Thursday, October 29, 2009

Getting Down to Business

My best friend is self-employed and feeling the effects of the economy (to no surprise). She emailed me recently about the slowdown in her business, and I thought I might find some inspiration for her in dealing with a slow economy on various business-oriented websites. My first stop was

Who's on the main page? Kim Jordan of New Belgium. In the article, she discusses the beginnings of the company, when the founders were struggling to make it work.
"For about eight months, we didn't pay ourselves," she says. "We borrowed money from my parents and made payroll, but looking at the bills, we had to decide which to pay, which would have to wait--and who wouldn't notice if we didn't."

When they tried to move to a bigger facility, they hit a wall with funding. "That's the tough spot most entrepreneurs find themselves in, when they're not old enough or experienced enough as a company to give banks confidence--but if they can't figure out how to get that larger infusion of cash, they can't carry on," Jordan says. Lebesch solved the problem, she says, by telling equipment vendors that whoever helped them secure financing would get their business.

"I would guess you hear this kind of thing fairly frequently," she says. "It's really about entrepreneurial tenacity. We just said, ‘We're going to figure this out, we're going to make it work.' And you get over that hump."

I read Beer School this summer, which tells the very bumpy story of Brooklyn Brewery and repeatedly underscores the challenges of starting a business. Start-up breweries face issues of financing, employee frustration, finding customers, obtaining decent distribution, and various other problems (Brooklyn Brewery's owners even faced issues with union bosses in a couple of pretty intimidating encounters). Sometimes, the process even ruins relationships - Jordan and Lebesch, the husband & wife co-founders of New Belgium, are in the midst of finalizing their divorce. The brewery, however, lives on and is destined to bring its followers more reasons to toast its success.

People put their financial security and personal relationships on the line to start up a dream with a high risk of failure. Sometimes, when life isn't going the way you want it to, it's encouraging to read about people who have experienced much worse for longer periods of time - and succeeded. Here's a toast to their dedication to the art of beer. And to my best friend, her perseverance, tenacity, and determination to succeed.

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