Friday, August 7, 2009

Plug-and-Play economy

Lots of people seem to think Starbucks’ new “stealth stores” are creepy

A Seattle outlet of the 16,000-store coffee behemoth is being rebranded without visible Starbucks identifiers, as 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea.

Two other stores in Starbucks’ native Seattle will follow suit, each getting its own name to make it sound more like a neighborhood hangout, less like Big Coffee, a Starbucks official told The Seattle Times on Thursday.

…but imagine that this was playing out differently:

What if Starbucks was offering up a Starbucks API—a set of hooks into a vast, efficient coffee shop support system with incredible economies of scale? You, the local coffee shop owner, simply plug in, and wham, your costs drop by thirty percent because you’re leveraging Starbucks’ insanely optimized supply chain. You can use as much or as little as you want.

The NYT cites the Huffington Post

You can imagine where this un-branding campaign could lead. A little neighborhood burger place run by McDonald’s? A little neighborhood hardware store owned by Home Depot? A little neighborhood five-and-dime operated by Wal-Mart?

…and I find myself thinking, uh, yeah, wouldn’t that be cool? Swap out “run” and “owned,” and put in “powered” and “supported.” Wal-Mart’s back-end is as innovative and important as its front-end. Why not offer it up to indie retailers?

I know it’s a stretch, but consider the analogy: Amazon’s web services have been absolutely transformative in the startup world. You can store files and spin up servers without buying, or committing to, anything. It’s easy to try things and cheap to fail. The notion of plug-in infrastructures just as flexible for other businesses—real-world businesses—run by other goliaths isn’t unsettling. It’s exciting.


That would be awesome. We could have lawyers draft up common legal documents, builders set up commonly used designs for rental fronts, and logistics all planned out. All you need to do is come up with an idea, and outsource everything else.

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