How To Turn Coffee Into Customers – Our Side Hustle Revealed!

Does your side hustle idea have real potential?

Or is it doomed to fail?

Chiang Mai is a coffee mecca.

There must be literally hundreds of coffee shops in and around this quaint city in Northern Thailand.

At one point I asked my business partner Lesly where the best cafés in Chiang Mai can be found, and he did what most everybody does:

He enumerated, with the quintessential Frenchman’s pride, a few of his favorite spots.

“Ristretto, 9th Street Cafe, Barisotel…”

Those are all great places, no doubt about it.

But everybody knows them and everybody’s been to them.

What about the OTHER great places in Chiang Mai?

Since we, and most of the digital nomads in Chiang Mai live and work primarily in and around the Nimmanhaemin Road area, people tend to visit the same cafes over and over.

This results in a selection bias in which the folks based in the Nimman vicinity are over-represented in the sample and the folks who live in other interesting parts of town like say, Suthep, are under-represented (aka “undercoverage”).

Yet these other parts of town have amazing coffee shops as well.

And lest we be remiss, let’s not forget about the assortment of scenic, zephyr-kissed little cafes that pepper the surrounding mountains - places like Pankled Coffee – that are worth visiting for the gorgeous detour alone.

Coffee and work are convenient excuses.

But the real point is that we like to explore the undiscovered gems in this serene and breezy city.

Chiang Mai is teeming with other online laptop hustlers like ourselves so surely we’re not the only ones who enjoy switching it up.

But when you Google “best coffee shops in Chiang Mai” the top results are mostly blog articles and list posts.

There’s no comprehensive and user-friendly resource that allows you to see all of the hip cafes in and around town.

What would really make our cafe-hopping simple, methought, is some kind of map, or application, or listing site that would work as well on a smart phone as it would on a laptop.

You’d pick a hip new cafe, filter it by various criteria (price, coffee quality, ambience, wifi, location, etc.), pull up the directions, hop on your scooter, and off you go!

I thought, “how the heck does this not exist yet?”

Well, perhaps it should exist and we should be the ones to make it!

Surely, if we would find such a resource useful other people like us would too.

And this, dear reader, is how our side hustle was born.


Coffee Squid.

Making it happen

Lesly and I already both knew about the power of side hustles.

For example, Crew notoriously rescued their startup from the brink of obscurity by launching Unsplash, which wound up driving the bulk of their traffic and business.

Thankfully our company isn’t in the dire straits that befell Crew.

We don’t need to do it.

We simply view Coffee Squid as a fun little distraction that may or may not feed back into our hosting business.

If it succeeds, cool.

If not, no biggie.

Criteria for a great side hustle

Our core business is already more than a full time job so we have to make sure we don’t cannibalize our scarce time and resources with a demanding side project.

So before diving in we want to check our idea against a list of sensible criteria.

Our criteria for a great side hustle are roughly as follows:

  • Scratches our own itch
  • Is useful to a niche community
  • Quick to set up
  • Won’t require expertise that we don’t already possess
  • Won’t cost more than a few hundred bucks to launch
  • Can be launched in 30 days or less
  • Has a better than average chance of success, i.e. the potential to earn us money either directly (e.g. with advertising, listing fees, etc.) or indirectly (by driving targeted traffic to, getting us press, etc.)
  • Requires minimal maintenance
  • Hasn’t been done before or been done well
  • Has that special something (“ineffability”).
  • Is fun!

Let’s take a quick look at how Coffee Squid meets (or doesn’t meet) each of these criteria.

Scratches Our Own Itch

A few days after Lesly and I started talking about Coffee Squid I had a sort of magical validation moment.

I was up at 7am per our new morning routine and cruising around Nimman on my motorbike looking for a coffee shop to work at.

Most days I work at 9th Street Cafe but on this particular day I felt like trying something new.

The problem was that every coffee shop I cruised by wasn’t open yet.

“Man,” I thought, “I wish I knew which cafes around me were open right now…”

Right away I realized that if Coffee Squid actually existed I’d be be able to whip out my phone and find out that information in 30 seconds flat.

So not only did I think our creation would be useful in theory, I was already “using” the application in my head.

Anyway, I wound up going to 9th Street because I didn’t want to waste any more time searching for a spot and I had loads of work to do.

Once I ordered a coffee and got settled in I began to regret giving up my search so easily.

You see, the music at 9th Street cafe drives me fucking crazy.

Pretty much every song features some shrill chick, or a whiny dude who sounds like a chick, squeaking out brain dead pop pablum over a too-loud speaker.

Sadly this is the case in far too many cafes.

You just never know if that nice looking hipster coffee joint that you’ve been meaning to try out is going to make you want to choke kittens because of the awful music they presumptuously blast into your ears.

It sure would be nice to be able to pull up a list of cafes and filter out the places that play shitty music so you can preserve what’s left of your sanity.

I felt that this was yet another great nugget of validation, all the more so because there’s a strong, negative emotion associated with it.

One of the axioms of business psychology is that people will work harder to avoid pain than to acquire pleasure.

And I would go to great lengths indeed to avoid hearing yet another bossa nova rendition of Miley Cyrus’s We Can’t Stop.

Is useful to a niche community

Chiang Mai is teeming with online laptop hustlers, of whom I am one.

We drink coffee, copiously.

We work from our laptops, prolifically.

We’re the kinds of people who like to explore and try new things.

We have strong preferences and strong opinions.

Some of us are douchebags.

Yet at the same time we are a motley crew who elude simplistic categorization.

The main thing that unites us is the relatively novel way we approach work and travel.

