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Lessons from a craft beer startup

Monday Night Brewing is still officially less than a year old. But in dog years, we’re like 5 years old. And the past 9 months have definitely felt like dog years. We’ve been overwhelmed by the reception to our beers and have been able to meaningfully outperform our initial projections. Like any startup, we’ve had some bumps in the road, and every new day brings another brand new, scary thing to learn.

We haven’t had the time or energy to blog as thoughtfully about our business as we did in the 5 years prior to our launch, but since I accidentally showed up an hour early to a breakfast meeting this morning, I figured I had some time. So what kind of lessons have we learned?

  • Roll with it. I really hate cliches, so I won’t tell you that the only thing to expect is the unexpected (or did I just do exactly that?). But with Type A personalities running the show, you’ll find that one of the harder things to do is be flexible. Have a Plan A, B, and C. Have a Scenario A, B, and C. And know that none of those plans or scenarios will pan out.
  • Put it all in perspective. Pouring your heart, soul, and capital into any one entity can give you a skewed perspective on life. It can make that one thing seem more important than anything else. But it’s not. Always remember what’s most important in your life – your family, your friends, your faith. Those things will keep you sane, but only if you devote time to them and appreciate them. I got married last year, and Jeff and Joel both had children (well, their wives did, if we want to get technical about it). Some days it can be difficult to remember to give those parts of our lives the attention they deserve. We find ourselves asking for forgiveness often.
  • Get mediocre at everything, quickly. Whatever it is you have never done before in your life and have no interest in doing, that’s probably what you’ll need to learn in order to keep your business running. Accounting, sales, inventory management. These are all things I’ve had to take on. These are also things that I would rather not do for the rest of my life. And while I’ll never be a crack accountant or a star salesman, it’s better to be mediocre than incompetent. Or at least that’s the little theory I have…
  • Don’t grow for growth’s sake. Don’t get me wrong, growth is great. Our economy could do some more growing. But it can be easy to run after that “Growth” carrot being dangled in front of you. Be intentional about why you are growing, what the end goal is, and if you can support that growth without alienating your current customers and distributors. One great book that has been influential to us as we think about the kind of business we want to run is Small Giants. Check it out. One of the examples is even a brewery.
  • Obsess over the beer. We don’t regret spending 5 years on recipe formulation, or only have 2 beers in the market after almost a year. There are thousands of beer options these days, and hundreds of GOOD beer options. At the end of the day, our product is all we have. With something like beer, there’s no rush in being first to market, so take your time and get it right. Consumers these days know what they’re drinking.
  • Be a nice person. Be friendly with the “competition,” whether that’s other craft beer folks, beer reps, or distributors. At the end of the day, we’re all in this together. Beer has so much potential as a beverage, and we’ll only get there if it’s all hands on deck.
This list could probably be a lot longer, but it’s almost time for my meeting and my stomach is rumbling. I guess if I had to add one more bullet point right now, it would be “Eat a balanced breakfast.”
Which I will do… NOW.

7 thoughts on “Lessons from a craft beer startup

  1. Brooklyn used to be my favorite brewery story. Yours has supplanted that. Faith is all we have in the end. After spending all the money I have to open my store, faith is all that is left. I sincerely appreciate all that accounting and inventory you do. It keeps us in good cheer and good beer. Keep up the excellent work!

  2. This is sage advice, thanks so much for taking the time to share. My team is in the early stages of starting our own beer business and after searching all the internet (yup, we saw all of it), MNB is one we identify most with. Good luck in your future endeavors, and if you’re ever in Charlotte please drop us a line so we can share some conversation and beer. Cheers!

  3. None is great in everything. What’s matter it’s how much you can stand towards what makes you feel blissful in life. Definitely, is not mediocrity that get you on that level!! Nicely said, thanks! Keep going! Cheers man!

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