Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Creeping Coffee Chains

At the moment, my iBook is at Appleline across town. I asked the tech guy how long and how much--he thinks it will be about 24 hours and $50.

"Can you do it faster? We haven't been parted in five years." I threw my arms over my laptop.

He laughed. I was joking, making a point to hurry it up, but actually, as I left, walking down three flights of the dilapidated dirty building (full of dusty "Think Different" posters) to the congested street, I realized I was barely exaggerating. The only time I have been separated (for more than a few hours) from that little white box of wires, metal, and plastic was when I went to Antarctica for ten days.

Right now, I'm working in the internet cafe. That's a first for this job. Usually, I'm chasing wi-fi with the iBook.

Last year in Kuwait, Sven and I used to joke that when the history of our start-up comic book company is written, it will tell that our company was created in coffee shops.

And that's not because of the coffee.

We'd just moved into our offices last year, and the internet wasn't working yet. Then to make matters worse, there was a fire in the communications building where our ISP was housed, which temporarily knocked out access in roughly half the city. Sven lived an epic in getting the DSL turned on once he got a Salmiya flat, and the access that was included with my serviced apartment was broken for a third of the time I was there. (They didn't believe me, and I knew I was on my own when the man helping me asked me where Windows was on my iBook.)

Sven as COO was dealing with licensors in Europe and America, as well as checking with vendors around the world—some in Hong Kong, some in India. Meanwhile, I was dealing with freelancers in California, England, and New Jersey. And then sometimes chasing files that were in Ireland or Italy. We were handicapped without internet access. We probably spent forty percent of our time hunting signals the first month-and-a-half that I was there. We got to know the details of Starbucks menu, and again, it sure wasn't the coffee. The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf was better, but for me that involved a bus ride.

There's no shortage of wi-fi cafes in Zamalek, which is good as it offers me a change of scenery, and I can work while I eat (aside from now, when I am laptop-less, of course). There are the international chains, like Costa Coffee, Einstein Kaffee, and The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf. But also some great Egyptian chains, such as Cilantro and Beano's. And the best part? The wi-fi is always free. I mean included, because the costs of eating or sipping cappuccino in these places is higher than other places. But plenty of them have power outlets by the tables, and none of the staff rushes you out.

So where is Starbucks on that list? Starbucks has spread over the world like they keep telling us bird flu is going to. But what's up with Egypt?

There is one. I haven't seen it, because it is nowhere near here, but it was recently opened by the Kuwaiti Starbucks franchise.

There's no reason for me to seek it out, since there is no shortage of wi-fi opportunities in Zamalek.

Free wi-fi, that is.

So what I wanna know is this:

Is Starbucks going to charge for wi-fi like they do everywhere else?

1 comment:

Ed Ward said...

Sure they are. Isn't their contract with Deutsche Telekom? And doesn't Deutsche Telekom try to squeeze its customers for every last cent they own?