Zev Siegl, Starbucks: Co-founder

Are there any specific things you wish you knew before you started Starbucks? 

Yes. Financial forecasting for the start-up period and for the first two years of operations. How to manage relationships with investors.


When first starting out, how did you decide where to spend money and where not to? We had very little money. We spent it widely, we contributed a ton of sweat equity, and we had many hour of volunteer help from friends and family.

Throughout your journey with Starbucks, what was the largest obstacle you had to overcome and how did you overcome it? 

The company grew throughout the 1970's but was only in Seattle. The company was at one point undercapitalized and we found it necessary to do a modest equity offering. We were a little slow in completing the offering which created a risky situation.

Are there any specific habits you have developed that you would attribute to your success?

I have always been open to listening to the insights of people who know more than I do or are smarter than I am.

When addressing the high school and college entrepreneur, how would you recommend they find mentors?

Students have a huge advantage: successful people like to help them. Access them thru alumni associations, accelerators, the business school at a university, or by contacting them directly.

What has been the highlight of your career? 

(A) Finding myself in a position to be a useful skilled coach/mentor to start-up entrepreneurs. (B) Marrying a customer named Robin Andrews. She has been Robin Siegl for almost 50 years [I am the only Starbucks founder who married a customer.]

What do you think was the “key” to your success?

Being open to at least looking at all opportunities.

How has failure helped you later in life? Can you share any specific lessons you learned and how it helped you?

I do not think I am better than other people. Humility goes a long way toward creating new relationships.

What is some of the best advice you ever received? Some of the worst?

Alfred Peet told the founders of Starbucks, "Never discount the price of your coffee." Good advice! Several people told us that "People will not pay twice as much for a cup of coffee no matter how good it is." Bad advice!

What is some advice you can give to an aspiring high school entrepreneur?

Learn about the basics of the three business financial worksheets: cash flow, income statement, balance sheet.

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