A Life Well Lived
If you’re a beer drinker, or even if you just enjoy the occasional tipple, then Matt Lane, founder of the online beer club and subscription service BeerBods, has arguably got one of the most compelling mission statements you’re ever likely to have heard. Founded in the summer of 2012, they exist for one reason alone: to get more people drinking better beer.
So how did it all begin?
“BeerBods started with myself and a few friends holding beer tastings in a shed in rural Worchester. We’d all bring along a few beers and I’d tell everyone a little bit about the different breweries and give them a few tasting notes. It was a really simple concept, and at the time it was just our cool little beer club.”
“A friend said to me one day – who I should probably pay some sort of royalties to but don’t… – ‘what if you were doing what you’re doing in the shed, but on the Internet?’ This was back in 2011, at a time when subscription services had just started taking off. All of a sudden there were all sorts of things you could get through the post: films, chocolate, coffee, flowers. It was also around the time social media was becoming quite mainstream. Facebook had been around a little while by then, Twitter was coming into its own, Instagram had just started, and I noticed all of these online communities and clubs building around these shared interests.”
“So we took the subscription model as a way to fulfil orders and get beer to people in the post, and then used social media to build a community around it. By marrying those two ideas together, BeerBods was born. It’s kind of like what went on in our shed, but on a much bigger scale.”
“I went to an event in West Wales called the Do Lectures and although I’d been working on the idea of BeerBods for a little while, I hadn’t actually done any of the nuts and bolts of bringing it to life. A guy came up to me and asked what I did, and instead of telling him what my day job was, I thought I’d just tell him about my idea for BeerBods as if it already existed. By the time I had finished explaining it to him, he asked me where he could sign up.”
“At this point I didn’t have a transactional website, I didn’t have a warehouse, I didn’t have any beer, I didn’t have any finance; I still had a full time job, but suddenly I had my first customer. So I put up a simple one page website that literally just explained the concept, and I said to myself that if I get 100 people registering their interest in one month, I would try and turn it into a business. I had 100 people sign up in about 24 hours, and that gave me the push to actually bring it to life.”
“That is the most important thing for us, having a really clear purpose – we exist to get more people drinking better beer. That’s our founding principle and something we think about every time we come into work. And then I suppose it’s just about building a great team, who are as passionate about doing that as you are. It’s one thing for me to be passionate about getting more people drinking better beer, but building a team who are just as passionate about that and willing to work as hard towards it is equally as important. Then I suppose it is about ideas; we’re based on an old pig farm in rural Worchester running an online start-up, so we have to be really clever about how we do it.”
On Work vs Passion
“There’s definitely a point you can get to where if you make your passion, or your hobby, your job, there is a downside to it. There is a lot to be said for keeping those boundaries. I sometimes get frustrated when I hear people say ‘do what you love’ because it isn’t a bad thing to love something and do it separately away from work; to work to fund your hobby, or for your passion and work to run parallel.
My day-to-day is probably the same as alot of other peoples: it’s spreadsheets and phone calls and meetings, but there is that 20% that is about something I’m really passionate about. If it were a milk subscription for example, I definitely wouldn’t enjoy it as much. But it does feel like work, and it should feel like work, because this isn’t a hobby. I have to feed myself and my family with it and I do have to remind myself of that sometimes, but I am really content with my hobby, my passion, being my job. However that’s not to say it would suit everybody because there is definitely a trade-off.”
“I think coming into work and enjoying what you’re trying to do, with the people you’re trying to do it with, is my barometer of how well things are going.
We could apply all sorts of metrics to gauge that – how many subscribers we’ve got, how engaged our subscribers are, and so on; but for me, generally speaking, it is coming in every day and enjoying it. Enjoying working with the people I am trying to build this business with. That’s success to me.”
“If I were starting again I would have been a bit braver I think. I would have jumped all-in quicker. When I started BeerBods I ran it in my spare time for the best part of two years, whilst I was proving to myself that the model worked and that I was completely happy with it. Initially I was running BeerBods on evenings and weekends, then I moved to part-time and even when I eventually jacked in my day job, I still did a bit of freelancing before eventually moving to full time at BeerBods.”
