Sales is hard!

I’m a nerd by nature.  I’ve worked in computers almost my whole life.  My parents did what they could to make me sociable and presentable — my father was a Naval officer, so that sort of entertaining and presenting was important — but, by and large, I’m a somewhat-more-gregarious-than-the-stereotype nerd.

(On Meyers-Briggs, I typically get INTJ, though I sometimes get ENTJ, depending on my mood the day I take it.  I/E = Introvert/Extrovert.  On the ones that show it as a scale (vice just the letters), I typically come up around 45% extrovert, 55% introvert, or near there.)

ANYway…   🙂

One of the challenges I’ve always faced in trying to run my own business is: I sort of stink at the sales part.  Early in my career, I suffered from the “would you like to hear about my product?  No?  Ok…” problem (which I consider “polite behaviour” but, apparently, it’s a counter-indication of a successful career in sales.  Who knew?!)  Later, I got a bit better at the presentation bit, but never had the patience for “idiot customers”.  I was probably 25 or 30 years into my career before I met a sort of marketing genius that showed me “how it’s done” — basically, how to be a polite, wonderful person and still sell product without (a) hating your customers or (b) hating yourself for it.  This was truly eye opening for me, and I began studying up on all of these techniques that my earlier life glossed over.  (NOTE: I’m far from mastery of this stuff, but I can at least do passable negotiations without grave injury to any of the affected parties 🙂 )

So here I am, trying to get a brewery started.  Turns out that a big part of that is getting people interested in buying my beer.  Put another way, that means I have to do a fair bit of “selling” both the beer (initial sales) and the business (repeat business.  Because constantly getting new customers when old customers decide they don’t want to deal with you is a total PITA.  Even worse than the “idiot customers” problem!)

Where was I…?  Oh, right!  “Sales is hard!”  Wait, first I have to tell you about my greatest decade of sales:

Just after the original iPhone was announced, the startup I was with decided to Bet Everything that they could put their entire business on this new device.  Except the original iPhone had no SDK (tools for external programmers to write apps), so we had to jailbreak the phone to get our software on it and hope that Apple would eventually allow external programs.  (In 2008, this was not a known thing; it was a HUGE gamble!)  The following year they did, but the startup went belly-up, so there I was, one of about 50 people on the planet who knew how to program an iPhone that didn’t already work at Apple.

…And everybody else on the planet had A Brilliant Idea for an app and wanted to hire programmers which, as mentioned, were in quite-short supply.

So, for just-shy of the next 10 years, I was the guy who would write your app for you.  I was reliable, honest, delivered what I said I would, when I said I’d do it, for the price I said it would cost.  (Mostly.  I wasn’t perfect, but I spent some time working for free to present this illusion.  After a few knocks on the chin, I got better at estimations 🙂 )  And my sales-effort went kind of like this:

Other person: “I have this great idea for an app business I’d like to start.”
Me: “I know how to write apps, and am available to do that on a contract basis.”
OP: “Let’s do this!”

It was, perhaps, the easiest sales work I ever had to do.  Possibly the easiest sales work ever done by anyone!  But it was sales, and there were a few snafus, so I got to crawl my way from kindergarden-level to middle-, then high-school sales skills, and eventually got a few college-level lessons.  IMO, it worked out well for everyone.

Back to Many Friends Brewing Company.  Around the holidays 2017 — just about exactly a year ago — this idea turned from “we could maybe do this” to “ok, we’re going to do this” and step one was to lay out a plan and, while it was (still is, really) a bit vague as you go further into the future, one of the things was:

  • In 2018, go through all the processes necessary to sell 1 unit of beer*.
    • Make some beer.  (We’d already done this, so had a head start.)
    • Make some good beer.  (Same; we had a few recipes of which we’re proud going in.)
    • Make some good, repeatable beer.  (Being able to control the process is key!)
    • Get licensed to sell beer.  (This actually took until early July — from end-of-December! — to complete.  And we weren’t really dragging our feet on it.  This isn’t even for a public pub — just a type-23 “Small Beer Manufacturer” (i.e., to sell to pubs).)
    • Sell 1 unit of beer.

*At the time we made the goal, we assumed it would be “sell 1 keg of beer to a local pub”.  Turns out that most pubs reserve the taps/kegs for The Big Boys, and new kids on the block (like us) sell-in a case (or a few) of bottles.  More learning!

So now it’s week-2 of December 2018, we’ve got a license, we’re making good, repeatable beer, it’s kegged (and bottled!), ready to go, and I’ve talked to a few local establishments, giving my best “Truly Local**, Premium Craft beer” spiel, and…

** A lot of bigger breweries are pushing themselves as “local” when they’re almost 500 miles away (ex, San Diego.)  I’m actually just up the road, and get my mail delivered by the local post office.  While I hope to turn this into a profitable business, I’m not looking to become the next Budweiser, or even the next { Anchor Steam / Sam Adams / pick your favorite now-giant previously micro-brew }.  My goal is to continue to make solid, high-quality beer for local establishments and use whatever influence I can develop to improve the community and the environment (the “ManyFriends” angle).

[From previous paragraph: “and…”] …now we’re having our world-debut next week, and so that’s kind of exciting!

So it looks like we’ll make the goal of “sell 1 unit of beer by the end of 2018” — yay! — but I’m still sort of awful at sales/selling and 2019’s #1 goal is going to be something along the lines of “sell to N unique customers*** and have M repeat customers”, meaning I’m going to have to sort this sales thing out, one way or another.

*** Remember, as a type-23, we only sell to people who have a license to sell beer to the public.  So “customers” in this sense means bars, pubs, liquor stores, boutique shops with beer/wine, etc.

If you’re wondering “what’s the point?”, there is none.  I’m just rambling a bit, musing about the specific challenges and victories that we face trying to bootstrap this brewery thing from “nothing” to “a going concern”.  Hopefully, at some future point, I’ll post another musing looking back at this one and talking about how silly it was to be worried about such things when it was just a matter of getting out there and doing it.

I hope.  🙂 

In the mean time, if you’re in Los Gatos next Wednesday, swing by and have some beer!

[LINK to Facebook Event]

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