October 19, 2016
Heavybit Welcomes Marketing and Product Faculty Chairs
We're excited to announce Nisha Ahluwalia and Cole Krumbholz as Heavybit’s Faculty Chairs. As Faculty Chairs they are building a formal ma...
In episode 7 of Practical Product, Craig and Rimas sit down with Scott Rocher, Director of Digital Product Development at Blue Bottle Coffee. Digital products and coffee, what do they have to do with each other? Rocher shows how the offline world of coffee can affect online content, and vice versa.
About the Guests
Scott Rocher is Director of Digital Product Development at Blue Bottle Coffee where he directs a team of developers to build and maintain the digital services offered by Oakland-based coffee roasting company. Previously, Rocher was CTO of Tonx, Inc. and a senior engineer for Yahoo.
Craig Kerstiens: All right, welcome to another episode of Practical Product. Today we have with us, Scott Rocher. How are you doing today?
Scott Rocher: I’m doing great, thanks for having me.
Craig: And myself, Craig Kerstiens, as usual. Scott, where do you work at?
Scott: I work at Blue Bottle Coffee.
Craig: Okay, so this is about tech and product management. For those not familiar, like everyone in San Francisco probably knows Blue Bottle.
Craig: I don’t know if you guys kind of started some of the San Francisco coffee craze. Sure, we can give you credit for it, I’m sure you want that.
Craig: Yeah, I think you probably did. You’re like one of the ones I think most people know about.
Scott: We’ve been around for 14 years now.
Craig: Okay, so actually longer, I guess longer than I’ve lived in the Bay Area.
Rimas Silkaitis: Wait, and didn’t you take a round of funding at some point?
Scott: We’ve taken a few rounds of funding at this point.
Rimas: So it’s startup-like.
Scott: Yeah, it started though in our founder’s kitchen. Literally, he was roasting coffee on a perforated baking sheet, and he describes that his whole kitchen was full of smoke. But he started roasting this excellent coffee that his friends and other people around the Bay Area started to take notice of.
And it just grew from there. It became a farmer’s market stand, and now we have, I think as of last week, 29 or 30 locations around the world, including in Japan now. So we are a global retailer.
Craig: Well, very cool.I have no idea about some of those things at all.
Rimas: I didn’t either, can you describe what your role is at the company?
Scott: I’m the Director of Digital Product Development. Which means I am sort of directing the team of engineers, product managers, designers, and sort of guiding where we head with our digital products.
Craig: I think we’re both confused. You said you’re a coffee shop that’s taken funding. So one, already confused. Digital products. Digital products.
‘Why does a coffee company have a team of software engineers?’ is one question we get a lot.
Craig: Let’s just start right there because I think you know, myself and Rimas, we’re database guys, right? Which for us, when we come on the show and we talk about data-driven product management, well, it’s really easy and straight forward because we live and breathe SQL.
Craig: Why do you need tech product management?
Scott: Well, the team focuses, really, on three areas. One, which is the most obvious, is everything, if you go to bluebottlecoffee.com, we have a website there, we have an ecommerce experience. We have a really popular subscription service where you can sign up and we’ll send you fresh roasted coffee every X number of days of your choosing.
But behind the scenes we’re also building technology that helps different teams around Blue Bottle do whatever their job is. For example, cafe managers use the products that we build to order coffee for their cafe, to look at metrics to understand what’s going on with their part of the business.
Craig: Is this cafe managers in your Blue Bottle shops? Or other shops as well, too?
Scott: No, we actually don’t do wholesale anymore, so anywhere where you’re having a cup of Blue Bottle coffee made for you is gonna be either in your kitchen or at a Blue Bottle cafe.
Craig: So, kind of curious there. You said, “We don’t do wholesale anymore.”
Craig: Well, can you share a little bit about that?
Scott:It’s been over a year now. We made kind of a gutsy decision to pull out of wholesale. You used to be able to buy Blue Bottle beans for your cafe, if you had a coffee shop somewhere around the country. You could order coffee from us and we would deliver it to you or ship it to you.
Craig: Yeah, I think remember getting Blue Bottle coffee at not-a-Blue-Bottle in San Francisco. I actually thought I still could. So, okay, keep going.
Scott: Why did that happen? Part of it was the experience you get when you have a drink made for you is something that we’re really, really, really serious about as a company. And so we wanted to be able to control that experience a little more and make sure that it was up to our standards.
