Brewing up new business: Darren Smith on launching Lake of Bays

Darren Smith started to make his own beer in his university apartment. Having a new found appreciation for the brew the idea of making a career path seemed like a solid one. After working in a small Ontario brewery Darren moved to Baysville and opened his own company, Lake of Bays, in 2010 with a single signature Pale Ale. 

Within 2 years the brewery was employing 25 people and quadrupled first year sales. Today they offer a wide selection of award winning seasonal beers available in LCBO, Beer Stores and various bars.

LoB

Thinking back to the first two years Darren recalls:

“The first year was nuts. The hardest days were when it felt like there were more things that needed to get done than I/we could possibly do, we had very few support staff and every problem landed square in my lap. 

“The best days were the ones where we hit some of the basic milestones involved in starting a brewery – receiving our production equipment (Ooh! Shiny!), brewing our first batch of beer, opening the doors for the first time, landing some of our first customers. These moments helped to cut through the day-to-day clutter and made me feel like I was running a real, live business.

“One of the big challenges in the second year was the staff turnover. We were growing quickly and learning very quickly what skill sets were needed for the various roles within the organization. People’s roles were changing and expanding in the space of just a few months, and that threw a lot of people for a loop. We had an almost complete turnover of staff in our second year in business – no-one was left from the original group we’d started with.

“The other big challenge in year two was simply realizing the scale of the task we’d taken on, building a production brewery from scratch and having to build enough volume to become profitable. 

I don’t think anybody really knows what they’re getting themselves into when they start a new business

“OK, maybe some people do, but we certainly hadn’t fully understood the scale we would need to build to in order to have a sustainable operation.

“What kept me going? Sheer bloody-mindedness, and the fact that I owed a lot of people a lot of money. I don’t like to quit.”

When I started this project in early December I was under the impression that a feeling of “making it” was a real feeling, like a stage of entrepreneurship people hit at some point so I begun asking people about it. As it turns out, “making it” as an entrepreneur is not a common feeling or even one people chose to fully admit to:

“…am I supposed to be feeling that right now? …I’m not sure if I’ll ever feel like I’ve made it. I think I’d be worried that if I felt that way, I’d be letting myself get complacent.”

I thought Darren’s story was a great one to start with because in those few brief paragraphs he covers a lot of unexpected issues: having to deal with more problems than you anticipate, exponential growth, and underestimating the scale of the project. It was also one of my favorite responses to the “making it” question from the first few participants, the humble feeling of success that Darren illustrates is one that we will see a lot in the future posts.

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