Dan Hershberg, Co-Founder and CEO of Workhorse Brewing Company, joins us on the podcast this week to share his insights on developing a brewing company. Listen today to hear his entrepreneurial story and if you like our podcast, please subscribe and leave us a rating!
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Bill Gullan: Greetings from Finch Brands HQ on South Broad Street in Philadelphia. Perfect setting for what I've really been excited about in terms of a conversation. We have Dan Hershberg here, who's the co founder and vice president, chief marketing officer of Workhorse Brewing Company. We're going to talk a lot about that and I know that everyone listening will be amazed. Super fun story, brand to watch, company to watch moving forward. Dan, thanks for coming.
Dan Hershberg: Oh it's my pleasure. Thanks so much for having me.
Bill: It's our pleasure and we mean it sincerely and let's start where we normally do, which is, I know we're going to talk a lot about how you found your way to craft. Give us a little twirl through your sort of career backstory here and how you came to this moment and maybe that's a good place to start.
Dan: Yeah, absolutely. So I'm a Philly native, born and raised. My father has been a professor at the University of Pennsylvania for 50 years, actually just retired this past year. So I have a deep roots in Philadelphia. Love the city, love the people, love the community. I'd always worked in sports, first for the Phillies when I was home from summers at Cornell, spending time, you know doing sales marketing.
Dan: Basically just cleaning up after people the whole dig there. So that was a great opportunity for me, and from that I kind of decided I wanted to stay in the world of sports. So I graduated school and went to ESPN, did studio production.
Bill: I've heard of them yeah.
Dan: Yeah, just a little small company out there, the big metropolis of Bristol Connecticut. So spent two years there in studio production and very quickly found out that the corporate existence was not for me. Love the work I was doing, but you know, the hours, nights and weekends, holidays away from family and friends just didn't make sense. Going back to my dad since he'd been technically his own boss as a professor and also the head of the center for Greater Philadelphia, which is a public education reform. He said, "If you ever get an opportunity to be your own boss, you should do that." So I had no real entrepreneurial backgrounds. I laugh that I dropped out of Econ 101 at school. My foundation as a business owner was not based in any type of numerical strength.
Dan: But I had a chance to come back to Philly. Just had kind of this whimsical idea to start a Philly sports apparel company and that company became Philly Phaithful, which I've run for the last 10 years. Mostly focused on Philadelphia sports, swag, shirts, sweatshirts, that kind of thing. Then I grew that company for a while and then realized that there was kind of a point in my career as an entrepreneur were I either had to substantially scale that company to support the kind of lifestyle that I wanted to have, raising a family, becoming an adult as it were. I had an opportunity to get into the craft beer business, which I'm sure we'll discuss shortly, but it was kind of a nice foundational conversation with my wife saying, "do we really want to kind of sink our teeth into something new", and as you'll learn we decided it was the right idea.
Bill: Yeah. And I know there's family ties there, which we'll get to also. But Philly Phaithful, you had good timing on the front end of that I guess around the world series and the sort of Phillies hey day. Could you talk a little bit, most of this will be craft, but a little bit about sort of the founding of that business and just your own? I know you had an interest as a fan and everything else.
Dan: It was funny. I've always been a diehard Philly sports fan and I've always kind of found, at least as a fan of games when I would go, I really enjoyed sitting in the upper levels and engaging in friendly, witty banter, shall we say with-
Bill: Very witty, yes.
Dan: Very witty, not always pg 13. But try to do more than your, you know, you suck type of thing to another fan, and found that that was something that people around me enjoyed. So I said, well, "I can pretty much just put those types of sayings on tee shirts and figure out a way to sell those to fans who were like me." So I actually got my start in that business because again, I had no business background. The Phillies won in 2008 and I started the business technically in the fall of 2008 as well. We didn't go live until the spring of '09. But was really able to kind of avoid, I guess the mistakes that most entrepreneurs make, they didn't cripple me.
Dan: I had a receptive market and good content. So even though I didn't necessarily know how to market it or how to sell it at that time, I was able to just get in front of enough people who were like, "This stuff is great, I'd love to buy it." So that was a very fortunate break for me and then kind of honed my skillset. Spent many, many days and nights hustling the parking lot down at Phillies games. So kind of sneaking around the security guards.
Dan: And slinging tee shirts. So I like to tell my friends that was probably the only Ivy League educated parking lot hustler down in k lot at that time. But it's, it's actually as functional as it was in terms of just generating revenue and awareness for my company because people would wear the shirts in, they'd take my business cards and people would say, "Where'd you get that?" That's the type of product we had was very much an eye catching, oh I've never seen that before.
Bill: Viral stuff.
