Starting a brewery

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Newbie23

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Hey team
So, me and the Mrs have toyed around with the idea of starting our own brewery.

She’s been brewing for ages - about 8 years or so has a good understanding of the principles and rules of brewing, I’ve been brewing for about a year and together we’ve spent a little bit of money on an all in one brew system, temperature controlled fridges, pressure fermenters and had a play around with a range of different styles of beer.

We’ve got a a little bit of spare money (nothing huge), but could look at upgrading to a 100 litre/1bbl set up when needed.

I just wanted to see if anyone else out there has ventured into this next step. If so, how have things gone, any advice or glaring ‘what not to do’s. Any thoughts or feedback welcome

Would love to turn something like this into a career if possible.

Cheers everyone!
 

Golddiggie

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There was a BYO nano brewery [virtual/online] boot camp last month (I was in it) that went over everything you need to know for starting a brewery.

Besides the business plan there are other things you need to take into account. Such as trademarking your brewery name, getting the web domain (before that) to protect it from theft, and other legal items that need to get taken care of. It's not a short list to get done before you actually start brewing. Also, depending on your state there will be requirements for what you can brew and cost of any state license(s). I'm glad NH has a 'nano' brewery license that's short money for a good amount of beer produced per year.

Look up a brewers guild in your home state and start talking with them. They should be able to help you figure out everything you'll need to do before you can start.

BTW, don't forget to line up ingredient suppliers at the start. Give projected amounts needed for the time frames they want (or plan at least quarterly). It would really suck to get everything else done, only to find out you cannot purchase the ingredients you need for recipes until next year (or after the next harvest is processed).
 
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Newbie23

Newbie23

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Wow thanks for the feedback. BrewZer thanks for that thread - that’s a lot of stuff to deal with the local council etc, I’m based in New Zealand and from my queries with our local council in regards to starting up, there’s not too many hoops to jump though. Atleast initially.

We haven’t finalised our business plan so that’s the next step for sure, while we have lots of the aspects of it sorted, it’s not written down in one place so we’re super clear so that will have to be next.
Paperwork for the name etc is needed (again not huge in NZ), and once we move into a new property shortly we’ll be purchasing some of the larger bits of equipment. At this stage we’re only looking at brewing 300-400 litres a month to sell as we both have full time jobs, but in the coming year would like to increase this.

Golddiggie can you post the details for that boot camp, would be good to have a look at something like that to ensure we’re covering everything :)
 
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Something else you may want to consider: the cost of growth. I have some friends that started a brewery several years ago. They started small, I think it was a 1 bbl system. They quickly outgrew that system, and needed to buy a bigger system. They out grew that, and then spent a lot more money on the system they're in now. I think a 15 bbl. They said that if they'd known that they'd have to grow that quickly, they would have started out much bigger because the costs of growing were way more than the system they're in now. It may be a big leap to go big, but it will probably be a lot cheaper in the long run.
 

Golddiggie

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I'm hoping to make the jump (at some point in the next few years). I'll probably pick up a 1bbl system initially. Even though I have had the same concerns around needing to upgrade very soon after (within a year at the latest). BUT, the 1bbl system can be used as the new 'pilot' system, or for recipe formulation/test batches. Which just means I'll need to figure out how large to go after that. Of course, there is the option of getting double sized fermenters for your brewing system. Such as 7bbl fermenters to use with a 3.5-4bbl brewing system. Or 10bbl fermenters for use with a 5bbl brewing system. Since a large amount can be spent on the fermenters, it might make more sense to go that route. Of course, that also means you'd be doing double batches often to fill those larger fermenters (if demand dictates). But you could also do half batches until that point. There's actually some logic behind this. ;)

Either way, I'm planning to get the electrical service to where the brew system is located that will handle that growth from the start. I think it would be far easier to get that from the start than try to get things changed once operational. Especially if it means going without power for more than a few hours (in one day).

Other things that should be kept in mind for the hardware purchases includes glycol chillers for the fermenters. That way you can ferment, dump the yeast, cold crash and carbonate all in the same vessel. This will also allow you to get more batches ready for keg/can/bottle at the same time than having dedicated bright tanks/carbonating vessels. Since square footage is often at a premium, do more steps in the same floor space. This does mean you'll need to get fermenters that are both pressure rated and can chill the beer down. Another item that I think is better selected at start than trying to refit later.

I have been giving this a decent amount of thought over the past few months. Especially with the direction I see my 'day job' going.
 

superiorsat

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I've been slowly acquiring or making equipment for a start up brewery for the last 5 1/2 years. If you are not in a huge hurry you can wait for great deals on Facebook Market Place, or Craigslist or the classifieds on probrewer.com. For example I scored a 10' tall by 10' wide by 24' long walk in cooler for $200. It is old because the walls are 6" thick but the Compressor and 5 fan coil that goes inside are almost brand new the box is also in great shape. I've got as couple 100 sheets roof metal not sure that I will use for anything or not a giant stack of wood that looks like pallet wood but it is thick and came of wire spools that they wire wind turbines to protect the wire. Maybe 15 of the round outsides of the spools again not sure if I will use as table tops or just resell but I got them for basically nothing since I have the time and storage I figured why not. Build what you can to save. So far I built a pump cart for a 1-hp dairy pump I scored with 1.5 tri-clamp connections for $150 for every thing. Built a keg lifter modeled from one I saw online( got the metal from a scrap yard ) for around a $100 all together. Explosion proof grain mill to meet inspector requirements ( Golddiggie has a nice set up also) for under a $1,000. Built a massive 57' copper counter flow chiller with 1/2" inner tube that works like no other for $300. Bought 3- 100 gallon kettles that I put all the ports in ( bobby at brewhardware has good pullers for tri-clamp ferrules ) and a manway door for the mash tun so I can get the custom hinged false bottom out, the support stand for the false bottom is halved so it can come out the mash tun door . My buddy is a sanitary stainless dairy welder so he welded everything up for me. Built 2- 50 amp panels with ON timers so I can set the night before and I'll build one more to run a 3rd 5500 watt element for ramp up to boil and heating HLT for second batch as we will double batch every brew day. The way it is set up you can be mashing a second batch while boiling the first batch. I've built 2 glycol chillers at 12BTU which is the equivalent to a 1 ton chiller each. Added 1.5" tri-clamp ports to my 20 gallon pots so I can feed my big pump for keg cleaning so I don't need to purchase a keg washer. Made all the tap handles and flight paddles Just need them laser logoed yet. Currently trying to get Ace-Roto tanks to hold enough pressure to CO2 transfer beer. I'll end up bighting the bullet and have to get a couple uni-tanks that I can force carb in but I plan on transferring from Ace-Roto to start except for Neipa's I will only use the uni-tanks for those. The goal would obviously to end up all stainless. I've got 22 kegs so far and 16 more I'll go pick up in a couple weeks. giving me a total of 28-1/2 bbl kegs and the rest 1/6th bbl (all from face book for like $30 a keg). If you want pictures of any of the builds I keep most of them on my phone so when we get running they will tell a pretty good story on Facebook of the way things evolved to get use to the point of crossing over from homebrewer to probrewer. Being in New Zealand this probably doesn't apply to you but anyone here in the US spend some time looking through all the TTB stuff they have a handbook that can be printed to try to explain all the filings required. I'm planning on TTB Tamer software to try to makes sure it is done correctly and it is relatively cheap.
 
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Gozie Boy

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I don't think I have ever heard or read of a new (commercial) brewer who did not say that their growth requirement was underestimated. Keep in mind that making a profit for this type of "manufacturing" business requires that (fixed cost/throughput) be minimized. In other words, it is hard to make a small operation break even due to the relatively high fixed costs to cover a low volume business, and the economies of scale apply bigly...
 

Beenym88

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This is something I have looked into quite a bit. The cost of start up is astronomical and finding a location is also extremely difficult. The location has been a huge obstacle so far. Your equipment filled will be extremely heavy so you can not have a basement and will need to rip up the floor and install a drainage system. 1bbl really isn’t going to cut it you’d be out of everything all the time and get a bad name equipment with the best price point is blichmann. Unless you have construction knowledge as well and can do most of the renovation work you will need a very large sum of start up money. One that just opened in my town they are 10bbl and bought very nice equipment the owner said he’s in a for 1.5 mil.
 

couchsending

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I am mid buildout at the moment. Signed the lease in November. Hopefully open in August.

I’m starting with a 3.5bbl system and 7bbl FVs in a spot under 2000 square feet. It’s too small for sure. Everything but the boiler and chiller is used and pieced together from friends in the industry and stuff I found on Probrewer. 5 7bbl FVs, 2 Brites and a bunch of small SS and Spike Unitanks for experimentation. I plan to sell every drop out the front door. Bought a Gosling to do some cans but hoping to sell most on draft over the bar. I wouldn’t even think about trying any sort of distro with anything less than a 15bbl system and bigger FVs. The margins just aren’t there. However if you can sell everything DTC you can start at a small enough scale and be profitable. I wouldn’t bother starting with anything smaller than a 3.5bbl system. It’s really just not worth it. You’ll be brewing nonstop to try and keep up guaranteed. Even at 3.5 we’ll be pulling our hair out trying to keep up I think. I got a great deal on this system and I didn’t feel like leveraging my life away to start bigger. We will hopefully be able to grow slowly and organically and not have the burden of overwhelming debt and be forced to sell a product we’re not totally stoked on. My partner has 10 years of commercial brewing experience and is one of if not the best brewers in the state so we’ll hopefully be producing some decent beer to start but there always a learning curve on different equipment regardless of how good you are.

There are very few areas of the country where I’d do this. I’m fortunate that there’s an abundance of wealth and very few breweries where I live. In most spots in the US the market is so saturated right now and it’s so much more difficult for a small brewery to make a name for themselves. And places where there might be opportunity might not have a large enough customer base for craft beer.

Just as with any business your brand is just as important as the product, if not more so. If you don’t have a very solid brand identity and voice it’s gonna be an uphill battle. Competition is tough and you need to be able to stand out not only with the beer you’re making but how you speak about it and how it’s presented.

My goal was to try and get open for $360k or so. Probably gonna blow right by that number by the time we pour our first beer. I do have a friend who was able to open for under $200k and is doing well. He started on a 3.5bbl electric system with a few 7bbl FVs. Him and his partner basically did everything. Their spot was also perfect for a brewery. I think it was a soda shop before so they had to do very little work. Drains, walk in, bar, etc was all in place.

Happy to help anyone that has any questions. Business plans are important to see if you can make the numbers work but you might as well light them on fire as soon as you open cause they’re pretty much worthless after day 1.
 

superiorsat

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I am mid buildout at the moment. Signed the lease in November. Hopefully open in August.

I’m starting with a 3.5bbl system and 7bbl FVs in a spot under 2000 square feet. It’s too small for sure. Everything but the boiler and chiller is used and pieced together from friends in the industry and stuff I found on Probrewer. 5 7bbl FVs, 2 Brites and a bunch of small SS and Spike Unitanks for experimentation. I plan to sell every drop out the front door. Bought a Gosling to do some cans but hoping to sell most on draft over the bar. I wouldn’t even think about trying any sort of distro with anything less than a 15bbl system and bigger FVs. The margins just aren’t there. However if you can sell everything DTC you can start at a small enough scale and be profitable. I wouldn’t bother starting with anything smaller than a 3.5bbl system. It’s really just not worth it. You’ll be brewing nonstop to try and keep up guaranteed. Even at 3.5 we’ll be pulling our hair out trying to keep up I think. I got a great deal on this system and I didn’t feel like leveraging my life away to start bigger. We will hopefully be able to grow slowly and organically and not have the burden of overwhelming debt and be forced to sell a product we’re not totally stoked on. My partner has 10 years of commercial brewing experience and is one of if not the best brewers in the state so we’ll hopefully be producing some decent beer to start but there always a learning curve on different equipment regardless of how good you are.