And then, you know, it helped us. I think, this is my opinion, I think it helped us as a company kind of focus on the areas that we really wanted to grow. And that’s retail, digital and we also have consumer packaged goods.
Craig: Okay, so I think that makes a good bit of sense, I think it’s probably worth taking a small detour and elaborating that there are different levels of quality of coffee. Within San Francisco you find a lot of very good coffee. You guys helped create, I think, a lot of that trend.
Scott: They call it “the third wave of coffee.” We can talk more about that.
Craig: But, I mean, there is definitely a quality there and, all the coffee is not the same, right?
Scott: Yeah, I mean, we certainly think that there’s different levels. And whether it’s the way it tastes or the way you feel when you walk into a cafe, that also comes into play. And that can even affect the way you think it tastes. And we think all of those things are super important.
Rimas: So, I want to start diving into this marriage between software and the physical product. You mentioned that, we talked about the wholesale part of this and how you want a curated experience when you come into the retail store, because that’s critical to the brand and the business.
How do you tackle that in terms of product management on the digital side, when it is very much about experience? How do you deliver that in digital form?
Scott: Yeah, we talk a lot on the team about, we sort of always ask, “What would we do in the cafes?” So, if we’re making a product decision on a web page, and it’s supposed to help you choose a coffee, we kind of go back to what Blue Bottle’s all about, which is that cafe experience. Sometimes the team will actually go to a cafe and stand there and say, “Hmm, I’m not sure which coffee to get. What would you as a barista…?”
Craig: Yeah, that’s going to be my next question, how much does the team actually get out and feel that experience? When it’s a developer focused product, you’ve got a team of developers that understand the product, usually. How does that translate?
Are your developers, have they been baristas before? How familiar are they with what it’s like to work on the other side of the counter?
Scott: The corporate side of Blue Bottle, meaning, we call it HQ. These are people who work outside of the retail cafes. It’s fairly small but it’s a super important part of our culture that everyone in the HQ really understands retail and what it’s like to be in the cafe.
The other thing I was going say is that everybody on the digital team has kind of come to Blue Bottle to work on coffee. We range from coffee nerds to just people who love Blue Bottle coffee. But it’s definitely the thing that binds the team together. And so a big part of our, particularly in the onboarding experience, is making sure that everyone understands what’s going on in retail. Because it guides a lot of how we think about products on the web as well.
Craig: And I’ve heard about this.There’s some big-box retailers that, even in like tech and IT, you rotate in to test these jobs. You kind of shadow people. Do you do anything like that, or is it like you haven’t necessarily implemented that, you just make sure they have a good consciousness for it?
Scott: No, we do, we all do shifts. The training program at Blue Bottle is really intense for a barista, which is one thing that sort of attracts people to come work with us. It’s like really incredible what you learn through that, and so not everybody on the digital team has gone through the intensive one-, two-, three-week training.
But there are roles in the cafe that you can do without training. You can bus dishes, you can work the point of sale, which we use Square at Blue Bottle. And then you can, as you get trained, graduate to pour-over coffee or espresso, or latte art, and things like that.
Craig: Which is the most complicated? The pour-over, the espresso, the latte art?
Scott: The milk art is definitely really intense. That’s something, we actually have latte art competitions inside Blue Bottle, because even people who are career baristas, it’s almost a thing that, you’ve done it a thousand times and you’re trying to get a little bit better each time you do it.
We draw some of our culture from Japanese, this idea that you’re always trying to hone your craft.
I’m sure you all can relate to this. And so, you can make a cappuccino a thousand times, two thousand times, and really at the root of the retail experience is, every time we make the next one it should be a little better than the last one. We also think about that as we open more cafes or we sell more things through the website.
How can we make it a little bit better as we get bigger? And that’s of course the secret sauce that we think we’re figuring out. But as we get bigger and we raise more money, like you mentioned, that becomes like really important, that we don’t lose who we are.
Rimas: We talk about going into the retail stores as someone on the digital team. Are there any other differences when it comes to, let’s call them user testing? Because from the digital-product side, just software in general, I’m used to, and Craig mentioned, you have a team of developers there, you can get them to test things for you.
Granted, I always like to remind people that sometimes the people working on the product may not be the people actually using it on a daily basis, or the target customers, sometimes. Are there other things in that regard when it comes to user-experience testing that you do that might be different than something that we might do in the SaaS world?
