The first year in review: 13 key steps taken to avoid startup catastrophe

Six pack holders from one beer lover to another

Six pack holders from one beer lover to another

According to Bloomberg, 8 out of 10 small business fail within the first 18 months. 80% of business will kick the can, go belly up or never amount to a successful stature. When starting a business, that’s a tough pill to swallow, but it’s the cold, bleak truth.

Reaching the one year mark at the start of December and with the new year right around the corner, we feel it’s appropriate to provide an operational recap of Humble Sea Brewery’s first year. Listed below are 13 key steps taken to supplement growth and dissuade default.    

1) Team Formation

December 2014, a meeting was assembled at our Pleasure Point house. Coincidentally, this was the same location Nick began brewing seven years before. Roles, percentages, time commitment and the company direction was discussed. An agreement was made followed by handshakes and beers.

2) Name & Design

“Humble Sea” was Nick’s original brewing alias. The name was loved. Frank began the design. The process was simple which saved important time. 

3) Keith Holtaway and SBDC

Knowing that Humble Sea Brewery required a boat load of work to launch, we sought the best business consultant in Santa Cruz. Keith Holtaway has been coaching and developing businesses since 1998 after co-founding Pizza My Heart in 1981. Our early successes and connections were a direct result of Keith’s guidance. Thanks Keith!  

4) Social media campaign: “Radical Transparency”

Transparency is at the foundation of our business philosophy: no curves, no gimmicks, and no tricks. We want to give readers the opportunity to experience the ups and downs of  what it’s like to start a craft brewery with no money. For more information on this philosophy, check out this blog by Harvard Business Review.

5) Brewing our buns off

How do you create buzz without being able to sell beer? Nick brewed his buns off. Then we gave it all away. Samples landed on the doorstep of potential investors, restaurants, taprooms, friends and family.

Day 1 of our little hop farm in the Santa Cruz Mountains

Day 1 of our little hop farm in the Santa Cruz Mountains

6) Planting our own hop farm

Thanks to our pal, Farmer Rob, we planted over 40 rhizomes on a nice plot of Santa Cruz Mountain farmland. Although small, the first yield was full of flavorful hops. As the vines mature, the yield will continually grow.   

7) Screen printing everything

After transforming a house into a low-cost screen printing factory, we printed all our bottles, six packs, and shirts. Now our samples had a look and feel we were proud of.

8) Five awesome events we were lucky to participate in:

  1. NextSpace Happy Hour
  2. TechRaising
  3. Crafted in Santa Cruz
  4. Event Santa Cruz’s PopUP
  5. Matthew Swinnerton’s KSCO Think Local First Radio Show   

9) Raised a $135k in four weeks

September was stressful. After countless sleepless nights, and caffeine filled inoculations, we raised $135k. Reflecting on this month makes us queasier than rowing a skiff in a squall.  

10) Agency approvals from ABC (state) and TTB (feds)

HUGE! With horror stories reporting a 4 year wait period, we were fortunate to receive our two key governmental approvals in six months.

11) The first ever Humble Sea Brewery public pour

Following our TTB approval, we received an invitation to the Santa Cruz Beer Trail launch party. We poured three of our favorite styles of beer in front of two hundred craft beer fanatics.  

12) Equipment upgrades

We purchased a new Stout Tanks system, allowing us to brew 3x more and with a fermenting capacity of 10x more. Also, we purchased 200 gallons of Venus Spirits barrels for our nano barrel aging program. Can you say mexican lager barrel aged in agave barrels?

13) Hiring our first Humble Sea employee

Say hi to Cam! Our assistant brewer and newest member of the team. As we continue to grow, we will continually need help! Cam is our first company hire. Right on!

With the new year weeks away, we are preparing for two big things:

  1. Nick and Sam will be having their first child (Penelope) in a matter of days

  2. Humble Sea Brewery will be launching distribution following a pair of January events. Stay tuned, dates are being solidified.

2015 has been great! As for the start of 2016, we’re more excited than a gorilla at a banana buffet.

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