BEER GOGGLES

BEER GOGGLES

From Chicken Soup for the Entrepreneur's Soul

Beer Goggles

“Beer goggles” is an old slang term referring to how much better things (usually members of the opposite sex) look after a couple of brews. You might say that Gambrinus, the patron saint of beer, strapped a healthy pair of goggles on us when we embarked on our journey to take Realbeer.com from a mere vision to a success.

I met my future business partner and cofounder of Realbeer.com, Pat Hagerman, online. You could call it the first business-related Internet blind date in history. But I’m jumping ahead; let me explain how it happened.

Among the first people I’d shown my Realbeer.com idea to were the owners of the Riverside Brewing Company, located in Riverside, California. I shared my plan with this father-and-son team and boasted Realbeer.com would be the online community and publication for promoting import and specialty beers. Unsure of me and this crazy Internet idea, they asked another member of the family, an engineer who sometimes used the Internet (this was back in 1994, so even this limited use qualified him as an expert), to check out my Web site. That man was Pat Hagerman.

After checking out the site, Pat realized that I was real and became intrigued by my idea. A beer enthusiast himself, he understood the potential of what I was trying to do. He immediately e-mailed me, asking if I was looking for investment. I sensed a shared passion for both beer and the Internet and suggested we meet in person to discuss the idea—over beers, of course. Two meetings at the San Francisco pub, Connecticut Yankee, and three cocktail napkins later, we had our business plan and made a commitment to create a company together. Our heads were spinning with the sheer audacity of whatwe’d decided to do.

Years of successfully growing ad agencies had prepared me for my role as an entrepreneur. Pat was young, single and liked the excitement that building a company from the ground up offered. We quit well-paying jobs to embark on the American Dream of building our own business and being our own bosses. The beer goggles were working perfectly, and our future looked bright.

As we dove into building Realbeer.com, Pat and I found our personalities, skills and backgrounds were ideally complementary. We were yin and yang with operations and creative talents. Like a lot of entrepreneurial stories, ours was characterized by a combination of luck, good timing and a healthy dose of blissful ignorance about what could and couldn’t be done. And we both knew that bringing an idea to life in a new medium was going to take more than a shared passion and hard work—it was going to take evangelism, literally.

Back in the mid-1990s, you couldn’t just send out a pamphlet about the Web and expect anyone to take you seriously. So Pat set up operations on our home front in San Francisco while my better half, Darci, and I hitched up an Avion trailer and hit the road to “appleseed” the business. We’d never pulled, much less lived in, a travel trailer before, and as we headed toward I-5 and Southern California, Darci and I looked at each other and burst out laughing for about a mile and a half. It was incredible and incredulous. What were we thinking? Yet we were committed to our path. We were on the road and doing it, and we didn’t look back.

While Pat dealt with the trials and tribulations of building the bricks-and-mortar side of the company, Darci and I bivouacked in some of America’s most remote corners, singing the praises of craft beer, the possibilities of the Internet, and sharing our vision of Realbeer.com. Along the way, brewers and beer media opened their doors, homes and, fortunately, checkbooks to participate in the online community we were struggling to establish.

When Darci and I finally returned to San Francisco at the end of our travels in June 1997, we had some great momentum behind us. Over 500 breweries, brewpubs and beverage marketers had been exposed firsthand to our story and the opportunities our publication offered. As those companies established an online presence—and all of them did—they reached out to Realbeer.com to access the beer-enthusiast community we’d built and nurtured. Companies began contacting us for advertising and/or Web site development without ever having met us in person. Many only knew us through word of mouth and the goodwill we’d established with the industry. It wasn’t long before our little company’s growth became exponential, and we had more work than we could handle.

Along the way, we discovered others who enjoyed their own view of the future through beer goggles, from members of our online community to angels and mentors throughout the beer industry. Jim Koch, founder of Boston Beer Company, brewer of Sam Adams, hired us, and also shared a wealth of free business advice. Pete Slosberg, creator of Pete’s Wicked Ale, pored over our business plan for us. Dan Gordon of Gordon Biersch, brewer extraordinaire and closet tech-geek, introduced us to investment contacts in nearby Silicon Valley. Jack Joyce, formerly of Nike and CEO of Rogue Ales in Oregon, shared war stories that rammed home important business lessons at strategic times. Tom Daldorf, a craft-beer legend and publisher of The Celebrator Beer News, introduced us to the industry and lent credentials to our claim of community before we’d earned them. Countless others invested their contacts, content and advice with us because we had shared their stories with our ever-growing online congregation.

Today, with over 400,000 unique visitors per month and thousands of pages of content, Realbeer.com is the largest publication of its kind in the world. Our community’s continued success is a testament to the strength of our company’s amplified passion and that of our audience of craft beer enthusiasts. It’s like the ultimate Homer Simpson success story: take a dream . . . add beer . . . anything is possible.

Mark Silva
As told to Banjo Bandolas

EPILOGUE: The slogan for Realbeer.com is “What part of beer don’t you understand?” All you need to do is visit the site to learn everything you absolutely want to know about beer, from raw ingredient formulation to current beer industry news to how to choose the right beer glass.

Silva and Hagerman’s site also features a strong community bulletin board, where beer enthusiasts and novices alike can share information and learn more about the craft of making and enjoying beer.

To learn more about this company, please visit www.realbeer.com.

Dahlynn McKowen

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