How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else

In his fifties, Michael Gates Gill had it all: a big house in the suburbs, a loving family, and a top job at an ad agency with a six-figure salary. By the time he turned sixty, he had lost everything except his Ivy League education and his sense of entitlement. First, he was downsized at work. Next, an affair ended his twenty-year marriage. Then, he was diagnosed with a slow-growing brain tumor, prognosis undetermined. Around the same time, his girlfriend gave birth to a son. Gill had no money, no health insurance, and no prospects.

One day as Gill sat in a Manhattan Starbucks with his last affordable luxury—a latté—brooding about his misfortune and quickly dwindling list of options, a 28-year-old Starbucks manager named Crystal Thompson approached him, half joking, to offer him a job. With nothing to lose, he took it, and went from drinking coffee in a Brooks Brothers suit to serving it in a green uniform. For the first time in his life, Gill was a minority–the only older white guy working with a team of young African-Americans. He was forced to acknowledge his ingrained prejudices and admit to himself that, far from being beneath him, his new job was hard. And his younger coworkers, despite having half the education and twice the personal difficulties he’d ever faced, were running circles around him.

The other baristas treated Gill with respect and kindness despite his differences, and he began to feel a new emotion: gratitude. Crossing over the Starbucks bar was the beginning of a dramatic transformation that cracked his world wide open. When all of his defenses and the armor of entitlement had been stripped away, a humbler, happier and gentler man remained. One that everyone, especially Michael’s kids, liked a lot better.

The backdrop to Gill’s story is a nearly universal cultural phenomenon: the Starbucks experience. In How Starbucks Saved My Life, we step behind the counter of one of the world’s best-known companies and discover how it all really works, who the baristas are and what they love (and hate) about their jobs. Inside Starbucks, as Crystal and Mike’s friendship grows, we see what wonders can happen when we reach out across race, class, and age divisions to help a fellow human being.

Pour Your Heart into It : How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time

Since 1987, Starbucks’s star has been on the rise, growing from 11 Seattle, WA-based stores to more than 1,000 worldwide. Its goals grew, too, from the more modest, albeit fundamental one of offering high-quality coffee beans roasted to perfection to, more recently, opening a new store somewhere every day. An exemplary success story, Starbucks is identified with innovative marketing strategies, employee-ownership programs, and a product that’s become a subculture. Whether you’re an entrepreneur, a manager, a marketer, or a curious Starbucks loyalist, Pour Your Heart into It will let you in on the revolutionary Starbucks venture. CEO Howard Schultz recounts the company’s rise in 24 chapters, each of which illustrates such core values as “Winning at the expense of employees is not victory at all.”

Blue Sun Corporations

Blue Sun Corporation is and important, but not very noticeable part of the the brilliant, but so very canceled TV series Firefly. Their logo is everywhere you look, but they are oh so very evil. They conveniently provide all sorts of goods and services, but at the same time they run sinister human experiments, employ vicious killers and wallow in their crapulence in every imaginable way an evil corporation could.

You can buy your very own Blue Sun t-shirt at Think Geek.

In Manhattan there are two corporations that very much remind me of Blue Sun: Verizon and Chase. Every time I deal with them I feel that I am forced to do things that I don’t want to do and that I am getting a bad deal. The only reason everybody’s dealing with Chase and Verizon is because they are everywhere you look. In Manhattan you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a Chase branch, and Verizon cellular signal reaches underground into some subway stations.

Chase advertises its omnipresence with this sinister ad that could just as well be from an alien infection film.

This kind of ubiquity allows these corporations to charge above market prices and have bad customer service.

Why do I hate Chase? Well, they keep thinking of ways to make depositing money more difficult. First they changed their deposit slips. Am I the only one inconvenienced by that? No. Here somebody altered the little poster announcing the change.

Now they started using cash machines that do not take envelopes, but scan your check. As you, me, and the people who plowed money into Riya, you can’t rely on computers to non-trivial optical recognition. I tried depositing 3 checks several times. The machine ate one of the checks (not giving me a receipt) and rejected the other two. I wasted a lot of time and cell phone minutes trying to report the issue (they did not even provide a courtesy customer service phone). I still haven’t seen the money from that check.

Lying commission-driven customer service is another big problem. At Chase they constantly trying to sell you something. Once a customer rep tried to sell me a historically market out-performing mutual funds. He had this awesome “prospectus” with charts carefully selected to show crazy returns, but refused to give me a copy so I could research it.

