Jim Koch – American Entrepreneur

January 30, 2011
Dan Katcher

Last week I got invited to attend an event at the Sam Adams Brewery in JP. The event was put on by the Gilt Groupe and it featured a tasting of Sam Adam’s new Infinium beer, a champagne style beer that will knock your socks off. The feature of the event (not counting the beer) was a talk and a tour of the brewery by Jim Koch. Jim covered the history of his company, the creation of Infinium, and also told us a lot how about how to brew beer.
If you haven’t heard Jim speak, you should. If you haven’t been to the brewery for a tasting night, you should. And if you can find a way to combine the two, well, that’s cash money.

Jim Koch in his element
Jim is the consummate entrepreneur and listening to his story should be inspiration for anyone who is doing a startup. His passion for creating a great company, for redoing an industry, and for changing how things are done is infectious. And he tells a great story. Jim’s story about early days, about promoting his beer, bar by bar, bartender by bartender, is a good one.
What’s interesting to me is watching how Sam Adams has grown through the years. They used to have 1 beer, their Lager. Twenty-something years later, check out how many different beers they cover (note: age verification required. hint: pretend you’re at least 21). You might not like all of their beers, but Sam Adams has such a wide variety that I bet you find something you like. The Sam Adams brand has something for everyone – and they manage to wrap all their brews under the Sam Adams banner in a way that should be studied by app makers, in particular game studios.
What’s also fun about Sam Adams is how much they encourage innovation. Sam Adams is continually bringing out out new varieties of beer, and they are incredibly active in encouraging brewers to try new things. They encourage the community to innovate with them: Sam runs the Longshot contest every year and the winner gets their home brew produced and packaged by the company. And they experiment constantly with new ingredients and new processes. The result: an entrepreneurial organization that has experimentation at its core.
All of which brings us back to Infinium. With Infinium, they created a new process and a new brew that had never been done before. Notable quote from Jim Koch that night? “I’m with Steve Jobs, who is famous for saying ‘consumers don’t know what they want’”. Of course that line caught my attention. And my takeaway? In the context of Sam Adams, they created Infinium not because consumers were crying for it, but because they wanted to do something crazy and notable. Sometimes you just have to put stuff out there because it’s in your head and no-one else is going to think of it. Which is completely relevant for app makers. Nobody asked for Angry Birds or Cut the Rope. Just some crazy developers who had an idea that took hold of their heads and they put it out there.
One final note, did you know Sam Adams also encourages entrepreneurship outside their company by running a unique program called Brewing the American Dream, which funds entrepreneurs in the food, beverage, and hospitality industry through small loans? Sam works with the non-profit ACCION USA, which is a leading micro-lender, to make loans from $500 to $25,000 to lower and moderate-income entrepreneurs, and complements that with organized seminars, mentoring and speed coaching events. Way to go Sam!
So let’s raise one to innovators. I’m raising a Winter Lager. What’s your choice?

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