Tell us about yourself?
Founder and CEO of Topa Topa Brewing Company based in Ventura CA. Enjoying life one sip at a time.
What do you think is the single biggest misconception people have when it comes to startups?
I think it is commonplace for folks to think that anyone who started their own business did so because they were independently wealthy or had access to tons of capital.
While sometimes the case, that was not our situation when we started Topa Topa. Starting a brewery is a very capital intensive project and it comes with great investment and tons of risk. I had to put my entire life on the line to get the company going!
What lessons has being an entrepreneur taught you?
Be humble. Listen. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. Also try and understand (or better yet actually do) every job at your company.
Knowing what each job requires allows you to put people in the best position for success and also enables you to empathize with your team and provide for them the best tools possible to complete their jobs.
If you could go back in time to when you first started your business, what piece of advice would you give yourself?
I’d probably raise a bit more money first and foremost. Otherwise I would tell myself to have difficult conversations earlier than you think you need to.
A lot of entrepreneurs find it difficult to balance their work and personal lives. How have you found that?
This is a huge challenge. For me, I really truly love what I do, but no doubt my investment in my career and business has had a strain on my relationship with my family and friends.
Give us a bit of an insight into the influences behind the company?
Topa Topa is a purpose driven craft beer manufacturer with a network of taprooms along the southern central coast of California.
Our wholesale distribution footprint focuses on Central and Southern California. As a 1% For the Planet company we focus on giving 1% of our sales to environmental causes.
We take pride in our involvement in our community and allows our core value of community spirit grow in our taprooms and beyond.
What do you think is your magic sauce? What sets you apart from the competitors?
First off, we make great beer and keep it very fresh in the market. Quality and consistency combined with freshness makes for a great experience for our customers.
Beyond that, our brand is very welcoming and is highlighted by our 1% For the Planet commitment. We believe that in a crowded marketplace, consumers connect more deeply with brands that are clear about their purpose and mission.
We are fortunate to be able to tell our story through our 5 taprooms, connecting in a direct and personal way with so many consumers.
Our hope is that the connection they form with us in our taprooms leads them to purchase our product when they are shopping at the grocery or liquor store!
How have you found sales so far? Do you have any lessons you could pass on to other founders in the same market as you just starting out?
Our sales have been solid from day one of starting our company. We are still constantly chasing the production of our best selling beer, Chief Peak IPA. It seems that no matter how much we grow our capacity we are constantly chasing that beer.
Our wholesale growth has been measured in the past few years, and obviously took on a larger importance during COVID, but now we are settling into our new normal and expanding wholesale quite a bit.
What do you consider are the main strengths of operating your business in California over other states in the US?
Specific to our industry, craft beer, California has some very progressive laws that allow a small, independent craft brewery expand.
We are allowed to have multiple taprooms under one license (5 total satellites as I type this) and we are allowed to distribute and ship beer directly to consumers, both retailers and individuals. This helps, especially in the early days when you are just too small to attract larger scale distribution partners.
What (if any) are the weaknesses of operating your business within California?
Taxes. Super high rents. Soaring property values. All of these are barriers to keeping and using cash to grow your company.
We are currently suffering through a cost of living crisis. With California already being one of the most expensive states to live in, how has this impacted your business?
We have had to raise prices to cover some of our own inflationary related increases, this includes raising wages significantly so that our employees can sustain a modest lifestyle here in CA.
We have lost a few key employees to other states that have a lower cost of living and access to affordable housing.
It is no secret that California is the birthplace of innovation. But that also makes it incredibly competitive. How have you found the competitive environment of California?
Specific to our industry, craft beer, the competitive marketplace has been incredible for us. In fact, the abundance of small and independent craft breweries help us more than hurt us.
In a crowded market, you must have a quality, unique product and brand message to succeed. Being in the California market has made us better.
Have you considered moving your company to another state? If so, which state and why?
No. Our roots are here, our people are here and 95% of our beer is sold here. We aren’t moving and couldn’t move even if we wanted to!
Where do you see your business in the next 5 years?
I’d like to see us open the full scope of taprooms as allowed under the law and complete a statewide distribution network.
And finally, if people want to get involved and learn more about your business, how should they do that?
Email me and come have a beer at our brewery! I love showing folks what we have built.
We are very proud of what we have built here in Ventura and love sharing our story with interested parties. There is no better way to do that than sharing the greatest beverage in the world….. BEER!