Why this former Starbucks executive quit his job as CEO to start a startup

As a teenager, former Starbucks executive Adam Brotman found inspiration in an unlikely place: the Costco parking lot. In 1982, his uncle Jeff Brotman (Jeff Brotman) and James Sinegal (James Sinegal) co-founded a large retail chain-Brotman (Brotman) was 16 when he was recruited This store organizes shopping carts at the first location in Seattle.

Brotman later held top leadership positions at Starbucks and J. Crew, and he believed that his first job inspired his entrepreneurial spirit into business.

“Even if I went out on a cart in the rain and watched my uncle and Jim build this iconic company up close, it set a very high standard for success,” said the 52-year-old. CNBC success“It creates room for how I view success.”

The Seattle native started his career as a lawyer, but quit his business at the age of 27 and founded PlayNetwork, an in-store entertainment service company. After working several times in other companies, Brotman joined Starbucks in 2009.

What did he learn from working at Starbucks

If you have ever used Starbucks points to buy free latte or order on the app, you can thank Brotman. He has served as Starbucks’ chief digital officer and executive vice president of global retail business for nearly ten years, and has established reward programs and digital platforms.

The Starbucks app is considered the gold standard of franchising.As of April, mobile transactions accounted for More than 25% In all Starbucks orders in the United States. But Brotman did not start the application as a final, completed project. First, Starbucks introduced loyalty and payment functions, and then added ordering and marketing functions. “The app did not become famous overnight,” he pointed out. “We continue to improve and change things based on customer feedback.”

According to Brotman, building a mobile order function is the “most complex” part of creating an application, involving multiple large teams, including marketing, payment strategy, and operations. This process taught Brotman the importance of aligning common goals, making collaboration smoother, and creative strategies for problem-solving.

“I had a windowless conference room at the back of the Starbucks office. I asked our maintenance staff if they could paint all the walls with whiteboard materials,” he recalled. “Every week, all the teams will meet in that war room, and we will cover every inch of that room with ideas for improving the application.”

“I decided it was time to stretch myself”

One would expect Brotman to continue his success at Starbucks, either to continue his role or to seek a similar job in another Fortune 500 company. Instead, he left Starbucks to join J.Crew in 2018 as president and co-CEO. This leap was not driven by a love of fashion, but a love of New York, where the company is headquartered.

“My wife and I have always wanted to live in New York, the’center of the universe’,” he said. “I decided it was time to put myself in an uncomfortable new environment to stretch myself. I am very happy to be able to apply some of the experience I learned at Starbucks to a different iconic American brand.”

Brotman only stayed at J.Crew for one year. He spent one year launching the brand’s loyalty program, hoping to replicate some of the digital innovations he brought to Starbucks.He wanted to create a mobile app for the brand and improve its personalized marketing, but he said The team “did not prioritize” these projects. Then, Brotman had a revelation: Many companies did not use data like Starbucks to personalize their marketing and user experience, thereby strengthening their relationship with customers.

Back to Seattle and start-ups

Missing home in Seattle and eager to start a business again, Brotman moved back to Washington. It was there that Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson introduced him to Jon Shulkin, chairman of Eatsa, a fully automated fast food chain in California. The two hope to transform the troubled start-up company into a software platform to help other consumer brands, restaurants and retail chains realize their business digitization.

Johnson and some venture capital promoters recruited Brotman to lead the company’s restart as BeaconIn 2019, Brotman became the CEO of this Seattle-based (and supported by Starbucks) startup, where he and his team are developing software to help small businesses use tools such as digital ordering and personalized marketing. Starbucks also licenses its mobile and loyalty program technology to Brightloom so that its customers can use it for their own business.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the challenges of operating start-ups. When Brightloom’s office lease expired at the beginning of the crisis, Brotman decided that he and his 51 employees should switch to permanent remote work, a process he called “weird and scary, but also great.”

Brightloom’s business has also been driven by the pandemic, as most companies have to go online to contact customers. “This makes companies more eager to figure out how to build better digital relationships with customers,” Brotman added.according to Crunchbase, Brightloom has raised more than $45 million in funding.

From working in C-Suite for some of the world’s most well-known brands to leading a relatively unknown small start-up, it is surprising to say the least. But as he climbed the corporate ladder, Brotman realized that for him, happiness and professional achievement did not match the traditional definition of success.

“Even when I was a teenager, I always got so much energy from trying to solve problems and build new things. That’s what a startup is all about,” he said. “It keeps me energetic, and sometimes I even forget the survival anxiety of working in a startup.”

Of course, when you are not in Brotman’s position, without millions of dollars of financial support, or when the leaders of Starbucks and Costco are mentors, taking risks and changing careers can be more daunting. But the CEO hopes that he can encourage others to be bolder in their careers.

“Think about professional tennis players-they have to master their serve, backhand, forehand and net play in order to be the best player,” he said. “Start with a final goal, and then break down the process into its components… and make sure you are curious and committed to every step of the learning process.”


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