Business advice from a successful Brewing Entrepreneur

Last week, I facilitated a meeting of a new Entrepreneur’s Group here in Cape Elizabeth. Our guest was Peter Bissell from Bissell Brothers Brewing. If you don’t know anything about the business of brewing, it is thriving! Here in Maine, we have over 130 breweries and that count is growing by the month. If you love beer, Maine is a great place to live and to visit.

But what could we learn from this young entrepreneur? A ton! Here are my notes.

Peter graduated in the UMaine class of 2006 where he got great grades but didn’t learn much. He worked as a professional photographer out of college (“I’ve always been a worker,” he says), but didn’t learn about photography in school – that was all on his own. At the start, he took any job that came his way (Say “Yes!”). He learned the photo business by doing it on the fly – and by talking to people. Weddings were particularly lucrative because each wedding led to more gigs. He did great work and he made connections.

He liked photography and was financially successful, but when Peter’s younger brother Noah starting brewing at age 17 and decided he wanted to do this for a living, Peter jumped in on the game. From the start, they ignored conventional advice and made decisions based more on gut than on number crunching. And where others went to England to learn about brewing, they stayed home and experimented with new recipes to make a unique tasting American beer.

  • Their goal was to “change the landscape of brewing and serving.”
  • They wanted much more than just survival in this growing market.
  • They wanted to make going to a brewery a new experience. Which they do! Folks like up around the block to be the first to try new beers. They serve beer. They serve food. They create joy.

The Brewery is wildly successful, and after only six years they are rolling out overseas with a restaurant brand. Their name is recognized globally thanks to the Internet. And they opened a second brewery in their hometown of Milo, Maine, a former mill town. How cool is that!

When you’re trying to do something new, it’s always nice to chat with someone on the same path. Here are my big takeaways from Peter’s hard-won experience that you can apply to almost anything you’re working on.

  • If you want to make $ you need exposure; get it however you can get it.
  • Anything worthwhile requires taking a risk because you are opening yourself up to judgment by others.
  • Peter has the highest regard for flexibility – be ready to shift with the times.
  • If you have a passion for what you do, no one can take that away from you. It’s a tool.
  • It’s more important to do a great job than it is to advertise.
  • Stay focused: Pay attention to what works and what doesn’t work.
  • Launching a new business takes sacrifice of hours and money; cut all expenses to put every penny toward the new business.
  • “You can learn about anything if you give it the time.”
  • Each step you take moves you one step away from your competition – even if it’s just a baby step.
  • Find a hole in the industry you’re interested in and fill it. Also, look at the marketplace to see what you DON’T want to do.
  • A great product needs great packaging.
  • Learn something every day or you’ll lose your spot. “The competitor is you – it’s you against yourself.”
  • Read all the time; don’t stop and start to coast. Make a habit of being a life-long learner.
  • Make it your goal to constantly top your customers’ expectations.
  • You have to find joy in what you do to balance out the drudgery of running a business.
  • Learn about how to use Social Media. It’s worse to do it badly than to not do it at all. Take good photos – not stock; not pixellated. Use your phone to take shots on a consistent basis. Find the stories; take and post the pictures. Peter does this up to 3x a day!
  • Create a logo that stands on its own as an icon, that’s unique, that makes people curious, and that’s clean and easy to re-produce for media and t-shirts.
  • “Luck is being open to serendipity.”
  • “Don’t listen to what everyone tells you to do.” Keep your head down and stay focused.
  • “When you hit it right, it’s like you have superpowers.”

Here are a few of Peter’s book recommendations

  • Robert Greene, 48 Laws of Power and Mastery (how the world works)
  • Sheryl Sandberg, Lean In (women in business)
  • Any and every book by Seth Godin (Purple Cow, This is Marketing; there are many!)
  • Oren Klaff, Pitch Anything (on fundraising – Peter raised $186,000 in 4 months)
  • Ryan Holiday, The Obstacle is the Way and Ego is the Enemy

I hope you find this as inspiring as I did! Now off to find your superpowers 🙂

I’ll leave you this morning with a shot from the old farm where I live. Come on, Spring!

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Painting by Mark Compton

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