Chat transcript: PortaBeer, 4.24.2014


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Kim Lyons: Today's chat is with Albert and Todd from PortaBeer... who tackled the problem of beer kegs not being portable...

Todd Barnett: We'd love to discuss this over a cold draft, unfortunately, you'll have to provide your own today.

Kim Lyons: I love the picture of the PortaBrew... taken at Heinz Hall, if I remember correctly

Todd Barnett: Yes, the caterer at Heinz Hall, the Common Plea, has used several PortaDraft units at this location for events, as well as several other high-profile venues throughout the city.

Albert Ciuksza: It's after noon, so drinking is fine

@uncapd: Just a big high five to Al amd Todd for their stick to it nature! Congratulations! : : highfive: :

Kim Lyons: Chris Dilla, hi there!

Todd Barnett: Thanks!

Ron: hi guys thanks for the chat. Where can I buy one of these? Is it practical for graduation partys?

Albert Ciuksza: Hey Chris!

Kim Lyons: Hi Ron thanks for joining today

Albert Ciuksza: We sell online at our site PortaBeer.com

Kim Lyons: Are sales online-only at the moment?

Albert Ciuksza: But you can always call us at 8557678223.

Ron: okay thank you very much, we will get in touch

@uncapd: Are you coming to the National Restaurant Show n May?

Albert Ciuksza: We don't have any retail distribution at the moment, mostly because we like talking to our customers directly

Todd Barnett: We're looking at the show for next year. We were recently at the National Nightclub and Bar Show in Las Vegas and the Craft Beer Show in Denver.

Kim Lyons: One detail I wasn't able to get into the article was a story you guys told me about how a theft of one of the units actually helped market it a little

Kim Lyons: how did that work out?

Todd Barnett: Overall, it was great publicity. We still get asked to this day if the unit has found it's way back home.

Albert Ciuksza: Ha, no way we were getting it back

Kim Lyons: Next Q is from our friends at Should I Drink That:

@sidt: I saw this at Bocktown one night and thought it was pretty slick. What made you think "Hey, you know what we need to make..."

Kim Lyons: (I am picturing the picnic table brainstorming session...)

Todd Barnett: Albert and I, along with other friends, were on a trip and had rigged up a home-made jockey box. It really didn't work well, so we started looking online for anything better - but the best we could find was a trash can strapped to a dolly for $950...

Kim Lyons: (trash cans not being the most enticing way to serve beer... )

Todd Barnett: We thought that we could definitely make something that was more portable, more attractive, and more functional.

Albert Ciuksza: You'v used a jockey box, I'm sure. We made a horrible one

Kim Lyons: for those of us who lean toward wine... what is a jockey box (or do I want to know?)

Albert Ciuksza: From there, it was blind, hopeless arrogance

@sidt: Kinda like this? http: //img2.wikia.nocookie....

Todd Barnett: Sidt, exactly!

Kim Lyons: Write your comments here. Click 'Post' to publish.

Kim Lyons: excellent photo

Todd Barnett: A jockey box is a cooler that has ice and beer lines, that generally sits on a table above a keg to dispense beer.

Todd Barnett: Often times, there is a cold plate or cooling coils to chill the beer. Other times, the beer is placed in an icy bucket to keep cold.

Albert Ciuksza: Even worse!

Kim Lyons: Next question is a practical concern:

anon: does this work for any kind of beer?

Todd Barnett: Yes. We fit all standard size kegs: 1/2 barrels, 1/4 barrels, 1/6ths, and European sizes...So we can handle any major brand, craft brews and home brews.

Albert Ciuksza: We only do CO2,however. At least until we get done with our next version

Kim Lyons: what are the other options besides CO2? (again, wino here)

Albert Ciuksza: For beers like Guinness, you usually use a mix of Nitrogen and CO2

Todd Barnett: the nitrogen provides a a more silky texture with a thicker foam.

Kim Lyons: and the difference is what... the foaminess?

Kim Lyons: ah

Albert Ciuksza: Or, you can hand pump with air, but that's a bad idea.

Todd Barnett: Oxygen is the enemy of beer

Kim Lyons: I am learning so much! I admit I am a beer Luddite

Kim Lyons: Mr. Simpson has a question about a possible use:

Albert Ciuksza: Really is... Even worse than wine

Kim Lyons: (also haha Mr. Simpson)

HOMER SIMPSON: is this something we could use at our tail gate? It looks like it would fit in the trunk of a car

Albert Ciuksza: Yes, definitely!

Kim Lyons: And some marketing advice from the beer empress herself:

@uncapd: I see caterers, larger venues-concert space, festivals, golf courses as a great market for you. Don't limit to one at a time sales! Ha! That photo is awesome. Entrepreneur photo collage/chat....

Todd Barnett: Although every trunk is different - We can easily fit them in SUVs and our salesperson uses the back seat of his Impala.

Kim Lyons: (oops, sorry got ahead of you there)

Todd Barnett: Thats ok

Kim Lyons: OK, another functional question re: tap handles

@sidt: Is it just single tap handle or can you run multiple? For instance say you're at a tasting with long lines and you have 2 people pouring. We've seen the Uber Tap online and its fugly.

