San Francisco's Market Street artery is already clogged with startups ranging from Twitter to Uber. Now McDonald's is moving onto the congested corridor, opening a digital incubator that aims to bring the Valley's cherished culture of disruption to the Golden Arches.
McDonald's decision-making powers are notoriously mediocre, with flops like the Arch Deluxe and their waffling runs of the McRib. But this time will be different, maybe. The company's mealy-mouthed Chief Digital Officer Atif Rafiq recently dished to Advertising Age their half-fried plan:
I think it would be great to incubate wonderful ideas for McDonald's that we haven't yet anticipated and bring them to consumers. So in terms of incubating ideas, that's absolutely what we want to do here… I'd love to see great ideas come from all parts of McDonald's, and from all the countries that we operate, and we have great talent in those countries. But obviously having a team here that's very plugged into the entrepreneur culture of the Valley, I'd fully expect some of our best ideas to come out of hopefully this office in San Francisco.
Over the years, McDonald's has seen domestic sales growth slump as consumers have learned their food is revolting. Sourcing innovation from across the global hasn't helped bring their brand more in line with their digitally-apt competitors. Now the company hoping that a dash of Silicon Valley panache will turn things around, with mobile payment and ordering schemes making up for their culinary deficiencies.
Executives close to McDonald's said that the company in recent months had been making the rounds in Silicon Valley prior to the office's opening, chatting up a range of companies from venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz to smaller, scrappier startups. Mr. Rafiq confirmed those conversations, and said that McDonald's is interested in the "full buffet of companies that could help us." He said that the chain is looking for ways to partner with startups that have tools or tech platforms, as well as larger, more established tech companies like the ones his recruits came from.
McDonald's has gobbled up employees from familiar Silicon Valley titans, including Facebook, PayPal, Yahoo, and Aol. And McDonald's is proving to be a quick learner: in true Valley form, the company remained tight-lipped on what the SF incubator has planned.