Recently Angle partnered with and sponsored Atlanta Coffee Shops, an exceptional publication that covers specialty coffee scene in Atlanta and beyond. ACS is a beacon for coffee lovers, documenting Atlanta's diverse coffee landscape in meticulous detail, with gorgeous photography.
Through our sponsorship we got to know the founder of ACS, Eugene, and became fascinated by his story, the ACS journey, Atlanta's coffee scene, and his unique insights into the cafe experience. Eugene has covered over 300 cafes in the Atlanta Area and beyond, so his perspective is unlike any other. We're sharing his story and insights in three parts:
1. Origin & Journey
2. Atlanta's Coffee Scene
3. ACS on Cafe Experience & Memberships
I started Atlanta Coffee Shops in June 2018 while I was working in a consulting job where there was some “down time” and I could work remotely while not being in the office. I observed that there were many coffee shops in Atlanta but the photos of the space on either social media, Google Maps, or even the coffee shops’ own websites were either poor in quality or completely absent. As an active photographer (see also the question below), I ended up bringing my camera with me to coffee shops and captured some photos of the spaces during my visit(s).
So the original iteration of ACS was a series of landing pages with just photos of the coffee shops, organized alphabetically on the website (that original structure has remained unchanged to this day). What I learned from my years as a self-taught photographer (shooting landscapes and cityscapes), I ended up bringing to Atlanta Coffee Shops.
In 2018, I also had just stopped another passion project of mine after about a decade of work–curating interesting articles and books I’ve read. That particular project taught me how to cultivate an online audience and provided me invaluable experience in the art of curation. And so, with the shuttering of that side project, I longed to begin something new (and local!), and ACS was born.
I very much missed the curating / writing element of the reading blog, and I ended up integrating the blog component to ACS in late 2018 / early 2019. One of the earliest blog posts was on the theme of a “hidden oasis” in the city of Atlanta, and the first blog post that incorporated an extensive Q&A (and a coffee cupping experience) was a feature post on East Pole Coffee Co. published in February 2019. (East Pole has since opened up a second location in Atlanta in the Poncey-Highland neighborhood, as well as a new location in Birmingham, AL this summer).
The mission I am building toward at ACS is to be one encompassing place on the Web for profiles of local coffee shops in Atlanta (think of it like a coffee shop encyclopedia). There is also a growing #ACStravels component on the site, and I’ve developed some templates for doing similar type of work across cities in the South (with this page asking for any coffee shops being interested to reach out).
Earlier this year, I also created an FAQs page where I further explain my process, methodology, and answer some common questions from readers/followers.
In the early days, the growth was organic and driven by a combination of a well-optimized site and consistent posting on Instagram (via in-feed posts and stories). In the early days, before anyone can post a link in Instagram stories, I focused on editing / publishing specifically for Instagram (in a 4x5 crop format) vs. what I published on ACS (2x3 crop format). During those early days, Instagram’s algorithms favored photo carousels (multiple photos in one post), so I focused sharing those on Instagram, accompanied by a link to the story on the blog (the link would be in the “link in bio” on Instagram and also as text in the caption of the Instagram post).
I will need to check the growth, but growing from 0 Instagram followers to 5K happened in about 1 year, from 5K to 10K took maybe another year, and I have since plateaued since Instagram now focuses on videos/reels, and I am not good at capturing/editing videos (or haven’t yet made the venture to start capturing videos / reels).
One interesting experiment (that is still sort of ongoing) is the way I approached the project – namely, I did not connect this work to my photography portfolio, prior online publications, or any previous work. I wanted the ACS work to stand on its own. The fundamental question to answer: if the content is of high quality, will people care who is behind the account? It’s been interesting to discover how people find the website / account, as well as some misconceptions that people have about ACS (number one misconception is that there is a “team” behind the account when in reality it’s just me).
Paul Graham, co-founder of Y Combinator, recently wrote a fantastic essay “How to Do Great Work” in which he posits several intriguing ideas:
Something that grows exponentially can become so valuable that it's worth making an extraordinary effort to get it started. But since we underrate exponential growth early on, this too is mostly done unconsciously: people push through the initial, unrewarding phase of learning something new because they know from experience that learning new things always takes an initial push, or they grow their audience one fan at a time because they have nothing better to do. If people consciously realized they could invest in exponential growth, many more would do it.
If you do work that compounds, you'll get exponential growth. Most people who do this do it unconsciously, but it's worth stopping to think about. Learning, for example, is an instance of this phenomenon: the more you learn about something, the easier it is to learn more. Growing an audience is another: the more fans you have, the more new fans they'll bring you.
I’ve been thinking about this essay for the past several weeks, and I agree but not to a full extent. I believe that growing an audience is a combination of hard work, luck, and there’s a sort of a compounding/feedback loop that comes into play after you hit a certain threshold of fans/followers. There are thousands, if not millions, of blogs on the Web for which their respective authors have spent years building but that haven’t reached “critical mass” in terms of recommendations / new fans.
I’ve been a photographer since around 2005. I’ve photographed everything from landscapes to events to weddings, so I have a wide range of experience. From 2005 to 2009, I maintained a daily photo blog where I would post one photo a day, every day (even during my travels/vacation). The early inspiration behind my daily photoblog were Chromasia, Daily Dose of Imagery (who posted for 10+ years daily!), and many others in the photoblog community. Those were the days before Instagram when there was an audience that navigated to peoples’ blogs / weblogs directly or through a bookmark service like Google Reader.
I think photography will remain at the core of Atlanta Coffee Shops, and I describe it as pillar #1 on the about page. In fact, as I write in the FAQs, if I feel that I haven’t captured excellent photos of the space / ambiance of a coffee shop, I would make an effort to come back to do so, before pursuing a larger story.
These days, I think social media is less important to me than it was when I started. I recognize that most millennials and the younger generation spends most of their time getting news and recommendations from social media (like Twitter and Instagram). (Editor’s Note: Twitter is now X, that’s a whole story that’s worth exploring on its own!).
I do like the ephemeral nature of Instagram stories, where I can interact with the follower base if I have an announcement of an educational coffee event happening over the weekend, conducting a fun survey, or something else whimsical.
I am paying attention to what Substack has unveiled recently with their latest product (Notes), and I may experiment posting some stuff there (I cross-posted there for a little bit from my own blog and follow my favorite writers via the Substack platform; I enjoy Packy McCormick’s Not Boring newsletter, Café Anne, Why is This Interesting?, Shaun Usher’s Letters of Note, Jodi Ettenberg’s Curious About Everything, and so many others).
The recent product launch from Meta / Instagram of Threads is also very interesting – depending on how well they ship features, it may be a platform I explore further with photos + writing. As Adam Mosseri recently shared, Instagram / Threads welcomes creators that experiment, and I am curious to see the development of that social media platform.
Great question! I hope to continue working on this project into the near future; as I mention in FAQs, if there are more local coffee shops to explore, I’ll continue the project going.
I’ve been thinking about the Membership model and getting back to building it out in the future (it started in 2020 but never to much fanfare or any announcements, as I consider it to be donation-based at the moment).
I also would be open to building a true product on the back-end, maybe an app. Or to publish a physical book of the coffee shops I’ve profiled over the years. That would be a dream come true.
I would say I don’t have the direct experience needed to open a retail location of a coffee shop. But I am happy to explore any consulting or investing opportunities.