The Lessons A Startup Can Learn From This Copenhagen Corner Shop

Michael Dean
The Lessons A Startup Can Learn From This Copenhagen Corner Shop

The concept of a corner shop, newsstand, convenience store, or kiosk, as they’re known here in Denmark, doesn’t leave you with much room for innovation. Surely these are just small businesses that trade entirely off their convenient locations, right?

There’s one shop in Copenhagen, however, that’s completely broken the mold. Kihoskh (pronounced “kiosk”) sells the same kind of stuff as other corner shops, but a level of care and quality permeates through everything Kihoskh does.

As a result, it’s become one of the most recognisable businesses in Copenhagen’s Vesterbro neighbourhood. What does it do so different? Well, let these reviews from yelp (where the shop has a 4.5 star rating) explain:

“What I would give to have Kihoskh as my local corner kiosk … It has all of the typical characteristics of a regular kiosk: candy, beer, cigarettes… but also so much more. Comic books? Records? Random organic Amy’s Kitchen canned soups imported from America? AND a craft beer cellar?!? I am sold.” – Lauren C.

“Everyone who lives in this part of town knows and loves Kihoskh. It is definitely your local kiosk that’s been upgraded to version 10.0. My favorite moment was browsing through their very interesting wine selection, and finding a bottle from the Hitching Post in Santa Barbara, and then realizing, wait a second…I have been there! How in the world did they decide to carry this wine?” – Michelle E.

As these happy punters show, people come from all around to make small purchases and enjoy the experience of hanging out with friends on the seating around the shop.

Kihoshk employees always have a smile on their face.

It’s in the experience

Many of the technology businesses I admire most operate on a similar principle to Kihoskh, just on Internet scale. They’re not based on huge innovations – instead they’re successful because they do something useful, with a customer experience that’s head and shoulders above the competition.

Take MailChimp, for example. If you’ve not heard of them, their service enables you to send good-looking mass-emails to your customers, prospects, event attendees, etc. 

They weren’t the first company to do this, however most email tools are utterly miserable to use (like many convenience stores are to visit). Yet the experience you get from MailChimp really puts a smile on your face, and surprises you with what you can accomplish (like Michelle in the quote above finding her favourite wine at Kihoskh). 

Wistia is another such business. If two years ago someone had told me that what the internet needed most was another video hosting service, my feelings would have ranged somewhere between confusion and pity. But their business is booming!

Using Wistia, you’re not overburdened with features (also, almost everything you can get with Wistia you can get elsewhere), but what you do get is a feeling that this is the best way to present your content to the world – and you’re happy to pay for it.

As Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson of 37Signals/Basecamp have continuously argued: you don’t need a game-changing invention that creates a new market to build a hugely successful business. You can, instead, succeed by better serving an existing market.

Building an open platform

There are a few rows of tables and benches outside of Kihoskh. While most businesses with outdoor seating get pretty upset if you rock-up there and eat food from another vendor, that’s not Kihoskh’s style.

They actively encourage you to use their seating when enjoying the food from Itzi Pitzi Pizza two doors down the street. Rather than shooing you away, now they’ve got the nearest refrigerator when you need something cool to wash down your pizza.

Given that Kihoskh sell coffee and sandwiches they could have easily taken a more closed approach.

The combination of Itzi Pitzi Pizza and Kihoskh became so popular that this year the local council constructed an attractive wood and concrete seating area across the street to cater for the huge amount of business they were attracting. I seriously doubt that either would have received this treatment on their own.

At my previous startup, Podio, we built a collaboration platform with its own file storage and sharing capabilities. Thus, we could’ve viewed tools like Dropbox as competitors – many people did.

Instead, we built a Dropbox integration. This made our existing customers very happy, and gave us a more compelling story when approaching companies from industries where Dropbox was popular; we now appeared as a complementary service and not something you’d need to switch to.

In both these cases the people involved could have tried battling it out to win all the businesses – but by taking a more open approach and putting the needs of the customer first, everyone was a winner.

As obscure as a corner shop may be, the principles of growing a modern business can be universal.

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