Inc. 5000 Applicant of the Week: Brooklyn Brewery
BY Josh Spiro
How a former war correspondent built a craft brewery into a $20 million global brand.
As we process applications for the 2010 Inc. 500 | 5000, we thought it would be worthwhile to shine a spotlight on some of the companies that are vying to appear on our ranking of the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S. One that caught our eye was the New York City-based Brookyln Brewery.
During his time as a war correspondent for the Associated Press, Steve Hindy's interest in home brewing was sparked by a group of American diplomats he met while he was working in the Middle East. Since the diplomats were stationed in Saudi Arabia, where it is illegal to buy alcohol under Islamic law, they had grown skilled at brewing beer in their homes.
A few years after his first foray into illicit home brewing, Hindy's wife grew fed up with him working in the line of fire, so he came home and took a job with Newsday. Soon though, the brewing bug overpowered him and he talked his neighbor, a banker named Tom Potter, into quitting their jobs together to launch a brewery.
Potter, who has since cashed out of the business, was initially skeptical of the idea. "When I started talking about starting a brewery, [Tom] thought I was crazy because his idea of the beer industry was that the big brewers were getting bigger and the small breweries were being stamped out," says Hindy.
When Potter attended the microbrewers conference in Portland, Oregon in 1986, there were only about 25 microbreweries in the country, compared to over 400 today. Over the next two years, he and Hindy managed to raise half a million dollars from family and friends and in 1988, on their first day of sales, they were able to move 100 cases of beer.
Much like serving as a war correspondent, "starting a business requires every bit of imagination, and creativity, and energy, and gumption that you've got," Hindy says. "You really have to be able to think on your feet and your plan does not always gets you very far."
Eventually, after getting some positive local press, the brewery started getting courted by advertising and PR firms as well as venture capitalists hoping to get involved. Hindy learned quickly that "when you get a little bit of success, all sorts of opportunities arise and most of them are mirages, they're not really opportunities that you should follow."
Instead, Hindy carved his own path. Unlike other American craft breweries, Brooklyn Brewery sells a substantial portion of its beer overseas. He attributes this to the positive associations people have with the borough from which the brand's name is borrowed. However, in the early years, friends and investors were dubious of the choice.
"I don't think they saw what I saw, which was all sorts of creative people were pouring into Brooklyn and it just seemed to me that Brooklyn was kind of this mythical place in America that had a lot of positive associations attached to it."
Hindy's observation paid off: the company's revenue grew 81.5 percent from $11.3 million in 2006 to $20.4 million in 2009.