There are very few areas of the country where I’d do this. I’m fortunate that there’s an abundance of wealth and very few breweries where I live. In most spots in the US the market is so saturated right now and it’s so much more difficult for a small brewery to make a name for themselves. And places where there might be opportunity might not have a large enough customer base for craft beer.

Just as with any business your brand is just as important as the product, if not more so. If you don’t have a very solid brand identity and voice it’s gonna be an uphill battle. Competition is tough and you need to be able to stand out not only with the beer you’re making but how you speak about it and how it’s presented.

My goal was to try and get open for $360k or so. Probably gonna blow right by that number by the time we pour our first beer. I do have a friend who was able to open for under $200k and is doing well. He started on a 3.5bbl electric system with a few 7bbl FVs. Him and his partner basically did everything. Their spot was also perfect for a brewery. I think it was a soda shop before so they had to do very little work. Drains, walk in, bar, etc was all in place.

Happy to help anyone that has any questions. Business plans are important to see if you can make the numbers work but you might as well light them on fire as soon as you open cause they’re pretty much worthless after day 1.
I'm curious of the population of the town or city you are starting this 7bbl brewery in. My town is about 6,000 plus. I figure I could brew as small as home brew for test batches. On the 100 gallon kettles I've got I'd probably realistically be able to get 2.5bbl out no problem but I figure if I'm double batching I could fill 5bbl fermenters or I can brew as small as 1bbl if I want. On the 5BBL scale that is basically 1240 16 ounce pours no waste which waste will happen no matter what if for no other reason than people just wanting a taste over a flight size sample or full pour. If I'm brewing 2 days a week that represents 2480 pints a week going out over the bar to keep the pipeline going. I read the average is about 2.5 pints per customer average. That's 992 customers per week to max out my system. Lets say 5 days a week so now I'm at 198.4 customers per day average which I think is unlikely in a town my size. The area in general is down with breweries and craft beer and there will be customers from the larger cities making the trip here for sure. It will be just me and my wife with the possibility to maybe hire some out going bar tenders. What kind of schedule of days a week and hours open do expect to get your beer out an pipeline running smoothly.
 

couchsending

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I'm curious of the population of the town or city you are starting this 7bbl brewery in. My town is about 6,000 plus. I figure I could brew as small as home brew for test batches. On the 100 gallon kettles I've got I'd probably realistically be able to get 2.5bbl out no problem but I figure if I'm double batching I could fill 5bbl fermenters or I can brew as small as 1bbl if I want. On the 5BBL scale that is basically 1240 16 ounce pours no waste which waste will happen no matter what if for no other reason than people just wanting a taste over a flight size sample or full pour. If I'm brewing 2 days a week that represents 2480 pints a week going out over the bar to keep the pipeline going. I read the average is about 2.5 pints per customer average. That's 992 customers per week to max out my system. Lets say 5 days a week so now I'm at 198.4 customers per day average which I think is unlikely in a town my size. The area in general is down with breweries and craft beer and there will be customers from the larger cities making the trip here for sure. It will be just me and my wife with the possibility to maybe hire some out going bar tenders. What kind of schedule of days a week and hours open do expect to get your beer out an pipeline running smoothly.
8500 full time as of 2019. I’d bet it’s over 10k now... however there’s an insane number of second (and third and fourth) homes here and it’s a very popular tourist destination so population can probably reach 80-100k at the peak times. I think we get north of 5 million visitors a year.

We have a bunch of really screwy liquor laws as well which is good and bad.

Even if you’re in a town of 6k, getting people to travel to your brewery is what’s going to be key. How are you going to increase your customer base without distributing? This so where your brand becomes key.

A good metric a lot of places use is BBls/seat per year. Places around me are as low as 6 and as high as 14-16.

I was fortunate to find a brewery in a slightly smaller tourist town in another state with similar sized tap room and capacity who shared their pint sales by month for the last four years with me. Helped a lot with the numbers side.
 

superiorsat

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Luckily we are only 20 minute drive north of a metropolitan area with 382,268 for a population. There are 8 breweries there now. We are also 45 minutes south of a city with 98,089 population that has 5 breweries. We are also about an hour from 2 other cities that have about 6/7 breweries each. There is a town 15 minutes North with a brewery and another river town brewery about 45 minutes from here also. Every year there are multiple Craft beer events in all of these cities where you can go to get your name out. Oddly the thing that seems to work the best around here is have a couple pretty young gals walk around and hand out stickers to put on peoples shirts. At the end they vote on the best beer at the event. People are usually fairly well cooked after a day of sampling but they remember the name of the place that had the girls give them the sticker. It is brilliant and it is crazy how many times this works for them. I can't believe no one else does it. Breweries are the boom around here. Reminds me of Colorado in the mid 90"s/early 2000's when I lived out there. There is a TV show also online ( Brewed tv - Brewed ) dedicated to going to all the local breweries in a huge 3 hour-ish radius of me. They contact you as soon as they know your in business because they need episodes and another local tv station in the metro will run a special if you let them know your open for business.
 
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brewNYC

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I am mid buildout at the moment. Signed the lease in November. Hopefully open in August.

I’m starting with a 3.5bbl system and 7bbl FVs in a spot under 2000 square feet. It’s too small for sure. Everything but the boiler and chiller is used and pieced together from friends in the industry and stuff I found on Probrewer. 5 7bbl FVs, 2 Brites and a bunch of small SS and Spike Unitanks for experimentation. I plan to sell every drop out the front door. Bought a Gosling to do some cans but hoping to sell most on draft over the bar. I wouldn’t even think about trying any sort of distro with anything less than a 15bbl system and bigger FVs. The margins just aren’t there. However if you can sell everything DTC you can start at a small enough scale and be profitable. I wouldn’t bother starting with anything smaller than a 3.5bbl system. It’s really just not worth it. You’ll be brewing nonstop to try and keep up guaranteed. Even at 3.5 we’ll be pulling our hair out trying to keep up I think. I got a great deal on this system and I didn’t feel like leveraging my life away to start bigger. We will hopefully be able to grow slowly and organically and not have the burden of overwhelming debt and be forced to sell a product we’re not totally stoked on. My partner has 10 years of commercial brewing experience and is one of if not the best brewers in the state so we’ll hopefully be producing some decent beer to start but there always a learning curve on different equipment regardless of how good you are.