Verizon reps will routinely forget to tell you about contract extension that comes with any service change, even if you don’t have get a new phone. Then they will refuse to change anything in your contract. They will add expensive features you don’t ask for. Good luck trying to have your defective phone repaired – it’s an ordeal.

Both Chase and Verizon are a bad value, but great convenience. I suspect that part of their penchant for name changing is not so much because they keep buying up competition, but because their customers don’t think very well of them at all. I was their customer when they were Chemical Bank and Bell Atlantic. They sucked back then too.

The worst part of dealing with banks and communications companies is that they heavily penalize you for your mistakes, but there’s not much you can do to charge them for theirs.

Chase stopped sending me Amazon credit card rewards for about a year. An hour of customer service phone calls and a month later I got my Amazon gift certificates. It’s free for them to mess with you: you have to do a lot of work to make sure that what you get from them actually comes through. Instead of digitally depositing the certificates, they send them on paper slips containing long strings of letters that you have to type in. It’s cheaper to splurge on the cost of printing and mailing in the hope that it will get lost. And if they stop sending them and you forget? Bonus. Also, there’s something called “float.”

On the other hand, send your credit card payment late and you get a huge fee.

Use a bit more minutes than are in your Verizon plan, and you’ll get a bill that will make your teeth grind. But on the other hand, they overcharge you and then sheepishly return the money (which just now happened to me), you don’t get to charge them a fine.

I think there was this guy who charged his bank a fine for every mistake that they’ve made, but I can’t find a link.

Anyway, to make the long story short, Verizon and Chase make me want to vomit in terror. I’ve been with them for years, but it’s time for a change.

It’s interesting to note that I’ve worked for both Chase (briefly as a consultant) and for Newscorp. What’s interesting about it? Well, Newscorp owns New York Post which was founded by Alexander Hamilton. The “Manhattan” part of Chase Manhattan Bank (as Chase used to be known) comes from The Manhattan company, founded by none other than Aaron Burr. Because I currently work at the World Trade Center, I frequently walk past Hamilton’s grave in Trinity churchyard.

The Gift of PR

When you are working with true professionals, one of the best things to do is to ask them to choose for you. Japanese have a special word for it – “omakase“. When you say “omakase onegaishimasu” in a sushi bar, the chef will create a custom meal for you, based on the freshest and the best ingredients available at the moment.

If you ever give your money to Warren Buffet, your hair to Jonathan Antin, your floundering computer maker to Steve Jobs, the choice of where and what to eat to Tony Burdain — they’ll do a good job. Doing the same with any stock broker (is likely to churn your investments or worse ), the Supercuts barber (might style you ala Gates) , Carly Fiorina (might make poor H and P spin in their graves some more) is a capitally bad idea.

For a while I’ve been running Amazon’s “omakaseTM” ads on my blog, and I’ve got to tell ya, they stink. I, personally, would fire the business dev suit running (or rather running into the ground) Amazon’s Associates program. This person is never going to be fired, because by it’s nature, Amazon Associates is an amazing thing, one of the best business ideas that Amazon ever implemented. It’s like an Abrams M1 tank – even a drunk moron can drive it around and do a lot of very impressive damage, but it takes a highly trained soldier to really unleash it’s true destructive capabilities.

I am very disappointed in Amazon Associates products, especially omakase, and because of that I am building my own Amazon Associates ad server in my spare time. Lately I haven’t had much spare time, so the project is moving rather slowly. I’ll be pulling omakase ads off though, and meanwhile I’ll replace it with a holiday gift for my readers.

I will replace the ads on my website with promos for some blogs and websites of my readers (as well as some of my favorites). Do you you have a site you’d like to promote? Comment here or send me an email. Suggest as many as you want. If you have some “creative” – that’ll help. And if you won’t suggest anything (as it usually happens when I ask for suggestions) and make me feel very sad, instead of promoting your sites, I’ll do the same with all the splogs that sometimes spam me. At least they take the time to leave a comment.

0% Content, 100% Lazyweb

I take pride in keeping my blog mostly lazyweb free, unlike some formerly awesome bloggers that I know. But mostly is mostly, I am not immune to the lure of letting my readers doing my research for me.

It looks to me like I can get a better deal than the one that my current hosting provider, Zipa.com is giving me. My monthly fee is only $10, but I get charged $1/gig for traffic over 10 gigs, $5 a month for shell access (that’s ridiculous) and $2 per month for an extra MySQL database. “Sweet Dreams” deal from Dreamhost looks like a pretty good alternative. Moving all my stuff is a bit of a hassle, so, before I move, any opinions?

