploratorium worked with the City “to build an interactive educational experience on the city sidewalks that open people’s eyes and illuminate how the world works.” This first Living Innovation Zone was started with the expectation that it would be an installation that would change as time went on with new pieces that bring innovation to the street and create opportunities for interaction.

One unexpected byproduct of the first Living Innovation Zone is the serendipitous exchanges that happen. I’ve seen musicians giving impromptu street performances inside the boundaries of the LIZ and strangers who speak different languages talking to each other inside the whispering dishes.

Future Living Innovation Zones will take on the personality of the neighborhood and the partners who make it happen. A LIZ helmed by a water conservation nonprofit could display new methods of recycling waste water and better using our resources. A LIZ helmed by a technology company could showcase maker technology by 3-D printing in public space or heatmap the spread of Twitter messages across the world and identify real-time social movements.

Cities are stewards of public space, but they can become even better stewards by embracing iteration and creating frameworks that move bureaucracy out of the way and allow more people to gain value from our public spaces.

Pop-ups: Activating Temporary Space to Change the Urban Landscape

Even before the current revitalization of Mid-Market, retail and hospitality pop-up, A Temporary Offering (ATO), was an agent of change in a San Francisco neighborhood that was more known for its urban blight than its restaurants and bars.

This project from The Kor Group was one of the first to identify underutilized locations in the Mid-Market neighborhood and use short-term leases to inspire innovative use of space. The Kor Group acquired the Renoir Hotel with the intent to turn the run down hotel into a 4-star property. But before taking on the multi-million dollar remodel, the developers created a pop-up partnership with local entrepreneurs to activate the previously boarded up ground floor retail space.Through ATO, Kor embraced an investment model that eschewed the long leases preferred by most real estate developers for more temporary spaces that embraced agility and allowed entrepreneurs to experiment and iterate on themes.

The transitory nature of the space gave makers, chefs, and bartenders a time period during which they could experiment with new ideas and then take the concepts that work and roll them into their more permanent endeavors.

ATO’s presence in the Mid-Market neighborhood gave birth to a FoodLab helmed restaurant with a rotating lineup of chefs, a Southwestern themed bar from The Bon Vivants, and several experimental retail projects, including a youth culture driven high-end denim boutique.

A Temporary Offering - Holy Stitch

Youth denim pop-up Holy Stitch at A Temporary Offering

Although ATO has mostly disappeared from the area, their brand of temporary space activation contributed to urban revitalization in a challenging neighborhood with new permanent retail in the form of the aspirational – Huckleberry Bicycles – to the practical – a much-needed CVS drugstore.

Like venture capital, urban real estate development is known for long-term, big money investment and the resulting big money wins. Projects like A Temporary Offering show that there is a model for shorter term investments that work together with local government to identify areas of blight and bring about necessary revitalization.

These types of neighborhood revitalization projects might not warrant long-term investment but can piggyback on longer-term projects and create a short-term strategy that revitalizes urban areas.

How can you use constraints to drive innovation?

Embrace pilots and pop-ups. Projects that lack permanence are low barrier and low risk. Retail has embraced the pop-up shopping experience, but a pop-up can be anything – a temporary art installation, a weekend startup accelerator, a day-long experiment in urban prototyping.

These types of projects work because they lower the risk threshold. When you take away the constraint of permanence, you have the freedom to create something without the expectation that you have to do it forever. You can quickly learn from these short-term projects and roll those lessons into your more permanent projects.

Give yourself a finite time to create something new. If your usual product development cycle is 2 months, see what happens if you shave it down to 3 weeks. Could you write an entire book in a month? NaNoWriMo is an entire month dedicated to seeing if you can. When you put yourself on a tight timeline, you create a sense of urgency that keeps your project focused. That doesn’t mean that you work around the clock and try to cram in the same amount of output. It means that you work on making more efficient use of time and changing elements and eliminating pieces in order to make more creative choices.

Forcing yourself to ship quickly and often eliminates a lot of the navel-gazing and poor decision making (or non-decision making) that goes into creating something new.

Eliminate features. Feature elimination is the prettier, sexier, but more difficult to capture adversary of feature creep. It’s tempting to want to throw everything into a release, but having fewer elements yields much more elegant products.

Even features that seem necessary might not be less necessary than you think. What if you eliminated the need for names in your product? First eliminate the real name, then eliminate the username. This was a key part of Secret from the get-go, but other applications could be interestingly affected by small doses of anonymity.

Launch lots of little experiments. Some will be winners and some will be dogs, but launching lots of small things and iterating quickly makes constant improvement a part of your process. Experiments work best when you’re trying to prove out hypotheses. You need to constantly be in search of the ‘do-over’. You’ll learn from every experiment and be able to roll those learnings into the next experiment until those small proof points turn into a larger project.

Experiments also distribute the risk among many projects of smaller scale instead of betting it all on one grand idea and having it fail in some epic, career-ending implosion. If the experiment is low-cost and doesn’t require a lot of resources, it’s much easy to get executive buy-in as you prove your way forward.

Accepting constraints and even creating them can allow us to tap into a deeper creativity. I’m inspired by artist Phil Hansen who was diagnosed with a neurological disorder that made his hands shake. Instead of quitting art school and throwing his creative dreams aside, he made art that took his now permanent hand tremor and turned it into something special. How much more creative could we all be if we embraced the shake?


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What do the fashion execs at Apple mean for wearable tech?

blog, Innovation - Monique Woodard

What do the fashion execs at Apple mean for wearable tech?

In the last year, Apple has poached two high-profile fashion execs. Yves Saint Laurent CEO Paul Deneve back in July and this week, Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts. Ahrendts was instrumental in increasing Burberry’s retail footprint and is joining Apple to head up retail operations.

One is an anomaly, but a matching set begs the question: is Apple a luxury company? Now more than ever.

Apple has flirted with the low end of the market with not great results. In the iWatch space, competing on price point seems like a nonstarter. With Samsung already off and running with the Galaxy Gear watch at $299, there’s only going to be so much pricing differentiation that the market can bear.

Instead, Apple is positioning itself as a luxury brand that can be fashionable enough to be worn alongside a Burberry trench or with a pair of YSL Tributes.

If wearables are going to make it to the mass market, then they have to be something that more than geeks are willing to wear.

They have to be cute.

A phone is functional — you need it. I’d make the argument that you don’t need a watch. I haven’t worn one in over a decade.

But both Samsung and Apple are sending clear signals that their wearables are a fashion item. Samsung had a big presence during the Spring runway shows, putting the Galaxy on the runway in New York, London, and even South Africa Fashion Week.

The other big player in wearables, Google, has made a few high profile forays into fashion. Right now, Google Glass makes you look asinine. In future iterations of Glass, I believe they’ll go the opposite way. Instead of making them more beautiful, they’ll make Glass so unobtrusive that they fade into the background.

Even the way you buy a luxury item is very different from the way you buy a phone or a laptop. It’s more tactile, emotional, and visceral. It’s going to be interesting to see how Angela Ahrendts brings her experience in creating an aspirational brand to the Apple store experience.

Risky but right

Ahrendts and Deneve are two high-profile fashion executives who both come with a high price tag. These are risky hires, but they’re a move toward Apple investing in wearables and embracing it’s position as a luxury brand.

For shareholders, that has to be justified by the impact of wearables on the entire business — not just one iWatch product but an overall closer alignment between technology and fashion and thinking of Apple as the first luxury tech brand.

Wearables will eventually be the way that we interact with most of our technology. Why would you carry a phone when you can wear it inside a piece of clothing?

But for wearables to become a mainstream thing, fashion companies and tech companies will need to be more closely aligned than ever. Technology companies have to continue putting more emphasis on making beautiful things and fashion companies have to figure out how to make their beautiful things functional.

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What if every auto purchase came with…

blog, Innovation - Monique Woodard

What if every auto purchase came with the assumption that you were going to share it?

What if every auto purchase came with the assumption that you were going to share it? Would that change the way you buy?

READ: Getting a Piece: Brands and the Sharing Economy

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