Scott: Yeah, this is one really interesting thing. We have a weekly meeting at Blue Bottle where we just talk about the different areas and how things are going, and try to share ideas. And it’s funny when we get to digital, just because of the nature of the way the web works. And you all and many people listening will know this. But we can measure it, almost everything, on the website.
People are always, the retail team’s always like, “Wow, how did you…? It’s so nice that you know how many people visited a site and how many people clicked this thing and how many people bought.” And being able to be so data-driven is really powerful. It helps us understand the psychology of, we call it the online guest.
We have our cafe guests, we have people coming online, many times it’s the same person. And so, some of the things that we do are very qualitative. We will invite people who are really happy subscribers to get on a phone call with us or come to meet us in the office. And we’ll just talk to them about their experience and try to understand, just in four or five cases, how they’re experiencing our products.
Craig: That makes a lot of sense on the consumer side, right? The website, you track a lot of things. I’m a data guy, that makes a ton of sense. Are you able to do the same thing for the things you’re building for the retail stores? What’s the level of data intensiveness that you have? Can you drill in a little bit more there?
Scott: I can. We have a team of people that is able to pull insights out of some of the data that we have. The data in retail is, we certainly have less of it.
If people think that we have some sort of camera and we’re doing machine vision and counting people in a line, we don’t do that. That would get into the realm of, maybe, creepiness.
But I think a lot of the data in “retail data,” is more of that qualitative nature. So we share a lot of ideas and the key there is, if a cafe manager in Oakland or in New York or in Japan finds that moving the flower vase to the opposite side of the register increases the number of people we can serve in a certain time period, then that’s the kind of data that we’re using in retail.
Craig: There’s that qualitative peice of, are you mostly just listening to them, like, “Hey, we moved this vase over here and it drove traffic.” Are you using that with data? Are you able to like run A/B tests on, “Do we move this flower pot over one store verse the other and see what the impact is?”
Scott: Yeah, we run tests a lot, particularly at the cafe next to our headquarters in Jack London Square in Oakland. And if you walked in as a guest, you wouldn’t know that you were part of an experiment. They’re not, they’re actually usually very small tweaks. But they’re usually things about the physical space, honestly.
If we reconfigure the place, the location where you place your order, how does that feel to people? What metrics does that move? There’s not a ton of metrics in retail, but the amount of guests we can serve per time period is a big one. And sometimes the layout of the cafe can affect that. But we also are very serious about the way it feels when you enter the cafe and we balance the way it feels with the data.
Craig: You are on the other side of, as you’re leaving the cafe, like they do at Disney World, like, “Can we take a quick survey? What was your experience?” To measure that or how are you measuring that side of it?
Scott: Sometimes we do that. We try not to.
Craig: Customers don’t love the survey at the end?
Scott:No. We do, sometimes, someone will go and observe. But we try not to interfere with the experience, because it’s the thing that makes Blue Bottle so special to a lot of people. But we do have a culture of learning and testing and iterating. Which has been really interesting, I think it’s that way of thinking has increased a lot since we’ve gotten a little more focused on digital and online, just because we’re able to move so fast.
You know, you talked about A/B tests online. We do those all the time on the website, and I think that has slowly influenced retail a little bit, to just try more experiments, particularly as the years go on with older cafes and stuff like that.
Craig: So it’s kind of a new thing. I mean, I know there’s someone like, you know, a Walmart does this, right?
Craig: But for you guys it’s kind of a new thing that, it sounds like actually from the tech side, you’re kind of influencing the rest of the business. Is that a safe statement?
Scott: I mean, I’m come from the tech side, so yeah, I hope that that’s happening in a positive way. But I think one important thing is that Blue Bottle will always be a cafe-first company. And we’re okay with that.
Craig: You know, for me and Rimas, it’s always okay to take all the credit when it’s unclear if you influenced it and it’s up for debate. You can always claim the credit there.
Rimas: Can you give me a rundown of one thing here that we’ve been talking about a lot as part of this episode, and that is qualitative research.
Rimas: Can you give me the types of qualitative research that you’re doing? I can imagine something like ethnographic research and kind of what those things are.
Scott: One thing for people listening, if you’re not familiar with Google Ventures’ Design Sprint process, it’s something that we have done twice at Blue Bottle.
