Ho ho ho. Nice to see you all again! After a 3 month hiatus, The Student Entreprenuer is back and better than ever (well, I think so anyway!). Have I got a Christmas cracker for you today, girls and boys!
A few months ago, I attended a great talk by Paul Delamere, put on by The University of Manchester as part of their “Ideas Factory” series where they invite entrepreneurs who have studied at the University to come back and give presentations about their businesses.
Paul along with fellow co-founder George Grant, set up Shindigger Brewing Co. a brand-new micro-brewery based in Manchester. Sensing a free pint, I asked Paul for an interview and he was kind enough to agree. The interview took place in October 2013.
Hi, Paul. Welcome to The Student Entrepreneur. So, why did you call it “Shindigger” Brewing Company? And is there anything else out there called Shindigger?
Our name ‘ShinDigger’ embodies our ethos that beer is all about having a good time with your friends and enjoying the moment. There’s an economist in The New York Times that has a column called “The Shindgger” but that’s about it. We’ve got the trade mark now as well!
When did Shindigger all begin?
My business partner and I started home-brewing at university about 2 years ago, in our third year. It just started out as a bit of fun; 40p pints and something to keep us occupied. And then the very first seedling of a business idea happened when we realised we had very cheap beer that we could sell to our friends. But as exams came around it sort of fizzled out initially.
But then when I finished my undergraduate degree I thought “what am I going to do next?”. I enjoyed doing business but didn’t have any solid ideas. And then I saw the Master of Enterprise Degree at the Enterprise Centre at the University of Manchester. It offers you the chance to work on a business idea for the whole year but if you don’t have an idea of your own then they give you one to work on. And then about two months into the course, I heard a speech from someone who said that you should start a business in something you know and something you enjoy and try to set up a business around one of your hobbies.
We enjoyed the home-brewing at Uni and that’s when I realised that there isn’t actually a beer specifically for students and so I thought that we could fill that gap in the market.
So we worked on the idea over the next couple of months and researched the market and its potential. The more we looked into it, the more excited we got as we saw real potential for the idea.
From then, it’s snowballed really and it’s changed a lot. The beer has changed and so has the branding. It was never one moment of genius; it was an evolution of the idea until about half-way through the course when it started to become more solid.
So where does your business partner come into this?
I introduced him to the idea in a very basic form October last year (2012). We homebrewed together at University and he’s a really good friend. He’s clued up on homebrewing and he knew what I was talking about with the idea. He’s been “moonlighting” on the business. Basically, that means he’s been working in London in the day and then helping out with Shindigger at night. But he’s left the job in London now to work full-time on Shindigger.
How do you complement each other?
He’s very good at being able to express himself and express the brand. I’m good at coming up with ideas and strategies. We complement each other in many areas but there’s not one area where he lacks or I lack completely. It’s worked well to be honest, it’s been quite a smooth partnership and there haven’t been any clashes. I knew he fitted in with the type of idea and the culture of the product and we agree on almost everything.
So what happened next?
We had a £10,000 loan in March from Start-up Loans and that came at the perfect time. The government had launched this scheme of trying to get young people into business by offering them small amounts of money to get the ball rolling. We turned up at this event and brought our business plan with us and it was actually surprisingly easy to get the money. They didn’t really look at our business plan. They heard the idea, liked it and said: “Right guys, we’ll support you.” We only spoke to them for about 5 minutes. It really was that easy.
The funding has allowed us to get started. Firstly, we got the branding done. We made some mistakes with that. We didn’t really go into the branding place with any clear idea about what we were after. What we got back just didn’t work. We tested it in the market and on focus groups and people just didn’t know what it was that we were selling. They thought we were a construction company! So that was £1,600 written off. So we had the branding redone and had a much clearer idea of what we wanted and who we were as a company. At the start it was a bit too in your face and spelling it out for you. We’ve toned it down a bit and made it more subtle now. That was a learning curve but now we know.
Secondly, we did some product development. We brewed our first batch and then kept making small changes. It took us three months to do, just continuous refinement of the product. Luckily, we found a really good brewery who were very supportive and actually we were able to develop our product for free, basically.
The rest of the time we’ve just been getting ourselves ready for launch, really.
When did you get it into bars then?
Only about a week ago. Our first sale came about two weeks ago and it was a pretty daunting experience. We didn’t really know what we were doing as we’d never had to sell in that way before. We realised after going to the first two bars that we didn’t know what we were doing so we decided to go back to the drawing board and work out a pitch. We learnt a lot very quickly and learnt some of the fundamentals of selling like making sure you’re in front of the right person, making sure you’re personable. And now we’ve sold our whole batch. So we’re in six bars in Manchester at the moment and the sales have gone really well. We’ve got a conversion rate of about 50% . Half the bars we go into say that they’ll take a few kegs. So far, so good and the sales have gone much better than we anticipated.