There are very few areas of the country where I’d do this. I’m fortunate that there’s an abundance of wealth and very few breweries where I live. In most spots in the US the market is so saturated right now and it’s so much more difficult for a small brewery to make a name for themselves. And places where there might be opportunity might not have a large enough customer base for craft beer.

Just as with any business your brand is just as important as the product, if not more so. If you don’t have a very solid brand identity and voice it’s gonna be an uphill battle. Competition is tough and you need to be able to stand out not only with the beer you’re making but how you speak about it and how it’s presented.

My goal was to try and get open for $360k or so. Probably gonna blow right by that number by the time we pour our first beer. I do have a friend who was able to open for under $200k and is doing well. He started on a 3.5bbl electric system with a few 7bbl FVs. Him and his partner basically did everything. Their spot was also perfect for a brewery. I think it was a soda shop before so they had to do very little work. Drains, walk in, bar, etc was all in place.

Happy to help anyone that has any questions. Business plans are important to see if you can make the numbers work but you might as well light them on fire as soon as you open cause they’re pretty much worthless after day 1.
It sounds like you did some pretty careful planning before starting out. I’m curious- how much effort was it to plan and build out your building or space? Do you have a tasting room? I’m guessing that you or your contractor had to get someone to do drawings and pull building permits?

I looked into microbrew startups a few years back and decided to stick with the day job. I’ve noodled with the idea of helping breweries design and build their spaces, though (I’m a construction manager and also a licensed architect). It seems like everyone puts a lot of thought into producing beer, but not so much into the non-equipment parts of the brewery (meaning the building where you make beer and where people come to drink it). Maybe it’s just not a big deal, or maybe it is and people don’t realize it until they get started..Just curious about your experience building out your space.
 

couchsending

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It sounds like you did some pretty careful planning before starting out. I’m curious- how much effort was it to plan and build out your building or space? Do you have a tasting room? I’m guessing that you or your contractor had to get someone to do drawings and pull building permits?

I looked into microbrew startups a few years back and decided to stick with the day job. I’ve noodled with the idea of helping breweries design and build their spaces, though (I’m a construction manager and also a licensed architect). It seems like everyone puts a lot of thought into producing beer, but not so much into the non-equipment parts of the brewery (meaning the building where you make beer and where people come to drink it). Maybe it’s just not a big deal, or maybe it is and people don’t realize it until they get started..Just curious about your experience building out your space.
Ha. I thought I did some careful planning.. boy was I wrong

Yeah working with the city and the buildout has been the most mind boggling experience of it all. Like trying to hit knuckle balls all day every day.

I looked at different spaces within this one complex in town for about 6 months. Could have made some of them work but none felt quite right. Finally one opened up that felt right as soon as I walked in. It was important to me to be in this one spot in town. It’s a development with a bunch of funky cinderblock buildings and some other artisanal type businesses. I wasn’t going to open in a strip mall or some new industrial type development outside of town. This was really the only spot that fit the brand identity and the budget in town.

It was a very simple building. Basically just a cinderblock square with concrete floors, 12 foot ceilings, and two bathrooms. I knocked down a few non structural walls but that was it. Since we weren’t doing anything structural to the building I didn’t need any stamped plans. I taught myself how to use Sketchup a few years ago and used that to design the whole layout to scale and submit for permits and what not. I have an awesome GC who’s been a contractor here for 30+ years. Everyone who works in planning and the building department for our town loves and respects him. I had a buddy who’s an architect do a code analysis for me which was a big help. ADA requirements are fun! I thank god for my GC cause he had a great group of guys who have been working with him for a long time. He called in some favors and I was able to get a lot of the buildout done in a reasonable amount of time. All everyone does here is build 10+ million dollar homes so a tiny brewery buildout on a shoe string budget isn’t that interesting to most contractors around here, especially ones that have been doing it for a while.

One big mistake was underestimating the amount of power we’d need and how much the building had. I knew 3 phase wasn’t an option unless I felt like spending $60k to run it to our space. But at our size single phase was no big deal. However we had to upgrade the amount of power which still wasn’t cheap. Thank god the landlord is working with me on that a bit as it wasn’t cheap either.

We had to get really creative when working with the sewer department but it wasn’t so bad in the end. They just didn’t know enough about breweries and were trying to treat me like a 10,000 bbl a year brewery but we talked it over and helped them understand how big we are and our minimal impact on the sewer.

We’re doing a lot of the buildout ourselves but still having contractors do a decent amount of it. We installed the glycol system, I’ll be insulating all the steam lines. We rigged all the equipment into the space. I worked with a designer on all the branding but it was mostly all my creative direction. She’s building the first few labels but I’ll be doing the rest of them as well as building the website, maintaining social media, etc.

Yeah there’s a ton that goes into it. I knew it was going to be a lot of work but there’s just so much more, especially when you’ve never really built out a commercial space or had to work with contractors that often. The permitting process with our city has been a roller coaster. Nothing is black and white and is all open to some sort of interpretation. I feel like it depends on who’s interpreting what that day of things go smoothly or not. We have a ton of restrictions within the city limits and the “impact fees” were something I definitely didn’t plan for. They pretty much almost derailed the whole project.
 

jrgtr42

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The best way to make a small fortune in brewing is to start with a large one.
It always takes more time, money and effort than you think.
Breweries have been started on shoestring budgets, but not often and more rarely sucessfully.
I don't know what the regulations are in NZ, but here in the States, there's minimum 3 levels of burocracy you hve to deal with: Federal, State and Local. Every one has their own timeline of when things need to be done, and you have to bounce back and forth, and even if you're doing everything right, you can be nixed off by any one of the three, and not always for a good reason; maybe you looked at a town / city person wrong one day and that kills the whole thing.
I would join |ProBrewers website and forum, look around there, and keep saving money. Start working up business plans and such - those don't cost money perse, and talk to other local craft brewers about thier businesses. |Getting the straight poop might turn you one way or the other as to if it's something you really want to persue.
 

brewNYC

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Ha. I thought I did some careful planning.. boy was I wrong

Yeah working with the city and the buildout has been the most mind boggling experience of it all. Like trying to hit knuckle balls all day every day.

