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28th Jul 2014

JOE’s Start Up Diary, Week 6 – Michael Cowan of the Manor Brewing Company

Each week here on JOE we’ll be bringing you the personal thoughts and tips from Irish entrepreneur Michael Cowan, founder & CEO of the Manor Brewing Company.


Each week here on JOE we’ll be bringing you the personal thoughts and tips from Irish entrepreneur Michael Cowan, founder & CEO of the Manor Brewing Company. This week, Michael tells us about his previous experience as an entrepreneur…

“There’s no recipe for success, just shear determination”.

I was asked during the week why I seem confident that my startup brewing company will be successful when I have no experience in brewing or even starting a business before.

It was a great question. Fortunately, neither assumption was quite true.

In terms of having no experience in brewing, I recognise my path may be different than the current norm of expert home brewers turned commercial craft brewers. However, I see that as being more of an advantage than an incumbrance for me. I have a passion for brewing, a quick mind, and an attention to detail which I’m told are great starting points.

I have some experience working in a brewery, along with what’s involved in the brewing process – at Guinness in Park Royal London – but not at the ‘coal face’ level. Therefore we are looking to hire an expert master brewer, working alongside myself and my brewing consultant Richard Hamilton. Our strategy is to hire the best to get the best. The rest of us will just have to learn by doing.

In terms of my own startup experience, Century Consulting Ltd, Peloton Management Group Ltd, PMG Sports, and Blacksheep Marketing instantly sprang to mind. These are the names of previous startup businesses I had created over the past twenty years, with a mixed bag of success. Century was a cricket equipment importing company, and a complete disaster in hindsight, as I was working full-time at Procter & Gamble at the time, so I never could give the business the full attention it required to get off the ground.

PMG Sports was a sports marketing company, and in fairness I did deliver the 2006 Budapest Sevens international rugby tournament, as part of the IRB’s European Seven Series. However, I spent too much cash too quickly (including flying in All Black friends John Kirwan and Zinzan Brooke to be my rugby ambassadors in Hungary), and the overall business model was flawed, quite frankly.

Peloton was a marketing consultancy which eventually ‘pivoted’ to become Blacksheep Marketing, after I had immigrated to Ireland over eight years ago. During this period we built up a list of clients including Red Bull, Mars Chocolate, United Biscuits, Arnotts and McDonald’s, and we even got down to the last 3 agencies for Coca-Cola’s ‘Share a Coke’ campaign across Europe. So by most standards, my last startup company has been relatively successful.

I think one thing this tells you, is that I have always held tenancies to be an entrepreneur. Despite working for big corporations, I have found myself becoming less and less ‘employable’. I just never felt comfortable working for ‘The Man’. My early attempts to startup my own business were testing that instinct. One of the benefits of those early failures (and there aren’t many benefits in failing!), was that they forced me to understand why the business model was flawed, and why I had failed.

They all strengthen your resolve for the future. Well that future is now.

We have been invited to be a guest craft brewery at the Wild Atlantic Craft Beer Festival in Ballyshannon this weekend 1-3 August, where we will be tasting our Mont™ Bitter Blonde and Mont™ Wit Bier, as well as our ‘stable mates’ from my native New Zealand, Moa Pale Ale and Moa Noir Lager; a Gold Medal winner at last February’s Dublin Craft Beer Cup.

If you are up that way, please stop by and say hello!

We will give a full report from Ballyshannon next week, but in the meantime please follow us on Twitter (@ManorBrewingCo) for more behind-the-scenes updates.

Yours in craft,

Michael Cowan