Extinguish your Thirst: A Brewery Tale
The firefighting theme of Hook & Ladder beer isn't just a gimmick: It's part of the company's DNA. Rich Fleischer, a longtime volunteer firefighter, started the company in San Francisco in 1999; his younger brother Matt joined him the next year. Their beer earned a Bay Area cult reputation, but the money ran out in 2002. Still, the brothers weren't content to let their ambition lie in ashes-the beer was just too good. They moved back to their native Maryland, and Matt earned his MBA at the University of Maryland in 2005. Their company set up shop in an old firehouse in Silver Springs and relaunched with a great scheme: While it wet your whistle, Hook & Ladder would also deliver a dose of the warm-and-fuzzies. It now donates a portion of all its revenues to injured firefighters and burn centers.The company recently went through an incendiary period in which it took its business to a new brewery, held its annual shareholders meeting, and hired its first COO. MBA Jungle took the opportunity to tag behind Matt like the firehouse dog and find out what was brewing.
"I'm just getting off the line with our PR agency. We were in The Wall Street Journal-a nice feature article talking about our developing strategy. Other business is coming in because of that. One guy is looking at an investment because I sent him the article over the weekend. Now we want to pitch some more magazines and papers.
"Before the call came in, I was meeting with our VP of sales and operations. We're switching breweries. We got to a point where we've exceeded the capacity of our current brewery, so we've gone to High Falls Brewing Company in Rochester, New York. They've got a million barrels of extra capacity. We finally just confirmed that beer is being brewed tomorrow morning at 7 and 11, with two more batches on Wednesday. Should I jump on a plane and monitor this? I'm debating whether to go up and watch."
"I'm not going to Rochester today-I'm interviewing for a director of operations and logistics. Basically, it's a first screening: I'm just doing phone interviews with five people. Our plan is to open up in an additional 15 states, with 100-plus distributors in the next six months. I've been acting as CEO, COO, and CFO. I need a hands-on director of operations to manage all aspects of the office. I'm also preparing for the annual shareholders meeting on the 12th of December."
"The last couple of days, I've been interviewing steadily for the COO position. This afternoon, a candidate came in from Syracuse. Yesterday, a guy came up from Charlotte, North Carolina. He went out to dinner with the team last night-it was essentially a six-hour-long interview."
"Today I went to Comcast for an interview on Art Fennell Reports. It'll be seen up and down the East Coast. I did a little preparing for that-a half an hour with the PR guys. I haven't done a lot of TV where I'm not looking at the interviewer-I was in front of a backdrop with a mic and an earpiece."
"I had a three-hour meeting with an investor for a $150,000 loan at a decent rate. We've extended this financing round from $750G to a million.
"Monday we're going to Rochester and filming our first batch of beer coming off the line."
"The Rochester trip was great. We created a video-the cameraman was there for four hours. The operations people had never seen a brewery. Then Dan Cotter, the senior VP of High Falls Brewing, invited us over to his house for dinner with the head brewer and six people from our team. They're really excited about this relationship. He and his wife cooked the dinner-filet mignons on the grill. The brewer brought over all three of our beers before the final filtering process. It tasted delicious. We now have beer to sell."
MBA Jungle, March 2008