How we achieved phenomenal business growth

How award-winning Scottish craft beer company BrewDog scaled up without selling out

The major growth of Aberdeenshire-headquartered craft beer company BrewDog in so few years really has been exceptional. Here its founders, Martin Dickie and James Watt, talk about managing key challenges along the way and the importance of staying true to your original values despite achieving remarkable success and growth.

Why and how did you start BrewDog?

Martin Dickie (MD): “We were bored of the industrially brewed lagers and ‘stuffy’ ales that dominated the UK beer market and decided to brew our own. So, in April 2007, we formed BrewDog in Fraserburgh, north of Aberdeen. We brewed tiny batches, filled bottles by hand and sold our beers at local markets and out of the back of an old van. That first year we brewed about 1,050 hectolitres [1HL = 100 litres] of beer.”

We were bored of the industrially brewed lagers and ‘stuffy’ ales that dominated the UK beer market and decided to brew our own

How did BrewDog progress?

MD: “Things went crazy in 2008. By then we had nine employees and had quadrupled our output. Bank finance enabled us to buy more tanks and a bottling machine. We started exporting and received a lot of media attention after making Tokyo, the UK’s strongest ever beer. In only our second year we’d become Scotland’s largest independent brewery.”

Please bring the story up to date?

James Watt (JW): “We now employ more than 500 people, brewed 134,000HL in 2015, make 65 beers and own 44 bars throughout the UK and overseas. We export to about 55 countries. In 2010 we launched Equity For Punks, our game-changing crowdfunding scheme. Through this, 35,000-plus people have invested more than £20m in four rounds of funding. We’ve raised more money through crowdfunding than any other company on record. In August 2016, we’ll be opening a brand new brewery in Columbus, Ohio, which is an extremely exciting development for us.”

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Why have you been able to achieve such phenomenal growth?

JW: “Size, scale or profit were never in our thoughts when we started, our main mission was just to produce a quality product and make people as passionate about great beer as we are. Being alternative in our thinking, challenging convention and pushing boundaries in brewing was pretty rare when we launched and it has helped drive our growth.”

We’ve brought in people who are as passionate about beer as us, ‘punks’ who are just as willing as us to rip up the rulebook

How have you dealt with recruiting and managing people as your business has grown so phenomenally?

MD: “Your people are everything. Without them, you’re nothing. At BrewDog, we set the tone and create the culture from the top down and bottom up. We’ve brought in people who are just as passionate about beer as us, ‘punks’ who are just as willing as us to rip up the rulebook.”

JW: “We have a solid management team, but involve many people within the business in key decisions – opinions on every level count. Our team members will always have a voice, and Martin and I will always be there to listen. We’ve recently appointed Allison Green, our new Director of People. With more than 15 years’ experience, she’ll help to ensure that BrewDog is the best company to work for, which will help us to attract and keep hold of talented people as we grow further.”

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What about suppliers?

JW: “To create world-class craft beer, you need high quality ingredients and great suppliers. We’ve spent years sourcing the best ingredients from around the world. BrewDog has excellent relationships with our suppliers, and that’s important if you’re seeking to achieve significant growth.”

MD: “Another key point is you have to protect your original brand values as you grow quickly and significantly. Our original beliefs are etched into every mouthful of beer that leaves our brewery and that will never change.”

What about finance?

JW: “There have been some significant bank loans in the past, a lot of which paid for things that helped us to establish BrewDog. Since then, our biggest source of finance has come from investment by fans of the brand – people who are as passionate about beer and BrewDog as we are. Through Equity For Punks, we’ve raised more than £20m since 2010, and this has allowed us to scale up without selling out.”

Earn the right to be successful. Be prepared to do things differently, and surround yourself with likeminded people

What advice do you offer to others who want to scale their business?

JW: “The cards are overwhelmingly stacked against you, so you better make sure you’re focused, ruthless, driven and highly motivated. Earn the right to be successful. Be prepared to do things differently, and surround yourself with likeminded people. In 2015, my book, Business For Punks, was published. It’s my manifesto for a 21st century business, which recommends defying convention and rejecting the status quo. Both are a major reason why BrewDog has been so successful.”

  • This piece appeared originally on the HSBC Knowledge Centre website.