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Here’s a little secret: I am one of the few Canadians that does not drink beer. I stopped drinking beer in the early 1990s when I was pregnant with my first child. However, you have to be living in outer space to not see the explosion of craft breweries. I spoke with Ian Cameron at his Lochiel Brewing facility in Mesa, Arizona after the Phoenix Business Journal profiled him as one of the first deaf brewers in the U.S. The brewery has a full set of taps but does not serve food; you can bring your own or order in and sit around at tables enjoying the board games with a view of the brewing equipment.
Cameron started operations in May 2015 and uses family recipes, including the 300-year-old Scottish Ale, for all his beers. Ian is a descendant of the Clan Cameron of Lochiel lineage (full disclosure: Ian is married to my step-niece).
Mary Juetten: What problem are you solving?
Ian Cameron: The main problem is the lack of malt-forward beers, which is the opposite side of the beer continuum, with hop-forward beers on the other end. Malt-forward beers focus on manipulating malt for a variety of malty, caramel, toffee, chocolate, or coffee, or the combination of some or all of the above, flavors. Malt-forward beers use little hops for spicing the flavor. Malt holds the majority of beer bodies, not hops.
The second problem is the availability of great —not good, but great— craft brews in the demographics relative to the brewery’s location.
Juetten: Who are your customers and how do you find them?
Cameron: Surprisingly, our the majority of our customers are the more mature 35+ age crowd. The common statement by this demographic is that they’re tired of crazily hopped IPAs or the bitter taste of IPAs in general.
Juetten: How did past projects and/or experience help with this new project?
Cameron: My experience derives from over fifteen years of homebrewing and exposure to the family recipes that passed down through generations of brewers or distillers associated with the Clan Cameron of Lochiel family from Scotland, in addition to the volunteer work I performed at various craft breweries in the Southwest US.
Juetten: Who is on your team?
Cameron: We have three members to the team, two “beertenders”, one of which is a manager for legal reasons and qualifications. One brewer, myself.
Juetten: Did you raise money?
Cameron: No. I used my retirement fund from working years in high-salary engineering jobs and building up a sizable nest egg. I withdrew this fund to worries of the market potentially crashing in 2008, which were realized in 2009. Fortunately, this fund was moved into five-year CDs for maximum protection and insurance. When the CDs matured, I was able to reinvest into the brewery as it was the right time for me to exit the engineering field.
Juetten: Startups are an adventure — what’s your favorite startup story?
Cameron: My favorite story is having to constantly fight the state and federal government over little details that are completely irrelevant to the operation of the business. It further demonstrates or reinforces that the government is often a hindrance to development.
Juetten: How do you measure success and what is your favorite success story?
Cameron: Success at this point is being able to be profitable at the end of the fiscal year, having fluid cash flow, being able to pay my employees, being able to retain my good employees and being able to take care of them. With all of this in play, I can focus on making a great product that makes it easy for my employees sell the product. It is merely a full circle.
Juetten: Any tips to add for early-stage founders?
Cameron: Be completely prepared to deal with a series of ridiculous government obstacles, people, construction folks, inspectors, and then having plenty of money to overcome them. It is merely a money game to be able to produce your first product, and sustain that production cycle with enough cash flow to remain operational. The transition from investment to cash flow is usually the hardest and overlooked by most businesses that fail within the first two years.
Furthermore, I’d like to reinforce the aforementioned with a quote by Thornton Melon (Rodney Dangerfield) in the movie Back to School directed to his Englishman business professor (who appears to know everything about business):
“First of all you’re going to have to grease the local politicians for the sudden zoning problems that always come up. Then there are the kickbacks to the carpenters, and if you plan on using any cement in this building I’m sure the teamsters would like to have a little chat with ya, and that’ll cost ya. Oh and don’t forget a little something for the building inspectors. Then there are long-term costs such as waste disposal. I don’t know if you’re familiar with who runs that business but I assure you it’s not the boy scouts.”
Juetten: And of course, any IP horror stories to share?
Fortunately, no IP horror stories yet, knock on wood. The best part about brewing is that you can release your recipe to somebody else, it won’t be the same, because brewing equipment and processes and most importantly, the brewer, are all major variables in the process.
Juetten: What’s the long-term vision for your company?
Cameron: Our long-term vision is to expand brewing capacity steadily with growing demand. We also intend to expand to a new business focusing on bottling and distributing so we can control our costs in both areas and support each other. We are now expanding into distilling whiskeys, scotch and bourbon.
The struggles of an entrepreneur when food and beverage regulations are involved appear to be a critical part of not only the startup but the ongoing operations. Planning and adequate funding are key to success. #onwards.
December 27, 2018 at 09:12AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs