Business lessons from BrewDog

How did a craft beer company from Scotland go from a small market stall to a £19m turnover, fake bars in China and a US TV show in just six years?

by Gabriella Griffith
Last Updated: 22 Apr 2015

BrewDog is going great guns. The young craft beer company has just announced its fifth consecutive year of strong growth, predicting a turnover of £19m for 2013, up from £10.8m last year.
Having opened its first non-UK bar in Stockholm earlier this year, its ambitious expansion plans include bars in San Paulo, New Delhi and Berlin – all to open in the next six months.
(Anyone visiting Changzhou in China should be warned – the bar calling itself ‘BrewDog’ and brandishing the beer company’s logo is a fake – ‘We don’t have any stores. We distribute our beers in China, mainly in Shanghai, but this is a fake unit,’ said co-founder James Watt earlier this week. Flattering at the very least.)
Oh, and it also features in a reality TV show in the US called BrewDogs, which follows the founders as they travel across America convincing people of the virtues of craft beer. Clearly, it’s doing something right.
Looking back at BrewDog’s trajectory – here are some tips just in case you fancied following in its big, hairy footsteps.

1.    Craft a way with words

BrewDog’s irreverent co-founder James Watt doesn’t mince his words. Not only is he not afraid and mud slinging and swearing – he’s also gifted with a rather memorable turn of phrase.
His audacious wordsmithery makes him incredibly quotable and (unless you’re on the receiving end of his blasts) incredibly likable.
Watt on the fake bar in China: ‘At the moment I am bemused, kinda happy, a bit flattered and simultaneously terrified. Like a French foie gras goose.’
Watt on ‘The End of History’ BrewDog’s beer sold in taxidermy bottles (see below): ‘This is the beer to end all beers. It's an audacious blend of eccentricity, artistry and rebellion; changing the general perception of beer, one stuffed animal at a time.’

Watt on Brew Dog’s determination: ‘Drinkers in Scotland are constrained by lack of choice. Seduced by the monolithic corporate brewers that have huge advertising budgets. Brainwashed by vindictive lies perpetrated with the veracity of pseudopropaganda. They can’t help but be sucked down the rabbit hole. We are on a mission to open as many people’s eyes as possible. This single goal is what gets us through pretty much anything.’

Watt on the Advertising Standards Authority: 'We have thousands of craft beer fans who have invested in what we do and how we do it – they are the people we listen to – not the killjoy, self-important pen pushers at the ASA in their Burton suits. Those mother f**kers don’t have any jurisdiction over us anyway.'
Getting the picture?

2.    Bypass the banks

In 2009, BrewDog decided it needed to raise some cash. Instead of going to the banks or listing on AIM, it created an equity scheme called Equity for Punks. It is the most successful independent crowdfunding programme ever.
Now in its third round, Equity for Punks III has already raised £3.6m in less than three months (in June it raised £1m in 24 hours as investors clamoured to get a piece of the brewery). It aims to sell a total of 42,000 shares in the company during this round – priced at £95 each.
‘Our Equity Punks are the cornerstone of everything we do and its great to share our growth with them,’ said Watt. ‘It’s their passion for great beer which has put us where we are now, and we want to put them at the heart of the operation.’

3.    Don’t be afraid of a PR stunt

Some companies find PR stunts tasteless and tactless. Brew Dog isn’t one of them.
Earlier this year the brewing company launched its aforementioned Equity for Punks III by driving a tank through the City (see above). People, especially the ‘punks’ it was aimed at, loved it.
In 2011, BrewDog created what it claimed was the world’s first beer brewed at the bottom of the sea (we tend to agree it was probably a first). It dropped a fermentation tank into the sea and left it in a position which maintained a temperature of 10 degrees, for a perfect brew. The beer contained marine-like ingredients such as buckweed, sea-salt and rum.

Then of course there’s the taxidermy thing, which caused quite the storm among animal rights activists.

4.    Unleash your inner Spielberg

BrewDog is but a beer maker but it bangs out little video clips faster than you can say, ‘I wonder what kind of beer Woody Allen drinks?’ A quick visit to its website you you’ll find videos showing the founders playing ten pin bowling with Budweiser, Darth Vader playing baseball with a bottle of Carling and a rather interesting alternative Queen’s speech – among many other things.
These funny little clips are not only incredibly viral, they are probably what caught the attention of the US producers who commissioned the brewery’s own reality TV series. Badabing.


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