How history inspired the right business idea

IMG-20130815-00452Sam Calagione, founder and president of Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, looked to history for inspiration when he founded his microbrewery in the mid-1990s. He researched ancient brewing cultures and learned that brewers made beer with whatever “was beautiful” and natural and grew where they lived.

The company now makes a whole range of Ancient Ales inspired by historic and molecular evidence found in tombs and dig sites.

“You often hear about the pursuit of the new new thing,” Calagione said in an interview. “But I believe entrepreneurs have a lot to gain by looking into history for inspiration.”

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, based in Milton, Delaware, US, opened in 1995, produces 75,000 barrels of beer annually. Calagione’s interest in craft beer emerged in the early 1990s while working at a bar in New York that served micro brewed beer.

Sam’s creative philosophy has resulted in collaboration with businesses outside the beer industry. Dogfish Head worked with the Grateful Dead to create a strong pale ale called “American Beauty”, a pickle company to create a pickle with beer ingredients and an old glass company in Europe to design a unique IPA glass. The company doesn’t analyse competitors because focusing on the competition will deprive the business of its creative culture and independent thinking.

Finding your right idea for a new product or service and realising its commercial potential through the vehicle of a new venture doesn’t mean that it has to be your best idea. With refinement and testing your first idea can lead to the right idea.

Interest in micro-brewing products has increased over the past few decades as consumers have become more adventurous and discerning in their tastes. Micro brewers are helping to loosen the iron grip of the mass-market breweries that produce lakes of industrial beer for the masses, making all sorts of claims about quality and tradition with spending of millions on marketing and advertising. For years they smashed any competition and destroyed little breweries that tried to provide variety on the market.

In South Africa there are about 55 micro-breweries with a number growing rapidly over the past several years. Hotels, restaurants and bars are more willing to take on special micro-brewed beers because customers are demanding variety.

Ideas for new products don’t necessarily need to be unique as 55 microbreweries show. But each new product must have a compelling selling proposition. Even a deep interest in history can provide inspiration for that compelling point of difference.

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