Dan: Yeah. But being able to engage on a sales kind of one to one face to face sales experience with people in the parking lot, whether they were very blue collar working class from northeast Philly or if they were a family person or if they were a business person special. Kind of being able to have that ability as a social chameleon to interact with people of all different backgrounds and kind of stories, but knowing that sports brought them together. You learn very quickly how to relate to people and also what makes them tick and also just deal with no's because when you drinking beers in the parking lot before a game-
Dan: Not always looking at-
Bill: Guy comes with the backpack-
Dan: Yeah not really looking to buy a product in the parking lot. So it was a good challenge. I got comfortable dealing with no's but also learning what it took to sell face to face to people.
Bill: Right. So let's get into Workhorse then and all that lies beneath and existed before it. There was an inspiration at a certain point. Tell us about your process falling in love with craft and all that's come after. How'd this start and what were the early days of this like?
Dan: I think like every business owner, the genesis for Workhorse came at a bachelor party. Just what happens with pretty much every business out there. So I was actually in Austin, Texas with my uncle Peter Feinberg, who is my business partner in this project. Peter is a serial entrepreneur. He's had a variety of different businesses over the last 40 years and he and I had always talked about doing something together in some capacity but just never really found something that resonated.
Dan: So we were at this bachelor party for my cousin in Austin and Peter and I were the first two guys down there just due to the way that the flight schedule worked out. So we went over to a bar a couple minutes from where we were staying and another guy who went to school with my cousin. We all went to Cornell together. They were seniors when I was freshman. So they kind of were the foundational experience for me when I got to college. You're 18, you look up to 21 year old kids like they're God. They can drink legally, they have their own apartment, this is so cool. So I got to know this guy named Bob Bonder who lived with my cousin Paul and Bob happened to be the next guy to arrive at the bachelor party and it really ended up being Bob myself and Peter for about three hours at this bar until everybody else got there.
Dan: Bob, I knew to be an entrepreneurial guy. He had basically been spending a lot of time in college developing business plans for a variety of different concepts. I knew he'd started a chain of coffee shops in Cincinnati and I was actually under the impression that that's what he was still doing at the time. It turned out that he had since pivoted and opened the craft brewery called Rhinegeist.
Dan: Which is German for 'over the Rhine.' The district in Cincinnati where he had started the business was called over the Rhine. And I apologize, actually Rhinegeist means 'ghosts of the Rhine'. So they were resonating and really reviving, this whole kind of German brewing history that had been in the neighborhood where they were now situated. So he had started a couple years before that, really was just telling Peter and I everything about the operation and we found it very fascinating. Peter actually, if I'm honest, more so than I did. I was happy with Philly Phaithful, but by the end of the weekend we had spent so much time talking to him and Peter just really latched onto the idea and said we need to start a family brewery, let's do this. So I was skeptical, but Bob invited us out to Cincinnati and said, "Why don't you go spend a week out here, learn everything you can about the industry. I'll introduce you to everyone on site and if it's something that kind of strikes a chord with you, then I'll be happy to help you as a mentor and kind of push you in the right direction."
Bill: I wonder if that kind of collaboration is distinctive to the craft category. I would imagine that's ... a lot of other people and a lot of other places would view your interests as threatening as opposed to interesting.
Dan: It's amazing. You're dead on. I mean, that type of spirit, this community collaborative spirit within craft beer was something that was incredibly captivating, not only as an entrepreneur, just as a person. It's not competitive in the least the market share that we would later come to learn from the craft section industry as a whole is still very small, talking 13, 14, 15%. So there's very much this us versus them mentality where if you're big beer, the Coors, Miller, Buds of the world those are the guys that, they're on the other side. But everyone within this umbrella of craft really looks at it as an opportunity to band together to raise the overall profile of the craft industry, which is again, super fascinating for us. And then also knowing that we could walk in and this is what we would subsequently find is that we could go into breweries more local because you know Rhinegeist while they are now a massive, I think there are the 33rd largest craft brewery in the country. While they have a huge profile, they're not in eastern Pennsylvania. I think they just last year went into Pittsburgh, so even if they viewed us technically as competition, we don't sell on the same market.
Dan: But the ones that did sell in our future market, were equally as receptive and said, "What can we do to help?" Telling more about where they made mistakes, where they saw their biggest successes. And as a business owner to be able to have that kind of a blueprint set out for you, where you can obviously make your own adjustments to that, but knowing in advance what worked and what didn't is a huge advantage in a way. If I'd had that for Philly Phaithful, I'm sure I wouldn't have made some of the mistakes I did at the beginning.
Bill: Sure I can imagine. So you all are in Austin and not only is the a bachelor party weekend at the time for great reflection and deep thought.
Dan: Lots of deep thoughts.
Bill: Yes but you appear inspired and you spend some time in Cincinnati checking out Rhinegeist and just vibing with those folks. And so what next?
