Starbucks should be the new transit hub

A physical retailer has never before had the opportunity to be a critical part of the Internet’s connective tissue. The core of how a fast casual restaurant works should get rebuilt from scratch to serve the needs of a world built around transportation as an Internet connected service.

I’m reminded of a tweet by Benedict Evans:

Historically we’ve seen the Internet largely upend retail’s core advantages and commoditize search, discovery, and fulfillment of products. This hasn’t happened in the fast casual restaurant market (e.g. Starbucks, Chipotle, etc…). The needs around choosing and consuming food very close to the preparation and pickup point means that the advantages that Amazon brings to e-commerce have largely not touched these businesses.

We’re entering a new world. Transportation is becoming a service. Cities will be reshaped around this.

What should the Starbucks of the future look like? It should look more like a transit hub and less like a place to sit and enjoy coffee. I’d suggest this new transit hub would have these following consumer advantages for transportation network passengers:

  1. Faster passenger pickup times. (These hubs are like “Lyft Hotspots” in that they aggregate people and make the networks themselves more efficient at pickup, carpooling, and routing.)
  2. Cheaper passenger fares. (same reason as 1)
  3. “Take out” and “drive-thru” coffee and fast casual food from the hub. Order from a networked car and receive your coffee or food handed-off curbside as your networked vehicle arrives.
  4. A locker for package pickup that aggregates passengers and reworks last-mile delivery. Maybe passengers have a virtual mailing address at a hub they pass every day and that’s where they have Amazon send packages.

Building a transit hub and network like this is hard, but owning these physical locations (nodes) has a strong network effect to it and will be really valuable. Uber, Waymo, Tesla, Lyft, Cruise, or some combination of these competitors may win at being a (the?) major transportation network provider. This new transit hub wins regardless. I can imagine these hubs dotting the landscape of cities and building network advantages by aggregating passengers and the providers who serve the needs of these people.

So I believe that Starbucks should be the new transit hub. But I’m guessing they won’t adapt fast enough to the workflows, unique real estate requirements, and partnership needs required to serve this use case today. And if they won’t do it, maybe it’s a startup opportunity! I spent about a year with my friend Tim Courrejou working on a project looking to address this, but ultimately, we decided not to pursue it. I think it takes excellence in building a new experience and brand in the food service industry to do this well as a startup. It’s less of a pure consumer behavior technology business and more of a food-service, real-estate, brand, operational execution, and robotics business which gets efficiency from technology.

If you’re interested in thinking about a project like this and you’re an individual or team well-suited to solve these problems come talk to me. I’d be happy to share what we’ve learned.

Thanks to Carlos Whitt, Tim Courrejou, Raymond Tonsing, Jen Yip, Mike Chu, Avichal Garg, Product Pep, and Hunter Horsley for feedback on this idea and writing.

Like what you read? Give David King a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.