Venture Voice – interviews with entrepreneurs

Entertaining Entrepreneurship

VV Show #31 – Steve Hindy of The Brooklyn Brewery

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Being robbed at gun point and being threatened by the mob are not problems the average entrepreneur encounters. Steve Hindy faced these problems and more, but what concerned him most was the fate of his brewery. Steve started the Brooklyn Brewery with Tom Potter. Steve was a journalist and foreign correspondent. Tom was a banker. Neither knew a thing about starting, much less running, a brewery. With grit and determination, they stared down bankruptcy and made it work. In 2003, they sold their beer distributorship for about $10 million. Now Steve’s focused on the brewery (which is doing about $12 million in revenue and has become a global brand) and on the community.

Show notes:

2:45 Starting career as a journalist and AP foreign correspondent

  • “Somehow I got it in my head I wanted to cover a war.”
  • “I was sitting behind President Sadat when he was assassinated in Cairo.”
  • “Foreign correspondents tend to develop some pretty bad personal habits, much worse than beer salesman I can attest.”

7:30 Getting the idea for the Brooklyn Brewery

  • “Entrepreneurship really takes all the creativity and all the resources that you have.”
  • “I didn’t have the greatest resume for starting a brewery.”
  • On convincing his partner Tom Potter: “When I suggested we start a brewery, he thought I was nuts.”
  • On partnerships: “Misery loves company.”

17:30 Being in Brooklyn

  • “Yeah, it was very difficult. We were robbed at one point. We had drivers who took off with our trucks. Our last year in business we spent $60,000 on parking tickets.”

20:00 Dealing with investors

  • “We didn’t want to sell our friends down the river.”
  • “What I learned about business is that a lot of people do sell their original investors down the river.”
  • “In a lot of companies, people on the ground floor get crushed by the people on the floor above, or maybe the fifth floor above, who put in the right money at the right time.”

23:30 Building the team

  • “I think early on, one of our best moves was finding a designer who could really do justice to the name Brooklyn.”
  • Recruited Milton Glaser (who designed the I Love New York logo) to create the Brooklyn Brewery logo.
  • “The first time I called there [Milton Glaser’s office] his secretary kind of blew me off.”

28:00 Selling the distributorship

29:00 Entrepreneurial terror

  • “First time I read that I was just giddy with laughter, maybe nervous laughter.”
  • “We were scared out of our wits early on.”
  • “We got robbed at gunpoint at one time. We ended up emptying the safe of $30,000 cash to guys with pistols. And we had a run in with some mob types here in Brooklyn when we were building the brewery who basically were looking for bribes to allow the project to go on. But none of that was as scary as facing the possibility of failure, which is to me the most scary possibility.”
  • “We’re just very determined.”

35:45 Turning point

  • “We left behind the fear of total failure probably about 1995.”

39:45 Brooklyn Brewery today

  • “Last year we grew by 18%.”
  • “Craft beer as a whole grew by 9%.”

42:30 In the community

  • “Having a high profile in the community has gotten us into trouble every now and then.”
  • Brooklyn Brewery has supported Bruce Ratner’s plan to build an arena for the Nets in Brooklyn. Some bloggers called for a boycott of the Brooklyn Brewery as a result.
  • “Brooklyn is a wonderful place — two and a half million people. But it’s also a poor place. It always lags behind the city in employment. Brooklyn needs housing. It needs affordable housing. And Ratner has big plans for affordable housing in this new development.”
  • “We have no regrets about supporting this.”
  • “The boycott has not had any impact on our sales.”
  • “No good deed goes unpunished. That’s something you got to face up to if you’re going to be involved in the community.”

Steve and Tom wrote a book about their experence called Beer School.

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