Inside Look: How Coffee Culture Drives Company Culture at Third Wave Water

Dayton company proves industry can influence workplace

Picture you favorite coffee shop: the setting for dates, work meetings and catching up with friends. It probably smells warm and inviting, and usually has the perfect indie record playing in the background. For Cedarville-based Third Wave Water, the coffee shop’s atmosphere and its ability to foster community is the perfect model for their coffee-centered startup.

Third Wave Water’s products start from the foundation, perfecting water’s mineral makeup for better tasting, consistent coffee. In fact, their obsession with creating the perfect cup of coffee drives not only their business, but their culture. To get a feel for the company from C-level to employee, we sat down with Charles Nick, president of Third Wave Water and Alex Chittum, production manager to see what it means to make a startup’s culture work.

TechOhio: Describe your company culture in three words.

Charles Nick: Tense, exciting and fun. Since we’re a startup, we’re doing 20 million things at once. And tense isn’t necessarily negative. Right now, we’re transitioning our company to a hardware company with our new in-line water system, called Tethys, for specialty cafes. So, our exciting changes have definitely been fueling our company culture.

TO: I know that you’re not roasting coffee, but does coffee culture influence your company’s culture in any way?

Charles Nick: Like coffee, we feel really approachable. Even though it’s tense, we never feel like there’s a day where somebody can’t just come in and say hi. There’s a kindness associated with the specialty coffee industry in general, so there’s no fear of working with any other type of person. We just come together for the unity of specialty coffee and create. The great thing about coffee that we try to model is that there are a lot of different baristas and cultures from around the world — many ideologies coming together in one place. On the collaboration side, we love including that mentality into our day-to-day operations.

TO: What about your company culture in particular sets you apart from traditional startups or company cultures that you have seen?

Charles Nick: I’ve worked 30+ jobs and I can definitely tell you that ours is different. One of the big takeaways that we’ve tried to incorporate into our office is that we still have the ability to talk about things. There’s no topic that’s off limits, like: “Oh, don’t mention that one. They might get angry.” With us, it comes back to approachability, we encourage other people to come in and say hi or take a tour of our facilities. We’ll make time for it. We want to share what we’re doing and just have fun with it. I think our employees see that and think: “Yeah, I can ask them anything. They may say no, but at least I know I can ask them.”

TO: So, Alex, you work for Third Wave Water. What’s your favorite part about working there?

Alex Chittum: Definitely the fact that everyone is open to hearing new ideas. I know my  voice will be heard. Like Charles said, our company culture is also more relaxed than most. There isn’t the cutthroat, competitive atmosphere that is common in bigger companies. We have more of a family feel because we are a smaller company, which I appreciate.

TO: How do you feel when you come in to work? What contributes most to that feeling?

AC: When I come in to work, I’m excited to practice problem solving and overcome new challenges. Because we’re a smaller company, my role encompasses several areas in our daily operations. This gives me a lot of variety in my work and I enjoy that there are lots of different projects to work on each day.

TO: Charles, what’s one thing you would recommend to a company that’s interested in transforming their culture?

Charles Nick: Lighten up. No matter where you’re at in the company, the ability to ease tension and have conversations is important. Because owning a company is so fast paced, it’s important to get out of your own head and not take yourself so seriously. Try to open the door for others.

TO: What is one thing, in your wildest dreams, you wish you could change about your company culture or do for your company culture?

Charles Nick: I love to travel, and I love flying. It would be a ton of fun to charter us somewhere  like Chicago for a workday on Fridays. As silly as that sounds, I think it would be a blast.

Third Wave Water develops products to enhance the taste of water for brewing coffee. They recently debuted a new in-line water system created for specialty cafes that uses LED UV treatment and powder dosing to provide a quick and easy water solution. Third Wave Water is supported by The Entrepreneurs Center in Dayton, a partner of the Ohio Third Frontier. They also appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank.

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