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March 25, 2014

Coffee's third wave? The Apple to Starbucks' Microsoft

(Continued)

NEW YORK —

The deeper business story here may be that concepts like startups and venture capital are no longer the exclusive province of the high-technology industry. As an ever-growing pool of VC money chases the hot new thing, open-minded investors are beginning to realize that the smartest money may no longer be on ad-supported social media companies, let alone semiconductors. "We're never going to get a WhatsApp outcome with Blue Bottle," Conrad admits. "But we're also not going to get the 40- to 80-percent chance of a flameout that you see in tech investments."

Investors are also recognizing that tech itself is no longer as clear-cut a category as it once was. We call Amazon a tech company, but is it really? When every company is on the Internet, how do we decide which are Internet companies? Blue Bottle's expansion so far has focused on brick-and-mortar cafés, but it's entirely possible that its greatest future growth will come from selling coffee online, via the slick website that it redesigned with the help of Google Ventures. Meanwhile, it has begun selling portable versions of its New Orleans-style iced coffee via Whole Foods.

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Oremus is a Slate staff writer, reporting on technology and digital culture.

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