Startup Lessons from Craft Beer: Innovate and Build a Community

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In 2001 Jeremy Goldberg was a Wall Street money pusher living a comfortable life in New York. But on September 11th everything changed, the disruptive events of that morning sent Jeremy on a life changing journey with four friends across the United States. Over the course of 48 days they drove their minivan to 20 different craft breweries. Their trip became the subject of a documentary on craft beer. The combination of passion, collaboration among brewers and seismic shift in his personal life made craft brewing seem like the perfect career change.

“Craft Brewing is nothing new” Jeremy said “and after the industry witnessed its first boom and then retracted in the late 90s, the brewers that survived realized that collaboration, combined with passion, was crucial to their own success.” He added “You have a lot of people doing innovative things and there’s always a bit of competition, but at the end of the day it’s about beer and that’s all that matters.”

Innovate

Jeremy wasn’t afraid to tell NextShark that he knows what he likes. “Cape Ann isn’t like some other craft brewers who are really out there experimenting with flavors. They’ll make a beer that tastes exactly like crème brulé or pumpkin pie, and it’s delicious, but that’s not what we do.” Cape Ann, it seems, prides itself on innovating within the context of more traditional beer brewing techniques.

Jeremy first came to realize his own talents as a brew master with Cape Ann’s Pumpkin Stout. At the time pumpkin ales and pumpkin pie style ales were well liked, but no one had ever successfully tried to combine the popular sweet pumpkin flavors with darker notes found in traditional stouts. Goldberg gave it a try to the dismay of his distributor. “He tasted it and said ‘the beer was shit’ and that ‘it was an embarrassment.’” But that didn’t stop Jeremy, he followed his his gut and sent the pumpkin stout to a New York beer festival where it walked away with top honors.

From then on Cape Ann focused on creating well crafted, balanced beers that didn’t deviate from the traditional notions of beer, but instead improved on them. “Sometimes we’ll create unique beers, but the overall focus is always on balance.  That’s who we are a brewery”

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Community Building

Failing to stick to that philosophy early on is one of the bigger mistakes Cape Ann made. In an effort to increase sales the brewery expanded its distribution to cover New Hampshire to Maryland. But the breweries ambitions didn’t match market demand for their products in the region. Bottles simply sat on the shelves, and the extra exposure actually hurt the Cape Ann brand more than it helped.

However sales remained strong closer to home with 80-90% of sales coming from locals. Goldberg realized that his customers were a lot like him. “Beer is a local product, and its best when served as close to the source as possible. The fresher the beer the better it is.” Which is why Cape Ann has a pub on site that acts as a tap room. Locals and fans of the beer go there to enjoy a beer with their friends, the Cape Ann staff and soak in the culture.

“That’s loyalty you can’t buy- our customers have a real connection to what we do”

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