I looked at different spaces within this one complex in town for about 6 months. Could have made some of them work but none felt quite right. Finally one opened up that felt right as soon as I walked in. It was important to me to be in this one spot in town. It’s a development with a bunch of funky cinderblock buildings and some other artisanal type businesses. I wasn’t going to open in a strip mall or some new industrial type development outside of town. This was really the only spot that fit the brand identity and the budget in town.

It was a very simple building. Basically just a cinderblock square with concrete floors, 12 foot ceilings, and two bathrooms. I knocked down a few non structural walls but that was it. Since we weren’t doing anything structural to the building I didn’t need any stamped plans. I taught myself how to use Sketchup a few years ago and used that to design the whole layout to scale and submit for permits and what not. I have an awesome GC who’s been a contractor here for 30+ years. Everyone who works in planning and the building department for our town loves and respects him. I had a buddy who’s an architect do a code analysis for me which was a big help. ADA requirements are fun! I thank god for my GC cause he had a great group of guys who have been working with him for a long time. He called in some favors and I was able to get a lot of the buildout done in a reasonable amount of time. All everyone does here is build 10+ million dollar homes so a tiny brewery buildout on a shoe string budget isn’t that interesting to most contractors around here, especially ones that have been doing it for a while.

One big mistake was underestimating the amount of power we’d need and how much the building had. I knew 3 phase wasn’t an option unless I felt like spending $60k to run it to our space. But at our size single phase was no big deal. However we had to upgrade the amount of power which still wasn’t cheap. Thank god the landlord is working with me on that a bit as it wasn’t cheap either.

We had to get really creative when working with the sewer department but it wasn’t so bad in the end. They just didn’t know enough about breweries and were trying to treat me like a 10,000 bbl a year brewery but we talked it over and helped them understand how big we are and our minimal impact on the sewer.

We’re doing a lot of the buildout ourselves but still having contractors do a decent amount of it. We installed the glycol system, I’ll be insulating all the steam lines. We rigged all the equipment into the space. I worked with a designer on all the branding but it was mostly all my creative direction. She’s building the first few labels but I’ll be doing the rest of them as well as building the website, maintaining social media, etc.

Yeah there’s a ton that goes into it. I knew it was going to be a lot of work but there’s just so much more, especially when you’ve never really built out a commercial space or had to work with contractors that often. The permitting process with our city has been a roller coaster. Nothing is black and white and is all open to some sort of interpretation. I feel like it depends on who’s interpreting what that day of things go smoothly or not. We have a ton of restrictions within the city limits and the “impact fees” were something I definitely didn’t plan for. They pretty much almost derailed the whole project.
Sounds like you had some surprises, but have mostly worked through them. Looking back, would it have been worth it to have someone predict and take care of the surprises, either for a fee or for a small fraction of ownership, or is working through them just part of the fun?

Glad to hear you had some friends helping you out. That’s the nice thing about small towns!

For others out there - keep in mind that cities or larger towns will have much more restrictive codes/zoning. Look into your local codes and make sure you know what’s required before you apply for a permit. Code reviewers are like the rest of us - they just want to know you are trying to do the right thing. If you go in with a complete, accurate, confidently presented plan they will likely work with you to get a permit as quickly as possible.
 

50calshooter

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It's totally doable if you stay focused and work your ass off. A few things to keep in mind:

You have to be ALL IN. No working a "real job" then after work go open your business.

Don't expect to start out as big as you want to be. Start small and debt free and grow into a bigger business.

Say bye to your home brewing days. All your time for brewing and beer will be spent at your business.

Speaking of business: that's what it is. It's a business. Write a business plan. Know your demographic. Forget
about brewing what you want to drink. It is now about what the public wants to drink and what they will pay for.

Learn and know the law(s)

Use an accountant that has bar/brewery/alcohol business experience.

Be ready to work all the hours your self with out employees if you can. The most expensive part of any business is the employees.

Get ready for hundreds of "know it all" people to start dumping their advice on you. You will hear "You know what you should do..." fifty times a day.

You have to have a thick skin. Business ventures always bring out the nay-sayers. If you listen you will fail. Every clique thinks they can make or break your business. Smokers tell you you will fail if there is no smoking. Foodies will tell you you will fail without a kitchen. Back porch people will tell you you will fail without outside seating. Bikers will tell you you will fail with out a bike night. I've heard it all.

Watch your money. Just because you made $200,000 that year doesn't mean you can run out and buy a boat or a new car or a Harley. There will be lean times and you'll need that money to create an even financial flow.

Make your business an L.L.C.

Try to operate with six months capitol in the bank and try to keep your business cash strong.

Make sure your beer really is good. Friends and family will lie to you, That's what they do - they support you. I bootlegged my beer to some places for several years before going legal. Then I would go there and sit next to them at the bar and listen to what they said about the beer to their drinking buddy. I called it Clandestine Research in my business plan. If you are doing this because people tell you you make great beer and you should open a brewery that's not good enough.

Stay Positive. Your going to have some shitty days but that's not what customers want to see in you.

Well, I hope that helps.
Bob.

Uncle Bob's Brewpub
Nixa, Mo.
 
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idylldon

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It's totally doable if you stay focused and work your ass off. A few things to keep in mind:
I'm going to jump here since, like Bob, I have experience building and then opening a brewpub from the buildout forward. His advice is spot on and his experience shows. Listen carefully.

