The diverse businesses of craft beer brewing, Madison Avenue’s advertising industry and raising venture capital took center stage during Friday’s morning session of Entrecon Pensacola 2015’s second and final day.
While the speakers’ backgrounds were markedly different, their advice to local entrepreneurs and small business owners was nearly identical: Trust your instincts, surround yourself with good people and never stop networking.
Madison Avenue veteran and Internet advertising expert Tim McHale said successful businesses evolve out of, and thrive on, the power of relationships with smart people.
“Ask yourself as a business owner, or entrepreneur, who are you surrounding yourself with,” McHale said. “What do your relationships know that you don’t know.”
“Also, it’s important to be social be interested in others,” he said. “Remember, opportunity is everywhere.”
McHale’s advice segued well into the entrepreneurial success stories of World of Beer co-founder, and Pensacola native, Scott Zepp, and New York craft beer brewer Celeste Beatty.
Zepp and a partner began working on the World of Beer concept about 10 years ago while living in Tampa. He attributes the success of the company, which today has 75 locations in 19 states, to developing a customer-oriented culture among the staff.
“We really focus on maintaining a strong customer culture,” he said. “A strong customer culture exists when your team at each store is doing the right thing when you’re not around.
“It’s everything about giving the customer a positive experience, every time they enter a World of Beer,” he said.
Zepp listed the seven core rules World of Beer employees and managers live by:
— Be accountable.
— Be honest and open.
— Over promise and over deliver.
— Have fun.
— If you’re going to do something, do it right.
— Compete to win.
— Get stuff done.
Beatty’s advice to entrepreneurs, shared by Zepp, was focused on identifying mentors that can “fill in all the blanks.
“You need to definitely try to identify a couple of people who can be brutally honest about what you’re trying to do,” she said.
The second thing is developing partnerships, said Beatty, whose Harlem Brewery Co., is going through a growth spurt.
“That’s been extremely important for us” she said. “Never doubt the power of reaching out to others, and never doubt what you’re doing is not something that people will be interested in and respond to.”
Taking a great idea, developing it into a viable business, and making it grow takes capital. And, at certain stages of that growth, it takes a whole lot of capital.
That’s where venture capital companies like Chuck Dieveney’s Maryland-based Juggernaut Capital Partners come into play.
For start-up companies to have a chance of getting seed money, or an investment from a venture capital firm, Dieveney said it much have five, verifiable features:
— Extremely strong customer relationships.
— Involved in a strong market poised for more growth.
—Be very profitable.
— Competitive in the market in which they exist.
— Strong CEO and management team.
Dieveney also explained the difference between a loan from a bank or other lending institution, and an “investment” by a venture capital firm.
“If you get a loan from a bank, say $2 million, the bank is going to want one thing: Getting their money back,” he said. “A venture capital company only makes money if your company increases in value.”
Although a business owner may have to give up some, or a large percentage of, control of their company, having a venture capital firm on board “gives you another set of eyes watching over your business.
“A venture capital firm helps you see around the corner and anticipate the next challenges you will face,” Dieveney said.
He also shared some advice, similar to that given by Zepp, Beatty and McHale: “Decide on your true dreams and goals. Be persistent, and work hard. Never stop learning,” he said. “It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up, and winners never give up.”