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The following excerpt is from Scott Duffy’s book Breakthrough. You can order it on Amazon.
A few years ago, I had the opportunity to meet Howard Schultz, the entrepreneur behind Starbucks, when he spoke to a group of entrepreneurs in California. Schultz was on tour promoting his book The Starbucks Challenge, how Starbucks fought for his life without losing his soul . He gave a prepared talk, describing how in the late 2000s he managed to pull Starbucks out of its crisis of over-expansion and loss of identity. He talked about how he reclaimed his position as CEO, closing hundreds of stores and modernizing a few others, and how one day he decided to close all 7,100 locations in the United States for three hours so that baristas could take a course to learn how to make the perfect espresso. Rather than condemn its growth, Starbucks has returned to being a nice place to go to relax and have a good cup of coffee.
It was a great story, but it sounded like a press release, it lacked passion. He had not connected with the entrepreneurs who were sitting. I wanted to hear advice on how to be a better entrepreneur, and I knew I was not the only one.
After the talk, Schultz opened a question and answer session. The last one turned out to be the right one to get Schultz to open up. One entrepreneur got up and said something like this: “Schultz, I really admire you. You have a great story and a great product that I buy every day. But when you were talking about the Starbucks struggle during tough times, I couldn’t relate. After all, you already had millions of dollars in your portfolio, while the rest of the entrepreneurs in this room are seriously struggling. We are trying to figure out how we are going to pay our payroll and support our families at the same time. So Schultz, I don’t see myself reflected in your story. ” He thanked and sat down.
The room was silent.
Schultz crossed the stage and said to the entrepreneur, “I am exactly the same as you. Let me tell you a story. “
So the billionaire CEO became the Schultz of 30 years ago, a keen entrepreneur, just like all of us. In 1981, Schultz was like any other kid in Brooklyn, seeking his chance and working for a Swedish coffee factory. When he first came to Seattle, he made a call to sell something to Starbucks and decided there he wanted to work for Starbucks.
Eventually, he managed to persuade its founders to hire him for the marketing area, but when the owners did not accept his idea of setting up an espresso bar, he moved to Europe and acquired the rights to a coffee brand called Il Giornale. He returned to Seattle to seek funding to open his first Il Giornale coffee shop. He worked without pay while his wife Sheri was pregnant with their first child.
His father-in-law came to town and asked him to go out for a walk. Walking, she said “My daughter is seven months pregnant and her husband doesn’t have a job, he has a hobby. I want to ask you in the most honest way, with great respect, to get a job ”.
Schultz returned home and told his wife about his conversation with his father, telling her that he believed that he should give up and find a real job. And he asked Sheri what she thought about it.
She told him that they were in this together, that she believed in him, and that she was sure he could raise the money he needed for his cafeteria, and that he shouldn’t throw in the towel. That was all he needed to hear. It was a huge risk, almost irresponsible, but he got the financing and a few years later bought Starbucks.
What I understood at that moment was quite a revelation: Since I had had the business idea or the fancy title, I believed that I was the most important person in every company I started. But I learned that the most important person in every company was the person who waited for me at home every day.
This person is the CVO, Chief Venting Officer . Entrepreneurship is a very lonely job and it tends to make you feel like you have no one to talk to. Then what do you do? You go home to “air it out” with your partner.
The job of being the husband, family member or best friend of an entrepreneur is not easy. These people go through our wins and losses alongside us, and sometimes their finances are at risk just like ours. And we usually take them for granted.
Like Schultz, I learned that the success of any business begins at home. The main job of any entrepreneur, and the most important, is to be on the same page as your partner. If they disagree, there are only two possible outcomes when things go bad: either the business suffers, or the relationship suffers. Here are the things you need to make sure you’re on the same page as your partner:
How many financial risks are they willing to take?
If you are starting a new business, you are probably using your own money. You and your partner need to agree on how much money you are willing to risk to follow your dream.
How much time will they allow you to dedicate?
To launch and build a successful business, there are times when you have to commit first to the company and then to your family. That does not mean that your family is less important, but that there will be periods of time when you both agree that this is something you should be one hundred percent about, for the sake of your future together.
How much does your partner want to know (or be involved) in the business?
Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely job. There will be certain things that you don’t want to share with your investors and certain problems that you should keep off the radar of your employees or friends. So you come home and air it all out. But there is probably a limit to how much your family and your partner want to hear about it; learn where that line is.
No matter how supportive your partner is, you have to prepare her for the challenges you are going to face as you build your business. And most importantly, they have to be aligned on the risks they are willing to take, the time both are willing to invest, and the communication strategy that works best for both of them.