Know What You Are (Not)


One of the best, in my opinion, entrepreneurial books of all time was written by a guy that started out a lot like me. Dreaming big, starting small. He had a new concept and the drive to see it come to fruition. The book doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about business plans, marketing strategies or keeping the books. You see, this book is about brewing beer.

You’ve probably heard of a little craft brewery in Delaware known for their off-centered ales. That particular little brewery was started by Sam Calagione – brewer, author and part time rapper. Two of those he’s admittedly good at.

Today we are interested in how he did as an author. Brewing Up a Business is Sam’s collection of memoirs and anecdotes that highlight the trials and tribulations of starting a business. In some ways, the book is a lot like this blog. Sam has the good fortune of sitting down to edit his book and put it in some kind of coherent structure – unlike this blog. Live and learn, I suppose.

Anyways, I rarely, if ever, go back and read a book twice. This is one of those exceptions. I am apt to pick up this book whenever I need a new perspective on a problem. The good news about business is that you don’t often come across a problem that someone hasn’t already solved, even if you have a very unique product.

While looking through the book the other day I came across a section that struck a strong chord with an earlier post I did about identity. In it I wrote about nailing the details and not always having to be 100% unique. I still stand by those things, but here’s a summary of what Sam wrote in his book:

Your company’s identity is you first and your offering second.

-Sam Calagione

Same furthers this thought by talking about business cards. A business card conveys to consumers your skills and your ability to provide the product or service that they need. It can’t tell the person exactly who you are but it should describe what you do – at least professionally. Go ahead and take one of your cards out and read it. Can you tell what it is that you do? Are you proud of it and does it give you a sense of purpose?

Once you hit those markers you will start to find satisfaction and enjoyment in what you do.

Adding to that – when you think about it, your products are also your business cards. Each one is a reflection of your skills and abilities and whether or not you provided a great product. Your products are your identity. Your skill and abilities made them – your company’s identity is you. It makes a lot of sense when you deconstruct the concept.

Knowing and understanding, or perceiving, your business and your products is a great way to know what you are not. Starting out, I doubt you are a marketing juggernaut. You’re probably not even ready to launch until you fully know your industry – pricing, comparables, textures, tastes – everything. Once upon a time, in 1837, Proctor and Gamble intimately knew their soaps and candles. They made each one by hand.  13 years after that they finally had an unofficial trademark – a mark made by dock workers to distinguish their crates from the piles of others. Nine years later they made their first million bucks. I think it’s safe to say that brand identity came slowly to P&G but you can bet they knew their product and their customers knew them from the start.

Here’s to identity.

Get the book here: Brewing Up a Business by Sam Calagione. Looks like there’s even a second edition since I got my original copy years and years ago.

For the record, here’s the proof of my business cards.

business-card-front I kinda like

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