Filed Under (Business, Stuff) by Sean on March-20-2009

People who know me know that I often rag on Starbucks, mainly about their coffee. They over-roast the beans. They scald the milk horrendously in lattes, macchiatos and cappuccinos. You can have any coffee you like at a store, so long as it’s Pike Place. The one thing they do get right, however, is customer service.

Another thing I’m known for is collecting used coffee cups on my desk (or any surface, for that matter). When I went into the office earlier, I decided to pick up one of my collection of Starbucks tumblers and clean it out to take with me. Upon close inspection, I noticed that one particular model (below) was damaged. This particular model has a design flaw; there is no release valve or any way for expanded air to escape. This plagued me all the time with this model since every time I had hot coffee in it with the lever moved to the closed position, I would get coffee splashed all over me everytime I opened the lever to take a sip. In any case, I had presumably left the lid closed, since I noticed that sufficient pressure had built up inside it to actually break the internal arm which connected the rubber gasket seal with the switch on top. Thus it was impossible to close.

Old Starbucks Tumbler

I walked into my neighborhood starbucks and showed them what happened. It’s important to note this was a tumbler I probably paid about $12 for 2-3 years ago. The employee behind the register did not hesitate and told me to grab any replacement tumbler off the shelf to replace it at no cost. “Really?” “Any tumbler. I like the steel ones with the built in French press, ” he responded. So I picked up my brand new $23 plus tax solo stainless steel press pot (picture below) and went on my merry way. He even filled it up with coffee at no charge.

Fancy new Solo Press Pot

My friends know that I go to Catalina Coffee in Houston if I want a good cup of coffee (or Caffe Medici in Austin, where I frequented while attending South by Southwest). But there is a lot to be said about this level of standing behind a product, no questions asked. This wasn’t the first time, either. Years ago, I purchased my parents a Starbucks Barista Aroma automatic coffee maker for Christmas. After 2+ years of nonstop use, it just stopped working one day. My father took it into his nearest Starbucks, and even though it was well out of warranty, received the same treatment as me. This was a $200 coffee maker to boot. It is good to know that even a multi-billion dollar corporation empowers its employees to give you mom-and-pop shop level service every now and again.

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Filed Under (Geekstuff, Life, Technology) by Sean on March-13-2008

This is my first blog post (of many, to be sure) about South by Southwest interactive, a large media and technology conference in Austin, Texas. This is the second SXSWi I have ever attended, the first having been 10 years prior, when I was a panelist on one of the first interactive panels ever, covering successful entrepreneurs under 30 and lessons learned. Boy has SXSWi grown!! I really had no idea as to the magnitude of the interactive portion of the conference; had I known, I would have been a veteran by now. Suffice it to say, I will not miss another.

I’m going to keep this initial post very short since I just got back to Houston and am tired as hell and need a few days to recoup and recall everything. For the sake of brevity, I’ll highlight some things I learned about SXSW, in no particular order of importance:

  • twitter is essential to knowing what is going on and where it’s happening
  • beer is served promptly starting at 3 pm in the bloghaus (critically important)
  • the numerous parties are on the schedule until 4 am and very much a part of the event (as are flash mob parties through twitter)
  • you know people more by their twitter handle than their real names
  • you don’t sleep; show up with a huge sleep surplus or bring some Provigil
  • the tone of the conference is irreverent and raw; people cuss during sessions and keynotes
  • bring comfortable shoes
  • bring extra phone batteries or have your charger with you (twitter drains it quickly through SMS if you’re tracking a lot of things)
  • don’t track “zuckerberg” through twitter and SMS during his keynote; your phone will experience epic fail
  • hallway conversations are as important (or more so) than sessions
  • network and get to know as many people as possible (I failed a little bit in this regard due to severe sleep deprivation and my usual shyness, or “closet extroversion” as Dan Light brilliantly put it – not next time!)
  • take business cards with you next time, dumb ass!
  • Guy Kawasaki is the most kick-ass, easy going, VC ever. Period.
  • Hugh MacLeod got a kick out of my last name (but added I didn’t look like a stoner . . .)
  • spend lots of time in the bloghaus blogging, playing guitar hero, eating, drinking and tweeting
  • you drink a lot (no really, a lot)
  • keep your laptop charged at all times!
  • Macs outnumber PC laptops 30 to 1 (at least)
  • twitter!! (again) – it is an important back channel, or the conversation of the collective consciousness
  • don’t let Sarah Lacy interview you if you’re doing a keynote and you’re a young billionaire
  • even if you don’t own a computer and can’t spell blog, this conference is still the deal of the century with all the great people, films, venues, music, booze and food you can enjoy
  • Geek and good-looking are not mutually exclusive (quite the contrary methinks, especially when you’re doubly turned on by someone with looks and brains)
  • the conference is completely casual and everyone is approachable no matter their status

I could go on and on. I have many post motifs drafted from the conference which I will flush out soon, once my sleep patterns have recovered and my long term memory is functional. In the meantime, I urge everyone to read Daniel Light’s most kick-ass post about the show. I think it nails it on the head. Until next time!