You have to be ALL IN. No working a "real job" then after work go open your business.
Yep. While I'm sure there are some folks who started out this way, it's not ideal, IMHO. This isn't for the faint of heart. It requires absolute dedication and the energy and passion that will keep you going when you hit brick walls, and you WILL hit brick walls on many levels. People romanticize this profession to a level that boggles my mind. It's work, HARD work and requires not only business skills but brewing skills and the ability to fix ANYTHING that breaks quickly and efficiently. A brewer just doesn't brew beer. You have to be a jack of all trades and understand all the equipment at the same level of those whom you would call to service it. It saves a LOT of money and time being able to do so.

Don't expect to start out as big as you want to be. Start small and debt free and grow into a bigger business.
Great advice. Too many folks leverage themselves into an untenable situation and learn a hard lesson as a result.

Say bye to your home brewing days. All your time for brewing and beer will be spent at your business.
Yep, and I don't miss it at all. I don't even do pilot batches on my homebrew system anymore. Don't really need to. I know my brewery equipment so well at this point I just develop a recipe and brew it on the "big" system, which for me is only 5BBL, and if it needs adjustments I do it during subsequent batches. Here's one big lesson I've learned: There are times when I think a certain beer isn't all that great and I need to work on it, but I've learned that since taste is so subjective other folks will like it. Since we started, I've brewed about 2000BBL and we've sold every drop. Not saying my beers are all great and world class, but they're brewed clean and within the style guidelines so they sell.

Speaking of business: that's what it is. It's a business. Write a business plan. Know your demographic. Forget about brewing what you want to drink. It is now about what the public wants to drink and what they will pay for.
I agree to a certain extent, but also have found that core clientele like to explore ONCE you get them out of their I-only-like-[fill in the blank] beers. Once you get the locals dialed into the fact that there are a lot of wonderful beer styles, they will follow and will also talk them up to visitors to the pub. This is one aspect of being a brewer that I really like.

Having said that, it is a business and, like Bob said, you have to give your customers what they want. For a long time, I held off doing an American Pilsner even though folks were clamoring for it. I did one and it has become one of our best sellers. I had to learn to put my personal biases aside and brew for others in the same way I'd brew for myself. It was a good lesson to learn and has served me well since I learned it.

Learn and know the law(s)
To the extent you'll know more than the government representatives that are supposed to know them. Usually, you'll know more than them. At least that's been my experience.

Use an accountant that has bar/brewery/alcohol business experience.
Absolutely. It can save a lot of headaches and hassles to have pros take care of this aspect of the business. We're a multi-million dollar company at this point and we have hired guns who are at the top of their game in the accounting world. I couldn't imagine doing it ourselves at this point.

Be ready to work all the hours your self with out employees if you can. The most expensive part of any business is the employees.
Agreed. There will be many long days until you get everything dialed in.

Get ready for hundreds of "know it all" people to start dumping their advice on you. You will hear "You know what you should do..." fifty times a day.
LMAO! So, so true. When I hear "You know what you should do" from someone who doesn't remotely have a clue about this business (a brewpub is a restaurant too so you have "those" people), I walk away. My business speaks for itself and, at this point, I really don't have time to hear from those who truly don't understand this business at all.

To follow up on this, I also don't pay attention to reviews on Yelp, Untappd, and the like. I look at the full pub, the bottom line, and the fact that we've grown and gotten stronger every year as benchmarks for our success. The rest is just gossip.

You have to have a thick skin. Business ventures always bring out the nay-sayers. If you listen you will fail. Every clique thinks they can make or break your business. Smokers tell you you will fail if there is no smoking. Foodies will tell you you will fail without a kitchen. Back porch people will tell you you will fail without outside seating. Bikers will tell you you will fail with out a bike night. I've heard it all.
Yep. Great advice. Do it your way and if you're product is up to snuff you'll do fine regardless of what anyone says.

Watch your money. Just because you made $200,000 that year doesn't mean you can run out and buy a boat or a new car or a Harley. There will be lean times and you'll need that money to create an even financial flow.
Covid definitely taught that hard lesson to a lot of small breweries.

Make your business an L.L.C.
More good advice.

Try to operate with six months capitol in the bank and try to keep your business cash strong.
I think that should be the minimum. You never know when you will need to make a capital investment in equipment or your staff so always be prepared financially.

Make sure your beer really is good. Friends and family will lie to you, That's what they do - they support you. I bootlegged my beer to some places for several years before going legal. Then I would go there and sit next to them at the bar and listen to what they said about the beer to their drinking buddy. I called it Clandestine Research in my business plan. If you are doing this because people tell you you make great beer and you should open a brewery. That's not good enough.
Yep again. Whether or not my beer was good enough was one of my biggest fears and I had been home brewing for almost 25 years before I turned pro. Too many folks got into this with too little experience and, well, they paid a big price for that premature jump.

Stay Positive. Your going to have some shitty days but that's not what customers want to see in you.
Yep.

Well, I hope that helps.
Great advice all around, Bob!

Cheers,
--
Don
COO/Head Brewer/Founder
Idyllwild Brewpub
 
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I was revisiting all of the paperwork I have been compiling for my business plan for a small brewpub. Had a tentative meeting the other day with my business partner about the proposed venture. I was wondering if anyone who had posted on this thread had any updates on their progress so far?
 
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Hey Ja

We’ve had a little bit of movement. We’ve registered our brewery as a business in NZ, have spoken to all of the appropriate people (government, local council, customs) and are essentially good to go.

We unfortunately have been in lockdown for around 12 weeks, and will likely be atleast until Jan 22 so that’s slowed things down for us.

We just need to get a food safety license and purchase our equipment - we decided to start with a 1 Barrel System but after doing the numbers etc this works best for us. Unfortunately we didn’t have the money or space to do more than that at this stage.

But it’s been pretty cool in lockdow, we’ve been brewing every week so have been honing some of our recipes. We’ve currently got a peanut butter choc stout and a hibiscus pale ale on the go which is pretty cool, and have been sourcing different artists to design our can labels, which has been loads of fun too.

