How to choose partners when starting a brewery: a shared vision

Since quitting my job in air quality planning about a year ago due to, shall we say “irreconcilable differences” with management, I’ve been planning to start a brewery here in the Monterey area (California). MicroBrewr podcast is documenting my progress as a way to educate their audience through the process. I recently posted on MicroBrewr blog, an update on my progress. What follows is portions from that post, with additional bonus material.

(Full disclosure: The host, Joe Shelerud stepped down from MicroBrewr. I asked him to let me take over, and he agreed. The transition is already underway.)

Photograph of shaking hands.

The draft business plan is complete. I have been getting a lot of helpful suggestions and comments from friends and family. After incorporating the suggested improvements into the plan, my partners and I will be ready to go look for money.

There is one minor problem. All of my partners left the project a couple months ago. This did set me back a bit, and it has been a great learning experience.

At varying levels, I was anticipating each of the partners to leave. The brewer is in another state with a child there. The chef is already tending to 2 of his own businesses half a state away (California is a big state). And my friend since junior high school and I, the main partnership since the beginning, butted heads kind of seriously on more than one occasion. Outside of this project, he and I don’t really get into arguments. We didn’t want to risk our friendship. Yet, even though I was expecting it, it still brought me down. I had to pick myself up, refocus, and get back on track.

There were other minor disagreements since the beginning, usually revolving around each partner’s vision for the final project. One of us would compromise and we’d reach an agreement. Yet problems would eventually come back up, because none of us was really willing to let go.

To put it simply, we didn’t share the same vision. We were trying to do different things.

Lesson learned: shared vision is crucial

The biggest lesson I learned from all this is to make sure that my partners and I are trying to do the same thing. It is extremely important to accurately describe the vision, in detail, as early as possible.

I want to emphasize that the vision must be very detailed. Each of us would describe to the other partners what we had in mind, but it was vague enough so that the others thought it conformed with their own vision. Only after months of telephone conversations and videoconferences did we start to realize that we each had a different vision.

Write your vision

  • Pick 3 words to describe your brewery at its core, your standards and values.
  • Describe what your brewery looks like, what it sounds like, and smells like.
  • What colors are in your logo, and why did you pick those colors?
  • What kind of beer do you make? (“Good beer,” isn’t detailed enough.)
  • What kind of food do you serve? Do you sell food at all?
  • What kind of neighborhood is it in?
  • What kind of customers do you have?
  • How do the customers act when they come to your business or when they consume your product?
  • What is the price of your product at retail outlets?
  • I could go on…

Notice that I pose all of the questions as if the brewery is already operating. Imagine it now and put yourself there.

Write down your vision. Show it to potential partners before you start talking about working with each other. It’ll save you a lot of time and heartache.

In the next post, I’ll write about what I learned from Responsible Beverage Service Training (RBS).


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    Drinks beer, quit his job, planning to start a brewery. I try to write every week about something in my life relating to my pursuit to start a brewery. Topics include: entrepreneurship, beer, leadership, and productivity.