Oh, also, my bank, Chase, is totally ripping me off percentage-wise. What do y’all think about ING Direct?

Um, also is anyone aware of a good deal on a Treo 650 with Verizon service (I already have a Verizon account, I hate them, but Verizon reception in NYC is better than any other carrier’s ).

[Update]
Thank you for all your responses. I decided to go with Dreamhost and ING Direct. If anyone knows about a good Verizon Treo deal, please let me know.

Lake Bill II : Just When You Thought You Were Safe

Microsoft seems to have outinnovated itself again. Not only does MS Virtual Earth have a slightly higher close-up resolution in some places – hey, I think I can see Ballmer going for a swim in lake Bill here, but also showing the supersecret walkway that goes right over buildings 1 and 3. At this resolution you can almost make out the letters on the Microsoft Bob walk of fame tile. Sadly, this resolution is not available for Brooklyn.

My earlier post about Lake Bill is here.

How the Starbucks Siren Became Less Naughty

[update] Starbucks logo changes again.

You are probably here because you looked closely at the Starbucks logo and were a little confused about what is depicted on it. Is it a mermaid? What are those things that she is holding up with her hands? Wasn’t the logo different before? What’s the history of it?

I asked those questions myself and did a little bit of digging. My research started with a book that I had, called A Dictionary of Symbols by J.E. Cirlot. In it there was a chapter about Sirens.

Basically, from what I gathered from different sources, including that book, there is a lot of confusion between the different mythological half-women. Typically they are called Sirens – both the half-bird/half-woman and the half-fish/half-woman varieties. The fish type are usually called Mermaids. Both types according to the ancient Greeks were in the business of seducing mariners with songs and promises of sex and then killing them, but Hans Christian Andersen and Disney mostly made everybody forget that.

The whole sex-symbol status of mermaids hinges on the question which part is “woman” – upper or lower. “The other type of mermaid” that hapless Fry was referring to would have problems attracting suitors, of course. And how do you do it with the normal type?

Wise mythologists came up with the answer, of course. And the answer is a two-tailed mermaid sometimes called a Melusine.

The book had an old engraving of a two-tailed mermaid. It reminded me of the Starbucks Siren, but back then I did not realize that the original Starbucks logo had a slightly altered version of that engraving in the original brown cigar band-shaped logo.

Notice that the graphic designer removed the belly button, the unattractive shading around the bulging tummy of the 15th century siren and merged the tail-legs to remove the suggestion of naughty bits. The logo Siren also smiles a little while its 15th century doppelganger is looking rather grim. Other than that it’s clear that this is exactly the image that he or she was using.

According to uspto.gov “[Starbucks] mark consists of the wording “Starbucks Coffee” in a circular seal with two stars, and the design of a siren (a two-tailed mermaid) wearing a crown”.

Here’s the “cigar band” logo from which I took the image above. The original hippie Starbucks owners did not sell espresso drinks, but mostly sold coffee beans, tea and spices. Today Starbucks sells liquor and ice cream, but no spices if you don’t count the cinnamon gum and the stuff on the condiment table.

The next, more familiar green iteration of the logo has a more attractive stylized siren. The chest is hidden, but the belly button is still there.

Here is the current logo. They cropped the siren image so that only a hint of the tails is visible. I asked hourly partners at Starbucks and friends, and none of them could figure out what those things to the side of Siren’s head were.

Lately I’ve stopped seeing pictures of the Siren on Starbucks mugs – they seem to favor just the word “Starbucks”. I also started seeing the new type of the siren as part of store decoration and on coffee packaging. She only has one tail. I guess the family-unfriendly image of a fish-woman spreading her tails is on its way out.

[update] Here’s a picture of the new siren:

The brown Siren logo can still be found on merchandize sold at the original Pike Place Market Starbucks in Seattle. The logo is altered though – instead of a “cigar band” design it uses just a circle logo. Cigar band logo mugs and coffee jars can still be found on eBay for upwards of $50 per mug and $200 per coffee jar. I am still looking for anything bearing an “Il Giornale” (a company founded byHoward Schultz that later ended up buying out Starbucks with the help of none other than Bill Gates Sr.) logo.

[Update]
Dear Boing Boing readers – you might enjoy other sections of this blog such as Gastronomic Adventures and 100 Views of the Empire State Building.

[Update]
I was alerted to another article that explores the Siren’s symbolism. I haven’t used it in my research, but it is very thorough.

[Update] The whole logo history is described pretty well in Pour Your Heart into It : How Starbucks Built a Company One Cup at a Time. The book is full of other Starbucks trivia: if I remember correctly, it states that Howard Schultz is a close friend of Yanni.