Assuming I’m a fairly representative member of this group, it’s reasonable to expect that others share my coffee shop concerns and could benefit from a well executed solution as well.

Quick set up

Even when you factor in one of the noble truths of business - that everything takes at least twice as long as you think it will - Coffee Squid is still a pretty small investment time-wise.

We basically just need a great mobile-first theme, some planning, a bit of testing, and a data entry grunt from Upwork to populate the site with listings, and then we’re off to the races.

So not only could we quickly concoct a minimum lovable product to share with our communities, the low tech WordPress framework would also give us the agility to implement additional improvements quickly based on real user feedback.

Getting significant traction is another matter but we’ll cross that bridge if and when.

Won’t require expertise that we don’t already possess

The biggest barrier I’ve found to executing cool online business ideas I’ve had is the inability to code.

Luckily, Coffee Squid won’t require any substantial development.

It’s built on a WordPress theme that works out of the box to do most of the things we want.

Both Lesly and I are competent enough WordPress users that if the theme we chose doesn’t have some important bit of functionality, it wouldn’t be terribly difficult to modify it ourselves.

Or, failing that, we could ask one of our contract killers to lend us a hand.

Additionally, both Lesly and I are marketing guys.

We’ve been doing launches, starting companies, building online communities, making websites, creating information products, and of course failing and learning from failure for YEARS now.

So we’ve learned how to reliably drum up excitement for a product (having a great product helps), put it in front of the right audience, and connect with influencers who can help us get attention.

Won’t cost more than a few hundred bucks to launch

This point is self-explanatory.

We don’t have much money because we reinvest almost all revenues back into our business.

We’re only able to outlay for a handful of minor costs like domain registration, our WordPress theme, and a few premium WordPress plugins if need be.

Luckily, we can fuel this project mainly by investing our own time.

Can be launched in 30 days or less

If an idea takes too long to execute your enthusiasm wanes and you tend to let it fall by the wayside.

Therefore we want something that we can ship quickly.

30 days is an ambitious enough deadline to keep us focused yet reasonable enough that we don’t lose motivation before getting some kind of result.

Has a better than average chance of success

It’s hard to quantify your chance of success in a venture because it’s not entirely up to you.

Even if you have a keen eye for promising business opportunities there are often factors beyond your control that could derail an epic project.

Luck and timing matter.

But for us Coffee Squid isn’t a serious thing.

It’s simply a pleasurable act of creation.

Will we still do everything in our power to increase the chances of success?

Of course!

But for this project we would consider any number of possible outcomes to be wins.

For instance, maybe Coffee Squid will drive a bunch of traffic back to just like Unsplash did for Crew.

Or maybe we’ll get inquiries from local coffee shop owners and decide to monetize the site with ads or premium listing fees instead.

Or what if we get feedback from the market and decide to pivot away from the original concept?

Or what if the idea goes national, blows up, and we get acquired by Lazada group?

Who knows.

Because we’ve defined success broadly and we’d be happy with any of several outcomes, we’re free to just have fun, do our best, and see what happens.

Requires minimal maintenance

It doesn’t make sense to start a side project if it becomes a huge time suck that detracts from your main focus.

I’ve indulged in this “shiny object syndrome” far too many times and the story is always the same:

You get excited by some new shit, spread yourself too thin, and get lukewarm results in a few things instead of stellar results in ONE thing.

You move on before you get any real traction and have to start all over again.

This topic really deserves its own post because there’s an art to knowing what to pursue, what ELSE to pursue, what to strategically quit, and what to avoid in the first place.

A lot of it simply comes down to experience.

Experience imparts discernment.

You start to be able to smell a great idea and look past a great-sounding-but-actually-shitty idea with increasing accuracy.

We KNOW this is a great idea and the fact that it requires little maintenance is just one aspect of that.

A reassuring bonus point is that visitors will be able to submit listings and ratings, write reviews, and otherwise contribute content to Coffee Squid without us having to do much extra work.

User-generated content doesn’t suck.

Hasn’t been done before (or done well)

We looked around and surprisingly couldn’t find a resource that elegantly solves the coffee shop woes we’ve been talking about.

Could that mean that there’s no market for our idea?


On the other hand, we’re right here on the ground in Chiang Mai, we’re plugged into the coffee shop entrepreneur culture, and we know first-hand that the annoyances I’ve described in this post are shared by others.

We reckon a well-executed app would handily solve those annoyances.

Has that special something

In my opinion great business ideas not only meet your objective criteria for a home run, they also have a “special something” that you can’t quite put into words.

To top it off it’s hard to explain why you feel that your idea has that special something.

But is that relevant?

I’m not one to question a blessing.

The important thing is that when you feel “it”, it gets you really excited.

It motivates you to drag your sleepy ass out of bed at 7am and grind out another work day just so you can get one step closer to bringing an epic idea to life.

Next steps

Our immediate goal is to ship a basic version of the website.

Next we’ll populate it with some content.

Then we’ll test it, ask for user feedback, and improve it.

Pretty much your basic lean startup methodology (except we didn’t do any validation outside of scratching our itch).

Once a few people in our communities are using and liking the product we’ll invest in creating great coffee shop listings.

And last but not least, we’ll try to get some traction.

Of course, I’ll keep you updated as we progress along so check back soon.

Or better yet, subscribe to the newsletter and I’ll let you know next time I publish a post.

In the next post I’ll cover:

  • Howe we came up with the idea for Coffee Squid
  • How we decided on the name
  • Making of the logo and branding
  • Version 1 of the website

…and more!


Does your side hustle idea have real potential?

Or is it doomed to fail?

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