Scott: And we work, the way it works is you can actually run these on your own, and there’s a book called Design Sprint, or I think it’s just called Sprint. You can buy it on Amazon. It actually is like a guide to how to do this process, and it’s very qualitative.
The idea here is that if you think about a normal product development lifecycle where you’re doing all the steps exactly right, the “design sprint” is a way to skip a lot of the steps and learn. The idea is that you come up with concepts that you want to test and you build prototypes that don’t actually work.
You actually bring in real, either potential customers or actual customers, and you have them walk through the prototypes. You learn what works and what doesn’t. And it’s a five day process. That’s one thing that we’ve done twice and has yielded amazing insights.
Craig: What are some of the tools you use there to build the prototypes? I think that’s one thing I commonly hear.
Craig: I’ve seen a few, heard of a few. I don’t know of a ton that I’ve absolutely loved. What are the tools you’re using there?
Scott: We had three teams when we did our last one. And John and Jake, who’ve helped us facilitate, they work at Google Ventures. They said, “Hey, each team, it’s up to you what you build your prototypes with.” They suggested that we use either Keynote, or a few of us use a product called Marvel, which is kind of like InVision. A lot more people have probably heard of InVision.
Craig: Yeah, I’ve had a good experience with it before.
Scott: We basically built screens and states with Sketch and then just outputted them, and then you stitch them together with Marvel or InVision. And so when the people go through the process, it feels like they’re using a real website. It can be a little frustrating for them sometimes, because not everything is clickable and not everything works exactly how you would.
But basically, when you have them run through it, we would record the screen as well as the webcam, so we could see their face. And it was just like really interesting to watch someone use a product that you kind of want to build but would have taken you way more than one day. One of the days in the sprint is “prototype day.” And so you’re able, we were actually be able to build basically three massive products or prototypes of products and learn which one of them was going to work.
Craig: Did you go on to then ship it after the fact? Was it successful in the way you expected?
Scott: We took some insights from one of the prototypes we built, and it’s turned into actual features of our subscription service at Blue Bottle. And we actually, as we’ve grown the team, we share the audio recordings and the learnings.
I put together a little like keynote that I gave, because everyone, only seven people from Blue Bottle, were able to go to the Design Sprint process. And so there was this whole second level of people at the company that wanted to hear, like, “What happened? What did you learn?” And so we did a little presentation a few weeks later.
Craig: Wait, so it sounds like typical product management, that you’ve got to go and market internally, evangelize, communicate what you’re doing and why. It sounds similar, but you have a physical product.
Craig: One thing you kind of hit on there, the subscription service, we talked about the retail, the eCommerce. How does the physical thing work? I thought I’m only supposed to deal with AWS and build software on top of it. How do you manage a physical product? Can you talk a little bit about that?
Scott: It’s complicated. You know, when you’re selling something that’s virtual or access to a service, it’s not without complication, but you figure out how much to charge someone, what the right business model is. What are the levers you can pull.
Craig: So you’re saying our job is easier than yours, is what you’re saying.
Scott: No, I think yours is harder in some ways and mine is harder in other ways. I think when you have to think about a lot of the experience that people come to Blue Bottle for, itis really tied to the physical product. So at the end of the day,
we talk a lot about that our technology and the website experience should be almost invisible.
We talk about invisible technology, for example, at Blue Bottle we use a payment processor called Braintree, which I’m sure many people are familiar with. And that’s a detail that is not important to our customers at all. And in fact, it’s so abstracted away that once you sign up for a subscription, you really shouldn’t have to think too much about it.
Really, the experience is, you sign up on our website and then every two weeks or three weeks or four weeks, you get a box in your mailbox of fresh roasted coffee. And that’s kind of like all of the tests and optimizations and all the product manager-y stuff that we do, is all about how do we make that easier and more invisible. We always talk about people waking up in the morning and thinking about our coffee; we don’t want them thinking about our website, or our emails, or anything like that.
Craig: Does that make more work for you, or less? How does, you know, as a PM of digital products, how then how do you tie into that world? Because that sounds very different, kind of like inventory management to me.
Craig: Versus traditional tech product management.
a big part of the products we build are things that people can’t see.
At bluebottlecoffee.com, we’ve actually built a lot of technology to help each of our roasteries understand what coffee they need to roast each day and who it needs to go to. It’s highly complex, and if you visit one of our roasteries and you look around, you’re not going to see shelves of bags of roasted Blue Bottle coffee everywhere.
