How the founder of Starbucks made it a success, without even having a passion for coffee

How the founder of Starbucks made it a success, without even having a passion for coffee

It may sound counter-intuitive to be the founder of such a big coffee concern in almost half of the world, while coffee isn’t even your biggest passion. I have to say that it is not counter-intuitive by any means, and according to Howard Schultz, the man himself, he really turned his passion into reality. But what is his passion if it’s not coffee? Let me explain what’s happening.

Howard Schultz

Something new

Howard Schultz, the former CEO of Starbucks announced to step down as Starbucks chief in November 2016. By that time he would hand over 25,000 stores in 75 countries. That’s massive when you realize that we only have 195 countries in the world. It means that Starbucks was present in almost 39% of all the countries around the globe by that time!

Needless to say, Schultz has reinvented the coffee culture in the U.S. by introducing Italian-style cappuccinos and lattes to that market. His mark is clear and loud. But lately I came to hear something about him that I didn’t know yet.

Howard Schultz

Hidden passion

I haven’t introduced you to writer and public speaker Carmine Gallo yet. He advices businesses and leaders all around the globe on how to tell engaging stories and grow businesses. He really is an expert on that and that’s why I like to read his blog every once in a while.

For his own blog he interviewed Howard Schultz and the one thing that surprised Gallo a lot was that Schultz rarely mentioned the word coffee during the conversation and that he had to bring that up himself.

On Gallo’s blog you can read Schultz say:

“We’re not in the coffee business. It is what we sell as a product, but it’s not what we stand for”
Howard Schultz on Carmine Gallo’s Blog.

The founder of Starbucks

What Schultz says over there is something that is very important to understand. Gallo explains:

“Starbucks is NOT in the coffee business, which is why it’s successful. You see, Schultz loves coffee, but he’s passionate about the people, the baristas who make the Starbucks experience what it is. Schultz’s vision was much bigger than to make a better cup of coffee. His moonshot was to create an experience; a third place between work and home. He wanted to build a company that treats people with dignity and respect. Those happy employees would, in turn, provide a level of customer service that would be seen as a gold standard in the industry.”
Carmine Gallo on his blog.

The founder of Starbucks

Business lessons

So what can we learn from Schultz´ way of doing business?

Identify the type of need

First of all, bringing better coffee to peoples lives can be one mission statement. It’s a statement that’s focused on the need for better coffee. Drawing a vision around that need will influence the brand. It’s reflected in its culture and helps in defining what the business can become.

Secondly, creating a unique experience of drinking coffee can be a mission statement too. That’s what the Starbucks brand is laser-focused on and what Schultz’ real passion has always been – the “Starbucks-experience” is about setting a golden standard of customer service in the coffee industry.

This Starbucks-experience is what the brand is known for – it’s about great customer service, dignity and respect. When entering one of the many shops, you’ll see a certain customer contact, they have introduced as one of the first the take-away service and gave customers access to WiFi.

By building this brand experience, they basically changed the mindset of coffee customers worldwide: from a coffee shop being a place to buy a cup of coffee to a place to experience a good cup of coffee. In this way, they have enriched many lives by making the journey from home to work a little bit more enjoyable. And in this way too, the company is fulfilling a specific type of need which is characteristic for its own brand.

Howard Schultz

Value lies in the benefits

Another business lesson that we can take from Starbucks is how they fully understand where their power lies – and how value is created.

When you ask starting business owners or freelancers what they sell or why you should buy the product, they often reply with the common answer that they created something that is better than anything else – and then come up with a extended list of descriptions that cover their creation. First and foremost, this is a problem because every single kind of product has an endless list of descriptions – no matter if it’s a product people want to buy or not.

Secondly, it´’s important to understand what the meaning of better is when it comes to your products, services, or skillset. So aside from a focus on the features of the product itself, it might be more helpful to focus on how the product appeals to a specific type of person – not to anyone, and to put enough thoughts into how the product is going to enrich certain aspects of the user’s life.

It’s trickier than it sounds, but here’s the thing: Swedish matches are better. They might be the best in the world. They do everything a match should do–but better. They light more quickly, burn hotter, and give more match satisfaction.

However, you probably don’t have a box in your house. Because you don’t care that much about matches. Because for you (and for billions of non-match-loving people around the world), this sort of better isn’t your sort of better. Your sort of better, when it comes to matches, might be: free and handy.

So the lesson is simple: better is always in the eye of the beholder. It makes sense to think about who your beholder is and if you are offering something that is actually the beholder’s sort of better.

Therefore, it’s important for all starting entrepreneurs to have it crystal clear for yourself what your product, service or skill is going to add to someone’s life. Business isn’t necessarily about descriptions, but value. And that value is created only, when you offer a person or a company a product, service or skill that satisfies his needs and enriches his situation.

Educated by Tara Westover
Educated by Tara Westover


So sometimes you find things that you can do better on the product or service itself. And sometimes you find things that you can do better in the way people experience a certain product or service. In both scenarios you are fulfilling the specific need of your audience and have put enough thoughts into how that audience is going to benefit from the product that you’re offering.

So it all depends on what you want to bring to the world, and the value you bring to enrich peoples lives. When products and services are being brought to people, they like to know what’s in there for them, and how they can benefit from what you are offering. Logically, there is no point trying to sell music to deaf people or movies to the blind.

Therefore, if you’re passionate about coffee and you have a vision on how you want people to meet better coffee, you can start with building that brand culture. But you can also follow Howard Schultz’ mission to offer people a place to flee out of their busy work life and feel respected and be comfortable. You can start to build a brand culture where it’s all about the way you experience a cup of coffee. As we have seen, that made a big difference and many entrepreneurs followed this concept ever since.

Basically the options of doing business are pretty much endless and there are no true rules. But if there are any, then a real entrepreneur knows the importance of identifying a real need on the one hand and finding a (extraordinary) way to solve someone’s problem with an experience, product, service or skill on the other hand.

If you want that for yourself, then dig deep to identify your core valu – the area where you want to make a ‘dent in the universe,’ as Steve Jobs once said. And ask yourself a question that Howard Schultz says is the key to success: What business am I really in? 

Head over to more career and business lessons:

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