Dan: So what next was, we left Cincinnati feeling really kind of captivated by the culture of craft beer. Just everything that we just talked about, but also, the type of core values in Rhinegeist and then craft beer as a whole were really based in, blue collar work ethic with this manufacturing tradition. Kind of a creative sensibility, so whether it's the package design or whether it's the type of people that you meet in a brewery, it's a really spirited place to spend time. I think as a sole proprietor of Philly Phaithful, I liked being in charge of everything, but I think I missed the collaborative spirit of working with people to push you and to get more information and really find that that kind of, again that team aspect that I really felt was pervasive at Rhinegeist.
Dan: So from there we said, all right, well if we're serious about this idea, we really have two steps. The first one is we need to do more research locally and understand what the market looks like here. Is there space for a new brewery? If so, where can we fit in? And then kind of on a broader level it was we need to find a point of differentiation. Especially if we don't know anything about the industry, we need to do that research and then understand, all right, well what makes our business unique? It's not good enough that we're going to be a local business. There are plenty of local businesses in the craft beer space. So what is it about our future brand that will resonate with our customers, will it give us a connection to the community and then also just separate us from everyone else who's going to open after us or had been open before us.
Dan: So we really just decided that the best way to do this was good old market research.
Bill: Sure, sure.
Dan: Go to some breweries and if we happen to drink some good beer along the way-
Bill: Yeah what a shame.
Dan: I know it was a real tough, I apologize that ... it was just a rough point in my life.
Bill: Right, right.
Dan: But no going in there and talking to people and really getting a feel for what the industry looked like, was incredibly eyeopening. I think there were a lot of preconceptions that I had that were really misconceptions about what craft beer was all about, and who the people were there and then kind of what the products were. So going in learning all that stuff, figuring out also not only what was going on in the space, but also what strengths we could bring as business owners knowing that we had no craft beer experience, but we had combined almost 50 years of business experience.
Dan: Alright, what is it that we can do to leverage our relationships in the Philadelphia area? How can we build upon what's made our previous businesses successful and apply that within the craft beer space?
Bill: So one of the things that when we first met made an impression on me, craft beer to your point, collaborative spirit and sense of togetherness, but at the same time can be intimidating and hard to approach in some cases. There's a glossary of terms that you almost need to know and there's some folks who, you know at their not worst, but there can be an attitude associated with craft. But it was very important, it seemed from day one to you and Peter, that that was not the kind of brand that you all were building. Could you talk about some of the key learnings from that kind of research immersion
Dan: Yeah, no, and for me as a, I don't think I could ever describe myself as a craft beer aficionados before this project started. I think as embarrassing as this is to say, I told people before the project that I didn't like IPA at all. I didn't want any hoppy beer. And looking back on that now is hilarious because every beer has hops and every beer has its own profile.
Bill: Yeah fair point.
Dan: But at the time I didn't know that much about the industry. And the one thing that made it feel inaccessible to me was to your point, the terminology involved this almost wineification where, the comparable feeling to sitting at a French restaurant and looking at a two page wine list, five page wine list and you know, trying to pick the one that's just a little bit more expensive than the cheapest one, but not knowing the full range of stuff-
Bill: Right and being scared to ask questions because of the attitude of the brand.
Dan: Exactly and I think you can get that intimidating feel sometimes walking into some breweries and I know that's not always the intention, but there's so much going on on a day to day basis that trying to grab someone and say, "Hey, what should I drink?" Sometimes it doesn't, it doesn't work. So for us it was alright, well if that's the biggest barrier to entry for us personally, we imagined that some other people in the market shared that sentiment. And knowing too that what made us successful as business owners in Philadelphia was understanding that the type of person, the values, value set for this area was all based on blue collar was all based on no gimmicks, accessibility, approachability to a business. Having that more transparent relationship with your customer. So we figured alright, well if that's both what's preventing us from getting into craft and what we bring as a strong suit, then let's shape whatever business we do create around that kind of principle. And as we would learn more about the industry, making sure that we kept kind of that core set in place for the future decisions we would make.
Bill: Totally. So part of the story that you're telling is, is very well charted in a section of your website that's called From The Horse's Mouth. It's a blog, a series of posts that kind of take us in very, you’re a great writer by the way, very evocative terms sort of through this process. I know that a key moment, so you all decided that you were in, you were going to do this, there were some values, there were some distinctive idiosyncrasies of the Philadelphia region.
Bill: No doubt. And I know that a pivotal moment in this development sort of story was also related to the brew master and the process of securing one who ... Talk about Nate and kind of how you found them and what you were looking for, having met him ...
Bill: Having met him, the guy, he comes across-
Dan: Nate is a fantastic person you like you need a guy who's got the skill set that Nate has, and then to meet a person with that skill set but is an even better individual, is rare, I think, in any line of work, where you find someone that's not only talented, but that you enjoy spending time with and that you know will bring people to your business and send them home happy. Not just as he makes great product, but because his engagement is so good.
Dan: We were incredibly lucky to meet Nate. I think going back into whatever your professional Rolodex is, your figurative Rolodex, at this day and age, and knowing you connect with and keeping those connections close. When the Philly sports teams took a dive around 2012-
Bill: All of them. Same time, yeah.
