Blue Bottle Founder & CEO on Oakland as a startup hub

Bambi Francisco Roizen · March 31, 2014 · Short URL:

Oakland-based Blue Bottle leads in bringing the entrepreneurial mindset to the East Bay

In just over one month, on May 6-7, Vator will be holding Splash, its premier startup event and competition, at Jack London Square on the Oakland waterfront for the very first time. We've also expanded the Oakland event to two days so we can showcase the promise of the city as a tech and entrepreneurial hub, an idea that is getting more attention these days. Check out a recent San Francisco Chronicle article: Tech startup scene to flourish in Oakland.

There's no entrepreneurial scene and certainly no emerging entrepreneurial hub if there aren't any companies to look upon as role models. So we're gathering some of those companies and entrepreneurs in the East Bay and putting them on stage. We're excited to announce that James Freeman, Founder and CEO of specialty coffee roaster Blue Bottle, will be joining us on stage in a Fireside Keynote chat with Tony Conrad, a partner at True Ventures, and the Founder of  

Check out the event here: Vator Splash Oakland

While Blue Bottle isn't exactly a tech company, it certainly represents innovation and entrepreneurship, and a big opportunity, if venture capital financing is any measure. 

True Ventures recently invested $25 million in Blue Bottle, which is, as Conrad puts it, "at the forefront of a 'consumer movement' or mega-trend in which consumers are moving to higher quality, artisanal micro-roasters of coffee, where quality, attention to detail, beauty and a distinctive experience are being sought over more mainstream alternatives." Indeed, a couple years back, companies like Foodzie (now part of Joyus), Trisse (shut down), and Gilte Taste kicked off this trend of consumers embracing artisan foods and unique experiences. Unlike those services, however, Blue Bottle doesn't aggregate artisan coffee roasters and sell exclusively online. It's more like Apple: it makes its own high-quality product, and sells directly to consumers from a retail store whose design is intentionally part of its appeal. In fact, when True Ventures made its earlier investment in 2012, Conrad referred to Blue Bottle as the "Apple of Coffee." 

All told, Blue Bottle has raised nearly $50 million from august investors and angels, including Google Ventures, as well as Evan Williams, Twitter co-founder, and Chris Sacca, ex-Googler-turned-prolific-angel-turned VC. This venture financing comes roughly a decade after Freeman, who comes across as modest and genuine, started Blue Bottle in 2002 with a table showcasing his home-brewed coffee at the Old Oakland Farmers' Market, two credit cards and $15,000 in savings.  

Fortunately, he was making money from the market, which enabled him to eventually open up another table in the Berkeley Market. Fast forward, Blue Bottle has a dozen locations in California and New York and plans to open up more in Los Angeles and potentially Tokyo this year.  

For Freeman, the retail outlet is his passion. Sales at the retail stores also account for the bulk of the revenue. 

When asked why he started in Oakland, Freeman said: "I liked Oakland. It was cheaper to start a business there than San Francisco and it seemed likle there were more places to do things on the cheap and I liked the weather, the customer base and people."

As for whether Oakland is a good place for startups, Freeman said: "It's great. You can get nice spaces. San Francisco is 49 square miles and there's not much of it. You can start your business here more economically... The ferry is the world's most beautiful commute." 

Watch our brief video. But for more on the future of Blue Bottle, be sure to catch Freeman on stage with Conrad at Splash Oakland on May 6-7. Spring Sale tickets end April 3.

Also from Oakland will be Sungevity Founder Danny Kennedy talking about the future of solar, and Mitch Kapor, founder of Lotus Notes and Kapor Center for Social Impact. We expect hundreds of entrepreneurs and investors discussing the future of the fastest-growing industries from the Internet of Things, EdTech, HealthTech and Wearables and mobile monetization. It's also where entrepreneurs can raise money and learn how to build their busiensses and where investors can sharpen their game.

See more Oakland stories below. 

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Bambi Francisco Roizen

Founder and CEO of Vator, a media and research firm for entrepreneurs and investors; Managing Director of Vator Health Fund; Co-Founder of Invent Health; Author and award-winning journalist.

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Founder & Sphere; Partner True Ventures; Investor WordPress; MakerBot; Blue Bottle; Typekit; High Fidelity; KISSmetrics; August; Samovar; Central Kitchen; Flour + Water; Salumeria; Trick Dog