Those are all roasted to order. So if you went on our website now and you ordered a bag of coffee, that’s literally going to be sent to the roastery tomorrow morning and roasted and shipped to you that day. So, logistically, it’s super complicated.
But it ends up being this amazing experience for customers. And so again, a lot of what we think about is, how do we make it easier for that to happen? Reliable shipping, so a lot of it’s logistics.
Rimas: I want to go back to something you had said earlier, and that is making the web and the digital products seem invisible to some extent. To me that is kind of alluding to a set of product principles that you may have. Do you have something that is part of the product management teams? And if you may, share some of the other principles.
Scott: One thing we talk about is, how do we reduce friction and highlight the value of our products? And that’s, kind of goes back to this idea of invisibleness. So yes, we are measuring things, and we look at funnel analytics, and we use a number of tools to do that. But at the end of the day, it’s really about, how do we create an experience for people that is easy, that it feels like Blue Bottle?
And when I say that, we talk a lot about this in the product team. What would it feel like if you could somehow take the way it feels when you walk into the Ferry Building and you order a Blue Bottle coffee in San Francisco, what would that feel like online? And this is like a really challenging thing for us.
Craig: You just create a Flash animation of it being poured in, problem solved, right?
Scott: We go totally skeuomorphic.
Craig: As long as they don’t use iPhone, then.
Craig: But you can do it in probably, like, SVG animation now, right?
Scott: Yeah, we could do totally skeuomorphic 3D, where you walk up to the counter and that’s how you order a bag of coffee… no.
Craig: All right, so how does that translate? In my head I get it, I understand the words, but it’s a hard problem. How do you even approach that?
Scott: I think a lot of what you just said, “I understand the words.” I think the words that we use throughout the experience and the customer lifecycle are something that’s really important.
The way we talk to you through the internet needs to feel like how a barista might talk to you.
And a lot of our, remember, I talked about that intense training, it’s not all about the technique of pouring milk into a cappuccino. A lot of it is about what are the principles around how we think about serving people and hospitality. And that extends to the digital experience, too.
So, how do we make you feel special? This is even harder online because we don’t see you face-to-face. We have an amazing, amazing customer support team. And we say this all over the site, in every email: “Hey, you should email us and we’ll help you brew coffee. We’ll help you if there’s a problem with your package. Let us know.”
Craig: So, you’re offering to come to my house and brew my coffee for me, is what I’m hearing, that as an offer.
Rimas: This sounds like an awesome deal.
Scott: I wish we could offer that as a service. We have, though, with some customers who are really stumped and want to figure it out, how to brew coffee at home. We have done some Google Hangout sessions. Please don’t email customer support and ask them to do a Google Hangout with you. But if you’re really stumped and you can’t figure it out, we will go to those kind of lengths.
Craig: This is where, as a product person, you just way overpromised. And you have customer support.
Scott: I’m sorry, customer support.
Craig: I’m curious now. So, you’ve done Google Hangouts with people, explaining how to brew coffee. Have these people never brewed coffee before?
Scott: I think they’re coming to us. A common story that we hear is that somebody sort of like has heard about Blue Bottle, maybe they were listening to a podcast and they heard, “Hey, Blue Bottle is this amazing coffee company.”
And so they order a bag and then they get it home and then they brew it themselves,and they’re like, “Well, I think this should taste more amazing, and it must be something I’m doing.” Sometimes it is something about the brew method, sometimes it’s not. But we kind of want to be there as your guide, as you go down the rabbit hole.
Craig: So, as the product team, how much do you get involved with some of that? Is it solely customer support? Because I know as the product person, usually on the tech side, I want to feel a lot of that pain, right?
Rimas: So you’re answering support tickets. I know I do at times.
Craig: Yeah, I mean, even at a huge scale I try to like read through, I think you know, at one point when my particular team had 200 tickets a week, I would read through 50 of them randomly just to sample what was going on. And then sometimes go yell at some people, but it was like,
if I didn’t feel that pain, see what they were going through, it didn’t get back to the product.
So, are you doing those sort of things as well?
Scott: Yeah. We physically sit next to the customer support team.
Craig: So they let you know how they feel.
Scott: Yeah, and when there’s problems, we talk about it. But they also are constantly sharing great news. We also use Slack at Blue Bottle to communicate across regions and also really just with each other inside the office. And so we’re constantly sharing both positive and constructive criticism.