Dan: All of them, exact same time right, as I invested into a retail location for Philly Phaithful, so the timing was great.
Bill: Nice. Smart. Well done, yeah.
Dan: So right around the time, I figured, I'm not going to be able to sell, despite the Philly sports fan base being 24/7 365, in terms of their engagement, they weren't going to monetize that relationship. The teams aren't good, so I got more into custom design work. So basically play the middleman between my screen printer and vendors and universities, businesses, groups that needed apparel. People who like our design work, figured they can leverage our skill-set and our pricing, and it'll work out great, so I pivoted more towards that, which, financially ended up being a great decision, but it wasn't that much fun for me, because most of the companies you got a logo, again, just playing middleman.
Dan: But what it did do is it allowed me to get introduced to dozens of different people in businesses within the area we were partnering, one with one of which was a distillery called Manatawny Still Works, so they're based out of Pottstown. Max Pfeffer, who's our distiller, is a former brewer at Victory and I knew what I was getting into what seemed to be the workhorse project, that he had this beer background, and he might be able be an asset, in terms of the very beginning stage of just pointing me in the right direction, telling me stuff I shouldn't do, and stuff I should do, and I had mentioned to him about the project, and said, "Max, what do you think about this?" He said, "Well, I wouldn't get to brewing industry." I said, "Okay, why's that?" He said that it's an incredibly difficult, competitive, saturated industry. "But if you do decide to do it, keep me up to date, and I will try to help you however I can."
Dan: So I kind of steered away from it first, because he didn't seem all that enthusiastic about it, but I think some of that was just him trying to save me from all of the extra stuff that I would soon learn was associated with starting a brewery. But the benefit of that was that I was able stay in touch with him regularly through our business partnership, and Peter and I had been introducing ourselves to brew masters and folks in the area, but hadn't really found anybody that felt like the right fit. They were all great people. I think that's the best thing about the industry, is that I can count on one hand the number of people that I've met that I haven't cared for, it's just a great group of people in the industry.
Dan: But he had said, "Hey, I know this guy. His name's Nate, he was brewing for a brewery called Devil's Backbone, down in Virginia. He's from Virginia. He and I went to UC Davis and brewing school together, and he went to, he's from Victory for the first four years of his career. He's leaving DB because they just got bought out by Anheuser-Busch and he doesn't want to work for big beer, he's thinking about starting his own brewery. Do you want an introduction?
Dan: So on the surface, it sounded all very promising. I said, "Send me his resume, let take a look." And I tell you, within 30 seconds of reviewing his qualifications, it was clear that this guy was an unbelievable asset for any brewery. So Peter and I got in the car within 24 hours. Drove down to rural Virginia and met Nate for a beer, and another one of these within 30 seconds of talking to the guy. We said, "Wow, this guy is technically proficient, he's confident in what he does. But he's humble. He knows that at the end of the day, it doesn't matter what he wants to brew if people don't want to drink it, it doesn't matter.
Dan: So, he knows what he brews, he knows how to connect with people, he knows how to articulate the technical nuances of brewing, which I'm learning now, are many, and quite complicated. So we were very fortunate to meet him, and the craziest part about all of it, and this is one of those hard to believe stories that I've told a thousand times and it still seems crazy. He was thinking of starting his own brewery, and had created his own business plan, and when we shared our business plan with him and vice versa, there were literally sentences that were written almost verbatim, down to a word about the values that we had, the type of beers we wanted to brew. So that was just, don't screw this up. Get a deal. Get him on board.
Dan: And on top of that, we weren't looking for a partner, we were looking for an employee, but meeting Nate, it was evident to us that this guy needed to be part of our management team. He should be part of the decision-making process for the company as a whole, and not just production and operations. So Nate is now one of our founding members, as it were, and can't wait to really start tasting his beer.
Bill: Absolutely, no doubt about that. Another thing that I know has been quite a process, and you talked about going through it earlier in a different realm of your life with Philly Phaithful. But there's a real estate component of this, I mean you all are, there's a brewery, there's a Taphouse. This is less about, at least today, sort of the wholesale type of experience, and more about serving people and welcoming people. And talk a little bit about the process of securing and how you're thinking about real estate, because we're all excited for this summer.
Dan: Yeah, that was one of the biggest challenges for the project, literally and figuratively. Knowing that one of the things that we determined after visiting all these breweries, Rhinegeist included, was that the biggest problem that breweries were facing was that they could not meet the demand from the customer base. So, people love their product, they were selling product, but they didn't have either a big enough brewhouse, to produce as much beer as they needed, they didn't have a big enough location to be able to accommodate for that growth, and they didn't have capital to purchase equipment necessary to scale.
