When Jim Koch told his father in 1984 that he wanted to leave his job at Boston Consulting Group and build a business around their family’s old beer recipe, his dad immediately told him it was a terrible idea.
Koch was in his early 30 with three degrees from Harvard and a family to support, and was making around $250,000 a year in his consulting job. On top of that, the microbrewery industry was shrinking, as giants like Budweiser and Coors ate up the market.
But despite the first class flights and fancy hotels, Koch recently said over a beer tasting at Business Insider’s New York headquarters, he wasn’t happy with this traditional notion of what it meant to be successful.
He’d much rather bounce around Boston’s dive bars at night trying to convince their owners to sell the Samuel Adams Boston Lager he was so proud of.
Fast forward to 2016: His Boston Beer Company produces 1% of the beer in America (all American craft breweries account for roughly 11%) and has made him a billionaire, richer than he ever imagined.
The wealth isn’t what brings him joy, he said:
A lot of people, particularly in business, they think, ‘Well, I’m only successful if I start a business and it makes me really rich.’ And the reality is, most people — that’s not going to happen. It happens to one in a few thousand people. But, if you reframe that and say, ‘What if I start a business that’s going to make me really happy.’ That’s success.
Success, to him, is sticking to your idea and overcoming challenges to make it a reality. “Boston Lager was my first beer,” he said. “There were five beer distributors in Boston — none of them wanted it. None of them would carry it. Every distributor turned me down. But I was very determined, so in Boston I was able to start up my own distributor, put cold beer in my briefcase, call on bars, from bar to bar to bar, for years. And eventually Sam Adams became a brewing icon, kind of a household word. But it started in failure.”
By Koch’s definition, a fulfilled yet striving main street boutique owner can be just as successful as the owner of a billion-dollar business.
In an interview with Business Insider last year, Koch said, “I tell everyone, getting rich is life’s biggest booby trap. It comes down to what would you rather be, happy or rich? I say do what’s gonna make you happy.”
Below, watch the full video of our beer tasting with Koch, where we discuss some new Sam Adams brews and his business philosophy.
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