Albert Ciuksza: We're pretty open to several markets, always looking at new things. Caribbean resorts are a new target

Albert Ciuksza: One per keg, trying to keep it as modular and flexible as possible

Kim Lyons: so one keg, one tap, then

Todd Barnett: Yes

Bright Night: A Larimer Light Festival: Will you be bringing this to Bright Night?

Todd Barnett: While I'll be at Bright Night, it's going to be a dry event, so no.

Kim Lyons: yeah not much use for a beer keg at a dry event : )

Todd Barnett: Although we could always use root beer kegs

Kim Lyons: new product idea

Albert Ciuksza: Root beer floats!

Todd Barnett: There you go! That could be a fun idea

Kim Lyons: see now, this is more in my area of expertise

@uncapd: Kim, for not being a beer gal you sure like to write about it! Thank you for highlighting local small businesses related to beer! My article that you wrote is still bringing me leads, networking and opportunities. We are going to sell the Drink Beer from Here shirts as a one time flash sale May 1-4! (Sorry for shameless self promotion.) I am a #mediaho

Kim Lyons: haha Chris! You're welcome. I am a student of beer, I guess you could say

Kim Lyons: ...a lot to learn!

@sidt: Are there custom theme/designs available such as favorite sports team colors/logo, favorite bocktown or maybe favorite craft beer podcast?

Kim Lyons: branding opportunities... great idea

@sidt: Save us a few shirts @uncapd!

Albert Ciuksza: Ha, definitely can do colors and logos.

Todd Barnett: We can match any color - and have every major sports team colors on file. We have logo options available too, for companies. For sports logos, we offer branded umbrellas to make your party visible from far away.

Kim Lyons: ah, a fellow wine drinker has the next question

Albert Ciuksza: Others available, but yes : )

anonymous: when do you think the wine version will be available? will it look the same?

Albert Ciuksza: Hoping for November, and a similar look but smaller since wine kegs are smaller than what people traditionally think of as a keg

Kim Lyons: a suggestion re: dry events up next:

@uncapd: Consider pouring Kombucha at dry event? It does have some % of alcohol but they sell next to health drinks in groceries.

Albert Ciuksza: Draft wine looks to be a big new opportunity

Kim Lyons: draft wine... same concept as draft beer?

Albert Ciuksza: Sure, we've heard about it, would love to pour Kombucha

Todd Barnett: Yes..although no bubbles. It really is a great way for restaurants to serve wine without the waste of a half-filled bottle.

Albert Ciuksza: Basically the same, with a few technical differences

Kim Lyons: so, same principle, right: oxygen is the enemy

Todd Barnett: Exactly

Kim Lyons: OK next question

tom s.: do you guys do anything with the craft beer week people?

Kim Lyons: (funny you should ask, Tom S.)

Albert Ciuksza: Exactly, but you need more nitrogen, otherwise you'll get bubbly wine

Albert Ciuksza: Not overall, but yes at a couple locations

Kim Lyons: for those not familiar, Pittsburgh Craft Beer Week is coming up. Our Bob Batz wrote about it today: http: //www.post-gazette.com...

Kim Lyons: so guys, a business-related question

Kim Lyons: do you think it would have been easier or harder to launch this product in an area other than Pittsburgh?

Kim Lyons: I know there is a robust craft beer community here, but wonder about the business climate for this kind of niche product

Albert Ciuksza: Ha, whew...

Todd Barnett: That's a good one. Pittsburgh is unique in that you are always only one or two introductions away from anyone. It's remarkable who all you can meet and everyone has been incredibly supportive.

Kim Lyons: ha did I put you on the spot there, Albert? : D

Todd Barnett: That being said, our biggest sales have come from outside of the area.

Albert Ciuksza: We've had great support here to develop the product and company, which is huge

Kim Lyons: it's interesting you say that, because I have heard that from other Entrepreneurs

Kim Lyons: that initial sales from outside the region can be a lot of help toward establishing a company here.

Albert Ciuksza: I use the analogy of breakfast, the chicken contributed, but the pig committed

Kim Lyons: Beer and bacon... this is like the greatest chat ever, you guys.

Kim Lyons: (of course now I am starving)

Kim Lyons: I have another good question queued up, you guys ready?

Albert Ciuksza: Lots of supporters, a great network, lots of advice. But eventually, you need revenue, and first money does tend to come from outside.

Albert Ciuksza: (And, I'm thirsty Kim)

Robert J. Cannell: will you be on that Bar Rescue show again do you think? How did you get their interest?

Kim Lyons: (oy me too, Albert)

Albert Ciuksza: We really hope to bigger part of the next season, which starts to film in August.

Kim Lyons: A link, for those not familiar with the show: http: //www.spike.com/shows/...

Todd Barnett: Through a lot of emails, we were able to get in contact with their producers, who forwarded our emails on to the host, John Taffer, who really liked the product.

Albert Ciuksza: But, no guarantees. Our first experience was a blast and all initial indications seem to suggest we'll be rescuing more in the future

Kim Lyons: #heroes

Kim Lyons: What is Taffer like, did you get to talk to him much?