[Update]

I received some information from Doug Fast, the designer behind the green logo. He also graciously sent me some rare examples of the logo, for which I am extremely thankful.

“I am the guy who designed the green SBUX logo. The original brown SBUX logo was designed in 1971 by my employer before I started working for him in January 1974. ( I still work there as a designer) The design company was then called Heckler/ Bowker, here in Seattle. Bowker (the company copy writer) was one of the three original founders of SBUX and left Heckler/ Bowker in 1984 to take on SBUX full time. (there were 5-6 stores at that time) The other two founders were; Jerry Baldwin and Zev Siegal. Heckler/Bowker came up with the Starbucks name and Heckler came up with the first (brown) logo. The other name strongly suggested was Pequod, but lost out to Starbucks.

The original SBUX store was NOT in the Public Market or in the Arcade as people think. It was at the corner of Western Avenue & Virginia, just north, across the street from the Public Market at the foot of the steep hill going up to 1st Avenue, and opened it’s doors in March 1971. I have a photo of it and also a drawing of it that was on an SBUX Christmas card from 1977.

The first retail Starbucks coffee drink concept store was originally called Il Giornale, and located on 4th Avenue in downtown Seattle. There was only one of these stores ever. I designed the logo for that in 1985-86, plus the coffee bag packaging, and still have the stationary, bags, and cup designs in my sample file. Howard Schultz was still an employee of SBUX at that time, not the owner, as I’ve seen said in previous blog info. here.

The reason only ONE Il Giornale store ever existed was because of the purchase of SBUX by Howard and his investers, and because the SBUX name and logo had so much capital already, they changed Il Giornale back to SBUX and wanted a more reproducable SBUX design, to go national.

I did the green “full siren” logo with a stronger, simpler, read for reproduction. The SBUX type was HAND DRAWN and based on the typeface, Franklin Gothic (this was pre-computer, folks) and had to be drawn so it bent well, around the circle. We submitted the logo to Howard, one with a red color and one in a green color. He picked the green color option.

In 1992 we had to blow up the siren to eliminate the spread, so called suggestive tails, so that’s the version you see today.

I still have most of the original concept work for the creation of this logo in one of my big sketchbooks. To me at the time, it was just another logo job to do. Who would have thought I’d be sick of seeing it all over the place. It isn’t one of my best logos.”

Original stores from the old coffee bag:

The original “cigar band” logo:

Il Giornale logo:

Green “bellybutton” logo

One of the newer coffee bags that reimagines the siren:

New “cigar band” logo with covered up nipples and cleaner lines:

New plastic stirrer / plug in the shape of the siren:

Old logo at one of the first (from what I hear it’s not the “original” location) stores at the Pike Market in Seattle

original-starbucs-logo

starbucks-pike-market

Did reading this article inspire you to write a poem about Starbucks? You can use Rhymebuster, the algorithmic rap generator. Turns out a lot of things rhyme with Starbucks (other than sucks).


Fun With Google Maps Part I : The Magical Lake in the Land of the Blibbet

What’s that between buildings that look like shuriken from above? Of course it is Lake Bill. It’s not marked on the map kindly made available by Jeff Barr, but there it is in an awesome 360 degree panorama and here are some pictures of ducks and koi that live there. There’s another picture in the blog post by Adam Barr (I’ve read his book) about 10 favorite spots on MS campus. I am told that it is a prime beer drinking spot – no wonder seeing how many Barrs there are at Microsoft budum-pum.

The origin of the naming of the lake is shrouded in mystery. I also heard that long before Bad Boy Ballmer was charging up developers by jumping on stage he was doing that by swimming across Lake Bill.

By the way, does anyone have a video of Gates’ famous table jumping skills? Does he do that any more? Oh, and if somebody pointed me to those funny Microsoft Tech Ed videos, that would be very cool.

Looking at Design.ru and Remembering Dot Com Ads

I was browsing http://www.design.ru and a few associations formed in my mind.

Latest set of images with quotes from Tema remind me of Kenneth Cole ads with obligatory quote from Mr. Cole himself. By the way, I am glad to see that kennethcole.com is back to an almost original state similar to what it was when I worked on it, from a horrible flash monster that it became later. I’ve met Kenneth Cole at the time, maybe I’ll meet Lebedev some day too.

Illustrations by Yana Moskalyuk look to me as if Lavalife.com ads mated with Bluefly.com ads. It’s interesting to see that bluefly.com is still around. I only bought something from there once, when they were giving away $50 gift certificates.