Case study: Atolio

Distributed startup

Learn more about using Zulip for business.

Founded in 2019 by a seasoned team of engineering and sales leaders, Atolio is a small startup with big ambitions to radically improve the way people deal with information at work. They have deep expertise in what it takes to empower teams to collaborate effectively, and have thought hard about how to enable effective collaboration for their own team.

“The first-class threads in Zulip are absolutely critical to how we work. As a fully distributed company, we needed a modern way to support the different ways people work, while ensuring that everyone can find the current and historical topics that are important to them. So many people on Hacker News talk about using Zulip - I'm so glad we joined them!”

— David Lanstein, co-founder and CEO of Atolio

Taking the opportunity to pick the best collaboration tools

Atolio’s founders set out to build a fully distributed company from the get-go, and they knew how important it would be to choose the right set of collaboration tools. “We had all used Slack, Jira and Confluence before, but we didn’t want to default to those options,” says Atolio’s co-founder and CTO Gareth Watts. “We wanted to take the opportunity to pick the best tools for our future team.”

As past users of Slack’s team chat, Atolio’s founders were well aware of its downsides. "Slack is an extremely noisy environment. It’s very difficult to keep up with what your colleagues are doing, and it’s hard to separate chitchat from what’s important,” says Atolio’s CTO Gareth Watts. “Information in Slack’s threads ends up being even more hidden than other messages.”

Thus the search was on to find a team chat tool that would truly serve Atolio’s needs. “We didn’t want Slack,” Gareth says. “We wanted a tool designed for asynchronous distributed communication, and Zulip seemed to fit the bill.”

"Slack is an extremely noisy environment. It’s very difficult to keep up with what your colleagues are doing.”

— Gareth Watts, co-founder and CTO of Atolio

Trying out Zulip’s open-source team chat

Beyond Zulip’s topic-based threading model, Atolio’s team felt confident that they could count on Zulip in the coming years as they built out their company. “We liked that Zulip is an open-source tool with a huge community around it,” Atolio’s CTO Gareth Watts explains. “We are using Zulip Cloud, but if we want, we can export our data and self-host our own Zulip server. So we know Zulip will always be there for us.”

Having decided to test out Zulip, Atolio’s founders realized that they should go all-in on a trial period. “We decided to turn off all other chat tools and try Zulip for a full month,” Gareth says. This way, the team could really see how Zulip would fit into the company’s communication patterns and workflows after an initial adjustment period. “After that, we could discuss if it wasn’t working out,” says Gareth. “But as it turned out, we never looked back.”

“We decided to turn off all other chat tools and try Zulip for a full month… We never looked back.”

— Gareth Watts, co-founder and CTO of Atolio

“Zulip is at the core of our business”

Since February 2020, Zulip has been the primary tool for internal communication at Atolio. “Zulip is at the core of our business,” Atolio’s CTO Gareth Watts explains. The team has always been able to rely on this crucial piece of company infrastructure. “The Zulip Cloud hosting has been bulletproof — we haven’t had any down time,” says Gareth.

Zulip’s organized team chat has enabled Atolio to create the open communication culture the founders wanted. “Zulip lets us have conversations in public, not behind closed doors,” Gareth explains. “In Slack, two thirds of communication is not in public just to avoid noise. In Zulip, you can talk about what you want — you just give everything its own topic.”

“In Zulip, it’s super easy to find things 24 hours later if you weren’t online when a discussion happened.”

— Gareth Watts, co-founder and CTO of Atolio

Atolio’s distributed team also uses Zulip to build personal connections. With each conversation getting its own space in a dedicated topic, team members can share pictures of their cats or GIPHY memes without disrupting serious work discussions. And if a topic ever goes off on a tangent, it’s easy to split it in two and continue from there.

When new team members join the company, the onboarding process welcomes them to Zulip and the company’s communication culture. An internal Wiki introduces Zulip’s topic-based threading, search tools, and some handy keyboard shortcuts, with pointers to Zulip’s help center for more information. Gareth hasn’t seen much difference between onboarding to Zulip compared to other team chat tools: “If someone hasn’t used Slack before, they need onboarding too.”

“Zulip lets us have conversations in public, not behind closed doors.”

— Gareth Watts, co-founder and CTO of Atolio

Easy to integrate

To make Zulip a central hub for updates about what’s happening, Atolio has integrated Zulip with its engineering tools. In a #tickets channel, a topic is created automatically for each ticket, so there is a dedicated space to discuss the issue at hand. There are topics in other Zulip channels for automated deployment announcements, and for bot posts when pull requests are opened or merged.

Atolio has also connected Zulip to their own unified search product. “Writing against the Zulip APIs has not been hard,” Gareth says. “And since it’s open-source, we can always read the source code if we find the docs confusing.”

Check out our guide on using Zulip for business. You can also learn how Zulip is being used at the InsurTech startup Semsee, the iDrift AS company, the End Point Dev software consultancy, and the GUT contact support agency.