Kim Lyons: he seems ... gruff.

Albert Ciuksza: We do it for the children

Kim Lyons: (the beer-drinking children?)

Kim Lyons: ;)

Albert Ciuksza: Met him at the Nightclub & Bar Show in Las Vegas. Didn't have a dirty bar, so he was pleasant to me : )

Todd Barnett: The Bar that the units went to has been great to work with too. One of the neat things that you didn't get to see on the episode was how well the unit worked in their outdoor performance space. While it was cold when the episode was filmed, it has since warmed, and they can have mobile draft beer when they have acts outside.

Kim Lyons: have they been really rescued, then? They're doing well now, I take it.

Todd Barnett: Well, they've actually bought four more to keep up with their demand. So, it seems like things have picked up!

Kim Lyons: wow, nice

Albert Ciuksza: We heard that they did a ton of business the week after the show aired and they've had a hard time keeping up with it all, which is a good problem to have.

Albert Ciuksza: The owner is a great guy, Taffer called him one of his favorite bar owners. The rescue was a huge benefit.

Kim Lyons: that's kind of the ideal, right? I always like to see shows like that follow up and see how the place has done since the makeover.

Kim Lyons: couple more questions queued up from some lurkers : )

Todd Barnett: alright..would love to hear them

Albert Ciuksza: Oh yeah, for sure. Nothing is perfect, but it really helped them to differentiate in a tough market. It's a nightmare of a business, and I really respect bar owners for what they're able to manage.

Kim Lyons: absolutely

Kim Lyons: OK, Bill has one (and he's read the article, so thanks, Bill!)

Bill: any plans to try crowdfunding again and what would you do differntly?

Albert Ciuksza: No plans at the moment, we've bootstrapped the business since the launch last year. If we raised money again, it would likely be a loan or traditional equity investment

Albert Ciuksza: Crowdfunding is really a marketing pre-sale campaign disguised as a way to fund an opportunity.

Kim Lyons: that is an interesting way to put it, actually.

Todd Barnett: A lesson that we learned was that crowdfunding works best when there is something that you can give as a reward tat lower levels that more approximates the final product. Since we can't give actual beer away, it's hard to give out miniature versions of commercial products.

Kim Lyons: ah, good point

Kim Lyons: I know it's not as easy as just "hey, give us money!"

Kim Lyons: OK I think we have time for one more question before we wrap up

Todd Barnett: Right. You have to return something of value in exchange.

Albert Ciuksza: Frankly, the depressing thing is that we did it for an independent study for our MBAs at Katz. Though, they say you learn more from failure than success.

Kim Lyons: see, that's another key to being an entrepreneur, right: You can't be afraid to fail

Kim Lyons: or, can't be *too* afraid to fail

Albert Ciuksza: Which, by the way, this business itself is an MBA. We tried doing things the right way and STILL made major mistakes along the way.

Kim Lyons: sounds like a lot of material for your memoirs

Kim Lyons: "The PortaBeer Story"

Albert Ciuksza: I don't see that as bestseller material : )

Kim Lyons: ha

Kim Lyons: OK last Q:

Albert Ciuksza: 20-page free e-book? : )

Todd Barnett: some of it is online at our blog: http: //blog.portabeer.com/

Vince M.: Are you guys going to expand at all and will you be hiring in the near future?

Albert Ciuksza: We hope to expand, for sure. Getting a real office will be a good start to that : )

Kim Lyons: Any final thoughts before we wrap, guys?

Albert Ciuksza: Beyond that, I do see that we would need some additional help a few months from now, particularly in sales/account management and some marketing support. It's really going to depend on how things continue to grow.

Albert Ciuksza: Here's something that I think is exceptionally important...

Albert Ciuksza: We've been at this for almost five years. Lots of challenges, late nights, all of that stuff.

Albert Ciuksza: People talk about entrepreneurship being like a rollercoaster, and it's true, though the analogy goes further than that.

Albert Ciuksza: There's the 45 minute wait before the ride, which is what a lot of the business can feel like. Hours and hours of work and thinking and waking up in the middle of the night with an idea interspersed with a couple of rises and falls. It's not glamorous. Don't let Heinz Hall letting us use them as a backdrop fool you.

Kim Lyons: nicely put

Todd Barnett: It's hard to give a magic formula to success because, in the end, effort and attitude are all you can control. Build a good team, realize when something isn't working, and try to make adjustments on the fly.

Albert Ciuksza: It's articles (and chats) like these that are the fun parts of what is often a very challenging game. But, it's what makes it all worth it. So, thank you, Kim (and everyone joining) for letting us be a part of this.

Kim Lyons: My pleasure, thanks for participating!

Todd Barnett: Yes, thank you all!

Kim Lyons: Our Entrepreneur series can be found here: http: //www.post-gazette.com...

Kim Lyons: And if you know of an entrepreneur I should talk to for a story, please let me know! klyons @ post-gazette.com

Kim Lyons: Thanks Albert and Todd! Keep me posted on your next adventure

Todd Barnett: Will do, and cheers!

Kim Lyons: Cheers!


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