Howard Schultz, founder and executive chairman of Starbucks, made blockchain waves over the weekend by sounding off against bitcoin.
It happened during the Starbucks Q1 2018 earnings call, attended by investors, analysts, and journalists alike. Though Schultz clearly explained that Starbucks is not presently pursuing any bitcoin- or cryptocurrency-related initiatives, the company is deeply aware of these emergent payment technologies.
You can’t bring up cryptocurrency in the public forum without coming out as for bitcoin or against, and the Frappucino King is deeply skeptical. “I don’t believe that bitcoin is going to be a currency today or in the future,” Schultz said. Yet he’s bullish enough on the crypto space at large to say that “one or a few legitimate cryptocurrencies” will eventually emerge.
Starbucks already rules a payments microcosm with its Rewards cards, so it will continue to maintain that ecosystem using modern technology. Starbucks has some radical ideas for the future, already test-driving a cashless store in Seattle. Cryptocurrency payments don’t sound so far-fetched by comparison. When Schultz name-drops “bitcoin” during an earnings call, he may be planting seeds for a time when Starbucks develops a blockchain product that best serves its interests—if it ever does.
For now, “Starbucks is [not] announcing that we are forming a digital currency or [that] we’re investing in [cryptocurrency],” Schultz said on the call.
It’s good PR for companies to invoke the blockchain or otherwise demonstrate some awareness of cryptocurrency because it can literally drive up stock prices. Schultz was tasked with delivering some generally undesirable news to the public on Thursday: missing analyst expectations, shares of SBUX were down 5 percent.
Invoking bitcoin even just to criticize it is an elegant parry that lets Schultz temper the present-day negatives with some vague allusions to a positive, blockchain-enabled future.