Reading Digest: Pour Your Heart Into It

Image Credit: David Ryder / Reuters

Early this year, I came across the book Pour Your Heart Into It: How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time when browsing some reading list recommendation article on Medium or somewhere else. I finished reading the book today, and here are my digests.

In the 1997 published book. Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks recalled the step-by-step progress of building the coffee empire from a small local coffee roasting and retail business in the northwest. Before Howard joined Starbucks, he was general manager of Hammarplast, a Swedish company manufactured drip coffee maker and household appliances. The position in Hammarplast promised him a cozy life in New York City, but a wondering trip to Seattle for his client Starbucks changed all.

A business trip to Milan (feel so cordial for me to see the name of that city here, it reminds me my business trip there in 2015) made Howard to believe Italian style of coffee experience should be brought to the States. He conceived a way to serve coffee just like Italians did – barista serves top quality espresso to the customers, letting them to interact in the space. But his ideas was strongly rejected by the management team even the test run for cafe business was successful – for Starbucks was a retailer – not a restaurant or a bar by then, they believed the status quo should be kept.

Mr. Schultz quitted Starbucks and started Il Giornale with the help from Starbucks. In March of 1987, owner of Starbucks Jerry Baldwin and Gordon Bowker decided to sell the roasting plant, Seattle stores and the identity of Starbucks. Through hardships of capital raising and fighting for the control, Il Giornale acquired Starbucks, the two merged, and the name Il Giornale phased out.

In 1992, Starbucks went public. The book unveiled several crises and incidents before and after that day, including failure of the the first store in Chicago, the invention of Frappuccino, the soared price of coffee caused by frost in Brazil, and the desperate 1995 Christmas.

There are four aspects of knowledge I have gained from the book:

  • Critical moments actions.
    • Quit cozy life in NYC: Be decisive when you have figured out your pursuit.
    • Splitting with Starbucks to found Il Giornale: Dare to take risk.
    • Acquire Starbucks and keep full control of the company with early investors’ interest protected: Be bold and executive.
  • Management philosophy.
    • Rely on reasonable planning and discipline, not instincts.
    • Hire high profile people with experiences to lead rather than waiting team members to grow.
    • As the founder of a fast-growing startup, he has to transform the role from founder or expert on expertise to professional manager.
    • Company should be people oriented, treat the employees sincerely.
  • Morality.
    • Be honest, to customers and employees.
  • Esprit de corps.

Business can teach us a lot about what people can achieve when they work together. One person can do only so much. But if he gathers a company of people around him who are committed to the same goals, if he galvanizes them and inspires them and taps into their inner drive, they can perform miracles together.

At last, I really have to say, Mr. Schultz proved him to be a Communications graduate, the book is so eloquent that I want go out to order a cup of café latte in one of his stores.


Once you overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles, other hurdles become less daunting.
loc. 271-271

I’d encourage everyone to dream big, lay your foundations well, absorb information like a sponge, and not be afraid to defy conventional wisdom.
loc. 272-273

Italians treat every detail of retail and food preparation with reverence and an insistence that nothing less than the best will do.
loc. 729-730

Whenever you see a successful business, someone once made a courageous decision.
loc. 791-792

There is no more precious commodity than the relationship of trust and confidence a company has with its employees.
loc. 836-836

Another important thing I learned during that difficult time was that taking on debt is not the best way to fund a company.
loc. 838-839

But because I saw what happens when trust breaks down between management and employees, I understood how vitally important it is to maintain it.
loc. 844-844

Part of what constitutes success is timing and chance. But most of us have to create our own opportunities and be prepared to jump when we see a big one others can’t see.
loc. 953-954

“It appears to me that people who succeed have an incredible drive to do something,” observes Ron. “They spend the energy to take the gamble. In this world, relatively few people are willing to take a large gamble.”
loc. 1057-1058

Hiring ahead of the growth curve may seem costly at the time, but it’s a lot wiser to bring in experts before you need them than to stumble ahead with green, untested people who are prone to making avoidable mistakes.
loc. 2064-2066

But Arthur didn’t want to do just site selection. He convinced me that we needed real estate, design, and construction to speak with one voice, under the direction of one person, to avoid the conflicts that sometimes arise between those disciplines.
loc. 2093-2095

But among our competitors in the specialty coffee business, you’ll see examples of all the mistakes we didn’t make: companies that didn’t raise enough money to finance growth; companies that franchised too early and too widely; companies that lost control of quality; companies that didn’t invest in systems and processes; companies that hired inexperienced people, or the wrong people; companies that were so eager to grow that they picked the wrong real estate locations; companies that didn’t have the discipline to walk away from a site if they couldn’t make the economics work.
loc. 2108-2112

Inside my head, it was a constant battle, and I had to keep reminding myself: These people bring something I don’t have. They will make Starbucks far better than I could alone.
loc. 2243-2244

One of the first, and most valuable, critiques Howard made was his opinion that Starbucks was too product-oriented. It’s people who make the coffee, he kept insisting. People directly affect the quality of products and services our customers receive.
loc. 2280-2282