Dan: So we said all right. Well, if this is the biggest problem, that there's little too much demand, and we need to be able to accommodate for that future growth right away. So from a facility standpoint, the thought was whatever we find, it needs to be substantially large that it'll accommodate multiple expansions of our equipment and of our facility, and it'll also provide us an ample footprint for customers. So when people come in, they're not cramped, they're not asses to elbows. There's space, there's different unique experiential concepts within that space.
Dan: So in order to do that, we knew we needed a minimum of call it 40 to 50,000 square feet, so if you kind of use that as your first check mark, the second check mark was, all right, well now you need to find a place like that, that exists in a desirable area. So, easier said than done, and then on top of that, at a decent rental rate, knowing that were to be spending multi million dollars worth of equipment. We have to find a way to make all those things work.
Dan: So because of those three fusing together, it definitely posed a challenge and we spent well over a year, looking everywhere. We did not discriminate, didn't matter where in the region it was, if they kind of checked boxes that were in place, we were to look at it. And we ended up finding a location that our future home is for Workhorse in King of Prussia. The thing that's so great about KOP is that it is perfectly situated for both consumer access and distribution. Our home is within a mile and a half of five Major Southeastern Pennsylvania highways.
Bill: All the highways, yeah.
Dan: Right there, so it's kind of all roads lead to Workhorse, as for, and the space that we have, the building itself is 125,000 square feet. We have 70,000 that in our lease, there's existing tenants on the other side of the building, but that gives us more than enough square footage for everything that we want to do, plus future growth. And on top of that, we found landlord and ownership group that was amenable to our plans. They were very generous in terms of what they contributed from a financial standpoint to help us improve the building. Add parking spaces, upgrade electrical system, and I know that they're going to be a great partner as we grow over next few years.
Bill: Well it's, to your point, beyond the distribution, a lot people live in the western suburbs here, and we've seen some successes of the King of Prussia Town Center, we have seen successes, obviously, in KOP mall. Go into any of those places on a Saturday or whatever, you almost can't get in.
Bill: So as an addition to the area, I think the asset or amenity base, in King of Prussia, I'm sure they're just as excited about-
Dan: They are, and one of the things that we did in addition to finding this building in KOP was, before we even signed a letter of intent to get into this building. We went to the Valley Forge tourism board, we went to the King of Prussia business improvement district and said, guys, we know that you are the biggest advocates for this region, both in terms of promotional aspects, but also networking with other businesses, getting customers aware of what were trying to do, and making sure that the community is receptive to it because we are local guys in a sense, we're both from the Philly area. We know that region well.
Dan: But we also want to make sure that the people who live there wanted us. We don't want to come into place that isn't interested in a craft brewery, because there's a lot of stuff happening. There's a lot of people are going to be on site, lot of trucks coming in and out. You don't want to disturb anybody, we want to be an asset to the community. So we felt welcomed immediately by both those groups.
Dan: The response we got from the local community has been fantastic. The outreach and the "How can we help?" And the, "What can we do to make this better?" has been great, and for us too, we want to engage with people beforehand, to make sure that when we open our doors, this place is what they want. It's great that we have an idea of what we want, but at the end of the day, we're doing this for the people in the community. We want to create a great place for them to go. We want to make a great product for them to enjoy.
Dan: And since we are now, technically, the only brewery in King of Prussia, we want to be a showpiece for the community. We want to be an asset. We want to help do everything we can to raise the overall profile of that region. And as that extends in concentric circles out from King of Prussia, the same kind of sentiment applies.
Bill: Makes sense.
Bill: Since this is a branding podcast, among other things, let's get into that a little bit.
Dan: Yes, sir.
Bill: When we met initially, I know the Workhorse name was a working name, and you talk about the value system that you and Peter, and then Nate, had kind of rallied around, and your unique contribution to the space. You've written and talked about your initial experiences, looking into cases upon cases upon cases of folks who have their own inspiration and approaches and colors and names.
Bill: Talk about the Workhorse name, and then sort of how the process unfolded to drive towards look and feel. Obviously something we've been proud of and engaged in, but the talk about the brand development work.
Dan: That part was probably the most exciting part for me coming into the project, just knowing that my background was kind of on the design basis, and this was basically a design project on steroids. So you get a chance to really shape what the future of your company's going to be, and didn't take that lightly. I think with Philly Phaithful I almost stumbled into a name, it certainly wasn't something that I had anywhere near as much thought behind, it was just fortunate that it ended up working.
Dan: With this, realized again, if our stated goal was to be a regional production facility and have a large-scale footprint both locally and in the region, we knew that we would have to have something that was consistent and would kind of maintain those core values moving forward. So, did a lot of research on how to name a business. What the kind of major hurdles would be, understanding, too, that there are now more than 6,000 breweries in the national craft beer scene.
Bill: It's a lot.
Dan: It's a lot of breweries, so there are a lot of names that have already been taken, and that made it very challenging. So, having an opportunity as well to find a name that made sense for our values, that had an available URL, was easy to spell, on top of that, had all the social media handles available. I mean all these things before you make that decision were super important for us to iron out.
