Monday, December 02, 2013

Beer School, by Steve Hindy & Tom Potter

Beer School, by Steve Hindy & Tom Potter

The two founders of the Brooklyn Brewery wrote Beer School so I was expecting a straightforward corporate history describing how a couple of home brewers hit it big. Instead, I found a thoughtful look at entrepreneurship and business partnerships.

The chapters are written by one of the two founders, with the other weighing in at the conclusion often with a different point of view. Neither of these guys had ever started a business before; one was a foreign correspondent for the AP and the other was a middle-tier banker. They cover how they decided to go into partnership, writing their business plan, collecting funding, publicity, managing a staff and performance reviews, and deciding when to cash out among other things. It is an honest portrayal, covering mistakes as well as successes, and refreshingly the pair doesn't always agree.

The writing is uneven, with the styles of Hindy and Potter being quite different. Hindy is the better author (not surprising as he was a reporter); Potter's chapter on raising money was especially repetitive: "venture funding" is defined three times in four pages. Potter also has some odd ideas about management. "People who read lots of resumes, just like people who read lots of resumes, aren't looking for a creative format. They want something familiar and comprehensible." As someone that has been a people manager for over a decade I can't disagree more. I love when I see an original CV; even if it is terrible I appreciate that someone tried something different and the break from monotony it brings. When Potter discusses writing a business plan and mission statement, though, he comes off much more polished. Clearly when the topics skew closer to his comfort zone his writing improves.

The insights into starting a business were enlightening, and being set against the rise of the craft brewing industry in America over the past 25 years made this a surprisingly difficult book to put down. Much like beer itself!

First Sentence:
My head was thumping and I was drenched in sweat when I was jolted awake on a fresh sunny morning in May 1984 by the blasts of two mortar shells in the parking lot outside my second-floor room at the Alexander Hotel in East Beirut.

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