James Watt and Martin Dickie are the founders of Scottish craft beer megabrand BrewDog. In one short decade, the pair have taken BrewDog from a shared passion for good beer to an international enterprise success story. The business now has a staggering 55,000 shareholders, and has orchestrated the largest equity crowdfunding scheme ever, worldwide. It has hundreds of employees, almost 50 bars located in cities around the globe and an ever-growing number of fantastic beers.
Last November, we were delighted to award James and Martin with IOEE Honorary Fellowship to acknowledge their inspiring enterprising achievements and this month, James generously took time out from his super-packed schedule to answer a few quick-fire IOEE questions about BrewDog’s extraordinary journey.
So, how did it all begin for BrewDog?
We initially met at school in Aberdeenshire, before going on to share digs at Edinburgh University. We’ve both had our fair share of jobs; as teens Martin flipped burgers in McDonalds, and I worked as a postman, and went on to be a sea captain in the North Sea but it was beer where our ambitions aligned. We were both bored of the industrial, bland and boring excuses for beer that dominated the UK market, so in 2007 we decided the best way to fix this was to brew our own. BrewDog was born.
You say that back then you were ‘bored of the industrially brewed lagers and stuffy ales’ but where, at such a tender age did your taste for great beer come from?
My beery awakening came from a slightly old Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. Even with a little age on it, it still put the overwhelming majority of UK beers to shame. From that, we set out on a mission to make other people as passionate about amazing craft beer as we were. We wanted to break the monotony of the mass-produced market.
What was the turning point for BrewDog; when did you realise you had a winning formula?
Producing the UK’s strongest beer sparked a crazy media storm, but there was an appetite for all the beers we were making – they were instantly making their mark. Punk IPA has always been upheld as a brilliant example of an amazing IPA with heaps of flavour, which has acted as a flagship for the craft beer revolution. In 2009 our record-breaking crowdfunding scheme, Equity For Punks was launched, and we have amassed 55,000 investors globally since then through our anti-business model.
Equity For Punks gives people the chance to buy shares in BrewDog online. Can you tell us why this ‘anti-business business model’ is so important to you?
Equity For Punks is the reason that BrewDog is now backed by 55,000 loyal investors, great people who care about great beer. Our awesome army of Equity Punks are the lifeblood of BrewDog, we wouldn’t be in the position we are without them and they continue to be the focus for every decision we make. They’re not just the people who have backed us with their own hard earned cash, but they’re our community. They care about what we do, and they influence every decision we make.
Is there something essentially rebellious in one / either of you that drives BrewDog’s maverick branding and outlier reputation?
BrewDog is built on punk mentality. Punk is about going against the grain, being individual and doing things on your own terms, and BrewDog’s maverick marketing strategy is a manifestation of that.
One unusual initiative you’ve recently introduced is Puppy Parental Leave, giving employees a week off to bond with their new canine offspring. Can you tell us about the thinking behind this animal-loving idea?
It’s not easy trying to juggle work and settle a new dog into your life, and many members of our crew have four-legged friends at home. We wanted to take the stress out of the situation and let our teams take the time they need to welcome their new puppy or dog into their family. We always want to raise the bar when it comes to offering our staff the best possible benefits. At BrewDog, we care about two things above all else: People and beer. We also just really, really like dogs.
When you look back over the last decade, how do you feel about how BrewDog has grown, the direction it has taken and the successes you’ve enjoyed?
It’s huge, we’re very proud but we’re just getting started. BrewDog is continuing to grow, continuing to bring the best beer to the paws of as many people possible.
If you had to choose one personal highlight from your BrewDog journey, what would it be?
I’ve always been passionate about beer but a chance meeting with legendary beer writer Michael Jackson led to Martin and I deciding to take the plunge, follow our dreams and start our very own craft brewery. Michael, upon tasting one of our home-brews, told us to quit our jobs and start brewing full-time. It was the last bit of advice we ever listened to. Beyond that, our AGM provides an annual highlight when our Equity Punk community comes together to talk about BrewDog, and enjoy some of the world’s best beers from amazing breweries!
What was it like to get an MBE?
It was pretty awesome to visit Buckingham Palace. The last award I got was 100 metres swimming so this was quite a step up from that!
What’s next for BrewDog?
What’s next remains as it was since day one; to make as many people as passionate about craft beer as we are.
To find out more about BrewDog, click here to visit their website.