I wish I’d thought of that. Operation Starbucks.

I should have thought of it first. I walked into Starbucks one afternoon. Ok. Ok. I do this every afternoon, but something was different this time. Something really neat was going on.

At a large wooden table sat a man with a laptop. I’m sure you can picture that. But this man had a stack of Starbucks gift cards laid out neatly to form an arrow. The arrow pointed to an iPad that was being used as a sign. The sign read “Test my App and Coffee’s on Jim.”


I’ve never been shy of giving people feedback. I don’t have a great filter and before KickoffLabs made any money free coffee sounded good to me. Jim saw me coming out of the corner of his eye and stopped what he was doing to introduce himself. He was working on an educational iPad app to teach kids basic math. He asked me to play through a couple of levels and tell him what I thought.

He got an earful. I hope it was useful for him because I enjoyed the free coffee. It was such a great idea. I watched him go through the same process with about 10 people including some parents with kids that afternoon. So, for $50, he got a ton of great feedback and only had to drive to a local Starbucks. Everyone should do it, but if you do…

1. Don’t forget to get email addresses for people that come by. They could become customers and evangelists.

2. He never asked if I’d give him money today for it. He got feedback from someone he didn’t know would be a paying customer or not. He didn’t even ask me if I had kids.

I’ve also heard this works just as well before you write any code. Use the cards to get people to take a survey and validate some of your assumptions before you build anything. I wish I’d thought of it sooner.

16 responses to “I wish I’d thought of that. Operation Starbucks.”

  1. Saria says:

    Awesome! Great idea – I wish I would’ve run into him, I love free coffee. Free anything, actually.


  2. Ivan Savov says:

    That is a great strategy for any “user facing” app or product. Think about it — for 3$ you would probably get 10-15 minutes of someone’s attention (at the right time) so it is a very affordable way to user test.

    Do you remember what the math game was called?
    Was it any good? I would be interested to check it out.

    • joshledgard says:

      I wish I did. It wasn’t released yet and he got me past the load screen quickly. He was actually had it working without final art or anything on his local iPad.

  3. Joe says:

    It’s a fantastic idea, and it ostensibly seems like a win-win-win between developer, tester, and Starbucks.

    However, I’m wondering if Starbuck would come up with a reason to prohibit this sort of activity, perhaps on grounds of solicitation.

  4. jjohn says:

    The future is doing it online like http://www.youeye.com

    • joshledgard says:

      Call me old school, but I’ve done UserTesting.com and there is just something about the ability to watch and interact live with someone that just can’t be replicated yet.

  5. sime says:

    My colleagues and I would call this a coffee test.

    The novel thing is the gift cards shaped into an arrow.

    I dig it 🙂

  6. Guerrilla user experience research like this is an awesome way to get very quick and very useful information. You can use it to get usability feedback, like Jim was doing. You can use it to conduct quick 1:1 interviews to learn more about how someone does something or what their opinion is about something. If you want to be fancy about it, you can call it a “café intercept”. I’ve used this method many times to gather feedback, or just to help me figure out what it is that I know and don’t know and how to move forward.

    I’ve found that it’s rarely useful to ask people whether they’d give you money for an application in this kind of situation. People’s answers about whether they’ll pay for it and the reality of parting with their money are two very different things, and there’s often insufficient correlation between the answers given and their actual behavior. When they know that you’re the person who has worked on it, they’re much more likely to give you a positive answer (and an inflated value, if you ask how much they’d pay for it).

    Likewise, I wouldn’t ask for anyone’s email address. People are likely to give their email address if you ask for it, but then there’s a high risk of them viewing your follow-up emails as spam. It’s better to give them a business card so that they have to take action.

  7. Benjamin says:

    Old idea, but i bet he gets better feedback than from his family. I recall the first time I thought about usability lab was after hearing a presentation from ALA Chicago 2009. We were going to bribe college students to test our loan apps.

  8. x4m says:

    Hi! Sounds like a great idea..but something seems strange to me. And it’s not about greed or something.
    In my city (Yekaterinburg, Russia), I get such offers regulary. In cafes, malls, even in libraries. Most of the time someone want exchange my opinion on some kind of sweets (usualy it’s 200-300g box), coffee, bakery. Still I hadn’t accept any offer. 5-7 years ago they were offering beer and other acohol beverages, but now it’s banned unless it’s taking place in restaurant. And restaurant’s don’t want to see these promoting people.

    But I think if offers were about checking up software, I’d thought a bit more, even may be accepted offer and kicked app a bit. Usually they want to know what I think on household things, politics, photography, general psychology things etc…

    Unfortunatly, there is no Starbucks in Yekaterinburg yet…

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