(Disclaimer: This article is a work of satire and fiction, except for my trip to Norway. That was awesome. All characters are fictional and any resemblance to real people is purely coincidental.)
I recently took a family vacation to cruise the Norwegian fjords, and before embarkation, spent a few days in the departing port of Amsterdam. While searching the Internet for itinerary advice for activities in Amsterdam, to my wonder, I came across a brand new fintech-themed coffee shop.
For those who’ve never been to Amsterdam, stores with the title “coffee shop” in English are usually not specialists of roasting Colombian beans, but rather purveyors of herbs used for recreational relaxation. Claiming to be the disruptor of Amsterdam’s coffee shops, Starbux is the #1 hang out spot for fintech professionals. After reading a bit about the coffee shop, I knew I had to see it to believe it, and made it a priority to check out the new business.
Once I got to Amsterdam, I rented a bike from my hotel and made my way over to Starbux. Instead of heading to the red light district, I found myself in a commercial area, with old apartment buildings repurposed into office spaces. I found the address and knew I was in the right place; Someone had driven a boat called the SS Big Data Analytics down the canals and parked across the street from Starbux.
As I made my way inside the building, I realized that this wasn’t an ordinary coffee shop. Instead of a storefront, the shop was located inside a shared work space. I weaved my way past conference rooms, kitchens, and computer programmers smoking on balconies, winding my way through the building and finally finding myself in Amsterdam’s most tech savvy coffee shop.
Once inside, the shop seemed like any normal office with beanbag chairs, standing desks, and brightly colored and mismatched tables and chairs spread through the large room. After the host directed me to a table for 2 in the corner, I took in my surroundings even more. The walls were in fact blackboards, filled with random comments ranging from job requests to new funding rounds.
Looking for my menu, I realized that the menu was integrated into the table itself. Scrolling through the touchscreen menu, I not only saw an assortment of refreshments and herbs, but also payment options, including cryptocurrencies, loans, lines of credit, and mobile wallet integrations. I ordered bottled water, since I wanted to keep my wits about me and really take in the environment.
After placing my order, I opened up my laptop for note taking and looked around to see who of note was in the cafe. The first person I noticed was difficult to miss: a loud and gregarious man dressed in $500 jeans, a button down shirt, and a sports jacket. He was sitting at a table for 8 discussing the new company he had founded, the fourth of his career.
I couldn’t make out exactly what he was saying through the garbled noise coming from his table, but I got that he wasn’t in finance before, but saw a niche to create a ‘disruptor’ that would ‘revolutionize’ finance more than the credit card and Internet combined. Everyone was laughing at his jokes and toasting their newfound success (apparently he was talking to investors) and the table was overflowing with food, drinks, and the residue of a good time.
As the check arrived, the CEO passed the bill over to one of his investors, whispering to him that he couldn’t pay since his capital sources had run dry and his company was a week away from bankruptcy. As the investor screamed out in shock and turned to the other funders, the CEO snuck out the back into a waiting car and sped away.
Once the noise from the CEO table was gone, I could concentrate on some of the other people in the shop. The next person I noticed was a twenty-something wearing a “Save the DAO, Let it die” t-shirt, enjoying some free trade, organic, hydroponic herbs, and sitting across from a bored looking partner. With the new quiet, I could hear the conversation they were having; DAO t-shirt looked really excited, made apparent by the how fast they were talking, and the fast hand gestures they were making.
“Blockchain is gonna be, like, the future of everything, but it’s also going to be, like, the past. It’s gonna be the future past, like that X-Men movie, the perfect form of bartering, where we have standard values for everything and you buy anything with anything!” he remarked. “Like, you’re going to be able to buy a digital car with 200 digital dogs, or buy a pair of digital jeans for 12 sticks of digital butter. We won’t need money anymore- you’ll be able to choose how you want to get paid at work- like you could get paid with digital gummy bears if you wanted! It’s going to be amazing and transparent and perfect and…”
DAO t-shirt was still talking, but I had a headache from listening to what they were saying.
I got up to stretch and clear my head, when someone rushed into the shop, dashed passed me, and nearly knocked me over. As I spun around, I saw the back of a North Face vest slip into a secluded table across from a concerned looking friend. North Face started enjoying the products of Starbux, but instead of relaxing, kept glancing around the shop with wide, bloodshot eyes, looking at the ceiling, floor, and walls with violent head jerks.
“What’s wrong?” asked North Face’s friend.
North Face vest responded with one word: Robos.
After receiving a confused look from across the table, North Face Vest continued:
“The robos are everywhere, and they’re taking my job. I worked my butt off for 10 years to make partner, and now robos are taking my place. Do you know how many investors I lost to robos? Do you? 2! Two investors, and that’s just the beginning! They’re everywhere: robos telling you what to invest in, robos telling you your account balance. Even robos making robos! They’re everywhere! And don’t tell me that robos aren’t doing so well right now — that’s what they want you to think! They could even be listening to what I’m saying right now, with taps on our phones, computers, and even this very room! Before you know it, robos are going to be controlling everything!!”
North Face Vest was standing and yelling now, but after realizing the whole shop was staring, quickly sat back down and went back to glancing all over the room.
After the last outburst, I decided that I’d gotten the full Starbux experience and it was time for me to leave. I paid my bill using my archaic credit card, but as I made my way out of the shop, a previously hidden door opened in the entry hallway the moment I walked by. As the host exited the hidden room, the smell of cigars and single malt overtook the herbal smell of the shop. I only got a few moments to glance into the annex, but saw older men with suits and ties in a wood-paneled room with a fireplace, sitting in hard-back leather chairs around an oak wood table, laughing, smoking cigars and sharing a bottle of Van Winkle.
I turned to the host, who had just closed the door quickly in my face, and asked: “Who gets to hang out in there? Any way I can get the room next time?”
“Sorry sir,” the host responded. “That room is reserved for the JP Stanley group. I’m also acting as their personal server.”
“The large U.S. bank? Are they here on a company trip?” I asked.
“No sir,” responded the host. “They own the shop.”