Dan: And I know that when we were evaluating finding a partner, like you guys, for branding, a lot of the pitches that we received were either vetting the names that we considered or proposing new sets of names, and it was really important for me, both from a timing standpoint and also from a continuity standpoint, to come in with something more concrete, and say, "Let me leverage your skill-set as a partner to elevate what we've already done, as opposed to wasting time. “In my mind, it felt like a waste of time to go through all these different names, all these different things, when I had spent the better part of 6 to 8 months doing that on my own, or with Peter and Nate, as well.
Dan: So, we were very fortunate that I think all of those qualifiers were in place. URL, websites, all that stuff, social media handles et cetera, and that the name somehow, despite a real, I think, strong connections and brewing, was not taken.
Bill: I know, it is, it's astonishing. And I, to your point of the first time I heard it, I loved it. For a couple reasons, one it connects to the Philadelphia ethic, blue-collar values, working hard, the workshop of the world. All these things that this region has been and embodies, and the kinds of qualities that we sort of value as a region, even if some of this is a bit mythological, at this point.
Bill: But also, and you know this intuitively, and we like to call, when it comes to naming, what's the right bar call? Does it have ... could you see somebody, and I know that this is our own taproom, but in the future, sidling up to bar and saying, "I'm gonna have two Workhorses?"
Bill: It works. It works on every level, pardon the pun, but yeah, to come into this process with some real feeling around that, I think, probably helped crystallize all that came after.
Dan: Absolutely. I told the story in part because it was something that was such a critical thing for Philly Phaithful, that I remember sitting in my kitchen table with my parents, right after I moved back from ESPN, living with my parents at 24, saying, "Oh, I'm going to start this business."
Bill: Good for your social life, yeah.
Dan: Yeah. Hugely important, lot of dating going on when you live with your parents. Then again, when I was at ESPN, it was 95% men, so it wasn't like there was anything going on-
Bill: Yeah, that's true. Well, I mean, Bristol.
Dan: Yeah. You get Tuesday nights off in Bristol, Connecticut. Let me tell you, that's the place to be.
Bill: Rocking it. Yeah.
Dan: So, coming back to Philly. Sitting with my parents and saying, "This what I want to do." And they said, "Oh, okay. What's your business plan?" I said, "I don't have a business plan." Said, "What do you mean? You're opening a business, you don't have a business plan."
Dan: I said, "Well, I don't know what's going to happen, it doesn't make sense for me to put together a plan, because the plan's going to change." They said, "Well, we understand, but you need to have a roadmap in place, whether it's financial projections or your marketing strategy or your operational strategy, because otherwise, you're going to run into problems very quickly. And I, very stubbornly, assumed that I knew everything I needed to know, and went ahead without a business plan, and spent about six months running Philly Phaithful, and then realized, wow, this is not gonna work without any type of plan.
Dan: So that lesson, thankfully it didn't cripple me, the Philly's won the World Series, people bought shirts in the parking lot, so that was great. But when it came to Workhorse, from the very beginning, every decision that I was going to be responsible for, I know that I needed to have strategy. And something as important as the name and the brand, I'd probably put even more weight behind it to figure out, all right, what are we going to do and how are you do it?
Dan: Again, thankfully, that name was available after all the stuff we discussed, and was very happy that we are able to meet you guys and start development.
Bill: Well, thank you.
Bill: So that extended into, when you talk about the real-life use case of color and style, and the ability and need to sort of stand out and pay this off visually. The process, and you've very colorfully detailed it on the blog post you've put into the market, but talk a little bit about how the, kind of the final product, in terms of the look and feel of Workhorse, coalesces with your vision and values, and everything else.
Dan: Yes, well I'm just going to go on record and say that I am beyond thrilled with the work that you guys have done as a partner, and I'm not just saying that because I'm getting on a podcast, but-
Bill: Yes, this podcast is, you know, dependent upon kind words.
Dan: Yes, exactly. Exactly. So I was going to get kicked out if I didn't say it.
Bill: But thank you.
Dan: No, it's really been a pleasure, because again-
Bill: For us as well.
Dan: We came in with, again, kind of that roadmap concept. We said there are a handful of things that we want for sure in visual look of this brand, and part of that was developed by, you know, we saw what Rhinegeist did and how successful they were in their branding.
Bill: Yes, it's cool. Their stuff's cool.
Dan: Their brand's awesome. It's sharp. It stands out. When you tell people about the brewery, it's one of the first things people say, "Oh I love their look."
Dan: It's great. I said, "Okay, what are the things that made their logo successful?"
Dan: And then, as a kind of extension of that, their brand as a whole. So we looked at them, they said all right, they've got this little ghost. Their ghost of the Rhine, that's their name, and there's this little ghost logo that, it lives on its own. You can recognize it, that's Rhinegeist, without seeing the words, Rhinegeist Brewery, around that ghost.
