Chapter 1: Start-up Lessons

In this Chapter

  • Other Brewers Want To See You Succeed – For Now
  • First They Look At The Purse
  • Is “Anal-Retentive” Hyphenated?
  • The Race Isn’t Always Won by the Swift, Or the Battle by The Strong… But That’s the Way to Bet
  • Don’t Make Your Buddy Your Lawyer, Banker, or Accountant
  • If Somebody Is Really Nice To You, They Probably Want Something
  • You Have To A-S-K To G-E-T
  • Lose Your Safety Net
  • FREE Is A Four-Letter Word
  • People Either Get It Or They Don’t
  • Governments Don’t Have Money Or Property They’re Itching To Give Away
  • Be Nice, Very Nice, to Government Officials
  • Go With Your Gut
  • Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For References
  • Time Moves Quickly, People Don’t

Other Brewers Want To See You Succeed – For Now

Maybe it’s because the industry’s so young. Maybe it’s because demand is outstripping supply. Or maybe it’s because it’s darn hard to be in cutthroat competition with somebody who offers you one of his or her beers, but by and large, the people in this industry are incredibly friendly, helpful, and interested in seeing other people succeed. Take advantage (in a good way) of the industry’s openness to network, learn, and ask questions.

First They Look At The Purse

The number of phone calls you have returned is directly proportional to the percentage of financing you have locked up. Heck, by the time you have 99% of your money, even banks will want to talk to you! Vendors have to make a living, so don’t expect VIP service unless you’re ready to write a check. On the other hand, vendors are willing to cultivate potential future customers, if those customers don’t always call demanding for information immediately.

Is “Anal-Retentive” Hyphenated?

In an industry where there are millions of details, you need to know a lot of the answers or how to get them. It all ties in to credibility. The more you can talk the talk or cogently explain your financial assumptions, the more seriously you’ll be taken. As more people look to get into the industry, some of the folks you need to deal with are going to get tired of hearing about another “hare-brained microbrewery scheme,” as one investment banker put it. Soooo, if you aren’t the type to care whether the term “anal-retentive” is hyphenated or not, your partner better be.

The Race Isn’t Always Won by the Swift, Or the Battle by The Strong … But That’s the Way to Bet

Being too optimistic can get you in big, big trouble. Don’t count on anything happening. If any of your business scenarios depend on two or more variables, things most likely won’t happen the way you think. And besides, good luck has a bad habit of not happening when you really need it (that’s why senior citizens always win those lifetime lottery payoffs).

Don’t Make Your Buddy Your Lawyer, Banker, or Accountant

Or at least do so with your eyes open. It’s extremely tempting to take advantage of professional resources you have at hand. You may get a better price and you won’t have to look for someone else. The down side is that you can be lulled into picking the wrong person for your needs.

A friend recommended our first lawyer, a wonderful person who was extremely knowledgeable about real estate. Unfortunately, she didn’t know diddley about financing and SEC regulations. We quickly realized that she was going to be earning while she was learning-on our dime. Our new lawyer is a partner in a larger firm with lots of specialists. Not only is his fee about the same, but he can work much more efficiently. And he’s a pretty good guy, too.

If Somebody Is Really Nice To You, They Probably Want Something

And it’s usually money. There may be days, weeks even, where you don’t come across a sympathetic ear. So when you do, you’re in a highly susceptible state. Just remember that while you’re selling people on your business, other people are trying to sell you on their business, whether it’s consulting or professional services.

You Have To A-S-K To G-E-T

Sure, it’s a sales-y slogan and it came from a salesman. But it works. It’s amazing the information and help people will give you just by asking them.

Lose Your Safety Net

Starting up a brewery is a full-time job. Unless you have a really sympathetic boss, you need to think about what your real goal, and hence, your real job, is. Of course, it’s nice to be able to use someone else’s copiers, fax machines, and phone lines.

FREE Is A Four-Letter Word

Brewing is a fun business and lots of people will want to help you. That’s kinda the bad news. Just remember the old “you get what you pay for” adage. Everybody means well, but everybody also has his or her own life, so what’s a priority to you won’t be to other people. If you need something done quickly and professionally, pay somebody to do it. You’ll keep your project moving and your friendships intact. It’s hard to enforce a deadline or fire somebody when you’re not paying them.

People Either Get It Or They Don’t

When you start explaining your brewery concept to someone, you’ll get one of two reactions: a blank stare or enthusiasm. Don’t waste time trying to convince someone what a great industry/investment/project you’re putting together if they don’t get it, because they won’t get it. On the other hand, it’s always a rush to see somebody get that gleam in their eye and start nodding “yes” excitedly, because they’ve been bitten by the craft beer bug. Focus your efforts on these people.

Governments Don’t Have Money Or Property They’re Itching To Give Away

There’s no “free” money, buildings or land. Various loan programs and development incentives exist, but lending requirements are almost as stringent as a bank’s, which is reassuring if you’re a taxpayer. A state development official pegged one aspiring brewer as a “knucklehead” when he wanted the state to rehab and turn over 50,000 square feet of space free. Also, don’t ask for an old brewery building so you can “fix it up” a la “This Old House”. For an obsolete manufacturing facility (which all abandoned breweries are), the environmental cleanup and construction-related costs alone would run into the multi-millions.

Be Nice, Very Nice, to Government Officials

Just like in the real world, people in government exhibit a range of work styles. It’s your job to adapt and go with the flow. Do not, under any circumstances make waves. Otherwise, as one construction code official put it, “We’ll go out of our way to bust your balls”.

Go With Your Gut

Every mistake we’ve made so far came after ignoring what our guts told us to do. Listen to your internal voice. Well, except if it sounds like Homer Simpson, then maybe you should get another opinion.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For References

And check them. Anybody who’s good will be more than glad to give them to you. Remember, everybody puts the best spin on their abilities-think back to when you wrote your resume.

Time Moves Quickly-People Don’t

You may move in nanoseconds, but people you need to work with move in geologic time. Plan for everything taking much longer than you can imagine. Even people who have their financing in place still find that it takes many more months to get everything together than their plans and checkbook indicated.