The next stage is we have to see how well we’re selling in these bars. So we’ll have to track the progress over the next couple of weeks. It all depends on the footfall and how well customers take to it. It will be interesting to see in a month’s time which bars want to order again and that’s the next stage.
Back to the Masters of Enterprise. What did you learn whilst on the course?
I learned that business is a huge learning curve. Going in blind is very difficult. On the course, you learn about really in-depth business planning. You have to work out what your cash flows are, you conduct market research and you find out what your assumptions are about an idea and then you test them to find out if they’re correct.
How do you think you would have done if you hadn’t chosen to do the Master of Enterprise degree programme?
To be honest, we would have probably done a lot worse. It wasn’t necessarily make or break but doing the Masters was a huge help certainly in regards to helping to evolve our perception of our business. People were always willing to talk to you and say “do that” or “don’t do that” and you had access to contacts in the trade.
Back to Shindigger. What do you offer that your rivals don’t?
We focus on the 18-30 demographic and everything we do is geared towards creating the best possible beer for the younger consumer. It’s an older generation that runs the beer industry, on average a typical brewer is 40 years old. We are younger brewers and we’re hoping to put a new take on the product. The older generation don’t cater for the student market specifically. We’re hoping to create a brand and a beer that can educate people on what a good beer can be. We want to provide people with a drink that is as refreshing as your favourite lager but that also has the flavours and aromas of a really good ale.
How are you intending to market that to the 18-30s?
Obviously social media will be used to market Shindigger but we also want to get into the festival scene to promote it. It’s about building the brand slowly but surely. We want to take the beer to events which we think it is perfect for. The next few months we’re going to try to advertise in student papers and local Manchester papers to try and get it in front of people. We want people to say: “I’ve seen this beer in the paper” and then go and buy it in town and we’ll get more sales that way.
We’ve tried to base the style of our branding on some of the companies behind the recent cider revival. Cider has become really popular again. Twenty years ago cider used to be drunk by farmers, it was flat, it was warm. Now they’ve made it sweeter and colder and so that’s what we’ve done with our ale.
So Paul who are the business inspirations for both you, personally and for Shindigger?
For me, it’s a bit of a standard answer but I’m a big fan of Richard Branson. I really like that his style of business is very relaxed and young and fresh. I also like that he’s very humble. But he’s also done a lot and he’s got his own island!
In some degree we draw some inspiration from BrewDog. We don’t like their “rebel without a cause” attitude but we do like what they’ve achieved with their brand and that they really go for it by breaking barriers and boundaries and are still very original while they’re doing it. Really, we want to be the positive BrewDog!
What do you think you’ve learned most about business one year on?
The main thing I suppose that I’ve learned is just about how an idea really forms. I’ve learned that an idea doesn’t just drop out of your head fully-formed. Everything is just a cycle of refinement. Big companies didn’t start big. They started small and just built up slowly. It’s an ongoing cycle and it’s constantly about working on the idea and improving it. That’s what we’ve done with the beer and with the branding. It’s all about incremental improvement. If we look back, we’ve achieved a lot over the past year but because you’re constantly changing things you often don’t notice the bigger picture.
What advice would you give to a student who wants to start their own business?
Just that now is the perfect time. You’re young and you’ve got easy access to a small amount of money. Start up as a lean start up. Don’t throw money at it. Just get the product to market as soon as possible for as cheap as possible. Test your idea and if doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. You’re not in a lot of debt and you haven’t wasted your whole life on something. Don’t worry about profits to begin with. Worry about getting an idea to market in the cheapest and leanest way. Just go for it!
What are your aims for the next year?
We want to go bottled because at the moment there’s a finite number of independent bars like this in Manchester. We want to go bottled so we can start spreading the brand across the country. And then once we’ve got into bars we want to take the brand further and live up to our name as a company for young people. And we want to do the things that set us apart from other companies and build a relationship with the 18-30 customers. We want to build the brand and build a reputation.
What came across in the interview was how genuine a guy Paul is and I’m not just saying that because he did indeed buy me a pint. I think it’s a really investable quality to have as a young entrepreneur. He didn’t lack confidence about the product but his ambitions and thoughts were very realistic which ultimately I think will stand him and Shindigger in very good stead. You can check out their website by clicking the link below.
A word on the beer itself. It was very tasty! Light and refreshing but also had more of a kick than a lager and so I definitely would recommend trying it. A list of the bars that stock Shindigger’s Pacific Pale Ale can be found on their website.
Thanks everyone for reading! Have a great Christmas and I’ll see you again in the New Year.