Ash & Elm Cider Co.

Rooted in Tradition. Crafted for Today.

Filtering by Tag: finance

Starting a Business = Being a Circus Performer

You know the guy at the circus who somehow manages to spin multiple different plates on his fingers, nose, kneecap, and elbow all at the same time? That might be the best metaphor for small business startups that I can imagine. I’ve realized that, though my previous jobs have been in some ways multi-faceted, the scope of those job descriptions are nowhere near as varied as what we’re dealing with now as we get our business off the ground. Luckily, I spent two years in clown college, so everything is going okay. Here are our current spinning plates (cue Radiohead soundtrack):

The Law – Not a plate you want to drop. Federally speaking, we finally received our Federal Alcohol Permit from the TTB at the beginning of December. That was an awesome day, and I think we celebrated by sending a series of emoji-laden texts back and forth for several hours. Our state Alcohol and Tobacco Commission permit is under review at the moment, and once we receive that, we can actually produce and sell cider legally! As soon as that paper comes back, we start our first large(r)-scale test batch on-site.

The Finances – Closing on loans, securing the last bit of private investor money, making sure our budget is on track, trying to anticipate money-pits in advance…fincances are another set of plates that can’t be dropped. The reality is that there are probably about 20 finance plates going at once, and we already know some will drop, but which ones, and when, and can we maybe catch them before they hit the ground? This keeps me up at night.

The Product – The product keeps Aaron up at night. We have our suppliers, we know what equipment we’re going to use, we have great recipes that we’ve made dozens of times on a small scale, but will it all come together when we’re using new equipment in a new environment? We’ve had great reception when we’ve shared our ciders at events over the last year, but everyone loves free alcohol! Will people actually leave their house, drive to our tasting room or to a bar with dozens of beverage options, choose ours, and pay for it?

The Facility – Some pieces of equipment have a six-month lead time. Others you can go buy at Lowes. The rest fall somewhere in the middle. We don’t need all of our equipment to get started, but will need it eventually, so when should we order it, and in what order? Plus, the building is under construction. What if the tanks we ordered in July ship before the new concrete floor has been poured? Where will we put them? Does it really matter if our cinder-block walls are cleaned and painted? Does it $4,000 matter? Should the ADA bathroom go here or there? What grade of insulation do we need, and what grit of epoxy should we put on the floor? Stainless steel floor drains, right? How do we get a sign on the door? Should we get barstools with backs or without? And where will we put the purse hooks (purse hooks matter a lot to women at bars)?! Honestly I could go on forever with the kinds of minute decisions that need to be made Every. Single. Day. I have a whole new respect for anyone who opens a brick and mortar anything.

The Nameless Plate – “I KNOW I’M FORGETTING SOMETHING HUGE BUT WHAT IS IT?!” – me, almost every minute of every day.

So there’s a bit of insight into our lives at the moment. It sounds fear-laden, but it isn’t. It’s invigorating, with a tiny bit of fear and a pretty large dash of manic energy mixed in. And neither of us could be happier.

PS, I didn’t actually go to clown college.

How do you Finance a Craft Cidery?

Finances are a tricky thing. Talking about money is generally considered poor manners, and asking other people to give you money is straight uncomfortable, but if you want to start a business, you’re going to need some cash. There are a few ways to finance your business, including funding it yourself, bringing in investors, or taking out loans, and there are plusses and minuses to each option. Here’s a brief rundown of our thoughts and experiences with each of them.

Self-Funded - If you fund a business yourself, you have to either be wealthy, or you have to start on a small scale. This is especially true in the brewing/fermenting industry. While it’s possible to start on a shoe-string budget, you’d still need upwards of a couple hundred thousand dollars to be on the safe side. The amount of capital equipment you need to get started is expensive, and for the permitting process to even begin, you have to have a signed lease, meaning fronting at least 6 months of rent before you can make your first sale (unless you have a real estate agent who makes some good negotiations on your behalf). If you can manage to fund your business yourself, your growth can only occur by reinvesting your profits into the business. But one of the down sides of starting small is that you can only sell what you can make, and with small equipment, you probably won’t be able to make enough to grow quickly.

Pros: You own 100% of the business, and it’s a much less risky venture than the other options – in some ways! It might not feel less risky to put your life savings into a business, but at least if things go south, no creditors will come looking for you.

Cons: You’ll only be able to start as big as you can afford, and in this industry, that won’t be very big. Growth will be slow and there’s no room for error.

Investor-Funded – If you can’t finance the whole thing yourself, another option is to bring in investors who get a percentage of ownership of your business for the funds they give you. If you’re well-connected to people with both wealth and an entrepreneurial spirit, raising your funds this way can be relatively quick. If you aren’t, it may take a while to reach your target. Luckily, with the rise of successful craft breweries in Indianapolis, investors around here are familiar with the model and in some cases, are itching to get involved.

Pros: You’ll have more funds to get started, and it takes money to make money. You may also benefit from the networks of business contacts, accounting, legal services, etc. your investors bring to the table. In some cases, they can even act as a board of advisors.

Cons: You own less of your company, and someday when you hit it big, you only get a percentage of your earnings. If you don’t maintain majority ownership you could also run into conflict, or in the worst case, be cut out of the management of your company by the other owners.

Debt-Funded – Getting a loan to start your business is a feasible way to raise money, but in today’s climate, small-business loans are fewer and farther between than they have been in the past. Plus, with debt comes interest and repayment terms. One the plus side, the equipment needed for your business has a great re-sale value, which makes a loan a lot less risky from a bank’s perspective. If things go bad and you have to go out of business, you can sell all of your equipment for close to what you paid for it and may be able to walk away cleanly.

Pros: You don’t give away any equity in your business when you take out a loan, so you still own 100%. Banks can also be good partners for the future of your business, so establishing this relationship will help when you want to fund future expansion or get a line of credit opened.

Cons: Making debt repayments early-on, especially as you’re just getting started, can be a tough pill to swallow if you aren’t meeting your sales projections, and defaulting on a loan is scary business.

So what are we doing? Well…all three of course! We put a chunk of our own savings into the business to get things off the ground at the very beginning. We were able to cover the costs of hiring a graphic designer, a legal team, some expanded equipment for testing our recipes, and a fair amount of research and development (traveling to visit cideries and attend conferences). We have some investors on board who believe in our business and also see an opportunity to get a good return on their investment. Finally, we are working with lenders who think we’ll be a good addition to their portfolio.

We’re about 85% of the way funded now, which is happening at just the right time to take this show on the road.

The business side of small business ownership may not be as fascinating to everyone else as it is to us, but we’ve found it to be a constant and rewarding learning experience. If you enjoy learning about business startups, here are a few of the resources we've found valuable:

  •  StartUp Podcast -  This podcast follows the ups and downs of starting a business.
  • SCORE - A branch of the Small Business Association pairs retired former business executives with new business owners. Our SCORE mentor has been a huge help to us.
  • Indy Chamber - The Indianapolis chapter of the Chamber of Commerce provides business support as well as networking opportunities with other business owners in the city. 

Here’s to getting fully-funded in the near future and to entrepreneurship!

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