Coffitivity.com “streams the ambient noise of a coffee shop to your desktop or device to boost your creativity.” The idea for Coffitivity was developed here in Richmond by two VCU grads who met and became business partners while working on their degrees in Entrepreneurship, ACe Callwood and Justin Kauszler. For their second start-up idea, ACe and Justin have seen almost instant success with Coffitivity. The site officially launched on March 4, 2013, and has already seen national recognition in TIME Magazine’s 50 Best Websites of 2013, INC Magazine, Popular Science, and lifehacker. I caught up with ACe briefly last week to learn more about Coffitivity and where they see the project moving in the future.
How did you come up with the idea for Coffitivity?
Coffitivity actually started with Cycle Stay (ACe and Justin’s first startup), funnily enough. We designed a bike rack with a built-in security system. We conceptualized it – we quickly found out that we’re not engineers and couldn’t build it. Before we decided to kill the project, we were rebranding – bouncing between Urban Farmhouse, Shockoe – which is a little quieter – and Crossroads, Lamplighter, the normal suspects (a laundry list of Richmond coffee shops for those of you out-of-towners). Justin went back to the office after a long weekend of working and was like, “Dude, it’s too quiet in here.” I had recently read a White Paper on ambient noise that said a moderate level of noise boosts creativity. So after being denied taking his desktop to the coffee shop, I got a call and email from Justin with this idea to bring the coffee shop to the desktop. . . which I initially told him was the worst idea he ever had and we were absolutely not doing it. And he pushed back with a, “Well… we’re doing it anyway.” So we played “Rock, Paper, Scissors” to decide who was going to learn how to code. Maybe we’re naive or just have a stubborn, “we can learn anything,” mentality, but it was a crazy turnaround. It took about a month to learn, from non-tech to technical and actually built. We picked up a designer on the way, a good friend of ours, who did all of the design work and Justin did the backend site build.
What has your site traffic been like since the launch?
The day we launched we had about 100 page views – mostly friends and family. The second day, our traffic just blew up – we had 45,000 page views… crashed our server. After bumping up our hosting plan, we’re at about 1.7 million page views with 650,000 unique users.
Where did the traffic come from?
Traffic came from Y Combinator’s Hacker News. It’s basically “reddit for tech,” if you will. So it’s a huge accelerator – they just post cool things in the tech world. Tommy, our fourth developer, posted Coffitivity on the forum and it got to the front page for about two days. So from there, lifehacker picked us up, Popular Science, the tech guys. Then a couple of months out, we ended up in TIME Magazine’s 50 Best Websites of 2013, completely unexpected – we had no idea. Then INC Magazine popped up as well. That came out a couple of days ago. We’re still wrapping our heads around it.
How have you been able to grow Coffitivity in the digital space?
We’re part of 80amps – we call it an “incubator accelerator,” but we try not to call it an incubator accelerator. It’s a cool place where people build cool shit. The concept is that we build brands and the technologies that support them. The founding investor for 80amps is Martin Agency, so we’ve had the opportunity to work with some really talented producers, developers and writers from Martin. We’ve got some cool things coming out – an iOS app is coming out that will allow you to mix your music with Coffitivity on your phone offline, a mac app that Martin built that allows you to just click your hot key, adjust volume, and change tracks.
What makes Coffitivity work for people?
People connect with coffee shops for a lot of different reasons, so it’s much more than the academic side of ambient noise making you more creative. Whether it’s, “I come to the coffee shop and I’m out of the office, and that makes me feel better. I can get work done because I’m not supposed to be getting work done.” Or if it’s, “Hey, there’s chatter, it makes me more creative.” We try not to lock people into using it for one specific reason. Whatever makes coffee shop noises work for you, we’ll take it.