Starbucks’ Secret Weapon – Forbes

Starbucks' Secret Weapon - Forbes

Starbucks’ Secret Weapon – Forbes.

“[Michelle Gass] led Starbucks in a new direction in 1996 by making a huge success of Frappuccino, now a $2 billion brand. She ran the company’s big turnaround for Chief Executive Howard Schultz after he returned to the top job in 2008. She led Starbucks to triumph in the usually reviled world of instant coffee with the introduction of VIA in 2009. Now she’s going to run Europe, the Middle East and Africa for the company.”

Entrepreneurs can learn a lot from intrapreneurs who have built thriving brands and products within large, established organizations. Michelle Gass built Frappuccino into a $2 billion brand by taking a clouds down approach to the business and asking her team to think about how big the Frappuccino business could be. She ultimately created a platform with tens of thousands of possible flavor combinations. Next, Gass challenged the status quo by moving Starbucks into instant coffee with VIA. Most recently, she took the helm of Seattle’s Best Coffee and expanded to 50,000 distribution points from 3,000, while cutting 40% of its line of packaged coffees.

Clouds Down: A term l learned while working for Yum! Brands. It implies taking a step back, seeing the big picture and setting expectations high, and then developing the specific milestones to achieve a vision. Large companies often get stuck in cycles of incremental change or “business as usual”. A clouds down strategy can help lead to step-change results.

Lessons: 

  • Look for big ideas: She pitted fresh-brewed Starbucks against VIA instant to see if customers could tell the difference.
  • Be disruptive: She concentrated Seattle’s Best’s packaged coffee line to 5 core coffee types and took the packaging from traditional coffee-brown to bright teals, reds, and oranges. “As a small brand you’ve got to be disruptive,” she says.
  • Stay close to the details: “To create something sustainable, you have to be close to the details…As an engineer I use facts and data, but it’s about seeing inside them.”
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