It would not be hard to argue that the only thing better than an entrepreneurial success story is an entrepreneurial success story that involves beer. The Business & Entrepreneurship (B&E) Clinic played an integral role in the launch of a very successful local business, Working Draft Beer Company.
Working Draft opened in March 2018 and is the brainchild of Ryan Browne, Ben Feifarek, Clint Lohman, and J Bowen. This group of entrepreneurs all share a passion for one thing: high quality suds. A passion for brewing high quality beer brought this group together, but it was their varied backgrounds that made the whole thing work. Ryan’s background is in writing and composition, J has been involved in strategic marketing and corporate development, Ben owns the Wine and Hop Shop in Madison, and Clint has commercial brewing experience at Madison breweries. Though they had experience, tying it all together into a cohesive organization can be a challenge. This is where the research and planning stage came in.
A big theme for this group has always been to go to the experts for advice so step number one was to visit as many breweries as possible. They were also able to conduct research about the beer market and consumer demands. Pairing this new information with their already honed skills allowed the team to start writing a formal business plan and create financial projections. Within the business plan, the men needed to outline the values they wanted to maintain with the endeavor. One of these values that is striking and evident to anybody that walks into Working Draft is transparency. The space is wide open without even glass to separate patrons from the fermentation vessels and kitchen. It is important to the founders that the clientele can see what is going into the beer they consume. This design facilitates “an intimate connection between what comes out of your tap and where it came from.” Getting down to the logistical aspect of the plan, the team created extremely detailed financial projections and constantly pressure tested them for reasonableness. This step was extremely important for any business plan but no matter how much time and thought an entrepreneur puts into a projection “the one thing that is for sure is that it will be wrong.”
Knowing that they could craft and re-craft their plans in isolation forever, the group decided to stick to what worked: seeking expert advice. In this case, that meant contacting the B&E Clinic in the Wisconsin School of Business. The B&E Clinic, in collaboration with the Law and Entrepreneurship (L&E) Clinic, the Wisconsin Institutes of Discovery, and the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF), provides free business advice and services for Wisconsin-based entrepreneurs. Some of the advice the team found most useful was, in fact, around challenging assumptions. Speaking of the Director of the B&E Clinic Michael Williams, Ryan said “Michael never pulled punches, if nobody else questioned something, he was there to question it.” Another area where the B&E was helpful was with organization and ownership structure. Even though the Working Draft team already had a business plan written, they appreciated having the B&E Clinic review it along with their pitch presentation and materials they would take to lenders and investors. Once they felt confident in the materials to pursue outside financing, the B&E Clinic provided valuable insight on how to evaluate outside investments or loans. “What do some of these terms mean? Is this a good deal or not?” are the type of questions the B&E Clinic was able to provide answers to. Talking about what it was like working with the B&E Clinic, Ryan had this to say: “There’s a sense of pride in the process. You want to take strides on your own but it’s nice to have the safety net.” A point of encouragement for any aspiring entrepreneur is that “the Clinic is adaptable and can meet you wherever you need help, whichever stage of the business you are in.”
Since opening, Working Draft has enjoyed enormous success. In fact, one of the biggest surprises they have experienced was how busy they have been! One factor that may play a role in their success so far are the seven barrels in their brewery and head brewer, Clint. This means they can make 14 kegs at a time for production. Uniquely, they also have one barrel for test brewing or for special occasions. Having 16 taps means in addition to the great beer, they always have one house made soda and one gluten free beer from Alt Brewing. Anything they don’t fill with their own beer is filled from a Wisconsin guest tap. Even though they love technical beers (German Lagers for example) because they are difficult to brew, they were very surprised that the hazy IPA is their most popular. Working Draft’s kitchen is headed by a very creative chef offering a menu seven days a week!
When addressing what other entrepreneurs may be surprised by, Ryan adds that entrepreneurs need to be prepared for when the business transitions from a planning stage to an operating stage. Entrepreneurs need to be able to shift from “doing” to “leading.” When probed for advice, their theme of asking the experts remained central. Consulting lawyers, accountants, resources like the B&E Clinic are vital to success. On top of this, they advise that everybody should be a learner. Learn from mistakes and keep moving! The most rewarding part of being the founders of the team is that they are running the taproom exactly the way they want to and the customers love it. “People are here to enjoy the beer, the space, and each other’s company. It’s a hub for people to enjoy themselves.”