James Watt and Martin Dickie, Founders of BrewDog

Brewing up success

James Watt, Co-founder and ‘Captain’ of BrewDog, reveals how his company’s radical approach has led to exceptional ongoing growth and a unique relationship with customers

If you were choosing an industry to call the new rock 'n' roll, it would have to be craft brewing. And BrewDog would be Elvis.

Leading the way for scores of innovative young craft brewers popping up across the UK and farther afield, BrewDog has earned a reputation for its experimental, against-the-grain ethos, turning its nose up at corporate approaches and being all the more successful for it. Formed in 2007 by founders James Watt and Martin Dickie, the company has gone from strength to strength by taking risks other companies wouldn’t and putting its customers at the heart of everything they do.

The story so far

James Watt explains: “Martin and I had been friends for years and we shared a strong distaste for the yellow fizzy lagers that populated the UK beer scene. We set up a makeshift brewery in Martin’s garage and began experimenting. It was in this garage that our first batch of Punk IPA was born. 

“In 2007, aged 24, we got a bank loan, leased a building, spent all our money on stainless steel and began making a range of craft beers.”

Working from a van selling tiny batches at local markets, the business quickly grew. In 2008, Watt and Dickie created the UK’s strongest ever beer, ‘Tokyo’, and began exporting to Sweden, Japan and America. In its second year, BrewDog became the largest independent brewery in Scotland. Then, in 2009, Equity for Punks was launched, where customers and fans of BrewDog were able to buy shares in the company – funding, and giving them literal ownership of, its progress. 

Says Watt: “Over 1,327 people invested at this stage, which enabled us to grow even more. In 2010, we had 39 employees and opened our first bar in Aberdeen. By the end of 2011, we had 67 employees and three more bars in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Camden, London. A second round of Equity for Punks in 2011 smashed our £1 million target and raised £2.2 million in six months, enabling us to build a new eco-brewery in Ellon. With nearly 7,000 shareholders, 2012 saw six more bars opening and we were named the fastest-growing UK food and drink company by The Sunday Times.

“We now have in excess of 200 employees, 12 bars, and are on track to turnover £19 million this year. We’ve launched a third round of Equity for Punks and are on course to hit our target of £4.25 million.”

International ambitions

BrewDog has achieved an average astounding growth of 167% each year over the past five years. Its 12 bars stock a selection of BrewDog beers alongside beers from other groundbreaking breweries around the world. “Our staff are totally passionate”, says James, “and committed to educating anyone who walks through the door, encouraging them to try new things. 

“International markets have always been hugely important to us, with our first international bar in Stockholm opening earlier this year. We now export to 38 different countries, and aim to open bars all around the globe, including Sau Paulo and New Delhi in the next few months.”

Make mine a share

BrewDog has taken customer focus one step further than even the most forward-thinking enterprises, with its Equity for Punks scheme. “It has put our fans at the heart of the operation and let them share in our growth,” Watt enthuses. “We would never be where we are today without the passion and loyalty of our beer fans. By investing, they receive a discount in our bars and online shop and an invite to our legendary AGM and party. They also get a say in how the business is run.

“We wanted to break down any kind of barrier between our customers and us. We’ve built a huge community of craft-beer-loving people on social media and they are a constant source of inspiration.”

BrewDog’s commitment for doing things their own way and shaking up the system has certainly resonated with people, including their employees. “We are lucky enough to have a lot of incredible, talented, creative humans working at BrewDog,” adds Watt. “Harnessing their potential and giving them the opportunity to take ownership of their ideas and run with them makes for a great atmosphere and culture.”

There is now even a BrewDog TV series, running on the Esquire network. “We have been making some videos with a team in the USA for a few years now (you can see them on www.brewdog.com/tv) and we made a pilot for a TV show, which was pitched to the networks in America. Esquire loved it and the first episode aired on 24 September this year, with eight episodes in total.

“We’re excited about what the future holds,” adds Watt. “The sky is the limit!”

5 business lessons

1)  Be passionate

2)  Find great people and harness their skills

3)  Take calculated risks

4)  Never take no for an answer

5)  Never lose sight of why you do what you do.


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John Carroll - Helping businesses achieve International success. Head of Product Management & International Business, Santander UK