Alum of Beer: Noble Brewer
Noble Brewer is an online marketplace that connects craft beer lovers to top home brewers. Needless to say, this model required founder Claude Burns to test many iterations – ranging from “too illegal” to too expensive.Today, the service is a web-based platform where beer lovers and aficionados alike are connected to homebrewers through a pre-curated subscription service of the country’s best homebrews; An effort that Claude hopes will recreate the experience of visiting your local taproom – beer, brewer, and all – lowering the barrier of entry into the beer industry for both brewer and customer.
What is Noble Brewer all about?
I think getting beer in the mail is kind of cool, but it’s not really what we want to do. The cool part is creating a unique experience for members where they can try beer from a homebrewer and hear their story in the same way as if that homebrewer had a brewery where they could pour them a pint and tell them about the beer and who they are. We want to try to create that in someone’s home, using technology to connect the two people. We want to create a conversation and community around beer.
Because we’re not a brewery, we haven’t had to deal with nearly as much as someone who has to open a brewery. If someone wanted to open a brewery, they could use us to get their beer and brand out there. Attract investors who think their story is interesting and show investors what people thought of their beer. Once we get bigger, we want to act as a kind of marketplace. So if you’re someone who likes creating and making beer, but never wants to open a business, you’re able to use us as a platform and sell your beer through us. Maybe you can build a little bit of a following through us.
When did you first decide to start a food business?
The moment I decided to start Noble Brewer was when I really started digging into the regulations surrounding alcohol in the US and seeing how difficult it actually is to start an alcohol business. I’m not sure the exact moment, but it was somewhere going through the regulations when I got really pissed off that it wasn’t easier and I wanted to do something that would make it easier for people. I was at MIT at the time studying a lot of entrepreneurship and startups and everything says “test small” and “begin as simple as possible,” but in the alcohol industry that’s not the case. You have to raise and invest a ton of money and, even if you have a million dollars today, it’s going to take a year just to get through the licensing and the permitting. I wanted to find a way that would make that easier and better.
How did the Food Craft Institute’s Business of Beer help you grow your business?
Not being from the area, it allowed me to get in touch with a lot of people in the industry very quickly. Hearing what other students in the class wanted to do in the beer industry and hearing the challenges they were having helped me understand in an in-depth level even more problems with the industry.
Who was your favorite FCI instructor?
Hearing Adam [Lamoreaux]’s story of persistence was awesome. Four years waiting to get something going and doing everything you can just to keep it together. That’s pretty inspirational. Most business owners have a little set back that knocks them back a month…here’s a guy that did four years of it.
What do you envision the upcoming years will bring for Noble Brewer?
We want the community supporting the community and for us just to be in the background enabling that to happen by pairing up homebrewers to breweries. This year, we’d like to continue growing the membership base and build towards a marketplace where customers can purchase one off brews. If we get far enough along, we’d like to include a crowdsourced element, where we can let the community pick which beers they’d like to try.
In five years, I’d like to have the capacity and membership base to feature as many homebrewers as want to be featured. We want to help homebrewers get to where they want to go. There’s a lot of different ways to do that, but that’s the end goal.
What have been the biggest obstacles you’ve encountered?
Not having a technical background has been the biggest challenge for me. When we see things or customers tell us something that’s confusing, it’s really difficult to make that change and to move fast enough to try new things and optimize our site.
Most food businesses sell direct to consumer through a retail store. We’re a weird tech-beer company at heart. We’re digital, so we have to reach consumers in a different way. As a beer business, you’re typically selling business to business, to bars and restaurants, or to wholesalers and distributors. If you’re selling to a consumer directly, it’s generally in your taproom, brewpub, or brewery. So, for us that’s the challenge. Longterm we think that [being digital] will allow us to have a very close relationship with our customers and give us a bigger reach than just being local. A lot of businesses have a hard time scaling because one business does really well. When you open that second location, no one really knows what it is outside that area. We’re doing it in a little bit different way which for now creates some technical problems for us.
What advice do you have for new food entrepreneurs starting out?
Be different. That’s the biggest thing that’s been helpful for us. Being different allows people to know who you are and what you’re doing. If you can differentiate some way that makes you unique – whether it’s how you do something, where you source something from, how you tell your story, where you’re located, or what channels you sell through – you have to do something different to stand out.
From there, it’s about execution and I don’t think there’s any good advice for that. You just have to know that regardless of how good an idea or product you have, it comes down to “can you execute?”.
Ready to buy beer? Sign up today to become a member of the newest kid on the craft beer club block! (Psst…use the code “FCI” to get 20% off your order!)
More information on the Food Craft Institute’s Business of Beer course can be found on our website and by flipping through our class photo album. The next Business of Beer course will be held in October 2015. Inquiries always welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org!