(Product / Market Fit) and Brewing

 

Chris McClellan

 

I’m back with a post about beer, brewing technology, and the go to market strategy behind these extremely clever, and rather unfortunate, homebrewing machines that seem to have popped into existence and penetrated the market quite thoroughly in 2018. I know y’all have missed my posts on marketing and my misanthropic rants on the world. Buckle up.

The most well known of the machines, the PicoBrew, has been on the market for a number of years now.

The most well known of the machines, the PicoBrew, has been on the market for a number of years now.

With the holiday gifting season upon us, and many a beer fan’s husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, or mom and dad looking for a unique and heartfelt beer-themed gift for the one they love, they will undoubtedly stumble upon one these machines, which beyond their basic function of being an all-in-one brewing machine, offer a novelty rarely seen in the technology/homebrew space. It’s appealing, and very interesting, and I completely understand why you’d buy one.

I’ll get into the details and the marketing shortly, but I’ll cut to the chase and then back into my point:

  1. They’re all, universally, rubbish - Someone had to say it. You simply shouldn’t spend your money on these devices, regardless of how clever the technology is . I’m willing to be convinced otherwise, but as of right now, I’m not. They make, at best, okay beer, and they don’t improve any part of the process of homebrewing.

  2. They completely miss the point of being a homebrewer - The entire point is perfecting the art, and the science, of brewing beer. Getting good at brewing takes time, and study, and thousands of hours of being ok at brewing until you get really good at it. Making good beer will always take time and experience. You do not homebrew to save time.

  3. These machines don’t solve a problem that exists in the world - This will be the gist of this post, but it’s important to note that most companies fail because they don’t find a good product/market fit, not because they’re technology isn’t clever, their people aren’t motivated, or their ideas lack novelty. Most of the failed products and services you see (or saw) on the market didn’t fail because the people behind the scenes were stupid or incapable. Most companies fail, and most companies have a lot of clever people who started them.

The Market

After a quick, cursory search of the current homebrew machines on the market, here’s what I found in the past 5 minutes:

I’m sure there’s more of them out there.

A few specific issues with these machines

  • They do not make enough beer to make it worth it most of the time - Most of them make around a gallon of beer, which is less than a 12 pack. Your typical homebrew, brewed traditionally, would usually be between 3-5 gallons at minimum, which gives you a much better ROI for the time you put in.

  • They’re very expensive and they’re complete unitaskers- A Pico Pro is $550. A BeerMKR is $400. The MiniBrew is at least $600. They also do nothing else besides make mediocre beer. For a sum total of $350, I could get you started with an epic (and frankly unnecessary) homebrew kit that would make at least 10 gallons of beer right of the bat, if you so cared. For way less, buy a large 5 gallon stainless pot, a wort chiller, a hydrometer, a thermometer, and a carboy for $200 total and you’re good to go.

  • They don’t make you a better brewer - Making good beer takes time and effort. It takes trial and error. It takes a keen awareness of the chemistry, science, and process that goes into each batch. It takes respect for the origination of beer styles and the provenance of their ingredients. It takes afternoon homebrew days and meetups with your buddies and a lot of frank conversations on how to get better. This isn’t a process that lends itself to automation…and this is coming from a guy that loves automating his life whenever he can.

  • They limit your creativity - They almost all take prepackaged packets and recipes, which completely limits your ability to brew styles outside of their lists. Want to make a schwartzbier? Too bad…they don’t have that packet ready yet. What about a Gose? Nope…but that’s coming in 6 months.

Product/Market Fit

New ideas are a dime a dozen. Good ideas are quite rare. Good ideas that can make you a lot of money are incredibly rare. Getting a concept from the idea stage to the “a lot people will pay money for this” stage successfully means that you’ve achieved product/market fit.

The term “product/market fit” was actually coined by Marc Andreesen (of hedge fund fame) in the past couple decades…a relatively new term in the litany of buzzwords around startup culture.But it’s a very basic idea with a potent impact on the viability of your idea. In a nutshell, if you want people to pay for your product or service, you need to make sure your product or service fills a value need for your target customer. The larger the potential market, the more potential money there is to be made, as it will satisfy a larger group of people. Makes sense right?

You generally have to back your way into product/market fit. Your first idea gets the ball rolling, but iteration is (generally) the key to success. You try and fail quite a few times before the product or service your offering brings value to the right group of people willing to pay for it. The metrics behind this are generally simple and straightfoward…things like high engagement, good worth of mouth, good reviews, solid sales cycles, etc.

The basic issue with these homebrew machines is that none of them have achieved anything close to product/market fit while somehow garnering serious financial backing, whether it’s corporate investment or crowdfunded equity. If a kickstarter raises hundreds of thousands of dollars (a bunch of the machines I outlined above have raised that much on crowdfunding sites) prior to the product getting stress tested first, then we have an issue on our hands.

More to the point, and I mentioned above, these machines aren’t solving a problem that’s worth solving. Making beer at home the “old-fashioned” way with pots and pans and thermometers and syphons isn’t a “problem”…it’s how you make beer. Huge, industrial breweries that make millions of barrels of beer a year also make it the “old-fashioned” way as well, granted they’ve automated part of that process. Technology revolutionized brewing over the past 150 years, and it continues to improve the process to this day through iteration and thought leadership. There could be a disruptive appliance that completely changes the homebrew landscape in years to come, but these aren’t it.

GO GET INSPIRED

Making beer has been a foundational skill in human communities for literally thousands of years. It’s interesting and fun and nerdy and delicious. My advice to anyone who’s interested in brewing beer at their house, or learning to brew commercially, is simple:

For anyone who’s looking to get inspired by the homebrew bug, I would suggest a weekly trip to a local brewery for starters. Become friends with the people behind the bar, and the brewers, and start asking some basic questions on how they started on their journey to brewing. Hearing these stories first hand is how I got into the beer business over a decade ago, and I can’t think of a better way to get inspired. Additionally, almost every single midsize city in this country has a regional homebrew club, and they’re absolutely stuffed with folks who would like to indoctrinate you into the brewing community. Just google it. Homebrew clubs are full of my favorite people in the world, and some of my best friends are avid homebrewers and active members of their local clubs to this day. My point is this…homebrewing is the first step to a fun community of entrepreneurial, open minded people that are worth knowing.

You can also start yourself down any number of self-educated paths. The best way is to work in the beer business to fundamentally understand its marketing levers, consumers, and history. You can also do things like the BJCP or the Cicerone Program if you’d like to benchmark your progress and refine your expertise.