How a former fishing boat captain set up one of the UK’s largest craft beer companies
Scottish brewery BrewDog is valued at more than £300m, just eight years after it was started by craft beer enthusiasts James Watt and Martin Dickie.
The business now exports around the world, has diversified into bars – of which there are now more than 40 globally – and the pair have even had their own TV show.
London Loves Business caught up with Watt, who is now author of business book “Business for Punks”, to find out the secret to the company’s phenomenal success.
Here are his top tips:
1. Create a category
Rather than creating a business, create a whole new category, says Watt.
“We set out, just two humans, one dog, on a big mission to make other people as passionate about great beer as we are.
He adds: “Back in 2007, the craft beer movement in the UK didn’t exist at all, so it was a big task. We had to do a lot of edgy high-octane PR things just to get the message out there and get people excited about good beer.”
2. Be bold
Working as the captain of a North Atlantic fishing boat before he started the company helped give Watt the guts to be a leader, he says. It’s important not to fear decision-making, he adds.
“You can’t have doubts making decisions. You’ve got to have complete conviction in what you want to do, what you want to achieve as a company, you’ve got to have confidence in yourself and your team’s ability to get you there. You’ve got to make loads and loads of decisions on a day-to-day basis and you’ve got to make the best decisions you can at the time that are compatible with what you’re trying to achieve overall.”
3. Bring a buddy
Some of BrewDog’s success is down to having two founders rather than one, as there’s support for the hard times and someone pushing you on, he says.
“I think because there were two of us we could divide and conquer, and we’ve been able to grow faster and we’ve been able to grow better,” says Watt.
“But you’ve also got that shared journey experience of doing it as well. Starting any small business is tough and in the tough times you’ve got someone who is feeling it as much as you are and has the same amount on the line as you, so has the same incentive to work hard during those tough times to make it work. Also it’s about just having someone else depending on you to do a good job as well. If you’re just one person and you mess up, that just affects you, but you’ve got more on the line [with a co-founder]so you tend to work harder so you don’t let anybody down.”
4. Play to your strengths
Watt says having a clear divide in how the work is split helps each person play to their strengths and avoids conflict. In fact, he says, he’s never had a serious disagreement with Dickie.
“On a daily basis, Martin looks after most things to do with the beer side of what we do and I look after most of the stuff with the other side of the business. We’ve always had a clear split which has really helped us work effectively together.”
5. Have a vision and stick with it
Having a strong-willed personality can be an asset, Watt says, as long as you know what you want your business to be.
“I think you’ve got to have a very clear vision for what you want to do,” he says.
“I think you’ve got to find something that you’re insanely passionate about, I think you’ve got to be pretty determined, pretty resolute, I think you’ve got to learn the skills you need to succeed and you’ve got to work like a demon.”
6. Keep an eye on the bigger picture
Having an idea of the bigger picture is “so so so important”, according to Watt.
“You need to have an objective. You need to have a mission, and that’s what’s going to align your team and get people excited about your business and sustain you when things are really difficult.
“Every start-up is going to have a lot of difficult times and you need something to sustain you during those times.”