“In my head this long transition was all about security and making sure I still had a steady income and in hindsight, I would have just done it all a bit quicker. There’s a guy called Fred Wilson (American Investor and businessman) that says the three most harmful addictions are ‘heroin, carbohydrates and a monthly salary’, and I definitely subscribe to that idea. Stepping away from a monthly income is one of the toughest things you can do, but sometimes I think you just need to be brave about it. Put things in place to make that step a little less painful, take the hit if you have to, but do it quickly.”
“Spending time with my young family is at the top of my life goals list. I’m really lucky that I have a three-year-old son and a one-year-old daughter, and a job that I can build around them. Spending time with them and putting them first is really important to me. Being a good dad and a good husband is my number one priority.
I think sometimes there’s an illusion that if that’s your priority and you run your business alongside it, the business must be some kind of lifestyle thing, but I really don’t think that’s the case. We are all really ambitious about what this business can achieve and we work exceptionally hard bringing that to life, but I’d hope that for anyone that walks through this door or anyone that works for us, this business isn’t his or her number one priority. There are so many more important things than beer or BeerBods, or start-ups. It is all about finding the right balance.”
On Living a Good Life
“To come back to that word purpose, knowing what it is you’re trying to do is really important. A lot of us spend our time climbing ladders, only to find out they’re on the wrong wall. I think just knowing and believing in what you’re working towards, no matter how small, gives you a great sense of satisfaction. And then it’s just about surrounding yourself with people that you love and care about and that care about you. For me that’s my family, friends, and colleagues.
For me it is also about being in a place I care about. I’m really passionate about the place I grew up –in rural Worcestershire – and putting this place on the map.”
“Building any business is exceptionally hard, for all of us. I love my life, but there are times when it is really hard, and it’s tough. There is a danger sometimes when we look at other people who run businesses or have jobs and careers that we aspire to; we look at them with rose-tinted spectacles, even envy. But they have the same struggles as everyone else, they still question themselves, have the same insecurities; but if you know what you’re working towards, why you’re doing it, and you surround yourself with people you love and care about, and who care about you, and you ensure it is an environment that you enjoy being in day to day – if you get those things right – you’re on the right track.”
On Living a Better Life
“I think that all entrepreneurial people struggle to do more, and to do it better. For me there isn’t one big thing, but every day I ask how I can make this business better. How can I get better at running it? I think this constant self-reflection and self-awareness – particularly when you’re the one running it and people are looking to you – is really important. But I wouldn’t say there is one big thing that if I had it, or did it, would make me much happier. I don’t really think like that.”
“I love the fact that I can have breakfast with my children and be home in time to put them to bed, and if I’m not able to do that, I reevaluate how I’m spending my time. But as for BeerBods, it’s looking around you, seeing what your building and asking: are you happy? Are you proud of it? Not many of us work in an environment where you can tangibly view something that you’ve just built. If you are a brick layer or a plumber you can step back and look at what you’ve finished, but for those of us working in a knowledge economy, that is really rare. So for me I enjoy finding ways of doing that; this process of reviewing and self-reflection.”
“For me its about working on something that I’m really passionate about and I enjoy, with people who are as passionate as I am, that I respect and admire. But it is also knowing that this business isn’t the most important thing in my life. If my job or this business ever does become the most important thing, then I know I’m doing something wrong. Being a good dad and a good husband and a good brother and a good friend comes first; being somebody who builds a good business is next in line to all of those things. If I can do all of that, I’m getting my life right I think.”
“I want to be in a position where I can sit on my barge and read the paper, but I never have any thoughts about walking away from this. We have been approached by all sorts of people about investment and one of the questions in that process is always ‘what is your exit strategy?’ I find that really hard because we just don’t have one. This idea of starting a business with the intention of selling it and getting rich one day just doesn’t appeal to me. I love what I do. I’ve got so many ideas to bring to life over the next 10 years in an subject area that I adore and am passionate about, so this idea of a big payday in lieu of all of that doesn’t hold any appeal.
I think spending some more time with my lovely other half, preferably on a barge down the river Severn is about as far as my dreams outside of BeerBods go.”