Competing with (and Losing to) Horchatas and Churros

Competing with (and Losing to) Horchatas and Churros


It was late afternoon the next day when I stopped by the Taza Chocolate Bar. I was surprised to discover a line, at least 20 people long, and an air of excitement.

The Taza staff was working furiously to stay ahead of the queued up customers.

The reason: Taza had posted an event on Facebook promoting a "limited batch of iced chocolate horchata and churros."

The deal: 2 horchatas (an iced beverage traditionally made with rice milk, vanilla, chocolate, and cinnamon) plus 5 mini churros for $15.

You can get a sense of the excitement, and the anticipation from the event's page on Facebook.

This first one was so popular they did three more: promoted here, here, and here

Taza fans, patiently waiting for their horchatas, did not notice the interactive display just inches from their elbows. Visions of horchatas and churros were dancing in their heads. 

On one of the event pages, one participant posted a picture of two young kids enjoying their horchatas and churros. Way in the back, if you look carefully, you can see my display, ignored. 

I had to admit I understood: those horchatas looked good. (The churros, honestly, were too fried dough for me.)

But standing there, I knew that if I wanted to continue my connectivity experiments, the Taza Chocolate Bar probably wasn't the place. These people were here for extreme chocolate bars, chocolately drinks, and sugar-dusted, straightened-out donuts. 

My sobering night at Cambridge Hackspace the previous night had demonstrated that many hardware hackers and technology sophisticates (roughly 50 percent) were uninterested in experimenting at the frontier of smartphone/IoT connectivity. 

So my target audience for this experiment had to be hungry for the tech edge, maybe to a fault.  

It was certainly too much to ask chocaholics, most of whom were likely in search of a low-blood-sugar fix, to switch gears into technology experimentation mode and engage in a challenging smartphone exercise with an incremental payoff.    

So I was not surprised, a few weeks later, when my display didn't make the cut during a renovation of the Chocolate Bar. It was a good run, and a bracing reality check, but it wasn't going anywhere. (And maybe the display was a victim of larger economic forces: within six months the entire Taza Chocolate Bar was closed down, to be replaced by a stripped-down coffee shop.)

The Taza team, sensitive to my disappointment, carefully dismantled the display and packed it in a large brown paper Taza shopping bag.  When I picked it up, I stocked up on Wicked Dark chocolate bars (95% cacao) because I knew I wouldn't be stopping by as often. 

My mourning period didn't last long. 

The next week, visiting a friend in Boston's new Seaport "Innovation District," he pointed out a low-slung building in the midst of the fast-growing skyscrapers: District Hall. 

"It's the innovation community center," he said. "Free WiFi, meetups, that kind of thing."

That sounded like an opportunity. These could be my people. 

A Smartphone Reality Check