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An Interview with Zev Siegl, Starbucks’ Co-Founder

Publishers Stephanie Silverman and Susan Borison had the opportunity to chat with Zev Siegl at Bizdom University. 

Zev Siegl co-founded Starbucks in 1971 and changed our relationship with coffee. Siegl, an entrepreneur and speaker, sat down with Your Teen to give advice on teens and entrepreneurship. (And to confirm that the missing “e” is not a typo.)

Interview With Zev Siegl On Teen Entrepreneurs And More

Q: There is a whole new world out there for young people. For parents more familiar with the traditional path of college, how should we talk about entrepreneurship? 

Siegl: Entrepreneurs are lionized in the media every day, but not many people are really doing it. Most people work in corporations, or nonprofits, or government, and they have fulfilling lives and careers. These people maybe aren’t interested in the level of financial risk that many entrepreneurs take every day. They prefer the idea of a regular paycheck and benefits. They don’t have to fear that if their idea fails, they will be on the street. Starting a business involves a lot of smoke and flames.


Q: How did you become an entrepreneur?

Siegl: I graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in history and taught in public school for three years. I began to have meetings with my friends Gordon and Jerry to talk about starting a business. The word “entrepreneurship” wasn’t a craze then, it was really a different age. We had a list of ideas, some of which were ridiculous in retrospect. One day, we stumbled onto the idea of coffee. We started researching it—and never stopped. It turned out to be a really good idea. At that point in time, people didn’t walk around with coffee, or pick up fancy coffee on the way to work. It was the beginning of the gourmet food revolution.

Q: Are you a fan of the liberal arts?

Siegl: Absolutely. I would recommend getting as much of a liberal arts education as you can, and then getting a master’s degree in some area of business. Most of the talented young entrepreneurs I meet did not get a business degree as the source of their passion.

Q: When did you know you were onto something big?

Siegl: I would say a year after we started. We owe our early success to the fact that we had a mentor who was about five years ahead of us in the trade of the gourmet food revolution. He enabled us to move ahead pretty quickly and to avoid making many of the obvious mistakes.

Q: How did you think of the name Starbucks?

Siegl: We ultimately settled on Starbucks because it’s easy to say, impossible to misspell, and has a vaguely British overtone to it. Really, we picked it because our lawyer called and told us we had to submit papers and needed a name. We didn’t know at the time, but Starbuck is the name of the first mate on the Pequod in Moby Dick. Also the name of the schooner in the 1953 movie Fair Wind to Java. And an old family name in Nantucket.

Q: What role did luck play in the success of Starbucks?

Siegl: We had a lot of luck, most successful companies do. The launch was well timed, coinciding with the beginning of the gourmet food revolution. We had a good idea that no one else thought of that gave us a little head start. Our first three stores were in great locations, and they were available—that was lucky.

Q: What should parents do to get their kids thinking about careers?

Siegl: Take your kids to your work. Expose them to as many different work environments as possible. Even if they are not interested in your job, you never know what they will see and learn.

Stephanie Schaeffer Silverman is publisher of Your Teen Magazine.

Susan Borison is editor of Your Teen.

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