What Can Drive a New Business from Nowhere to Soon Be Everywhere, Achieving Great Success?

How do you take a start up from nothing to great success, and do it in a reasonable time frame? Most start-ups don’t achieve this. But, some do. What is it that helps propel this kind of success in those extremely successful start-ups?

Business is not one size fits all. So, various different approaches can be highly successful. Yet, there are some success patterns. And, adhering to those patterns makes success far more likely.

A recent example was featured in the February 3-4, 2024 Wall Street Journal article “How a (Non-Alcoholic) Beer Came from Nowhere and Is Now Everywhere” by Ben Cohen. The article points out that the entrepreneur who launched this highly successful beer venture lacked prior experience in the industry. The article said, “He didn’t have a product or even a prototype. Or investors.” However, the article goes in to explain what he did do. And, based on my 25+ years researching business success and failure patterns, many aspects of this very impressive beer venture, called Athletic Brewing Company, fit the patterns of success.

As I have said repeatedly in my previous blog posts and newsletters, businesses succeed by building on their strengths. This generally means pursuing new areas that have some similarities with what a company or its founders already know how to do. But, the founder of this beer venture had no industry experience. Nonetheless, he apparently had much of what industry experience generally contributes to a successful new venture. Industry experience can bring an understanding of the market and what is needed to successfully pursue the market.

This founder had some of that because his business took on a people-like-me strategy. As the Wall Street Journal article reports, many of today’s young people were reducing their consumption of alcohol, and this founder also wanted to drink less alcohol. But, he didn’t care for non-alcoholic beer because it didn’t taste good. So, he planned to do what the beer industry was not doing. He set out to develop a non-alcoholic beer that did taste good. It could appeal to people who like him who wanted to consume less alcohol, but disliked the taste of the available non-alcoholic beer.

However, he didn’t rely entirely on his own personal needs and opinions for knowledge of his start-up business. As the article points out, he spent two years researching his new venture. He also ran an ad for an experienced brew master, who brought valuable knowledge and experience to the venture.  Yet, although valuable expertise came from the brew master, the founder was not relying entirely on this other person for knowledge of the business. By combining his own knowledge with what the experienced brew master brought, the founder had amassed the pieces needed to develop strengths on which to successfully build the business. And, businesses do succeed by building on their strengths.

Furthermore, according to the article, the new venture did not immediately put a non-alcoholic beer on the market. Instead, it experimented with several variations of its product before deciding on the recipe for the beer it ultimately offered to customers. As I see it, this can bring valuable expertise about the recipe for the product.

Finally, as the Wall Street Journal article points out, when the venture was ready to promote its beer, “they didn’t have to convene focus groups to figure out who their customers were and where to find them.” As the founder said, “We were our customers. We went where we would be on the weekends and poured beers.”

In summary, as I see it, this business succeeded by combining 1) a market need–which the founder understood well– with 2) additional research and experimentation, and 3) added expertise provided by an industry veteran. This combination helped shape the start-up into a business that thrived.  It did so by accumulating adequate knowledge of aspects of the business required for great success.

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