So, we’re still a way off, but have made some good movement I feel
 
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In my opinion a one barrel system can effectively supply a brew pub, but not a brewery that focuses on mostly beer and shipping beer.
But I also think the world needs more brew pubs and fewer micro breweries. I have had some crappy micro brews. Once was enough. Won't get it again. But places that make both good food and good beer will earn my return business. And my recommendation.
 
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I opened 7 weeks ago. Happy to tell you anything and everything you’d like to know.
Thank you! I am interested in everything, but I’m sure you don’t have the time for that. Did you use a consultant to assist in organizing all of the have-to-do’s? What was the timeline from when you decided to do this until 7 weeks ago? What were the stages of development like as you progressed?
 

KBW PilotHouse

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here in the States, there's minimum 3 levels of burocracy you hve to deal with: Federal, State and Local. Every one has their own timeline of when things need to be done, and you have to bounce back and forth, and even if you're doing everything right, you can be nixed off by any one of the three, and not always for a good reason; maybe you looked at a town / city person wrong one day and that kills the whole thing.


I would join |ProBrewers website and forum,

talk to other local craft brewers about thier businesses. |Getting the straight poop might turn you one way or the other as to if it's something you really want to persue.

JRGTR42 has some outstanding advice IMHO. I’ve met with 4 owners already and had a few eye openers! Just last Friday one owner was telling me how much of a nightmare it was dealing with the city inspectors. They did their own build out and were delayed over six months waiting on sign-off even though they were meeting all codes (federal, state, and local). I’ve planned and managed industrial site planning, build outs, and startups and know how difficult it is, but I was still surprised but what nano brewery start ups had to go through.

Two thumbs up for joining ProBrewers 👍👍

We had our business plan well underway and were taking additional steps to prep for pilothouse when I had an injury that set us back 2 years. In that time I’ve done some deep questioning on the pilothouse and put the brakes on moving forward; even though we live in an excellent area for this.

It’s really a PITA to get running so you’ll need lots of energy, patience, thick skin, good business acumen, and of course capital…and so much more from what others on this site share from their experience and expertise.

Keep us posted, and best of luck 👍

Cheers🍻

KBW.
 

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I worked with a designer on all the branding but it was mostly all my creative direction. She’s building the first few labels but I’ll be doing the rest of them as well as building the website, maintaining social media, etc.
Speaking as a designer working in marketing for thirty years, and homebrewer for same. Also, I’m not referring to you specifically but anyone tackling this startup process.

There are so many large expenditures and hurdles to jump, don’t cut any corners with your branding. It’s critical to the success of the whole venture, your first impression, the face of your business. Find someone with experience, not a young designer who can just give you label designs that look good, but one who has experience with branding on a large scale. Yes it will cost more, but it’s not something you will likely change often (or need to if done right the first time).
 

couchsending

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Thank you! I am interested in everything, but I’m sure you don’t have the time for that. Did you use a consultant to assist in organizing all of the have-to-do’s? What was the timeline from when you decided to do this until 7 weeks ago? What were the stages of development like as you progressed?
Didn’t use a consultant but have quite a few contacts in the industry that helped out along the way. I’m sure a consultant would have helped some but not sure they would have paid for themselves or not.

It’s something that’s been in the back of my head for say 4 years. Started working on the brand side of things maybe 3 years ago on my own just mostly doing research on other breweries and learning about how they speak about their brand and products and what separates the good from the bad, the very successful from the not so, and really just focusing on ones that exist in the space that I wanted my brand to exist in.

Began brewing as much as possible in 2018 to try to create beers that would be unique in my local area. Focusing more on the science and process and its affect on texture, mouthfeel, and the overall act of consumption. To me this is something that’s really overlooked yet has a huge impact on whether people enjoy what they’re drinking or not. Brewed over 100 batches of beer a year in 2019 and 2020 all really just experimenting with different process variables and different water/ph targets to see what impact they would have on the beer.

I was offered a screaming deal on a steam 3.5bbl brewhouse and 3 7bbl FVs in December of 2018 I think which is what forced me to say screw it and jump in.
Started looking at spaces in January of 2019. In my mind there was only one spot in my town that would work for what I wanted to do. The landlord there was great and I looked at a bunch of different locations but nothing seemed to be quite right. The pandemic hit and I stopped looking and just focused on the beers and branding side of things and trying to source more used equipment. Started looking at spaces again in a July and found one that, while not perfect, could work in maybe August. Signed the lease in November 2020. I had collected some more used fermenters, brite tanks, and an oversized HLT and had them in storage.

Due to the pandemic everything took longer to get going than normal. Got my federal approval in 3 days which was insane. Working with the city was a rollercoaster to say the least. I have some allies there though and my GC has been here for 35 years and is very well liked and respected by the building dept. probably started buildout in maybe end of Feb and again it took longer due to all sorts of Pandemic related issues. Opened the doors 9/10 with 6 beers on tap. We have 10 now. Four different styles in cans, etc. Blend of modern hop forward styles with a quick sour or two and real traditional German and English styles as well. #bierflavoredbier
 

couchsending

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Speaking as a designer working in marketing for thirty years, and homebrewer for same. Also, I’m not referring to you specifically but anyone tackling this startup process.

There are so many large expenditures and hurdles to jump, don’t cut any corners with your branding. It’s critical to the success of the whole venture, your first impression, the face of your business. Find someone with experience, not a young designer who can just give you label designs that look good, but one who has experience with branding on a large scale. Yes it will cost more, but it’s not something you will likely change often (or need to if done right the first time).
This 100000%. It’s just as important as the beer if not more so these days (sadly). I have been fortunate with my other job to be involved in two global rebranding exercises and work with agencies that have done branding/creative work for Nike, Master Craft, and many others. My designer works for a large agency with offices all over the world and has clients like Coke and ESPN. She had spare time during the pandemic to do stuff on the side and I gave her almost a year so she could do it at her leisure. I had a pretty detailed plan and examples for what I wanted the overall look and feel to be and she helped me bring it to life.

