Column: Businesses Using Technology Well

May 2, 2019

[Opinion column written by Gilbert Darrell]

I was listening the other day to John Livesay’s podcast with Erik Qualman. It’s a great episode on how to be a business leader in a world now consumed by technology, social media and hyper connected devices.

In the conversation he discusses how Howard Shultz from Starbucks, who went from leaving the company, to coming back as CEO, stepping down for eight years, then coming back to CEO again [not a very typical move]. Shultz is a bit of a rock star in the business world, having built this huge brand of a company by hand, forgoing franchising and focusing on core products and expansion.

Erik then stated that Starbucks was a technology company that happened to sell coffee. That’s where however we parted ideologies.

I don’t know Shultz’s thoughts on the topic personally, but Starbucks is certainly a very tech driven company. It’s a coffee shop yes, but it’s also ingrained with technology, from the WiFi it offers its customers to the ordering and checkout features you see in the stores.

Starbucks App was one of the first in the world to process customer orders, starting in 2009 and launching in 2011. It combined easy checkout and payment, ordering, music and loyalty programs to become a powerhouse and example for other retailers.

However where I disagree with Erik is that Starbucks became a technology company that happened to sell coffee.

There is a common troupe in the world of business today that companies when they evolve become “technology” companies. As if to say if they didn’t sell their core product anymore they would happily survive selling widgets instead.

I don’t fully understand that concept nor agree with it. Starbucks sells coffee, pretty good coffee in fact [based on what I hear, I drink their tea personally, which I enjoy].

They’ve added a bunch of additional items to their menus; shakes, drinks, 500 other types of coffees, some light food, etc.

Coupled with a good atmosphere, WiFi and a comfortable place to sit down, it’s become a great location for a get together, meetings and heavily used by remote workers. As an entrepreneur, I’ve spent many hours in Starbucks and as a student, frankly, I wrote most of my Bachelor degree papers there, too.

I don’t know the insides of their economics, but being a customer to the company, coffee is obviously their strong core product.

Starbucks isn’t a technology company that sells coffee. It’s a coffee company that uses technology, innovation and branding to build a great business. Every company should take note, but never lose sight of your core product and more importantly, your customers.

- Gilbert Darrell


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