The Starbucks Test

Marc Randolph
3 min readMay 19

A cup of coffee could be the fastest way to the perfect pitch.

One of the most important things you can do as an entrepreneur is get your idea out of your head. That means you’ve got to pitch.

Whether it’s a high-stakes presentation to a venture capitalist, an attempt to convince a key hire to come on board, or simply the dinner table conversation where you explain to your parents why you’re dropping out of college to follow your dreams — you need to learn how to communicate your idea clearly. That won’t happen by bouncing it around in your head. You need to see how real people react, where they get confused, what excites them.

For consumer-facing products or services, one of the best places for that to happen is Starbucks.

I call it “the Starbucks Test”: grab your laptop, set up shop at a Starbucks table, and approach someone in line. Offer to buy their coffee in exchange for their time. The deal? They listen to your two-minute pitch and spend a few more minutes discussing their thoughts with you.

Do this 20 times, and in a few hours, for about $100, you’ll gain priceless insights. Chances are it will be even more cost effective than that, since you’ll probably get all the answers you need after just a few conversations.

The key is asking the right questions. Skip the generic “What do you think?” Instead, ask pointed questions like:

  • “After hearing that pitch, tell me: What does our company do?”
  • “How does the service work?”
  • “Who might use this, and for what purpose?”
  • “Would you want to use it? Why? For what?”

The answers to these questions will reveal the clarity of your messaging, as well as your future customers’ pain points, needs, and desires.

Not a Coffeehouse Product? No Problem!

If your product doesn’t fit the Starbucks setting, find a better place where your potential customers congregate. For CPG products targeting supermarket shoppers, hang out in grocery store aisles. For dental products, try a dentist’s waiting room.

If you’re already in business, an even easier way is to get feedback is on your company’s customer service line. Almost every new product I’ve launched was preceded by countless hours with a headset on, attending to customer queries, and then asking “do you have a few more minutes for me to run something by you?

But regardless of whether you’re in a Starbucks, a supermarket, or a customer service cubicle, make sure you don’t dig in. The whole point of low-stakes settings is to give you the chance to test different messaging, different feature priorities, different wording. Iterate rather than stagnate.

Consider television infomercials. They cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce. But as hokey and ad hoc as they appear, I promise you that before they call “action”, every one of those pitches has been refined through months of live demonstrations in malls, at county fairs, and in Costco aisles.

The best pitchmen continuously hone their spiel by observing people’s reactions, purchases, and walk-aways. It’s a process that every entertainer is familiar with. Even the most brilliant comedians spend countless hours in small clubs, workshopping their jokes to create the perfect Netflix special.

You’re no different. Whether you’re trying to land a joke or sell a George Foreman Grill, the best way to come up with that perfect pitch is simply practice, practice, practice.

I’ve learned that the mark of a great entrepreneur isn’t the brilliance of their ideas. It’s their ability to devise quick, cheap, and easy ways to validate those ideas with real people.

So, the next time you’re seeking validation for your idea or looking to craft the perfect pitch, stop dreaming about it. Instead, treat a stranger to a decaf grande non-fat extra hot latte. It’s the quickest, cheapest, and easiest way to collide your idea with reality.

Many ideas in this post were first discussed in the Neverland entrepreneurial community. Join us there!

Don’t miss another word. Sign up here to get these posts in your inbox

Marc Randolph

Netflix Co-founder. Entrepreneur, Investor and Advisor