Credit: BrewDog

'I'd rather shoot myself in the head than sell to a big brewer' - James Watt, BrewDog

AUTHOR Q&A: The BrewDog co-founder on the virtues of crowdfunding, the joys of parachuting taxidermic cats over the City and why he'll never sell to a big brewer.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 04 Feb 2016

Why did you write Business for Punks?

I just got frustrated by business books written either by people who’ve never run a business or by people at the end of their career. I wanted to convey the hands on, rolled up sleeve, gritty side of running a business day to day. And I think the way we run our business is quite unorthodox and unique, so I wanted to share that philosophy.

You’re known for an in-your-face approach to publicity. Which is your favourite stunt?

A few months ago, we were in a helicopter parachuting taxidermic cats over the financial institutions of the City. It was also a lot of fun driving a tank through London and brewing beer at the bottom of the ocean – it’s hard to pick a favourite.

Were you surprised by the controversy over #dontmakeusdothis (see above video), which some people said was transphobic and offensive to sex workers?

That one surprised me. We’ve done a lot of things that were intentionally controversial, but I didn’t think this was. I think there’s a disconnect between the people who reacted that way and the amount of people who actually watched the video, people reacting without actually having watched it.

What’s the idea behind Equity for Punks crowdfunding?

Any small company growing quickly has to have access to capital. You can partly sell to a big company, you can get VC money, but before we came up with Equity for Punks it always involved some sort of compromise. What we love about it is that the company’s always owned by people as passionate as we are, so we don’t have to compromise on anything we believe in to grow our company.

There’s been some criticism that it’s not fair on the investors…

People say you just get discounts on our beers, but at its heart it’s a very serious financial investment. We’ve been the fastest growing food and drinks company in the UK for the past four years and that growth is set to continue. People have been able to exit from their shareholdings at a huge increase from what they invested at. And they get votes. At this year’s AGM we had 6,000 people, which I think makes it the country’s best attended AGM. We did all the business stuff, then we had beer tasting and amazing music. It’s kind of a sweet spot between an AGM and a beer festival.

Talking of beer festivals, you haven’t always seen eye to eye with the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA), have you?

We’ve had resistance from a lot of people but we’ve never been about keeping everyone happy. CAMRA is an institution that did some good work in the 70s and hasn’t changed much since. Punk IPA [BrewDog’s flagship beer] isn’t pasteurised, it’s got more than a million cells of yeast per millilitre and it hasn’t been filtered, so it meets CAMRA’s definition of a real ale.

Brewdog’s growing rapidly as you said. What’s your end goal for the business?

We definitely want to stay with it. A float might eventually be part of the plan, but it could just be a partial float. The plan is to have 200 bars by 2020 [from 35 at time of interview]. If you look at the US craft beer scene it’s twenty times what it is in the UK, so we’ve got potential to grow, but the size is not something we could control. We’re not going to compromise on what we believe in to become a certain size.

You’d never sell to one of the big brewers then?

Fuck no. I’d rather shoot myself in the head than sit on a beach while they tore to pieces everything we’ve worked so hard to build. These companies have bastardised beer for the last fifty years, stripping costs out of what was a great thing and spending billions in advertising trying to convince people that a watered down fallacy is what beer is supposed to be.

Business for Punks: Break All the Rules – the BrewDog Way by James Watt is published by Portfolio Penguin at £14.99, on 5 November 2015.

Read MT’s How I Beat the Odds interview with James Watt here.


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