Among the Bay Area’s coffee purveyors few are as well-loved as Philz. CEO Jacob Jaber has made sure the personal touch is maintained through fast growth – 14 current locations – caffeinating artists, designers, engineers and everyday people. I recently had the chance to ask Jacob a few questions about how their business has grown and the role of technology.
Q: Philz started in 2003 with a single shop in the Mission District. How big are you today and has the growth surprised you?
We have 14 successful locations and have an ambitious vision to grow and share the Philz experience with more people around the world. For me, it’s harder to see growth on the inside compared to outsiders who’ve been our customers since day one and continue frequenting us everyday – they tell me all the time: “you guys are growing so much, we are so happy for you.”
Philz is extremely fortunate to have the most awesome team members and customers any CEO can ask for. However my mindset is such that even though we’ve grown from 1 to 14, we haven’t done squat. We have a lot of work ahead of us and there’s no room for complacency; we have to keep getting better. I feel a deep commitment to our people to work harder than ever in pursuit of our vision to change the way people drink coffee.
This year, we are aiming to open 8 new beautiful stores. It will be our biggest growth year to date. Overall, I’d say I’m more determined to deliver the best coffee and service experience we can than I am surprised of our growth.
Q: Retail establishments are increasingly being pitched by startups on all sorts of technology – digital point of sale systems, loyalty programs, mobile apps. How have you made decisions on which to implement at Philz and what’s been the most valuable?
We don’t believe we are in the coffee business. At Philz, we believe we are in the peoples business serving coffee. With that said, we never start with technology, we start with people. Technology has been an awesome and popular tool to help make the world better and it’s more prominently accessible in the Bay Area than anywhere else I know of. With that said, we get pitched all the time and our decision making process always filters through our mission and values – is it going to help us deliver a better customer experience? If so, we’ll consider it. In the near future we plan to implement some really cool ideas that involve leveraging technology to improve the customer experience. To date, the most valuable technological tools for us have been simple stuff like Yelp and Social Media.
Q: I noticed Amazon’s yellow package lockers at the Noe Valley Philz. Is this an experiment or do you see coffee shops generally playing a larger role in last mile package delivery?
At Philz, our mission is to better people’s day. Our stores serve communities of people and we feel we have a some responsibility to help make it a better place above and beyond caffeinating people with coffee and a smile. That’s why we installed Amazon Lockers at some of our stores – customers that use it really love it and are thankful that we help them get their package sooner than normal delivery methods.
Q: You guys are active on a number of social media sites – Twitter, Instagram, etc – how do you make a decision to use one of these platforms given that each takes additional time to fully participate. Where do you want to centralize your community?
To me, Social Media is like an on going group SMS with our customers. Fundamentally, it’s about connecting and staying in touch. When you look at Social Media that way, you use it differently. We don’t have a 9-5 social media person – this stuff is 24/7. In terms of which platforms we use, we go where most of our customers are (i.e. Facebook, Twitter, etc…).
I’m not sure we want to centralize our community. Every community is different and what matters is that we are in tune with each community so we can better serve them; some people call that being locally relevant which is a nice term. Ultimately, it’s analogous to our philosophy about coffee – the best coffee in the world is the coffee that comes to your individual taste. It’s about personalization.
Q: What’s a problem you’d love a startup to solve for you that no one has adequately done thus far?
Parking in San Francisco. Just a few days ago I spent 1 hour looking for parking and finally decided to park a mile away at a parking garage and take an Uber back to my destination.