Long before the recent craft beer craze, with hundreds of small breweries opening around the United States monthly, there was Jim Koch. As co-founder of the Boston Beer Company, he is the leader of the company that brews Samuel Adams, the country's largest-selling craft beer. Even with that distinction, the company is still considered a small brewery by industry standards, with only about one percent of market share of the U.S. beer market, an industry ruled by giants like Anheuser-Busch InBev.
Still, most craft brewers and other entrepreneurs dream of the level of success that Koch has achieved. Since 2008, the company has helped entrepreneurs with the Samuel Adams Brewing the American Dream program. The program, open to business owners in the food, beverage, and hospitality industries, provides mentoring, coaching, and even microloans in order to give these people the essential skills to start and grow their piece of the American dream.
Koch says that the seed for the program started years earlier, when he was still at Harvard.
"When I was in school, I was a strong advocate of the point of view that companies needed to not only have social responsibilities beyond making money, but that they needed to interact in a positive way. I wrote an article for the Harvard Environmental Law Review in 1976 essentially saying that companies have responsibilities and the companies that recognize these responsibilities tend to have better financial results."
The Samuel Adams leader said that when a business has social and community programs in place, it becomes connected with the environment outside of its narrow business interests. Companies like that tend to be more innovative and a better place to work. "You'll get better people to work there and you'll retain the good employees."
Koch says that after starting his own company in the 1980s, when faced with his own corporate responsibilities, he wanted to more than just write a check. One day, after his management team volunteered to paint a building, Koch was left feeling that there was a better way to utilize their knowledge and time.
"It was one of those corporate feel good days, but I didn't feel very good about it. We had used about $10,000 of management time to do about $2,000 worth of bad painting. Our business does the most for the community when it creates value, but what we did destroyed value. I thought we could do better."
So, Koch and his team decided to help small companies, using their combined business experiences and acumen. "It wasn't so long ago that Sam Adams was a very small business. I thought about what I needed when I started out and it was loan money and nuts and bolts practical business advice."
The company's Brewing the American Dream program sets out to do both, with small business owners getting coaching in 20-minute sessions from attorneys, marketing professionals, accountants, and other professionals. This free "speed coaching" event will be held at 6 p.m. at Gold Coast Beverage Distributors in Doral. RSVP for a spot.
In addition, entrepreneurs that show exceptional promise can be eligible for small loans of about $10,000, what Koch says is the most difficult type of loan you can get.
"Banks won't touch them, so we make the loans with our partner Accion, the largest nonprofit micro- and small business loan network. There's also mentoring and coaching that go along with the funding. We have a special relationship with the people who get these loans. We're not just mailing a check."
Koch also has some solid, no-nonsense advice to home brewers looking to take that next step, or any small business owner, for that matter:
- "Reach out to anyone you think can help you, because you don't have room to make mistakes. You make two bad hires in a row and that could be lights out for your business. People can tell you how to make great hires. Get as much advice as you can synthesize.
- "Make a great product and work your butt off to get customers. A lot of times I'll have people come in and tell me their product's not that great but they have a killer name and marketing concept. People have a pretty misguided faith in their marketing genius. I always say, 'hey - the customer that you really want is not buying the marketing. They're buying the product. Think about your own experiences. Do you really buy things because of the marketing or because you really like it? Your customers will not be dazzled for long. You also can't be the cheapest. You have to be the best. The only exception is if you're making the next pet rock. If you are, good luck with that.
- "The reality of starting a business is that it's going to be really hard work for a really long time. Either your company takes off and you have to work your ass off to keep up with it or it doesn't work out and you have to work your ass off to help it along. When does it get easier? Well, I started Sam Adams 31 years ago and it doesn't get easier. I won't be home until about 10 p.m. and that's a normal day. If you're passionate about your product it's probably never going to get easier until the day you walk away. It's going to be very long hours, but you're going to be OK with the trade off.
- "Don't start a business to get rich because the chances that it's going to make you rich are very small. Start a business that can make you happy. There's a very good shot that your business will make you happy.
All in all, Koch remains passionate about the craft beer industry.
"I think it's great that we have coached hundreds of up and coming craft brewers. It's a little weird to be making loans to people who are, in one sense, our competitors. But that's one of the things that makes craft beer so much fun and so attractive — we all like each other and help each other. Sam Adams, as a leading craft brewer, needs to set that example to newbies that this is how we help each other out.
"Every day, I get to work on not only making some of the greatest beers I've made for 30 years, but also create new beer styles with new ingredients and brewing processes. The day that this becomes work is the day I'll move on. But this is not work. Before ten in the morning, I got to do a beer tasting. I got to have a beer at lunch. That's two beers by lunchtime! I also get to work with people who share that passion."
Samuel Adams is hosting a speed coaching event this Tuesday, April 14, from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at Gold Coast Beverage Distributors (10055 NW 12th St., Doral). The speed coaching is open to small business owners in the food, hospitality, and beverage industries by advance registration only. To register, visit eventbrite.com.
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