There was a day in 2007 when Boston Beer Company founder Jim Koch and a team of his employees had just finished painting a local community center, but instead of feeling fulfilled, he felt like he had just wasted everybody’s time.
“It was one of those ‘feel good’ things and everybody reacted positively to it, but I remember walking back to my car, thinking, ‘You know, I don’t feel that great about what we just did,'” he said.
Koch explained to Business Insider that he loved the idea of using the success fuelled by his Samuel Adams beer brand to help others, but he felt like there was a better way to achieve it than amateur renovations.
“What’s exciting about being an entrepreneur is that you add value, hopefully in new ways,” he said. “And what bothered me about that day is we probably spent $US20,000 worth of management time to do $US3,000 worth of mediocre painting. And that wasn’t, at least to me, adding value.”
That’s when he decided to develop a new approach to charitable ventures, and the Brewing the American Dream program was born the next year.
Through the program, entrepreneurs in the food and beverage and hospitality industries can attend free “speed coaching” sessions or apply for loans.
The speed coaching sessions get their names from their similarity to speed dating.
About 50 people attend one of the several sessions held throughout the US, spending the first hour of the night getting to know other entrepreneurs and thinking of questions to ask. Then they will meet with a coach affiliated with the Boston Beer Company or Koch himself. Each coach has a specific area of expertise and will spend 20 minutes discussing a particular problem the entrepreneur is facing. The entrepreneur can meet with up to six coaches.
He said the discussions are focused on practical and specific advice rather than general maxims or management theory. The idea for a couple hours of “nuts-and-bolts” knowledge was inspired by his own experience.
When Koch founded his company in 1984, “I had an MBA from Harvard, a law degree from Harvard, six or seven years of management consulting,” he said. “But guess what? I didn’t know how to make a sales call. I didn’t know how to design a label. I didn’t know how to do a real-estate lead or set up a payroll. I didn’t know how to get publicity for my business.”
Carlene O’Garro, founder of Delectable Desires Pastries in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, was the first recipient of a Brewing the American Dream loan and has developed a close working relationship with Koch and his team. She said she’s gone to two or three speed coaching sessions in each of the past six years, attending in search of advice for issues like whether or not to take a business opportunity or how to deal with a problematic employee.
O’Garro said the defining characteristics of Koch are that he’s “very casual, very open, and gets straight to the point,” and that this is also the vibe of the coaching sessions. She also noted that the coaches give very specific advice and make themselves available to any entrepreneur they meet.
Marta Jankowska, cofounder of San Diego microbrewery ChuckAlek, was the latest recipient of the annual “Experienceship” mentorship program for brewers in the Brewing the American Dream program, and said that Koch’s coaching style surprised her.
“I can’t believe how quickly he got to the heart of the problem,” she said. “Within 10 minutes he said, ‘These three things are your problems, and here’s how you’ll solve them.'”
Through Brewing the American Dream, the Boston Beer Company has coached more than 4,000 entrepreneurs since 2008, and in partnership with its microlending partner, Accion, has made about 400 loans totaling $US4 million, at a repayment rate of 98.1%.
Koch said that unlike painting a community center, it’s a project that gives him fulfillment and establishes his company as a leader in the craft brewing industry.
“We discovered that 20 minutes of solid advice can take people from zero to 80% or 90% of where they need to be in a particular area,” Koch said. “And that’s plenty good.”
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