Blue Bottle Coffee proves developers aren't the only ones who love Slack

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Credit: Dan via Flickr

How the San Francisco Bay Area's hottest coffee chain caffeinated their collaboration

Blue Bottle Coffee Company, a coffee roaster and retail chain based in my current home base of Oakland, California, recently followed in a fine San Francisco Bay Area tradition and raised a $20 million round of venture funding that's further fueled the growth of its boutique-y, one-cup-at-a-time coffee joints to the East Coast and internationally. 

That's good news for the company, which currently employs somewhere around 300 people, including baristas. But it's presented the company with the challenge of keeping everybody up-to-speed and in touch with each other across cities and time zones. And e-mail just wasn't cutting it, leaving too many questions unanswered and too many  

So Blue Bottle Coffee Company turned to Slack, the increasingly popular Silicon Valley darling of a collaboration and chat tool, to supercharge its internal collaboration and help the company grow. 

Slack first arrived at Blue Bottle in April of 2014 -- the company had acquired coffee delivery startup Tonx, including co-founder Nik Bauman, who now serves as Blue Bottle's director of digital products. Bauman and his small team were among Slack's earliest users, and they loved the platform so much that they insisted on implementing it within Blue Bottle.

That turned out to be a good thing, Bauman says, because Slack's real strength is in bringing people who work remotely all together on one platform. Blue Bottle hadn't noticed yet, he says, but the company's email foundation was already starting to show its cracks. Nobody had any clue what other people were working on or who was responsible for what in any other office. 

"They basically were in a situation where people couldn't talk to each other," Bauman says. 

And so the Tonx team, finding themselves suddenly in a "real" company and in a position of influence over its IT infrastructure, decided to take its good results with Slack and roll it out to the fifty some-odd desk workers (that is, not baristas or other retail store workers), including store managers, in the company. 

Combining Slack with its Google Drive and Dropbox integrations let people share documents, files, and strategies with each other in a way they never were before. In fact, Bauman says, some users have become so entrenched in the platform that they've formed Slack-based friendships. 

And despite the fact that many of Slack's first customers are Silicon Valley startups and smaller development teams within larger companies, Bauman estimates only "3 or 4" of Blue Bottle's Slack users are in software engineering. Everybody from accountants to HR finds its drag-and-drop platform for collaboration easy and simple to use, Bauman says. There are even a few baristas who took it upon themselves to join Slack, and use it to discuss shifts and talk to each other outside of work, Bauman says. 

Bauman says that Slack was the only choice for collaboration at Blue Bottle, but back in the Tonx days, they had tried everything from IRC to Atlassian HipChat to keep remote workers on the same page. But nothing made it as easy as Slack to share things in line and "add value to conversations," Bauman says. Even though Slack offers full customizability on things like theming, colors, and fine-tuned IT controls, Blue Bottle apparently was good to go and comfortable deploying it right out of the box. 

"It just does the smart thing," Bauman says. "It does what computers are supposed to do." 

After only a few months, it's hard to get solid metrics on the impact of Slack on the company. But Bauman says that the proof is in his daily dashboards of email usage: In lieu of "annoying 50-message threads," Bauman says people are turning to Slack rooms to have better conversations.

"You can literally look at email as a measure of success," Bauman says. 

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