That’s in the form of tweets, of tickets, it’s really awesome to be able to see somebody who emailed us and said, “Hey, I think I’m brewing this wrong,” or, “I need help. I want to get into pour-over, I heard that’s a thing. What’s pour over, what should I order?”
We help them through that process. And then to get a ticket at the end of that, a reply, and it says, “Oh my god, I just brewed a cup and this is the best cup of coffee I’ve ever made at home. I didn’t know I could do that.” That really fuels the entire product team, engineers, product, design, everything. That’s why we come to work everyday.
Rimas: It sounds like there’s a lot of passion with everything that everyone’s doing. I mean, it’s pretty obvious right now.
Craig: It sounds like perfect, delicious coffee. Everyone’s excited.
Rimas: Does that mean that when it comes to hiring practices for product, or anything else like that, that that’s one of the things that you need to look for?
Scott: I think one unique thing that we look for when we hire for product is somebody that can be a bridge between technical people who are experienced with building technical things and people who don’t do computers, so, we have a lot of our colleagues that we work with that we’re actually building products for internally, that don’t aren’t like what I would call like techie people. They do a lot of technical skills but not traditional tech.
Rimas: Not like software engineering.
Scott: Yeah, no.
Craig: What are some of those jobs and roles, as an example?
Scott: For example, the other day I was, she’s going to be embarrassed, but I was hanging out with Juliette who’s our lead roaster in Oakland. And so she’s this highly skilled artisan. When I watch her, I think, “Wow, you know a lot of stuff about what’s going on when you apply heat to a green coffee bean, an unroasted coffee bean.” And I was watching her do her stuff while I was actually helping her with a tech issue, a software issue.
Part of the products we build help her do her job. But at the same time we have to be able to bridge that gap. And so when we hire product managers, they really have to be people that don’t get frustrated when someone’s not used to using a website to do something, that we of course think is obvious, but we’re really driving technology into these jobs where a lot of it’s done, you just like do it however you can.
So, you’re using Google spreadsheets or Excel or literally a lot of the roasters have a notebook, pen and paper, and taking notes about how the coffee’s tasting and stuff. And that’s their logbook, almost like a scientific logbook. And so the people we hire really need to be able to be that bridge between all these people.
Rimas: I thought it was hard to hire product managers just for technical software products. Now this is a whole other level. I mean, is it pretty challenging?
Rimas: To find those individuals?
Scott: Yeah, and it’s interesting because, I think a lot of product managers, when they see that Blue Bottle coffee is hiring a digital product manager, it’s kind of like the same reaction we had at the beginning of the podcast. Which was like, “Wait, why does Blue Bottle have a tech team?”
Craig: That’s what you do, you make a website pretty.
Craig: That’s the goal.
Scott: You know, I hope some people are listening and thinking, “Wow, this sounds like an awesome product management job.”
Craig: Yeah, let’s talk.
Rimas: Hey, I was going to do that.
Scott: It’s definitely a very unique place to work, unique challenges too.
Rimas: I think that goes back to what we’ve said quite often, or at least I know I have during this podcast, which is sometimes you yourself and/or your engineering staff are not your own customers.
You need to put yourself in the shoes of other people and/or go back to things like ethnographic research, where you’re observing and watching how other people are doing things. I’ll regress into that and say, “Oh man, this is how I would do it.” But that’s not necessarily the right way.
Craig: I guess coming back to the tech side, I kind of know my customers a little bit. I work on a distributed database, I understand that world, so I have some of that built-in empathy. But I’m curious if you have any advice for the people out there that aren’t as familiar with that environment. How do you build that empathy? What would you advise for, maybe, junior PMs.
Rimas: Or anybody looking to join an organization like Blue Bottle, for example.
Craig: Which I think is good for any PM to have. What advice would you give to them to pay attention to?
Scott: A lot of it’s about personal relationships, and so part of the onboarding experience at Blue Bottle is literally around connecting new people with old people. I know it sounds obvious, but a lot of companies don’t do this.
They sort of say, “Hey, I’m going to throw you in the deep end. You need to go figure out who to talk to and who’s important and who’s not important and who is going to help you get things done.”
What I try to do is introduce product managers to people like Juliette who I mentioned earlier: “Hey, go hang out with a coffee roaster for an afternoon, get to know them, talk to them about what product management is.” By the way, no one at Blue Bottle knows what product management is.
