'Don't fuck up the culture' and other lessons brands can learn from Brewdog according to founder James Watt

BrewDog is not a brand to mess about. Its bark has fought off bites from alcohol giants like the Portman Group and Diageo in recent years.

An unrelenting manifesto and a self-styled punk identity has earned the beer maker a reputation for mischief, and a year-on-year turnover boost of 50 per cent to boot.

Starting life in 2007 with just two employees, the Aberdeen-based brewer is now available across 60 countries and employs 750 staff.

Founder James Watt puts the craft brewer’s success down to a “disruptive company culture.” Speaking today at TedX Glasgow, he offered some advice on what other brands stand to learn from BrewDog’s approach and how brands can bridge the gap between their business and the community that supports it, making the external become the internal.

"Internal = external"

Watt told the audience that the main thing that has underpinned BrewDog’s journey has been learning to drop the distinction between what happens outside the company, and what happens in it.

Internal culture has got to "sync seamlessly" with external perception, he said – in other words “the days of ‘the disconnect’ are over.”

"If you imagine a coin, but not with heads or tails – on one side you’ve got internal and on the other, external. In today’s new business reality the coin is spinning so quickly that these blur into one."

"The best companies are alive to this and are taking advantage of it," he asserted, "today you don’t just want to give customers a peek behind the curtain, you want to spin the coin quickly and give them the keys to the house."

"Don’t fuck up the culture"

Pointing out that culture is organic and can’t be "imposed", Watt noted that if a brand fosters integrity as a key part of its ethos then this can become a “currency” to building a lasting and sustainable company culture.

This is something that's evident in Brewdog’s ‘charter’ (aka its mission statement) which includes such declarations as ‘we bleed craft beer’, ‘we blow shit up’, and ‘without us, we are nothing’. Watt outlined how the brand’s overarching philosophies dictates how it comes to any decision big, or small.

"If you can't put your values on a t-shirt, you should burn them," he claimed.

And, brands shouldn't write off culture as something that doesn’t translate into sales warned Watt. "Company culture directly impacts the quality of your competence regardless of what you do. The quality of your competence directly impacts the price point you can charge for that and that impacts your gross margin."

So basically, brands which "don't fuck up the culture," will knock down the walls between them and their consumers.

"Hire (and fire) by your values"

The brewery co-founder's militant attitude towards recruitment has courted controversy once before following an appearance on BBC reality show Who's the Boss. He faced criticism on Twitter for his unique job specification, which changed as the show went on and his attitude towards the candidates involved, but that didn't stop him dishing out advice on the subject.

"Hire, and more importantly fire, by the values you adhere to as a company."

Watt added: "Most company values are a a collection of acronyms and buzzwords pulled together by a management consultancy firm, who don't give a damn about their own culture, let alone anyone else's."

"Community source, don't crowdsource"

From the brand's multi-part brewing initiative #Mashtag, through to its Equity for Punks investment scheme – BrewDog is no stranger to turning to its fans for ideas.

It can't be 'crowdsourced' though; it has to be community-based: "I hate crowdsourcing, because at the end of the day the crowd don't give a damn, you can community source but first you've got to put in the time to build a community that care about what you do."

It recently repaid the favour by sharing its entire recipe collection online via a 'DIY Dog' PDF book.

Equity for Punks, described by Watt as a "massive gamble" cost £100,000 to set up when BrewDog only had £50,000 in the bank.

"We wanted to take small business finance kicking and screaming into the 21st century," he said.

Now, with over 42,000 shareholders, Watt has billed the move as "the ultimate incarnation of the philosophy of obliterating the distance" between BrewDog and the people who enjoy the beer that it makes.

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