“We’re not filling bellies,” he likes to say. “We’re filling souls.”
loc. 2284-2284

Processes and systems, discipline and efficiency are needed to create a foundation before creative ideas can be implemented and entrepreneurial vision can be realized.
loc. 2334-2335

However warily, I began to recognize that in building discipline into a company, it’s possible to not only honor the creative process but also make it stronger and more dynamic.
loc. 2354-2355

Many young companies can’t make the leap to maturity because they either don’t support the creative spirit with structure and process, or they go too far and stifle that spirit with an overdeveloped bureaucracy.
loc. 2363-2364

At our Seattle offices, our real estate, design, store planning, and construction people developed a sophisticated store-development process based on a six-month opening schedule, so well-oiled that eventually we were able to open a store every business day.
loc. 2787-2789

Bill Gates of Microsoft has done so, as has Phil Knight of Nike. But far more entrepreneurs can’t adjust to the transition into professional management. Most are better at creating start-ups than at guiding mature businesses.
loc. 2867-2868

Early on, I realized that I had to hire people smarter and more qualified than I was in a number of different fields, and I had to let go of a lot of decision-making. I can’t tell you how hard that is. But if you’ve imprinted your values on the people around you, you can dare to trust them to make the right moves.
loc. 2892-2894

Conventional marketing wisdom says that every brand has its limitations. If you slap it on just anything, it will be cheapened beyond recognition. We put the Starbucks brand only on best-of-class products that take advantage of our recognized expertise in coffee.
loc. 3305-3307

But long before that happened, all of us inside Starbucks would have realized it, too. What, then, would keep us coming into work every day? Higher profits, at the cost of poorer quality? The best people would leave. Morale would fall. The mistake would eventually catch up with us. And the chase would be over.
loc. 3518-3520

Because we believed the best way to meet and exceed the expectations of customers was to hire and train great people, we invested in employees who were zealous about good coffee. Their passion and commitment made our retail partners our best ambassadors for the coffee and for the brand.
loc. 3555-3557

If you look for wisdom on brand marketing, most of what you’ll find is based on the Procter & Gamble model. That is, you go after mass markets with mass distribution and mass advertising, and then focus on grabbing market share from your competitors.
loc. 3567-3569

Their foundations are stronger because they are built with the strength of the human spirit, not an ad campaign. The companies that are lasting are those that are authentic.
loc. 3601-3603

Mass advertising can help build brands, but authenticity is what makes them last. If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to a brand.
loc. 3611-3612

A typical customer might say, “Wow! I come in here and I’m treated so well. And when I come back the next day, they know my name and they know my drink! And there’s a seat here, and I’m listening to jazz, and I can close my eyes and have five minutes of rest away from work and away from home. I can do it every day, and it’s for me, and it’s only a dollar fifty or two dollars. I can’t afford a vacation to Hawaii, but this is something I can treat myself to! And I can afford it every day.”
loc. 3745-3748

Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.
loc. 3885-3886

Whatever you do, don’t play it safe. Don’t do things the way they’ve always been done. Don’t try to fit the system. If you do what’s expected of you, you’ll never accomplish more than others expect.
loc. 3995-3996

When management listens to their concerns and responds honestly, they realize that Starbucks is neither faceless nor impersonal. We are going to make mistakes. But if our people recognize that what we’re trying to do, in our hearts, is build value for us all, they’re more likely to forgive the mistakes.
loc. 4246-4248

Wright’s goal was to raise our store design to a higher level, leaping ahead of our competitors. He aimed to create a lyrical and esthetic new design, with richness and texture, strong enough to tell the Starbucks story, going beyond just a revised new color scheme, another kind of wood, or a new style of chairs, and trying to capture the essence of the Starbucks experience. He directed his creative team to draw from culture and mythology to weave a fantastic tale.
loc. 4578-4581

One of the fundamental aspects of leadership, I realized more and more, is the ability to instill confidence in others when you yourself are feeling insecure.
loc. 4674-4675

As a large company, we needed to rely more and more on planning and discipline, rather than on our instincts and last-minute fine-tuning.
loc. 4683-4683

I was beginning to accept what management consultants have advised me since: To be an enduring, great company, you have to build a mechanism for pre-venting and solving problems that will long outlast any one individual leader.
loc. 4685-4687

Today, with hindsight, I’m convinced that speaking frankly was the right course of action. The head of a company can’t, and shouldn’t, always be the cheerleader. He has to be willing to let his people see the weaknesses and the pain, as long as they understand them in the context of the company’s greater accomplishments.
loc. 4713-4715

Other insights struck me that Christmas, too. One is how easy it is to lose sight of the long term when short-term problems scream for attention.
loc. 4724-4725

A company whose management is not planning for the distant future can never grow beyond the latest faddish concept.
loc. 4782-4783

Business can teach us a lot about what people can achieve when they work together. One person can do only so much. But if he gathers a company of people around him who are committed to the same goals, if he galvanizes them and inspires them and taps into their inner drive, they can perform miracles together.
loc. 4925-4927