Earlier this week we learned that the man who helped popularize the pumpkin spice latte is now helping small businesses survive unprecedented pandemic times. Howard Schultz, the one time (for maybe five minutes) U.S. Presidential candidate and former Starbucks CEO is funding a “free online small business education platform.”
There was no reveal about how much money Schultz will be putting into the initiative. We’re guessing it won’t cut too deeply into his $4.3 billion net worth.
The initiative called Backto.Biz is being assembled by a Seattle-based company called Creative Live. The program is launching with some 400 video lessons, tools, and articles about running a local business.
This isn’t the first time Schultz has “put his money where his mouth is”. His family foundation has been active in addressing local life-related issues such as at-risk youths and post 9/11 veterans. The Backto.biz play comes out of The Emes Project, which is part of the Schultz Family Foundation. The project is focused on bringing “an entrepreneurial lens to public-private partnerships to incubate and support initiatives that create opportunity and accessibility for all.”
The program will offer a learning and educational curriculum that covers much of the waterfront a local small business owner might find valuable. From topics like hiring talent, e-commerce, brand building, pivoting business models, creating new revenue streams, finding ideal customers to managing stress.
Would Starbucks Have Survived?
Here’s what Schultz said about the pandemic and his takeaway. “When the COVID-19 pandemic forced millions of small businesses to shutter their doors last year, my mind, for a moment, jumped back to 1987, when I became chief executive of Starbucks. Back then, we too were a small business. We had just 11 stores and fewer than 100 employees, and sometimes we struggled to make monthly payroll. ‘If COVID had struck us back then,’ I thought to myself, ‘there would be no Starbucks today.’”
Schultz went on to say this. “America’s future rests on our entrepreneurial fire. But in recent years, the spark within many entrepreneurs has struggled to find the oxygen to burn bright. The causes are many. Including the need for learning and community, the lack of capital and social networks, the systemic failures that lead many to not even try. That’s why I believe this COVID-recovery platform is critical.”
This is not the first time, and we doubt the last time Schultz will put his energy toward helping small businesses. Schultz’s The Plate Fund provided 16,000 restaurant workers with much-needed cash last April, during the pandemic’s first big surge. This was a one-time relief program that granted recipients $500 within 48 hours. He also used his network to push for additional federal funding.
Those efforts were like the emergency room. They were about helping keep the patient alive. This new initiative is more like physical and occupational therapy.
“Not only have owners taken on significant debt and face mounting bills,” Schultz said. “They are reopening in a vastly changed world: Consumer behavior has undergone a seismic shift, and the need for digital transformation has accelerated.”
Big Brand Support
As a networking kind of person, Schultz is joined by others in the business community. Ascend, Chase, Community Reinvestment Fund USA, Facebook, Grow with Google, Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses, Intentionalist, Main Street America, Microsoft, Reimagine Main Street, Salesforce, Starbucks, and Shopify are partnering with him to promote BackTo.Biz.
We imagine most of the platform’s content is available through a Google or YouTube search. What’s not clear is how much original content Backto.biz is generating. Or, for that matter, how much content Backto.biz will pull from existing classes and courses. What is also not entirely clear is what is “free” and how much requires a paid subscription.
When you dig a bit deeper there’s a bit of a “MasterClass” feel to the initiative. In order to access all of the content, business owners can spend as little as $12.42 for an annual subscription. Of course, we all ran to the local Starbucks last week for our 2021 Trenta Pumpkin Spiced lattes. And we probably spent close to the Backto.biz monthly subscription fee. We’d think trading one fewer coffee drink for a monthly subscription might be an intelligent choice. Then again, it is a Pumpkin Spiced Latte.