Meditations on Product/Market Fit

Startups, it seems logical to assume, are fueled by coffee. There’s an old expression that mathematicians exist merely to process coffee into theorems. To that I add that programmers simply process coffee into code. There is a cultural connection between coffee and startups, and though it might seem a vague connection at first, once examined you can see its power.

Connecting startups with coffee

Case study: A new Philz Coffee opened last week in the startup-friendly neighborhood where I work. It has been packed since day one. In this neighborhood, there are already two Starbucks, a Coffee Bean with a firepit, a barista heaven called The Refinery, a place called Funnel Mill where they charge $4.50 for an espresso, and a Pain Quotidien that brews a pretty good french press coffee. There are two coworking spaces within a block of each other, four incubators close by, and two more coworking spaces and three more incubators in walking distance.

Does this mean that you can never have enough coffee? Yes, when conditions are right.

On the street where I live there are two Starbucks, a Groundworks, a coffee bar called Luxxe, a barista heaven called Primo Passo, and three Italian restaurants that serve a decent espresso. There is no shortage of coffee, and I wouldn’t be surprised if a new place opened up soon, because the street has a vacation-y feel, populated by startup guys with no regular work hours, writers, and by moms who have dropped the kids off at school and need coffee before they go to work at their startups.

Markets remap neighborhoods

When I lived in New York City you could never walk more than a few blocks without encountering a coffee shop or diner, but we thought nothing of that. What has changed? Coffee has now become connected with a culture. Thank Howard Schultz for repackaging coffee culture and popularizing the Third Place (Home, Work, Piggybank for Howard Schultz). That was the launching pad, but something else, something bigger is happening now.

Create the culture, and you can’t have too much coffee.

Once the culture is established you can have an astounding variety of coffee bars, experiences, coffee-making methods, type of coffee grinders, right down to the spoon you use. The appetite is there. Product/market fit is still meaningful. The margin for error is still small. You still need to hum the right tune. (No Dunkin Donuts have opened in my neighborhood and none likely.) The culture is strong. It is driving this market and remapped  behaviors.

If there were a thriving mime community in my neighborhood there would be dozens of places opening up where aspiring mimes could buy white face paint. Maybe even a mime school or two. Hope not to see that. Prefer coffee.