Dan: I said, okay, that as a core statement, again, that applies to a number of businesses. You can go as high as the Nike Swoosh. It's not new, but we said that's something for us that we really want to be able to have as we grow this brand. As a central, visual element that can stand alone without the name Workhorse Brewing Company.
Dan: So that was kind of the driving factor behind what we wanted to do, and then when you think about, again, what resonates with this community, with the Philadelphia area, it's that blue collar work ethic. So I didn't want anything to feel frilly or gimmicky. It had to be accessible and approachable. It had to be logical, and it didn't, really want to complicate things. And also, the other kind of concern we ran into quickly was when you have a name like, Workhorse, that evokes a very clear connection to an animal. We said, we need to create a design that steers away from the animal side of is, and into the qualities of a workhorse. So, that doesn't mean you avoid it entirely. You can't call your company Workhorse, and then not have any kind of equine centric imagery.
Dan: And Jess here is one of our managers for the project, is quite a punny individual.
Bill: She is that, yes.
Dan: there were no shortage of opportunities for us to play up the horse side. But we really wanted to focus on, you know, again, the qualities of a workhorse, and I think that the way the brand has developed, both in terms of the color palette that we've used, which is there's nothing super bright and frilly that's going to really go nuts in its own unique way.
Dan: Everything for us was that the point of differentiation, I think this is the easiest way to encapsulate this concept is, our point of differentiation was bringing things back to the mean, as opposed to trying to consistently one up ourselves. So the beers that we'll brew, the logos that we have, the experience that we put on sight, it's all about doing the small things and doing them well. Not trying to overdo anything across the board.
Dan: So I think that's kind of what guided us in the process. There are ups and downs of any process. I think we-
Dan: ... had a little more time, I think ... with how much work we'd done in advance, I almost felt like the logo would fall into place right away, and as you learn with this stuff, that's not the case at all. We had a ton of great logo development, and we've highlighted all of that-
Bill: Yes, different directions and stuff, yes.
Bill: It's fun to see that. Most folks don't always see that.
Dan: It is cool. That whole thing, for us, was want to be transparent with people, and showed, this is the thought process that went into it. So when they walk into the brewery for the first day, they have a deeper understanding of who we are as a company. That doesn't mean we won't educate people who don't know anything about our background, but really wanted to share that story with people so that they have this deeper connection and understanding of who we are and what we're all about.
Bill: Definitely, and we're so proud of it, and grateful for the kind words, but I mean, some of the design elements here, from the stylized W, it's little lightly sort of western, to the interlocking horseshoes, to nod to the heritage of the word. Also speak to good luck, and combine it into a W, which to your point, becomes iconographic in a way, that it may have a life of its own in the future, as the marketplace begins to embrace it.
Bill: The other things that were sort of fun, and I know you were experiencing this, and for us, I think we could maybe have anticipated something, but it was maiden voyage for us in craft beer at least. The branding, the identity needs to be great, but there are a lot of practical and almost environmental applications here. We've got to think about tap handle. We've got to think about label. You've got to think about growler and crawler. You got to think about coaster. You got to think about the almost sort of visual lexicon of all of these uses. And one of the proofs of concept, to make sure that the logo and the identity is the right one, is how flexible it can be in terms of being utilized there.
Bill: I know we spent a lot of our time early in the process, beyond just ideation, was to try to paint, for all of us, you and us, a picture of how does this look as pixels on a screen, but also it would be hard for us to fall in love with something if we didn't see it in its application. Even if that wasn't exactly the final way that it looked, it sort of maybe proved that it had legs for the-
Dan: I think when I first started considering what the logo was going to look like, what the brand was going to feel, all that stuff, in a certain way it was almost overwhelming trying to do it individually, because again, I'm used to working one-on-one with graphic designers from Philly Phaithful where I have an idea, I send it to my designer, he or she usually comes back with something better, and then we iterate off of that. And that's it. It could anywhere from a couple days to a couple weeks to a couple months, but it's a two person process, and it's typically done at a much higher level, as opposed to the nuanced stuff that we were talking about with developing a brand. There's put it on a T-shirt, put it on maybe a koozie, that's about it.
Dan: So, I think being able to come into a group environment that you guys have created for us, and being able to think about the bigger picture, all right, well how does this brand resonate in all these different subsects of the business as a whole. That's where I think it was really eye opening, and having more voices at the table, and also have the experience that you guys have in terms of refining that. I tend, as a creative guy, I'm definitely not the numbers guy in this business. I'm familiar with all that stuff. I'm in those books. It's a small business, you have to do it, but my side is definitely more on the creative, and I very easily can get carried away thinking about, "Oh this is a great idea. Let's roll with this."
Dan: That's what makes it exciting for me, but being able to reign back, that one's for Jess, the kind of iterative process and work with other people to help refine it, I think that was probably my favorite part of the process.
