Case study: iDrift AS

Distributed tech company

Learn more about using Zulip for business.

A distributed team

For the past 20 years, iDrift AS has been offering infrastructure and security support for small businesses. iDrift AS is a distributed organization, operating from six offices across Norway. As such, this 30-person company has always depended on team chat to coordinate and support each other’s efforts.

iDrift AS co-founder and owner Gaute Lund had long been frustrated with the limitations of the company’s collaboration tools. “When I learned about Zulip it was an absolute revelation,” says Gaute Lund. “Zulip’s threading model makes it so much easier to manage my team. As a leader, in just a few minutes I can get an overview over what's going on and see where my attention is needed.”

Async communication is a challenge

From its founding, iDrift AS relied on IRC for internal communication, but the lack of a modern user interface proved to be a barrier for participation for management and non-technical members of the team. iDrift AS therefore moved from IRC to Slack in October 2016.

“In terms of functionality, Slack is just souped-up IRC — there is no conceptual difference,” says iDrift AS owner Gaute Lund. “It doesn’t add anything significant other than the UI.”

While Slack worked reasonably well for real-time communication, the busy Slack channels at iDrift AS were not effective for asynchronous discussions. “It was almost impossible to catch up on a conversation, or get an overview of what you missed while on vacation,” Gaute Lund says.

“Slack is just souped-up IRC — there is no conceptual difference.”

— Gaute Lund, co-founder and owner of iDrift AS

Easy transition to Zulip

When a team member recommended Zulip, Gaute Lund understood the potential of Zulip’s threading model to dramatically improve async collaboration at iDrift AS. The company evaluated Zulip in the summer of 2020, and decided to make the move.

The team took easily to Zulip’s topic-based threading paradigm. “Once people start using Zulip, it quickly becomes obvious why it’s better,” says Gaute Lund.

The transition also went smoothly from a technical perspective. “It was not a lot of work to move everything over from Slack to Zulip,” says Gaute Lund. “The export/import tool worked really well to ensure that we had logs of all the prior conversations.”

Chat integrations for operational systems and alerts are a crucial part of the workflow at iDrift AS. Zulip offers a Slack-compatible interface, so many integrations could be simply moved over. “For a handful of integrations where Zulip didn’t meet our needs, it was easy to create our own integration or improve the existing one. It wasn’t a problem,” Gaute Lund says.

iDrift AS decided to self-host its own Zulip server. Because Zulip is 100% open source, this option offers the same functionality as a Zulip Cloud Standard subscription. “Zulip is very stable, and easy to run and to upgrade,” says Senior IT Consultant Tor Hveem.

“Once people start using Zulip, it quickly becomes obvious why it’s better.”

— Gaute Lund, co-founder and owner of iDrift AS

Zulip helps leaders scale

The move to Zulip transformed Gaute Lund’s day-to-day experience as a leader. “Using Zulip significantly increases the size of the team for which a manager can meaningfully know what’s going on,” says Gaute Lund. “There are 25 people for whom I have a very good grip on their work, whereas previously it was no more than a handful”.

“Using Zulip significantly increases the size of the team for which a manager can meaningfully know what’s going on.”

— Gaute Lund, co-founder and owner of iDrift AS

As a Microsoft shop, iDrift AS uses Microsoft Teams for file sharing, scheduling and video calls. Would they use it for team chat? “For technical people, the chat experience in Teams is abhorrent,” says Gaute. “It’s almost impossible to get an overview of what’s happening. Only a small number of messages fit on the screen, and the discussions hidden inside threads make it even harder to see what’s going on.”

In contrast, Zulip’s topic-based threading lets Gaute review conversations in batches, without being constantly interrupted by chat messages. Every few hours, Gaute looks through the list of recent Zulip topics to find discussions that may require his attention, and offers feedback as needed. Catching up is fast: “Updating myself on an incident might take a few seconds,” Gaute Lund says.

Efficient team communication

With Zulip, the team can discuss everything from customer issues to major design decisions. “Zulip lets people focus on conversations where they can contribute, whether or not they happen to be online when the conversation starts,” says Gaute Lund.

The Zulip chat also serves as a knowledge base for the history of the organization. “We have a very stable customer base, and Zulip search makes it easy to review past interactions,” Gaute Lund says.

“Zulip lets people focus on conversations where they can contribute.”

— Gaute Lund, co-founder and owner of iDrift AS


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