The Second Time Around
It's not everyday that someone gets to open a brewery. Well, actually it is every day. Twice a day to be exact. Breweries popping up like wildflowers in the spring. Every state, most every city and plenty of neighborhoods are proud to say that they have a brewery. Most Americans live within 10 miles of a brewery and in cities like San Diego you can barely make it a mile without running into another handful of breweries. And we brewers are a lucky bunch. After all, nothing screams "Living the Dream" like telling someone you work at a brewery.
I opened my first brewery in 2011. Well, I started in 2009 but actually opened in 2011. It was a seriously DIY project from installing glycol piping and insulation to floor sealants, electrical and plumbing work all the way down to building a bar and tasting room. And I learned a hell of a lot from the experience.
The little bit of experience that I had when I entered the brewing industry was just enough to let me know that I had a lot to learn. And I definitely have. I've learned a lot about equipment. Pumps, pneumatics, fluid dynamics, you know, the fun stuff. I've also learned far more than I ever cared to about taxes and government regulation. I've no doubt broadened my inventory management skills and I firmly believe that I may be one of the best sleepers around, bordering on narcolepsy. But by far the biggest lesson that I've learned and the one that I've pretty much committed myself to a lifetime of learning from is this; The hardest piece to growing a great company is hiring and retaining extraordinary people.
Developing a great product is one piece of the big puzzle. Figuring out how to make it consistently is another small piece. Assembling a team that is motivated and driven by your product and continually strives to make that product better? That's the tough stuff and that's what puts the pieces of the puzzle in their appropriate space. But without the latter you'll never fully realize the potential of the former.
In the early days of Hops & Grain there was 1 employee. Being able to keep one person motivated indeed has its struggles but fast forward a few years and motivating and challenging a team of 15 becomes a whole other ballgame. What I've learned, through many failures, is that the founder of a company cannot be the only motivator and leader. Many have tried, myself included, and failed spectacularly. Hiring people that are smarter than you in the areas where you need them is the greatest business move that any founder can make. And once you find those people, never stop challenging them. Never stop motivating them and never stop leading them. They will, in turn, challenge, motivate and lead everyone underneath them and so on and so forth. Early on I was constantly concerned with "overworking" our staff but I never stopped to actually define overworking. Was it too many hours? Was it too strenuous of a workload? Was it too uncomfortable working in an unconditioned warehouse? I hadn't even thought about the definition but I was wildly concerned about not doing it. As I actually began to investigate that question I learned that most people wanted what I was afraid of applying. They want to be challenged. They want to be presented with a project that seems impossible. They want to have to think critically. Because if they don't have that, they will gracefully fall into millennial-ism and face down into their cell phone screen to check into the Facebooks. Or hell, even worse they'll check into another job where they actually are challenged and motivated.
Our greatest employees have become our greatest employees because they were thrown into a problem that I personally couldn't either 1.) figure out how to fix or 2.) couldn't fix on my own. The shear humility involved in admitting to yourself that you can't succeed at everything is something I'll remember for the rest of my life. I've found myself in many jobs previous repeating the mantra of "we're all replaceable". I constantly tried to remind myself of that as well as reminding those that I worked with. If we weren't willing to be great employees then guess what? We'll be replaced and likely be replaced by someone who will do our job better than us. It's a shocking truth to own up to. The key though, is how you choose to move forward from that realization. Many move forward in a way that protects them from being leapfrogged. Sometimes this manifests itself in just holding back information that would otherwise enable someone else to succeed. Sometimes it's throwing a project at someone that you know they aren't equipped to solve just so that they'll fail. I've seen it manifest in many different ways and I myself have been guilty of it as well. But, the best and most successful minds are those that move forward from that realization motivated to be legendary in what they do. After all, the ultimate job security is being legendary.
Last year I began working on a project in Kerrville, TX called Pint & Plow Brewing. My two partners in this venture are two brothers that were born in Kerrville and have a strong desire to grow the community in an impactful way and one that brings the entire city together over a common interest. Young and old, woman and man, dog and... Well, maybe not cats.
This project is a complete 180 from Hops & Grain in Austin. For starters, I'm not the only founder. And further, Pint & Plow has a full kitchen and is focused around selling as much beer as possible directly to our customers at the brewery. We'll definitely sprinkle some kegs around the city and possibly reach out to Boerne and Fredericksburg but the model is direct to customer sales, handed across a bar and presented with a conversation. My contribution to this project is the beer program. I was/am responsible for the design, sourcing and installation of our brewing system as well as the formulation and evolution of our recipes and the sourcing of our raw materials. Human Resources? Negative. Payroll? Nope. Managing servers and beertenders? Negative again. I manage creating the beer and it's delivery to the serving vessels that our beertenders use to dispense. And it's quite a breath of fresh air.
Partners are a new thing for me in business. I've always viewed my employees and especially my managers as a partner but I've never been in the position where all business ideas and decisions flow across 3 people. Of course there are pros and cons to both approaches. In the instance of a single founder and managing member the decision making ultimately falls on one persons shoulders. It's nice if you're like me and sometimes find it harder to work in a group than to just take on the load of the entire group yourself. It's difficult if you really want a point of view from someone with some skin in the game. I have mentors and a wonderful group of colleagues that I can rely on for feedback it doesn't stem from the same place of interest. In the instance of multiple founders the responsibility and liability is spread out a little bit. You know, if the whole thing goes to pot at least that failure is dispersed evenly. And, when faced with a problem, most often times multiple heads are better than one.
The real fun of this project has come from having the opportunity to build a brewery all over again, knowing now what I didn't know last time. You know, things like floor drain placement, or hell, even floor drain existence. Hard piping as much as possible, oversizing the glycol chiller, making sure there is more than enough CO2 delivery and ultimately fine tuning a new set of brewhouse tanks with a new set of process piping and even a new direction of process flow. It's been a blast thus far. We have 4 fermenters full of 4 tasty beers and with any luck we'll be pouring these beers for the fine people of Kerrville by months end. And very soon I'll be back in the position of hiring someone to take over the day to day brewing operations. And again I'll be faced with the ever present challenge of finding and retaining extraordinary employees. Well, in this case, employee.
So what is the answer to motivating your staff and, even further, motivating yourself? I'm not exactly sure. But I do believe this, if we all strive to be legendary and strive be a part of legendary things that make a legendary difference, success is inevitable. Too often founders that I know get frustrated because they're staff isn't quite buying into the company culture. They grapple with the why and the how and questions like what can I do to make them more excited about the company. They have no problems selling all of the product that they make and their growth is in the double to triple digits each year. More often than not we focus too much attention on figuring out our customers and not enough time listening to our employees. After all, there's a 99% chance that anyone you will hire was at one time a customer. Turns out you don't have to look too far to find the answers to your customers. Most of the answers are currently on your payroll and they're waiting for you to ask their advice and to challenge them with new problems. That's how they succeed and that's the Kool-Aid they've been waiting to drink.
My intent with this blog is to share my views on life, through the lens of an entrepreneur and a brewer.
Peace out friends
"Life is a journey. Time is a river. The door is ajar."