Community News Network

March 25, 2014

Coffee's third wave? The Apple to Starbucks' Microsoft

(Continued)

NEW YORK —

For all the minimalism, though, Blue Bottle's affect somehow comes off as warm and fuzzy. Like Apple, Blue Bottle assumes that the best customer experience is one in which all of the hard decisions have been made — correctly — in advance. To paraphrase Steve Jobs, people don't know what they want in a cappuccino until you serve it to them.

So how does one find out about a Blue Bottle café in one's neighborhood? Well, at peak caffeinating hours, there are lines snaking out the door like an Apple Store on the morning of an iPhone launch. That's what first attracted Bryan Meehan, the entrepreneur behind the organic grocery chain Fresh and Wild, to the company's Ferry Building location. "I was drawn to it first by how long the lines were, and then by how great the coffee was," Meehan told me. "And then I was struck by how quiet the brand is. … The bags are completely sustainable, the coffee's mostly organic, but they don't feel the need to communicate that. It's a different way of marketing one's values, just through living them."

Meehan was so smitten that he arranged to meet with Freeman to ask if he might be willing to take on a few individual investors who could help him expand. When Freeman agreed, Meehan approached his friend Tony Conrad, the founder of About.me and a partner in the San Francisco early-stage capital firm True Ventures. Freeman's vision wowed Conrad, too, and his partners were as intrigued as he was. Soon True Ventures was considering investing in Blue Bottle as a firm.

Venture capital was not meant to fund coffee shops. The VC concept emerged from Silicon Valley in the 1960s and '70s as a way to get semiconductor companies through the expensive research-and-development phase so that they could one day realize immense profits by revolutionizing computing. Over the decades, VC firms have widened their interests to include all sorts of companies that rely on technology or the Internet to grow more rapidly than would be possible for a traditional brick-and-mortar enterprise. But it's only in the past few years that a few have begun to venture into the realms of retail, restaurants, and beverage companies. And those investments remain controversial.

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