Is Starbucks Undervalued?

I like coffee. And it seems that a lot of people like coffee too. Pershing Square thinks Starbucks is one of the world’s best businesses and that it’s undervalued. Here’s their analysis.

Key takeaways are:

  • Dominant brand in a growing category

  • Exceptional returns on each new store built (1$ —> 10$)

  • Huge margins for new stores (30%) – no kitchen needed, lucky them!

  • Mobile order is actually a big thing for them – not just a gimmick

  • China loves Starbucks – they’ve been there for 20 years

Overlapping Skills

Good marketing

Marketing is a lot of things. Sometimes, it can be about promoting your business or product. That’s the advertising part. But that should not represent a big part of your focus as a marketer. Most of the time, marketing is about figuring out what people need, and how to build and deliver that at a reasonable price, so you stay in business and people get value from whatever you offer. That part is much less fun because it requires much more empathy and humbleness than the other part.

Charles Schwab, the discount-investing giant, has been focusing that part of marketing in past decade to turn around its business. You can read all about it in this great Bloomberg profile.

Here are two quotes that stand out from the article:

“We will survive if we do the right thing for people,” Schwab says. “We will collapse if we ever deviate from that mission.”
The company, he says, operates essentially by the “do unto others” Golden Rule. He tells you about a “virtuous cycle.” Lure new clients with low fees and easy-to-use services. Strong financial results and shareholder value follow. Repeat.
He recalls a board meeting at which he joined Schwab to pitch the turnaround strategy. “The board said, ‘We’ve just lost 40 percent of revenue, and now you’re suggesting we give up 15 or 20 percent. How are we going to make it up?’ ” Bettinger recalls. “We said, ‘The goodness of human nature.’ We sit here 14 years later with evidence that that’s exactly what works.”

I know this sounds like a lot of corporate cool aid. It might be. But it’s a good reminder to simply focus on your clients, and build around their needs and frustrations. You’re smart. But not to the point of being able to read into people’s mind. Get out of the office, talk to people who buy your stuff, and find ways to make your stuff even better. It’s not that complicated.

Learnings from the Concorde

The Concorde could cross the Atlantic in 3.5 hours. It was more than twice as fast than other options. It was beautifully designed. The food was good. People seemed to love it. But it was expensive, both for passengers and for airlines. The Concorde failed – even if it was a good idea well executed – because its business model didn’t make sense for anyone.

Minimum Wage

I never thought about Bernie Sanders or the 15$ minimum wage. I don't have a formed opinion. But there's a quote in this video that is disarmingly simple: "If you're working 40 hours / week, you should not be living in poverty."

What Clients Want (And How Planners Can Help)

If you work for (or with) a marketing agency or consulting firm, this deck of fifty or so slides is a required reading. My top 5 quotes:

"Any sane marketer knows that the question is not" what will change in 10 years "but" what will not change in 10 years? "

"Do not say that you have a mindset startup, when you're wearing the same heavy astronaut clothing you used the last two decades."

"Gone are the days of customer briefing, scheduler writes internal brief, waiting for a new creative review, another two weeks for revisions, and more.

"There 's a switch to asking for assets and activations - things with a finite shelf life - to systems and ecosystems - things that will be updated and tinkered with."

"It's not that simple that you do not have to do it." In this way, it's not that simple. That kind of rigid thinking, based on engineering practices, does not apply to marketing. "

H/T Julian Cole

Building the Panama Canal

I like to read about big construction projects (see the Brooklyn Bridge here). When you’re stuck in your daily work it makes you think bigger and broader. It revives your imagination. It makes your to-do seems relatively small compared to those big projects. And it’s always a delight to see how inventive, ingenious and in some case, ill-intentioned, our predecessors were. Here’s a short video about the Panama Canal.

Letting the best ideas win

This is Ray Dalio. He has some ideas on how to create a culture where the best ideas win. Because the best ideas should win, right? Surprisingly, he is not a Creative Director in an advertising agency. Shocker. He founded a hedge fund that grew to be one of the biggest on the planet. Wait, he is not a creative guy, he is a finance guy? Yep. I know. Some say he made a bit of money along the way. But this is not important. His biggest claim to fame is that he has a system to let the best ideas win.

Having fun with spam email

Hopefully this will make you laugh. It is a good reminder of how much spam goes into our inboxes. And to stay vigilant. If it seems too good to be true — probably it isn’t true.

Building a digital product

And thanks to Peter Grillet, we’ve got a TL;DR version!