Craig: So yeah, how do you prep Juliette for that, right? I would actually love to go and hang out and see like the lead roaster.
Scott: You should come.
Craig: Is she open to this, on the other side? I think that’s the other thing, like, “Hey, you’re interrupting my work, I’m trying to get stuff done here.” Is there any issue with balancing that? If they don’t know what a product manager is, are they just open to it?
Scott: Yes, I think Blue Bottle just has all these different departments that are really focused on different areas and making sure they do everything as best as we can. So we have culinary, we have a quality control department, quality control being of coffee. So they’re tasting.
Craig: You don’t care about code quality?
Scott: We do, a lot. We can talk about that if you want. We have all these different departments and we’re all working really hard to make Blue Bottle great. But I think we’re also really good about connecting cross-departmentally. And we all feel like we’re a little bit of a family. It still feels like a small company, and that’s part of the DNA.
I think it begins with like a culture across the company of people being open to that. And then part of what I look for, in our product managers, is like someone that can explain, one of the questions I ask in our interviews is, “What does a product manager do?” Which is something that many people have written about and talked about. I’m sure you all think about it all the time.
But if someone like kind of stumbles through that, or they’re going to have to explain that to a lot of people throughout their career at Blue Bottle,it’s important. You have to tell the story of what you do, what do you do here, you know.
Craig: I still don’t know what I actually do as a product manager.
Scott: Welcome to the club.
Craig: That is our one goal of the podcast, to eventually figure that out.
Rimas: And we’ve talked about hiring product managers, kind of off and on. But what’s your process that you have for that? Do you go through a starter project or an example project or anything else like that?
Scott: Yeah. I have a number of questions that are designed to elicit stories. And you learn a lot when you ask somebody a very open-ended question, like, “Tell me about a time when you were trying to convince engineers to do something and they just didn’t want to do it. And how did that turn out?” And just let them talk.
That’s like a really important, because it’s really hard to measure someone’s abilities in an interview setting. And then yeah, we talk a little bit about, “Well, if you were product manager here, what ideas do you have?”
I think creativity is really important because we’re trying to do something different.
We don’t actually talk that much about competition. We do a little bit but it’s mostly like, what would be the best experience for our guests online? And we just kind of do that. And that’s, again, part of the DNA of Blue Bottle. Which is like, “Hey, we just want to be the best for our customers.”
Rimas: Excellent. So, where can I submit my resume?
Craig: I’ve got one final, final question, and then if there’s anything you particularly want to leave our listeners with as good advice or input or thoughts on product management. But coming back to earlier in the show, what is the coolest piece of latte art you’ve ever seen?
Scott: Ooh, I have seen someone actually create a dragon in a cappuccino. And it wasn’t purely just with the milk pouring, it involved like some using toothpicks and stuff like that. But they were able to create this–
Craig: Were they hand-holding the toothpick? Like the toothpicks were in part of the dragon?
Scott: No, no, no. Once they pour the art they were able to make the hands.
Craig: They drew with the toothpicks.
Scott: Yeah, yeah, yeah. But that was pretty cool.
Craig: Was this a Blue Bottle employee that did this in one of the competitions, or just like the coolest one?
Scott: I don’t think so. I think I just saw that in part of the, there’s this barista cup where there’s all these competitions yearly. So if you’re interested in that, you can Google the video, they livestream this, and it’s like a global event now.
Craig: We’ll see if we can find the one and post it with the show notes. Anything else you want to leave our listeners with?
Scott: Yeah, we’ve been talking a lot about, as a product manager on the team, focusing on both starting things and finishing and thinking about the finish line when you start. And this is like super hard because we get excited about an idea, “Well, if we just have momentum, we’ll figure it out as we go.” Which is like a natural human thing.
But particularly with all the physical products we talked about, and roasting and shipping, and at Blue Bottle we really have to think about, “Well, how are we gonna get this thing into inventory? How’s it going to be physically made? Is it going to overwhelm the roastery? What’s it going to feel like when you get it in the mailbox?” And so that will be my advice for people, is
even if you’re building a feature for a technology platform, think about the whole plan.
How are you going roll it out? What’s the strategy for the data? Stuff like that.
Craig: Excellent, thanks for coming on the show.
Scott: Thanks for having me.