The first batch of beer I was ever a part of making was the first-ever beer we brewed at Solemn Oath back in April of 2012. I had never homebrewed. I had no experience selling beer. How do you get taken seriously and build a team when you're trying to dive into a new industry? There's always more than one way, but this is how I did it.
To build credibility I had to do my homework. I had to be able to express my vision and be taken seriously from the moment of introduction. If you're ever looking to break into an industry you need to study up and read everything you can get your hands on. I began reaching out to breweries I respected across the country with blind questions regarding everything from market approach to personnel. It worked, and answers to specific eccentricities about brewery operations and cultural approach rolled in. I also started to receive full business plans and detailed explanations as to what was wrong with them.
“Control your own Destiny or somebody else will” ― Jack Welch
You can always train people, but finding individuals that understand and want to be a part of your culture is the challenge. That's why in the beginning it was just us.With each response, the vision that my brother Joe and I had always discussed became more and more honed. I learned quickly that day-to-day operations of a brewery are both inherently simple and complex. Some areas are clearly defined while others are grey and unique to each business. I had to wade through a sea of information to build the business I was hoping I could. I found that my credibility came from two areas: being able to express the vision of what I was trying to do and having the finances clear as day. Having both those pieces in place made it less of a concept and more of a reality.
Knowing what you value in a team is vital to every element of building a business. It drives the culture you're going to be able to build and the quality of talent you're going to be able to attract. It doesn't ensure you'll get exactly what you're looking for, but it gives you some important direction. For our beer operations, I sought someone who would be self-sufficient, talented with Belgian beers, and creative with wood-aging.
“Don't be afraid to give up the good to go for the great.” ― John D. Rockefeller
Good ideas fight through.When I met Tim, I knew immediately that this was the guy. Tim initially came across as someone with an incredibly inspired mind, a chill approach, and the quality and reputation to back up his products. In my opinion, he was a brewpub brewer ready to break out. I learned during my search that I was drawn to the idea of finding someone with brewpub experience. By definition, there is experience working directly with customers. There is also that systematic approach of being able to handle the process grain to glass, which again, with the small team I knew we would start with, both of these were vital. I left each of the meetings Tim and I had prior to his joining up completely convinced he was going to be able to tackle anything that came at us from a beer perspective, and that was what I wanted.
When searching for a brewer I didn't need someone with a certain set of qualifications. I didn't need to know what I wanted, but I did need direction and an established set of values that were important to me.
My approach is a blend between analytical and originative, but I spend a lot of effort trying to stay grounded. I have an active imagination and could easily be seen as a dreamer, but I offset that by realizing and accepting my faults. I'm disorganized and I miss deadlines like a mother fucker. I would consider my own talents to be varied. I have a creative mind but I'm not very artistic. So to build a diverse and successful team I had to be sure we had people that were not those things. And while I constantly seek the different, Solemn Oath needed someone who was grounded with no bullshit. We needed Joe.
“People who are unable to motivate themselves must be content with mediocrity, no matter how impressive their other talents.” ― Andrew Carnegie
I'm fine with people. I love working with people. But my brother Joe does it naturally. He and I went back and forth for the better part of eight months on opening a brewery here in Chicagoland or him getting me to move where he was, on the chill and sunny beaches of Southern California. It took time, but I convinced Joe to move back to the Midwest. I convinced him that this was the time and that what we were embarking on was special. Even when SOB existed as only a concept, Joe had to be a part of this. His ability to relate to everyone, make friends with everyone, and still execute was a skill that I'm alright at, but he had mastered. That's why you see him everywhere. That's why his primary role revolves around accounts and people. And that's one of the many reasons I'm glad he's here.
I learned quickly that day-to-day operations of a brewery are both inherently simple and complex.Talent pools are not finite. You can find apt people in all different kinds of industries. The key is having the fortitude to be able to apply that to what you're trying to do. There is definitely risk in finding people outside the box. There is also immense reward.
