Coffitivity featured in The Wall Street Journal

The local website is blowing up in Asia.

Update #4 — September 17, 2013; 6:27 AM

Local service Coffitivity (see bottommost post) was recently featured in The Wall Street Journal in a piece about the site’s growing popularity in Korea and other Asian countries.

The local website has also been featured in TIME and The New York Times (see below).

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Update #3 — August 12, 2013; 9:57 AM

The makers of Coffitivity (see below) have announced new additions to their service, including new audio tracks along with iOS and Mac apps.

Developers have added two additional tracks to the website, which previously had only one. The new tracks are still recordings of ambient noise from coffee shops, but with subtle differences. The new tracks were recorded at Urban Farmhouse downtown and at Bleecker Street inside Snead Hall, VCU’s School of Business building.

In addition, users across the globe may submit their own tracks to be included in the site’s sound library. Developers have also improved the mobile site for both iOS and Android users. Users still have free, unlimited use of the site, which averages about 10,000 visitors daily.

The team has also unveiled a new iPhone and iPad app ($1.99). The app allows users to mix ambient coffee shop noise with their iTunes music directly in the Coffitivity app.

There is also a Mac desktop app ($4.99) that’s geared for users who don’t want the webpage to remain open in their browser.

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Update #2 — June 21, 2013; 1:44 PM

Today, a post on a New York Times blog featured the locally-based Coffitivity website (see bottommost post) in its article about ambient coffee house noise boosting creativity.

This is the second major publication to feature the local website. TIME magazine recently ranked Coffitivity among the 50 Best Websites of 2013 last month (see below).

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Update #1 — May 9, 2013; 6:32 AM

TIME Magazine recently listed Coffitivity among the 50 Best Websites of 2013. The website, created locally, streams ambient coffee house noise to increase productivity and is visited regularly by users across the globe (see below).

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Original — April 19, 2013

Before you read any further, go to this website and press play.

What you’re listening to is the ambient noise of Harrison Street Cafe played on a continuous loop. Between 8,000 – 15,000 people across the world listen to this each day. Coffitivity is likely the first website of its kind, and was conceived and designed by a VCU employee.

“Coffitivity is like a perfect storm,” said Justin Kauszler, the Business Development Liaison at the VCU Tech Transfer Office. The idea goes back to the reading habits of he and his friend Austin Callwood, a fellow VCU employee and business partner. Given their place of employ, the two often read academic papers, “being the nerds that we are,” Kauszler said.

One article they read some time ago was “Is Noise Always Bad? Exploring the Effects of Ambient Noise on Creative Cognition.” The article’s conclusion stuck with Kauszler. “If you leave ambient sounds on, it’s actually conducive to creative thinking,” he said.

Some time after reading that article, the pair–partners in a company that makes personal bicycle locks, CycleStay1–began rebranding their company. The team hopped from coffee shop to coffee shop over several consecutive days to complete various tasks. “We were banging out work,” Kauszler said. “We were getting so much done.”

When Kauszler returned to his job, he noticed the silence of his office space wasn’t nearly as conducive to productivity. He described it as “drawing blanks and smashing my head on the monitor” because the creativity and productivity experienced in the coffee shops came to a halt.

He asked, “How are we getting so much work done at the coffee house” and not at work? That paper on ambient noise and creativity took on new significance.

But visiting a coffee shop for extended periods to harness its ambient noise isn’t always feasible. “There’s got to be a way to bring a coffee shop to us,” Kauszler thought. He hunted through the internet for coffee shop sounds, but found none. So in February, he began work on his own website, the first he’d ever designed.

With the help of a friend who recorded the ambient noise, Kauszler launched Coffitivity on March 4th “just to share it to like-minded people,” he said.

Two days after the site launched, he received an unexpected phone call while at work. It was from the site’s hosting provider. “‘It crashed our servers,'” a representative told him. Over 50,000 users bombarded Coffitivity after a story about the site ran on Lifehacker.

The number of daily users has since subsided a bit, but even still, the site’s success has “150 percent exceeded my expectation,” Kauszler said. “We never really thought it was going to take off like it did.”

Phillip Edwards, an instructional consultant at VCU’s Center for Teaching Excellence, is a regular Coffitivity user, although initially skeptical of the site.

“I’m generally suspicious of services that claim ‘research shows X’ by referencing a single study,” he said. But since he’d frequented coffee shops in the past to help him focus, he thought it was worth trying anyway.

He said his office is typically busy, with spontaneous visits and lots of conversation. “The coffee house sounds tend to make any fluctuations in workplace noise less noticeable and, therefore, less distracting.”

Edwards also recognized improved quality in his work from using Coffitivity. “I am able to get into a project much more quickly, my efforts are more productive, and I think the quality of what I produce is generally better than it would be otherwise,” he said.

Corey Staley, a local instructional design specialist for the US Army and owner of Jiminy26, a social media consulting business, also finds the service helpful.

“I usually use it pretty frequently as I work in a sad, beige, windowless office alone for most of the day,” she said. “Music distracts me unless it’s classical and that gets boring, so this is a welcome tool. But I know when I want to really get working, I bring out Coffitivity and my Pomodoro clock. Boom. Concentration success.”

While she recognizes Coffitivity’s benefits, she doesn’t know why it works so well. “I don’t know if it’s because on my first use, I got so much done, and now associate it with that feeling of success, or if I just associate the coffee house sounds with the relaxed feeling of grabbing a cup of Joe. Either way, it works for me.”

Coffitivity has gone well beyond RVA users. Kauszler said about 50 percent of users are in the US, and about 33 percent come from Asia (Japan in particular). Many in Great Britain, Australia, and Russia are also regular users.

The international appeal of the site has inspired forthcoming additions to Coffitivity. Kauszler said he and audio consultants are working to source coffee shop ambiance from around the world. “Maybe Americans want to experience what it sounds like in France” he said.

He also hopes to unveil a variety of coffee shop sounds. Users will soon be able to customize their listening by selecting a bustling, loud coffee shop, or a quaint one with low-volume noise.

Kauszler said he’s considering monetizing the site in some way, perhaps through a freemium model. “While we want to monetize it, we don’t want to take it away from people,” he said. “We think we’ve hit a nerve as far as what people need to be productive.”

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  1. A 2013 i.e.* Start-Up Competition finalist. 
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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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