My Week: James Watt from BrewDog

The brewing entrepreneur on negotiating with Tesco, smashing up pubs, and his furry FD...

Last Updated: 22 Apr 2015

At the end of last week I left our HQ in Fraserburgh, Scotland, and went down to London for meetings with the Tesco buying team. Tesco are our biggest UK customer, so we were just discussing the company’s 2009 performance and putting together a business plan for 2010. I don’t buy into the argument of some small firms that it’s hard to negotiate with supermarkets – it’s not hard to negotiate with anyone. If you’ve got a good product and can tick the right boxes, then you can add value to their businesses. We’ve now been in Tesco for a year and a half, and last year we sold more than 350,000 bottles through its supermarkets.

The product we sell in Tesco is our best-seller, Punk IPA. My business partner Martin Dickie and I originally started making beer because we were bored of the bland mass-market beers and we wanted something that was fun, edgy, and actually about the product as opposed to just marketing and budgets. All of our beers are made with fresh, natural ingredients: there are no additives, no preservatives, and no pasteurisation. We’re making beer with attitude, with a focus on flavour and quality.

My passion for the business means I don’t switch off too much over the weekend. We’ve just bought a pub in Aberdeen, so last weekend I got hands-on with the renovations going on there. It’s somewhere in between business and a hobby: it’s a nice way to get away from emails and BlackBerry, grab a sledgehammer and smash things to bits. It’s quite a nice way to unwind.

Then it was back to business on Monday for the last week of our IPO. We’re the first company in Europe to do an online-only IPO. It’s unusual for a company of our size and our age (we’re just over two years old) to go public. Anyone can go to our IPO website,, from anywhere in Europe to invest and own part of the company. We decided this was the best way to raise money as we’ve pushed the banks as far as we can and they’re not all that keen on lending at the moment anyway. Besides, we wouldn’t have wanted to take on mountains of debt. So rather than giving huge chunks of equity away to VCs, we wanted the people that enjoy the beer to buy the shares – and that’s happening. What will I do with the money? Perhaps I’ll buy an island in the Bahamas or something. Just kidding, we’re building a new brewing facility just outside Aberdeen at the moment.

The other big news this week was that we released Sink The Bismarck!, which at 41% is the world’s strongest beer. We did it because we like to be innovative and push the boundaries; we like to do things that are different. We also wanted to create a beer that you could enjoy with your mates in the same way that you could a liqueur or whisky. No one can really say that this is encouraging irresponsible drinking: we’ve got 200 bottles and we’re selling them on our website for £30 a bottle. Meanwhile, anyone can walk in any corner shop and buy eight times the volume of vodka for the same price. It’s more aimed at connoisseurs, aficionados and people who enjoy these types of beers, as opposed to something to be swigged on a park bench.

Inevitably the fallout of the launch has been a string of interviews and media coverage. We’re certainly not complaining: we don’t have a big marketing budget so we have to be a little bit inventive about how we get our name out there and cause a bit of buzz. This is really my area of expertise - I focus more on sales and marketing whereas Martin handles production. We have 31 members of staff now. And we mustn’t forget the dog, which the company was named after. He’s the FD – he does all the financial projections...

James Watt is co-founder and managing director of BrewDog, which sells ‘beer with attitude’.

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