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British Teens Launch Space Lounges, Apple Store-ish Coffee Shops

"Space Lounge is on a mission to bring fun back to High Street."

Some of the romance of the Silicon Valley dropout myth made its way to 17-year-old James Anderson out in Plymouth, England.

After nine months spent convincing his parents to let him drop out of high school (the first student there to voluntarily do so, he said), the young man set to founding companies. First, he started a nonprofit called Thinkspace, which works to put a coding classroom in every school across the U.K. and has been supported by Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak.

Now, along with fellow teen co-founder George Streten and their advisor, the viral video heartthrob Finn Harries, he wants to make Space Lounges, new coffee shops that look and act like Apple stores and whose basic outline he debuted at TedxTeen last year.

“Space Lounge is on a mission to bring fun back to High Street,” he told me by phone.

High Street? British for Main Street, the small-town commercial center.

The idea is to build a coffee shop without a register but instead with little glass boxes for the comestibles. A customer taps her phone against the box, it opens, she removes the brownie. The box determines what was removed by weight and charges automatically. They’ll also have a “social map” of the space — using Bluetooth, customers can see who else is in the shop, where they’re sitting and what kind of interests they have. Customers order coffee through the Space Lounge app, which will learn to predict their orders. Anderson’s first Space Lounge location is set for a popup space in London’s affluent Kensington neighborhood.

“London’s coffee shops are places where people can reflect over tea or coffee. Now they’ve become a mess with long queues, slow Wi-Fi, rude staff, pesky dated music,” Anderson said. “Space Lounges differentiate themselves based on the incredible experience.”

From left to right: James Anderson, Finn Harries, and George Streten
From left to right: James Anderson, Finn Harries, and George Streten

The problem is partly just too many choices: “I personally find if I’m going to the coffee chain, there’s so much to choose from, and you don’t know what’s what,” Anderson said. “The Space Lounge app will know what you want before you’ve even had a chance to look at the menu itself.”

Anderson said he got the packaging and customer service design from Apple: “In the U.K. you can go to either PC world or Apple and obviously you choose Apple because you’ve got all these people in blue T-shirts ready to help you instantly — you’ve got the whole unboxing experience,” he said. “And that’s exactly what we want to do to the coffee lounge.”

He’s working from his parents’ house for now, but Microsoft Ventures has offered him office space in London.

Publicity won’t be hard. He said because he’s a teen, it’s easier to be noticed by young British YouTube and Instagram heartthrobs like Jack Harries of JacksGap, whose home videos about his year off from school plus pop star good looks have garnered him about 4 million YouTube followers. Jack’s brother, the filmmaker and Space Lounge advisor Finn Harries, has more than two million Twitter followers.

“Fortunately because of our age, it’s a lot easier to get noticed by these sorts of people,” Anderson said.

He said some investors offered him 75,000 pounds (about $113,000), but he turned them down because he didn’t want to give up control of the company, so he’s hoping to raise 35,000 pounds on Kickstarter.

“I dropped out halfway through my A-Levels, which are the most important exams you can take in school, but the reason to do it now is if I don’t do this, it’s only a matter of time before someone else does,” he said. “And my high school said if it doesn’t work out, I can come back. They were excited for me.”

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