Paul was a school teacher. He was Yale educated. On the side, he was covering the Chicago beer industry for a variety of publications. When we first met, he was writing an article on us. He displayed a knowledge of beer far superior to my own, but even more important was his passion. He had experience working in production breweries, but, honestly, that is a part of his résumé I could give a shit about. It's not a necessary element to being a part of Solemn Oath. We need diverse backgrounds and diverse talents, and that's where Paul is strong. A few weeks after he wrote about us, Paul started helping out at the brewery after school and on weekends. We agreed to have him work during his summer break and quickly figured out that we weren't going to let him go back.
“A leader is a dealer in hope.” ― Napoleon Bonaparte
Finding people in unique places is a mindset. Being able to translate how they might fit with your business is a combination of faith and foresight. There is going to be risk, especially with a small business. And then there is insurance to that risk. Paul coming from a different background to join a small team had its risks, but Paul can also write. Goddammit can he write. And an ability to write tells me a great deal about a person from a working perspective. It tells me they can problem solve, that they can communicate. Writing samples show a window into a person's own vision, and I see a lot of value in that.
Matt is another example of this. A wood-worker by trade, Tim saw a detail-oriented mind that he could teach to brew and convinced me of the same. Our whole brewery is proof that résumés matter only so much, and that belief can often thrive when given the opportunity.
Very few people that work in our taproom have ever poured beer from behind a bar. You can always train people, but finding individuals that understand and want to be a part of your culture is the challenge. That's why in the beginning it was just us. Joe, Dave, Tim, and I (and Paul when he wasn't at school) spent all week functioning as a production brewery, and then all weekend slinging beers in the taproom. We needed to build our own culture. One built on service and a quality experience at every point of customer interaction. Due to its importance, I wasn't ready to hand that off. So we didn't start with the fleet of awesomeness that you currently see in the taproom. It was us. We needed that room to be an extension of our ideals until we were ready to entrust someone to get that vision through to you, our supporters.
Erin joined as one of the very first part-time employees. She became familiar with the brewery during Chicago Craft Beer Week, hitting up one of our rollout events at Bar Deville. She met Joe, and while we weren't really looking for anyone at the time, he thought she might fit well when the time came. I didn't meet her until her first day, and immediately saw what Joe did. Since she came on board, Erin's role has continued to grow. She took over taproom operations in September and has since expanded into other areas of our growing little brewery. Nothing on Erin's résumé would tell you that she was ready for many of the duties her job calls for. She's definitely raw and I certainly hear the phrase "Justin Bieber" way too often from her, but she's a talent. We trusted in her enough to put her in a position to grow and succeed.
Knowing what you value in a team is vital to every element of building a business.For me, building a team is one of my favorite parts of owning a business. People depend on you, and there are certainly stresses that come with that, but one of the major keys to success is the ability to adapt. The details of the vision that proved so vital in being able to be taken seriously in a new industry are nearly unrecognizable at this point. Solemn Oath looks scarcely like the plan I had on day one. And even with future choices, that will often be the case. The team, the culture, and the processes we've established here are flexible. While the original vision of the brewery may have been thrown out of the window, it was still a foundational piece to what got us here. The quality of the team you build allows you to make the most informed decisions. The diverse and unique backgrounds my team has allows every facet of our business to be what it is.
Good ideas fight through. Talent and whatever that means to you trumps all. Building a great team takes risk. Know that there are so many different paths. This is not the only way, but so far it has worked at Solemn Oath. Success in a team is putting together a puzzle, and in my opinion as our business continues to grow, that puzzle should always be missing a piece or two.
This is the seventh in a series of posts exploring the origins of SOBs. Read John Barley's first post, Tim Marshall, Joe Barley, Paul Schneider, Honda, and MOfferman posts to get caught up. Even if you choose not to look back, where you come from is important. How you got here is important. These are our origins.