James Freeman, Blue Bottle Coffee

James Freeman, founder of Blue Bottle Coffee

Show Notes:

“Work hard, work smart, make good decisions, and grow in a way that makes sense for us.”

Subtract: With design, less is more.

  • For giving each shop the right feel: start with the idea of how you want it to feel, and go from there.
  • Blue Bottle individual shop style: simple, modest, beautiful, fitting of the neighborhood it’s in, but simultaneously having a quality that extends to the overall company.
  • For the design, it’s pragmatic, but the look and feel is important.
  • Modest materials can be handsome in the right context. Blue Bottle design focuses on stripping down to what’s really necessary, bare shelves.
  • Let the architecture stand for itself and let the inside reflect the outside.


  • Emails have to be done, but they’re not the most important thing.
  • James sets times in his schedule when he does have time to email someone. if someone expects them to email him back instantaneously, maybe that’s unrealistic. focus on enjoying your day instead of feeling pressured to respond all the time, right away.
  • Work transitioned from tangible (roasting coffee) to intangible (answering emails). You can spend all day spending emails, but you can make a choice not to, otherwise you’ll spend your whole life writing emails.
  • Answer all emails offline on the plane, then when you land, they’ll all be sent out simultaneously.
  • Look at each shop as a living organism rather than something on a spreadsheet.

Work life and personal connections:

  • Set up office hours so people can talk to him and have one-on-one conversations, make personal connections.
  • Lets people put their own stamp on something he’s put a lot of his own work into, and being able to give them constructive feedback on it. Trust others you’ve worked with for a long time to put good work into your common project.
  • He admits that he’s no longer one of the best baristas in the company, but it’s great to have people who come in and do it better than him, and make his company better.
  • The company is a year older than his son, and he started delegating the work to have more time to spend with his family when the company grew.
  • The more you talk about work/life balance, the more you’re probably not getting it. Sometimes James brings his son in to work, other times he’ll take a day off to be with his family.

Goals and long-term plans:

  • For 5 year plans, think more about the physical nature instead of less tangible goals (the realistic concrete details versus the idea of a goal): e.g. what room do I want to be in, who do I want to spend time with?
  • Set 18 month goals, but think about the day-to-day details and what’s going on right now.


  • Not placing great expectations on himself – he takes Japanese lessons, and will learn Japanese eventually.
  • It doesn’t matter what he thought was going to happen; what happened to Blue Bottle exceeded what he ever thought would happen, so whatever he expected before doesn’t matter. This helped him to develop a more grateful attitude for what happens.