Slack is the tool we use to solve problems together

“The way we work with our parent company is a wonderful example of how it’s possible to achieve great things in a short period of time.”

Metro MarketsCTO METRO MarketsJohn Bettiol

In a world where business is often done over the phone, email and handshakes, a CTO who’s responsible for setting up an e-commerce marketplace rarely has it easy. John Bettiol, the CTO of METRO Markets, an online B2B marketplace for restaurants and hotels, is very familiar with this challenge, but he’s doing everything in his power to ensure that the company’s online venture is a success. His secret recipe: smart compromises, both on a human and technological level. This approach, and perhaps also his relaxed and humorous nature as a leader, has made METRO Markets the largest European non-food online marketplace for the HoReCa sector (hotels, restaurants and caterers). The company is a wholly owned subsidiary of METRO AG. The marketplace was launched in Germany in 2019, and is now also available in France, Spain, Italy, Portugal and the Netherlands.

Sailing a steamboat like a speedboat

When a traditional company launches an internal digital startup, people often use the analogy of a steamboat and a speedboat. This applies to METRO Markets as well—at least during the company’s startup phase. Back then, it operated as an independent digital laboratory with largely autonomous decision-making powers. The aim was to try things out with an open mind and then see what could be transferred to the METRO ecosystem. “Our collaboration with our parent company is a very good example of how great things can be achieved in a short period of time,” Bettiol says.

Bettiol has always been passionate about software development and startups; he first joined the company to work in technology and development. Nevertheless, his management role suits him to a tee. “I found a niche where I could help drive things forward, build bridges and collaborate with others.”

As the speedboat’s captain, Bettiol had to deal with a crew working in different locations. Even at that stage, it was vital to communicate quickly and discuss challenges in a straightforward manner in order to deliver early results. Slack was the tool of choice for his colleagues and it continues to be today.

“My developers didn’t realize at first that some of our customers might not be familiar with the use of technologies such as APIs.”

METRO MarketsCTOJohn Bettiol

Mediate, make compromises, collaborate

If subsidiaries and parent companies have different methods of working and communicating, it’s not a good idea to change things by turning everything upside down. “My developers didn’t realize at first that some of our customers might not be familiar with the use of technologies such as APIs,” says Bettiol, outlining the different worlds in which the two units were operating at the time. That’s why, as a compromise, he decided to initially use the technologies that his customers and suppliers were using to not put anyone under too much stress. With METRO Markets’ encouragement and support, that also changed over time. Nowadays, for instance, the company uses automated features in its telephone customer service and chatbots in more developed markets.

Although Bettiol himself is at home in the digital communications environment, this does not mean that he doesn’t value other methods just as much. When he recalls the early days, when he and his crew persuaded their colleagues from their parent company to transform the industry, they held these discussions in person. This was the only way to go because: “Personal, human relationships are part of METRO’s code of values,” explains the CTO. The current efforts at automation are not a contradiction of these values: as long as it remains within the defined framework, staff are able to experiment with it. After all, if it frees people up from repetitive tasks, Bettiol considers this a positive development.

As the startup grew, so did its use of Slack. Slack has developed a reputation across the company as the number one tool for inspiration and problem-solving. “When we launched, Slack was the one thing that was non-negotiable,” says Bettiol. At METRO Markets, Slack is where workers can go to escalate urgent issues, so the right people can jump in at the right time. But it’s also the place where people work together to find solutions to challenges and consider which tools to use for the next steps. METRO Markets staff use integrations to communicate directly with customers, even if they don’t use Slack. 

Striking the right balance

Many companies find it challenging to strike a balance between making compromises and listening to others, while also defending their own corner. Bettiol advises building relationships based on trust. For example, soon after the marketplace went live in 2019, the coronavirus pandemic began—a distinctly inopportune moment for starting something new. “We only got through it because we shared ideas, spoke honestly about our issues, and hence created a foundation of trust,” says the CTO. HHe also advocates allowing yourself to make mistakes, particularly when employees need to hit the ground running. Those who are aware that they can openly admit to making a mistake perform better under pressure.