Here are a couple of our label designs that reflect our overall identity pretty well. One set of labels and creative identity for our #bierflavoredbier and another set for our more modern/hoppy stuff. I have no desire to distribute anything in cans so the standard branding guidelines of making your product easily identifiable and consistent on the shelves didn’t apply. We don’t focus on the logo itself like most places do, instead the overall design aesthetic that reflects the liquid inside the can is the focus. The logo and branding is subtle by design. Might but be for everyone but it is very reflective of our brand.

E814093D-E141-4A1C-8EFF-B3EFC24B0046.jpeg
425A5841-1A3B-4B4A-AC9F-B135C89F3037.jpeg
 
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All very helpful!!!! Thank you for your honesty and experiences!

I have a background in design; art, photography, design and printing were the family business. I managed to leverage that experience into several international marketing and design awards. From there I entered into the culinary arts world with a Cordon Bleu degree, but that was cut short by an accident. I have been teaching full time (including teaching art and design) since, but always have at least one side business to afford being a teacher. My wife has been a professional bookkeeper/office manager for decades and one of our daughters is a social media star (not my wheelhouse!). I have been turning all of my past culinary experience toward beer brewing and the food science behind it.

Since we want to go back to being self-employed full-time, with our passion and experience, a brewpub is a natural fit. Question is; if we build it, will they come? That's where we are at right now as we look at locations, (re)write the business plan and proposal, work on menu design, logo, branding, etc.
 

lyonsmith

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Hey JA

I went from Homebrewer to Brewery Co-Owner. It's been really amazing. One thing I definitely want to comment on here is...

"Since we want to go back to being self-employed full-time, with our passion and experience, a brewpub is a natural fit. Question is; if we build it, will they come? That's where we are at right now as we look at locations, (re)write the business plan and proposal, work on menu design, logo, branding, etc."

If you build it, they may not come. We opened up in 2015 in a small place in our village in the Finger Lakes of NY (Big Tourist Area). We planned on drawing tourists and locals. We struggled terribly. Part of the reason was we were in the Village, but down a side street that didn't get a lot of traffic, and no matter how many people I talked to it was like pulling teeth to get people there. We were forced to close that location (**** Landlord), but built a new place out of the Village, but on the main road. We are three times bigger than we were, and haven't looked back.

Really do your homework on the location. You may be amazing, but still not be a big enough draw to your location.
 
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Hey JA

I went from Homebrewer to Brewery Co-Owner. It's been really amazing. One thing I definitely want to comment on here is...

"Since we want to go back to being self-employed full-time, with our passion and experience, a brewpub is a natural fit. Question is; if we build it, will they come? That's where we are at right now as we look at locations, (re)write the business plan and proposal, work on menu design, logo, branding, etc."

If you build it, they may not come. We opened up in 2015 in a small place in our village in the Finger Lakes of NY (Big Tourist Area). We planned on drawing tourists and locals. We struggled terribly. Part of the reason was we were in the Village, but down a side street that didn't get a lot of traffic, and no matter how many people I talked to it was like pulling teeth to get people there. We were forced to close that location (**** Landlord), but built a new place out of the Village, but on the main road. We are three times bigger than we were, and haven't looked back.

Really do your homework on the location. You may be amazing, but still not be a big enough draw to your location.
This is one of our major concerns. Thank you!
 

superiorsat

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I opened 7 weeks ago. Happy to tell you anything and everything you’d like to know.
How many barrels a week are you running through the taps now that you have 10 beers on tap ( also is it the tourist season now that you talk about?)? How many days a week and the hours you've been open? I assume you had an opening push due to the excitement of being new and if so has that faded? Seems like the new breweries that open around here are really cranking for the first few weeks or so. Do you have any Covid restrictions holding you back? Thanks.
 

couchsending

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How many barrels a week are you running through the taps now that you have 10 beers on tap ( also is it the tourist season now that you talk about?)? How many days a week and the hours you've been open? I assume you had an opening push due to the excitement of being new and if so has that faded? Seems like the new breweries that open around here are really cranking for the first few weeks or so. Do you have any Covid restrictions holding you back? Thanks.
At the moment 4bbl/week out the door in draft, cans, growlers. No distro.

Yes we were busy for the first two weeks and then business slowed but we’ve had a bunch of great press since then and business has picked back up. Last two days were our busiest days so far and most days before that were better than the same day the week before.

Based on the data I was able to gather from other ski town breweries October will be by far our slowest month of the year, followed by May, then September. Tourist season doesn’t really start here until December with March being the busiest month most likely. And it’s not just tourists it’s 2nd, 3rd, 4th home owners that come for months at a time. Town can go from 8,000 to easily 100,000 on a busy weekend. Winter is busier than summer but lately, not by much. It’s as dead as dead gets in the town right now.

We’re closed Monday/Tuesday. Open 4-8 or 9 W-Friday. 11-9 sat, 11-6 Sunday. Those hours will probably change here and there depending on the seasons.

We have no Covid restrictions at all, other than we have a pretty small space. Max capacity is 49 but we only have 26 seats. Were trying to keep the capacity around 30 and so far so good. We’ve intentionally been keeping the promotions to word of mouth and just posting stuff on the Gram but never promoting it.
 
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^^^ That should be your first step. Put your plan in writing. Figure out how much money you need to start, how much money you think you'll make, and how exactly you'll get from point A to point B.
I would encourage you to figure out how much money you need to start and then double it or triple it and you will probably be very close. I've been a part of and assisted with several startups. You also need to double the amount of time it's going to take to do the project.
Then now that you have tripled the amount of money you think you need double the amount of time that you think it's going to take you also need to cut in half the amount of profit you think you will make and double the amount of time you think it's going to take for you to make it. I know this sounds very bleak. But it is a very very good close representation of any brand new startup. At least all of the ones that I've been a part of. And once all of that was put into play and you put all the numbers on paper and make that your goal you will be successful. Every single one of the startups that I've been a part of have been successful keeping this matrix in mind.

Cheers
Jay
 
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