Dan Levitan on Maveron’s Bay Area Expansion, Its Latest Stealth Startup, and His First Starbucks
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lately. (The funding amount is undisclosed, and the stealth company is still unnamed, at least publicly). Levitan is helping build the new e-commerce company with Mark Vadon and Darrell Cavens from Blue Nile, the online diamond seller. “They’ve done an incredible job of creating trust and confidence in consumers,” Levitan said. “They understand the world of e-commerce. Their experience is very relevant.”
Back in the day, Levitan passed on investing in Blue Nile twice. He says he “underestimated the grit, determination, and resourcefulness” of that startup, and won’t do that again. Of the new venture, he stressed “it’s early, early days” and wouldn’t give any specifics just yet. (But separately, he did mention social shopping as an area that’s taking off, so one could speculate that it’s in that general space.)
Lastly, I asked Levitan about how he first met Howard Schultz, his business partner at Maveron for the past dozen years. It was in Seattle in August 1991, and Levitan, who was working at an investment bank, flew up from Los Angeles to meet with the Starbucks coffee entrepreneur. “I was a little disappointed he didn’t let me talk. He sold me about how passionate he was about his business, and about how powerful the business model was,” Levitan said. “What was unique was how he talked about his people. His people first, and customers second.”
Levitan said that going into the meeting, he “didn’t think there was a big growth business around coffee.” But he landed in Seattle, and asked the cab driver what his favorite coffee was. Starbucks was the answer. At his hotel, he asked the desk person for a coffee recommendation. Starbucks again. So he walked over to his first Starbucks, in the City Centre tower. “People were lining up for coffee. I was blown away by that,” he said. The following year, his bank was part of Starbucks’ IPO.
All in all, it’s a lot to digest. But probably the most surprising thing Levitan told me was that he recently downloaded a book, on his Kindle, by University of North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams. That’s almost unthinkable, because Levitan is a die-hard fan (and alum) of the Duke Blue Devils, UNC’s archrival—he’s traveling to one of their games this week. But Levitan says he’s been gaining respect for Coach Williams and his recruiting prowess. Now that’s innovative thinking.