Want to know what's going on with Starbucks? Like so many companies that achieve such levels of success, Why the company was founded in the first place has been forgotten. The cause that drove them to change American culture has now become something much less inspiring - now, it's all about What they do. A company devoted to "the third space" is now just selling coffee.
The following is a letter I sent last week to Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks (his version didn't have the picture...otherwise it's a carbon copy).
July 29, 2008
I miss Starbucks.
There was a time, not too long ago, that Starbucks stood for something. There was an underlying cause, a purpose, a belief you had about the world. It was that idea that I bought, not the coffee. And it was inspiring.
But those days are gone.
Now it’s about coffee and money. Lets be honest, it’s an open debate if Starbucks coffee is really better (and even if it is, I can get about the same from someone else). And the money? Well, as soon as a company starts focusing on the money, they certainly can’t focus on the customer experience.
It’s pretty remarkable. Starbucks is signally responsible for creating a coffee shop culture in America. Starbucks didn’t bring coffee to the United States – it brought the coffee shop experience – the third space, you called it. The space between home and work. People bought into the Starbucks belief – I know I did. Your cause was clear and your actions proved it. But over time the cause has lost its clarity, and your actions prove it.
There was a time when you invited people to spend time in the third space – giving those who wanted to stay a ceramic cup and ceramic plate. But then a focus on the money started to erode that purpose. Certain decisions started to muddy the cause...dilute the belief. And paper cups became the standard. Nothing says to a customer, “we love you now get out” like a paper cup. It started to be about the coffee and not about the experience. It’s no longer about the third space.
I hope you rediscover why you do what you do. I hope you once again become a champion for your cause, not just a purveyor of caffeinated drinks. I miss the third space. I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, in fact, it was you who told me over the past 20 years what you believed…and I believed you.
I would love to help you rediscover your Why. I would love to help you inspire people again.
Hell – I just miss you the way you used to be. I loved that Starbucks.
With great respect,