Bill: No, we enjoyed it too, and to have someone with that creative bent as well, is such a deep appreciation about what you want this brand to express, I think was a tremendous asset for all of us.
Bill: The last kind of piece of the identity, is the tagline, 'Made Right.' Talk about what, I mean it was sort of a collaborative process, and we've ... you want these to be simple. You want them to encapsulate a lot. Talk about what 'Made Right' says to you, and how that expresses what's on your mind.
Dan: I think everything that we are trying to do as a brewery is trying to make sure that the people who engage with it, whether it is a guest in our taproom, whether it is a vendor that's carrying our beer, or selling something to us, a bar or restaurant that's carrying our product, an investor who's put their money and their support behind the project, everything for us is based upon making sure that those people are proud to be with us in some form or capacity. That they have a positive experience in dealing with us, and I think that overall concept is encapsulated beautifully with 'Made Right.'
Dan: That speaks more towards the production side, clearly. But we really just want to make sure that people understand, at the end of the day, if we don't guests in our taproom, if we don't have people purchasing our beer outside of the brewery, the business doesn't exist. It's just that simple. It doesn't matter how great we think we are, because we're nothing without the people that are going to put their support behind the project, and our commitment to those people is to make sure that they are well taken care of, and that they are pleased that they've come into contact with us, and that we've provided some sort of value add. Whether again, it's a partner, a purveyor, a host, all of those things.
Dan: So, 'Made Right' is just a really good, simple way to say, "We are doing things the right way."
Dan: And also owning up to the fact that if we make a mistake, we're going to make it right. There are going to be times in those first couple months when we iron out the kinks, someone comes in, they order a beer, they don't get it on time. Or someone's seat is taken by another guest when they get up. Whatever the size of the mistake is, and there will be mistakes made-
Bill: Of course.
Dan: We are basically saying in that sentence, or in that phrase, "We will fix it. There is nothing that we cannot do to make sure that when you walk out of our door you've had a positive experience."
Dan: And knowing that shapes every decision we make from a management team down on to a distribution driver, is that our goal is to make sure that everyone we come in contact with, comes away feeling like these guys are looking out for me. They have my interest in mind, and that their sole focus is making a quality product, to make it accessible and approachable, and making sure that I come away, again, feeling good about it.
Bill: Awesome, so as we adjourn here, and I'm sure our listener base is, "When can I have it?"
Bill: So I think based upon the site at least, there's four brews that we sort of plan to open with at this point?
Dan: Yes, so we're probably going to start with four. We might add a fifth. The really exciting thing is going into the bar, which is being framed out, or was framed out last week, and is now being adorned. It's really cool to see. We're going to have 24 draft lines from day one. We'll split them into two sets of 12, but knowing that our goal is to eventually fill out, let's say, two thirds of those, I don't think we'll ever be known as a brewery that has 35 beers on draft.
Dan: We're more on focusing our energy on a more concise, again, I use this word all the time, approachable, accessible portfolio. We want to have something for everybody. So we will probably open with four to five draft beers. Those styles are outlined on the website, but we already have partnerships and projects in place for the first few months after opening to add some more. Definitely some exciting stuff I can speak about more openly over the next couple months. But yes, we will try to scale up relatively quickly to be somewhere in the neighborhood of eight to ten beers.
Bill: Dan, this has been great. Any final thoughts about Workhorse, or kind of, every chapter in your life it seems like there's been some learnings that you've taken. Anything you want to share that are kind of maxims for you for folks who have been inspired by your path?
Dan: I think the thing that this particular project has taught me, more than anything, is that there is network of people around you that wants to help you succeed. Especially within this industry. Just as I said before, you just meet so many people who've gone out of their way to teach us everything that we need to know without getting any guarantee of anything in return, outside of free beer whenever they come by the brewery.
Dan: I think the biggest thing that we want to do is be able to pay that forward, and if there are any people who are interested in getting into entrepreneurship, or want to be involved in running their own business, or getting involved in small business, our doors are always open.
Dan: I think we've really put an emphasis on being approachable from a personality standpoint. We want people, I want people to hear this podcast so they come to the brewery. Come seek me out. Introduce yourself. Let's have a beer. There are things that we can certainly help with other folks, and there are things that people I haven't met are going to add so much value to this project that, you know, we just really feel like that whole communal aspect of being at Workhorse is something that's going to help us grow. Something that's going to help us become an asset to the community, and we hope that people are proud to associate with it.
Bill: Well that's a perfect place to leave it. Dan Hershberg, Co-Founder, CMO, Vice President, Workhorse Brewing. You can find Workhorse Brewing at www.workhorsebrewing.com.
Dan: Hey, what do you know!
Bill: Hey, as well as coming to a social channel near you. There's obviously some content there now, so it's a good time to start following them on Instagram, Facebook, et cetera. Pleasure.
Dan: Oh, thank you again. This has been a real treat. I'm looking forward to do it again in the future.