Don’t Upset the Disruption: Scaling IT Support In Athletic Brewing Co.

Lisa Johnston
Lisa Johnston profile picture
Dan Miller
Dan Miller

Is there a more complex mission for consumer goods IT than staying nimble like a startup while implementing the tech infrastructure required for growth? For Athletic Brewing Co., it's certainly a recipe of art and science — a fitting strategy for the rapidly expanding non-alcoholic craft beverage company.  

Dan Miller was IT employee No. 1 when he joined Athletic in August 2021. An IT professional for more than two decades, his relatively short tenure as Athletic’s director of IT is fairly standard for the burgeoning company, he tells CGT, which was founded in 2017 by Bill Shufelt and John Walker with homebrew operations. 

Athletic’s products are now distributed in 50 U.S. states through more than 50,000 retail stores, as well as in Canada and Europe, and they operate two non-alcoholic breweries, including a 150,000-square-foot facility in Connecticut. 

The company, which also sells DTC, experienced a significant growth surge in 2019 and now has more than 250 employees, which is more than double than when Miller joined. They also received a $50 million investment from Keurig Dr Pepper last fall, making KDP a minority equity stakeholder. 

While the privately held company doesn’t share financial information, its most recent public revenue figure was over $60 million, a spokesperson tells CGT, who notes that they’re the second-largest non-alcoholic beer brand in the U.S. per the latest 13-week NielsenIQ scan data. 

The IT department sits within operations at Athletic, and Miller reports directly into CEO Shufelt. Unlike when IT rests within finance — priorities tend to naturally center upon costs and thus cost savings — its home in operations enables IT’s focus to remain on execution across the enterprise, Miller says.  

“Being in operations allows us a unique access to [all] departments without being pigeon-holed into just focusing on digital and e-commerce.”

And as they grow, it’s actually culture that he cites as their current biggest priority, with a focus on mending tech growing pains without crushing innovation.  

Learn how Athletic is leveraging consumer insights

“Athletic is a relatively young company, and we're kind of maturing out of that startup phase right now,” says Miller. “We're getting into more professional SOPs. We're getting into budgets, and we're getting into [things] that more established companies have. I’m trying to create a safe computing environment for a company that’s in an industry that usually doesn't have it.” 

Most craft brewers have maybe 20-30 people on staff, notes Miller, and there usually isn’t a dedicated IT person. “It’s all DIY. If you can't figure it out, it doesn't work.”

Even when contracting with a solution provider, a startup’s incentive remains figuring it out yourself first — a common mentality for many Athletic employees who originally hail from the craft brewing industry. As they scale, Miller is taking pains to ensure that employees are not only supported by their five-person IT team, but even simply aware that such support exists. 

“I want to insert IT into the company without adding red tape and bureaucracy, and [allow] that creative culture that created this company to flourish,” he notes. “And that's a very tricky dance for us right now.” 

One way they’re doing this is through a career experiences program that enables employees to explore a different aspect of the business from an experienced team member. Someone in packaging who’s interested in brewing, for example, can spend time during a quarter with a senior brewer to receive training and mentorship, while exploring the prospect of it becoming part of their personal and professional development. Miller currently has one such person on his IT team. 

Miller has also established a learning program that upskills employees on the technologies available to them. It’s available to everyone throughout the company, with topics identified by the types of help desk tickets filed. 

Athletic is 99% on cloud and has no on-premise infrastructure, a strategy he cites as being extremely beneficial. “It keeps us very agile, where we can throw something at the wall, see if it sticks, and if it doesn't, we can pull it down because it's just a SaaS, [and] move on to something else.” 

As a result, the company, which counts both Google Cloud and AWS among its partners, typically sticks with short-term contracts with solution providers to first prove they’ll be effective and they can hit their KPIs. 

“This is one of the rare places where I feel like your progress and your goals are seen and rewarded. It's very, very motivating to go back and do more, and just keep pushing and stretching and see exactly how beneficial you can be to the overall company, because, ultimately, that's the goal.” 


Lauren McLeod
Lauren McLeod

Athletic Brewing Co. prides itself on having a test-and-learn culture when it comes to exploring growth-driving technologies. (They not only have an iOS app, but also a virtual tap room.) To learn more about how they’re evolving their digital commerce strategy, we caught up with Lauren McLeod, director of product.

How do your teams partner with each other and across the organization?
Since we have a mix of hybrid and remote workers across the country and on both coasts, we rely on SOPs and tools like Slack, ClickUp, and Google to make sure everyone is aligned on major initiatives. Our IT department manages all of the access and logins to all software and systems, contracts and negotiations, and the digital teams. 

For digital commerce, what are some of the key metrics you use to measure success right now?
We track similar metrics to most other e-commerce businesses, including average order value, conversion rates, and net revenue. Since launching an iOS app at the end of last year, we now also track total downloads and monthly active users.

How are you unlocking consumer insights within your customer data collection?
First-party data is becoming increasingly important with Google moving away from delivering any kind of third-party data. By targeting customers directly with email and SMS sign-up, we're also starting to gather insights by asking about preferences such as flavors and how much communication consumers would like from us. Having access to data directly from customers gives us a better sightline into our actual demographics, as opposed to what is passed along from a third-party provider.

Do you leverage AI or machine learning within your commerce strategies?
AI isn't something we've leaned heavily into yet, but we are exploring different ways of utilizing AI to personalize experiences, such as letting consumers know when specific styles of brews are released based on their preferences or offering a "brew finder" quiz that provides more intelligent results.

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