James was always working for himself and saving for his future. As a teen, he started an entrepreneurial lawn-care business cutting twenty-five lawns a week. During summers, he tarred driveways. And while he was at college, he delivered newspapers all four years to help cover his tuition. Graduating with a bachelor's degree in government, James wanted to experience a bit more life before committing to a defined career path, so he embarked on an extended break.
A friend and fellow mountain climber helped get James a job with Outward Bound, a program that builds confidence and improves the self-image of youth by teaching them outdoor survival skills. James stayed for almost four years, learning the importance of leadership and challenging himself, as well as understanding how to assess risk. He heavily relied on his experience with Outward Bound when he pursued his own adventure and climbed Alaska's Mount McKinley, where the wind chill can reach 100 degrees below zero. Filled with a heightened sense of accomplishment, James returned to school. At the age of twenty-nine, he graduated with an MBA from Harvard.
He joined the Boston Consulting Group, a prestigious firm where he was exposed to numerous ideas for moving businesses forward. It was a good job where he made a lot of money, traveled the country, flew first class, and had a nice office. But after five or six years, he started asking himself, “Is this what I want to do for the rest of my life? Is this going to be my last job? Am I happy with that?” He realized he was scared that the answers to these questions might be yes, which told him he needed to make a change.
James decided to tap into his roots. His family possessed an original beer recipe developed in 1860 by his great-great-grandfather Louis, which had been brewed and sold under the family name until the early 1950s. James believed that if he could give people a type of beer they'd never tried with a fresh, bold taste, a market would develop. He wanted to change the way people thought about American beer, in the same way vintners in the Napa Valley, California had changed the world’s view of American wine.
James’ father thought that brewing as a business was a terrible idea, because there was no way for his son to compete with the giant, corporate beer producers. But James explained to his father that this wasn’t his goal. The beer giants were the equivalent of McDonald’s, and James wanted to open the beer equivalent of a gourmet restaurant. Yes, both serve food (or beer, in this case), but completely different types, meaning they wouldn’t really be competing. Brewing in his kitchen, James tweaked the family recipe to develop a world-class beer with body and flavor, traits that had long been missing in American beers.
Naming his beer after a colonial forefather who helped steer the country toward revolution and American independence, James envisioned his creation could free modern-day beer-drinkers from the weak, one-dimensional beers they were used to. Renting a truck, he hit the streets of Boston, persuading bar owners to try the beer a case at a time. His goal was to sell 5,000 barrels a year. At that level, he’d have a solid business, earn a good living, and he’d be happy.
James “Jim” Koch never predicted that the little Boston brewery he started on a shoe-string budget would gain national acclaim. Just six weeks after he started selling it, his Samuel Adams Boston Lager won the award for America’s best beer at the Great American Beer Festival. Sales grew 30 to 60 percent per year, and today, Jim’s company is the largest American craft-brewer, selling more than 2.7 million barrels a year.
In a recent interview, Jim said, “When you start a small business, the chances that it’s going to make you wealthy are infinitesimal, and really should not be a factor in your decision. The cool part about starting your own small business is that the chances for it to make you happy and satisfied are pretty good.”
So whether you have a job, are seeking a job, or are looking to create a job through your own business, remember the importance of beer. Wait, that’s not it. Remember the importance of putting your passion first, filling a need, and pouring your heart into everything you do.
Until next week...
Live Your Dreams