Starbucks, Startups and Why Vision Matters

It’s well-known that when Howard Schultz bought Starbucks in the 1980s, he had a vision to create a “third place” for Americans, beyond home and work. It’s safe to say he realized that vision, and more.

By envisioning that third place, Howard imbued Starbucks with an inspired view of the future, enabling their people to build something so big that it changed American culture. Consider just a few examples:

  • People increasingly seek to “have a coffee” with others, rather than “have a meeting” at their offices.
  • Loyal customers, in addition to referring to Starbucks as a place, now refer to it as a thing: “I’m going to get my Starbucks.”
  • Today, most Starbucks are filled morning until night with students, freelancers, web surfers, and working professionals. For some, it’s not their third place, but their second place.

I’ve noticed that more and more entrepreneurs today lack vision, which is the founders’ view of their startup in the future…what they want the company to be.

Some naively expect to hit the jackpot in a few years and don’t care about building something for the long-haul. Others, like those who are simply building an app, have a vision for a product and not a company. And even others state that their vision is to “disrupt our industry” or “revolutionize the way ____ is done” or “be the next Facebook”. Those aren’t visions, they’re meaningless propaganda.

Real leaders have real vision. They see something that the rest of us can’t and they pursue it doggedly. They find people who share that vision, who can see it, and who want to build something so big that it changes the world around us.

Those are the kinds of entrepreneurs I love to be with. Those are the kinds of entrepreneurs who I want to have a coffee with.


  1. Chris Finlay

    I like your point about the difference between a vision for a product and vision for a company. Companies should be based on the values they share with people they serve and products are a natural result of that. It is easy to mistake vision for magic, rather it is persistence and choosing to make something that seems obvious or simple really important. Often it is something others can’t wrap their arms around but have passed through or felt many times. I dumbly call it “naming the thing”. While I haven’t read deeply into Schultz’s early career I have to wonder if he saw a third space right at the start as though he could see the future or rather developed the idea over time by following his nose and working hard to make it concrete shareable. I would guess the latter.

    *And way to set low expectations for our coffee meeting next week! ;)

  2. Riley

    I’m currently a student at Depaul and I often go to listen to entrepreneur’s speak. It’s remarkable to me how many entrepreneurs decide to fill a niche without having any kind of vision or knowledge of their field.

    • Raman Chadha

      Good observation, Riley. When you encounter those who don’t seem to have a vision or adequate knowledge, ask them questions to find out. You never know! And keep talking with and listening to entrepreneurs…it’s arguably the best way to learn about startups.

      • Riley

        These entrepreneurs usually have a good knowledge of their field when I talk to them, but iI mean that most don’t enter their field with particular vision or passion.. But rather they see a niche they can fill. I just find it interesting that it seems so many serial entrepreneurs open businesses on the basis that they are entrepreneurs, not because they are passionate about a particular field.

  3. Pingback: Recap of Posts from May 2012 | ramanations

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