“Louis CK is my mentor”: An interview with Vanguard Beer Collective founder: James Winans 6 years ago

“Louis CK is my mentor”: An interview with Vanguard Beer Collective founder: James Winans

Over the past 11 weeks we've interviewed each of the eleven finalists taking part in The AIB Start-Up Academy. For our final chat we caught up with James Winans, founder of Vanguard Beer Collective and winner of the AIB Start-Up Academy Wildcard, to find out what it's like to be part of an Irish start-up and the key pieces of advice he has been given so far in his career.

Vanguard Beer Collective (VBC) is a marketing and distribution agency to the burgeoning Irish craft beer industry. VBC gives publicans and restaurateurs easy access to many different independent microbreweries across the country through a single contact, order, delivery and invoice.


VBC also gives pubs and restaurants the opportunity to have rotation taps and access to many limited and seasonal beers.

What prompted you to start your business?

I saw a hole in the craft beer industry that needed support in order to succeed.

Why did you choose to go into the craft beer industry? What research did you undertake before starting out?

I love big flavour, quality and ingredients and supporting local businesses.

What did you do to make you stand out from the competition?

We work hard to share our passion, and our brewers passion, with our customers.


What is your USP? How did you decide to market your USP?

Our USP is our passion and knowledge of the industry.

What has been your biggest barrier since starting up Vanguard Beer Collective?

Cash flow, cash flow and cash flow.

Have you had many mentors? What has been the best advice they have given you?


Louis CK is my mentor. He said, “Whenever you leave behind failure that means you’re doing great. If you think everything you’ve done has been great, you’re probably dumb.”

What has been your greatest moment since starting up?

Every evening and weekend that I’m home with my family instead of being in a restaurant kitchen.

And your worst?


The occasional moments of self doubt when I question whether I know what I’m doing at all.

What’s the bravest decision you have had to make in business so far?

Packing in the chef whites, investing all of our savings and starting VBC.

Name three things you have learnt at the AIB Start Up Academy so far…

  1. How to network confidently. I can’t believe it’s so easy!
  2. Sales technique and the psychology behind it.
  3. A much greater understanding of marketing and figuring out who it is we are marketing to.

What are your three pieces of advice you would give to somebody starting off?

  1. Don’t indulge in the negativity of others.
  2. Always remember why you started the business in the first place.
  3. Do something you're really passionate about, starting a business is a lot of work, so you better make sure you enjoy it.

What Fortune 500 company would you MOST like to be in charge of?

Who has time for a fortune 500 company? I’m too busy building Vanguard up to that level right now.

What are your “cheats” or “hacks” for making life easier in the business world?

Put together a great team. Find people that are great at doing the things you aren’t. Do the things you are great at.

Who would you prefer to face off with in a fight to the death: Bill Gates or Donald Trump? Keep in mind that the winner keeps the loser’s business…

Donald Trump for sure. And then I’d wear that fantastic hairpiece as a trophy.