Michael's business worked because:

  • We kept costs low

  • We had a highly technical team

  • Passionate about the product

Ask yourself

  • How serious is your problem?

  • How specifically are you solving the problem for first?

  • Solve a problem people need to solve regularly

  • How easy are your customers to find?

  • Does your MVP actually solve the problem?

  • - Get users on your product early (you are not an artist)

  • Who are the most desperate customers, sell to them first. If it takes 10 months, they aren't desperate

  • Who's business is going to go out of business, without your software?

  • Be weary of 'customers' who are taking the piss and avoid them

  • Be cautious with your discounts. Use discounts for urgency but don't devalue your product / service


  • Super important: ensure your stats are part of the build process

  • Should be a sources of ideas for features and solutions

  • Google Analytics is not optimal, you need an events based analytics solution (Mixpanel...) as well

  • Pick 5-6 simple stats to track, don't overload yourself

  • Ensure you are tracking if people are using product or not

  • Maintain a clear spec that you are building that all team members can refer to

Dev cycles

  • Keep them short

  • Have a single KPI that reflects how you are doing (Money if you charge / Usage if you don't)

  • Ensure everyone in the company knows what the KPI is and was

  • Brainstorm solutions (with metrics to support / destroy ideas)

  • Categorise: New Features & Optimisations / Bug Features / Tests

  • Prioritise: Easy / Medium / Hard - Decide

  • which hard item with impact the KPI the most - Which Medium item... - Which Easy item...

  • Create the spec for each item

  • Distribute tasks

  • Meet once a week or bi-weekly, enough time to get shit done

Pivot or iterate

  • Give your product time be properly validated

  • Pivot: Changing problem or Customer

  • Iterate: Changing the solution

  • Identifying the problem is the genius

  • Don't be fake Steve Jobs; iterate and talk to customers

  • Ask a specific customer what they want and make it (if it makes sense for your KPI)

Pricing Power

Pricing power refers to how much a change in price by a company can influence demand for one if its product. A big competitive advantage usually translates into pricing power. It’s a very useful concept if you want to test your competitiveness. You ask yourself: what happens if we raise price? Do people keep on coming? Do we lose everyone? How much better is our service or product if raising prices a little bit scare everyone.

There are different kinds of competitive advantages that gives you pricing power. Product advantage, brand advantage, distribution advantage, cost advantage, intellectual property advantage, legal advantage, etc.

Think about Supreme and how fast they sell 300$ t-shirts (brand).

Think about a remote gas station that can sell gas 3c (distribution).

Think about a Michelin star restaurant with 500$ tasting menus (product)

Think about Starbucks charing 5$ for teas (brand + distribution).

Think about a trademarked drug that sells for 45$/pill (legal).

Or think about Apple and the price of their iPhones (pretty much all advantages).

Do you know Mr. Bags?

I like to get lost on YouTube. If you're interested in online shopping, fashion, luxury, social media or simply curious if influencer marketing truly works, check this out.

For what it’s worth, I think it’s the type of ‘influencer marketing’ case studies that can be taken out of context. This is the one in a million case. This guy is a selling machine (not sure if it’s really a good thing but… just observing here). It’s in his brand / his DNA. The more he sells stuff to people, the more they like him. There’s a total fit between the category (luxury bags), the selling channel (e-commerce), the audience (high $ connected millennials who crave luxury exclusives), etc. It’s the perfect storm. It doesn’t mean your Yogurt brand will get the same results by paying a local lifestyle influencer on instagram. But there’s definitely something interesting going on here.

Conversations with brands

Few thoughts on this topic:

It's all about scale and proximity. Lots of things work REALLY well and make LOTS OF SENSE for small brands, SMEs, one-person brands, etc. The 'Customers want conversations with brands' is one of those things. It looks really good on a keynote slide over a high-res photo. But it's just not a generality. You have to unpack it.

What is a conversation? Back & forth in the comment box Facebook? People sharing your hashtag/meme? Good customer service via Twitter? A 30s video that's gone viral after 15M$ of paid media? UGC in an Instagram contest? An influencer campaign? Are we conversing?

Actual talking - human to human - is rare. And usually happens at small scale. Conversations are important for restaurants, skate shops or tattoo artists - where there are real people who benefit from the exchange - much less for a CPG brand where every bit of external communication is outsourced or automatized and never makes it back to the team.

Startup tips by Sam Altman

The most important thing, the number one lesson we try to teach startups is that, the degree to which your successful, approximates the degree to which you build a product that is so good people spontaneously tell their friends about it.