Steven Burkhart: Hey, everybody. Welcome to the digital hustle show digital version. Here we are on zoom and I have Merlin from Wartega Brewing. And yeah, if you could just introduce yourself a little bit and just kind of tell people what you’re all about, and then we can kind of, after that, get into the journey of how you got here.

Merlin Ward: Sure. Sounds good. So we’re taking it is a brewery that my wife and I started in Brooklyn. I was born in Arizona. We recently came back to Arizona after having our first child and we intended to, to launch Wartega here in Arizona. Of course things have gone a little sideways since then, but we’re still, we’re still kicking around. We’re still beer out this year.

Steven: So so just to kind of talk a little bit about your history as an entrepreneur and as a business owner and really to someone who’s like been, I don’t know it to be honest, kind of seems like brave and just like going into these new industries and, and what kind of started, you know, kicked off that journey that you had when it came to doing your own thing? Yeah.

Merlin: Well, so in college is actually when I got started in my entrepreneurial kind of path myself and a group of other students started what is essentially now the entrepreneurship program at ASU. We were kind of the fledgling group of kids that started exploring entrepreneurship as a as a means to, to survive as to, you know, to live as an, a true American dream kind of thing, right? This is around the same time the shark tank at launch. So it was like all this all these things coming out about entrepreneurship and small business ownership. So these groups of students and I were doing this before, or at the same time that like Gary V was just starting to get into the small business hustle. He was still doing wine library at the time. Shark tank had just come on TV.

Merlin: So there was this big boom of entrepreneurship and really exciting as a younger students to explore a business in that way. And I was already going to school for business and marketing. So I actually gave up my, my college scholarship to do my business for a year. And the business that we’d launched was I like to call it a pre Uber. It was a membership based limousine service dedicated to nightlife. And we had two, two or three cars running around in between mill Avenue, Scottsdale. It was exciting, but you know, with those assets we were a little over leveraged from 2008 hit and people stopped going out and we ended up having to close it, but it was through that. I really fell in love with the marketing aspect. And then from then on, I was essentially just a madman.

Merlin: I started my own small business as a it was a, it was a social media workshop or social media shop. So we were doing integrated marketing across social media print and advertising, and we were working with small business owners in Arizona. But I really, I really wanted to kind of bite off something a little bit bigger than that. And so I decided to drop the business here and moved to New York to join a bigger agency and work with clients in the, you know, the fortune a thousand fortune 500 range. Right. And that’s what I did a first client that I had out. There was a empire state building, which was exciting for that school shop that I was working in. Yeah. And then then I stepped up from there and actually started working on Madison Avenue for an Omnicom agency where I did a lot of video work and strategy.

Merlin: And it was in that time that I was working in kind of these corporate jobs that I still had this itch to my own business. And when I moved to New York, I needed something to do with my time off because I was, I was engaged at the time, so I wasn’t really going out. I have a few friends that I hung out with, but they, you know, they had their own things going on. So to fill my free time, I started homebrewing and quickly move through the home brain. You know, rings groups started very small. One, one gallon batches, five gallon, batches bottle kegerators started having 20, 25 gallons of beer on tap and with time in my, in my apartment. And then my my whole brain friends and I decided that we needed an organization to, so we started what is now new York’s largest and most diverse Homebrew club called the broom and Aries. And we went from, yeah, we went from five founding members to over a hundred. And I think now 60 members in just five short years,

Steven: Dang,

Merlin: Maybe it would be fun. I’ve never worked in a regulated industry. I mean, I guess the limousine service was regulated to some degree, but I’ve never had to pay excise tax on anything before. So I wanted to, I wanted to really explore brewing as an, as a way of means to make income. So I held my full time job for a while, but I did this brilliant on the side in New York. We had a nice little shop inside of jewelry in New York, and we just started pumping out beer and we were working on a two barrel system. So there wasn’t a lot going out. We weren’t working with bartenders and working with distillery and doing some combinations and things with them. So that’s, that’s kinda how we got to, or take its day and all, it’s kind of the weird business and marketing things that came along with it that I, that I still carry today.

Steven: Okay. That’s awesome. That’s, that’s a pretty, pretty wild story. A lot of transitions in life, location industries. Dang, I mean, I guess both now as you pursue or Tega, and even like you had mentioned before of like giving up your scholarship for your business, what do you think? Like, is it just that you like, felt like you had to be an entrepreneur or what was it that like really made you like go after something so uncertain?

Merlin: I mean, I’ve always been a little bit of a, of a risk taker. I’ll call it. I’m not like I was never a wild child. I wasn’t stealing cars and doing drugs in high school or anything. Do that until college. My, my parents were,

Steven: You were an entreprenuer probably

Merlin: I wasn’t selling the cars, I shouldn’t say nevermind. So no, I never sold a car, but my feet, my roots me in a way that I felt like I had a lot of freedom of choice, you know, as long as it was calculated. And so they never let me jump off a cliff, but they did let me make a choice if I could kind of convince them that it was the right thing to do. So dropping my, my college scholarship was a big deal for them. They didn’t have to pay for my college. I didn’t have to. And so I was like, look, I want to take a year off. I’ll probably use this scholarship if I do this, but I want to pursue this business. And I had a small bank of money in a childhood account that I had pulled out.

Merlin: I basically quit my job at the time too, and went full on into this thing. And my parents said, Hey if that’s really what you want to try then go for it. And so I kept that mentality throughout I’ve always been willing to take a risk if it’s calculated. And I think I had a little pay off we, and with the brewery, that’s where, that’s where it came out. Like I didn’t quit my full time job to do the brewery. I figured out a way to design it into a lifestyle where I could brew it at night. And I could serve on the weekends and the tasting room that we had, it was it was in a strange space where we’re on the sixth floor of a giant industrial park that they were trying to turn into kind of a walking mall. And so the opportunity was there for people, but it wasn’t like we were going to be packed. Right. So we’re able to open Friday, Saturday and Sunday. And I usually bartended late on Saturday, brewed on Friday nights, Saturday mornings and Sundays. And so I was able to keep up with demand and things like that. But yeah, that’s, I mean, it was all just about being very calculated and strategic in what we were going to do and how we were gonna do it. Right. Welcome.

Steven: I mean, like, I mean, you sound like you were probably pretty busy, like maybe insanely busy. How did you end up like balancing some of that out? Was it just that you didn’t care and you were just going to go for it, or those are kind of ways that you like blow off steam? Yeah, there’s definitely there are definitely things that,

Merlin: That came with that, right. Like I didn’t get to spend as much time with my wife because at night I was, you know, doing celebrant work or, you know, I’d get home later than normal. And then when the kid came around, that’s when things really changed. So throughout this whole time, as I’m taking calculated risks in my life to start these businesses, I’m also hoping for my life, right. So I got married and then two years ago we had our kid and when we had the kid it coincidentally coincided with the distillery having to move locations cause our lease was up. And so we decided we split away from the distillery. We just started contracting beers. So it’s a slightly different business model for the brewery and we were distributed. So instead of time rowing and bartending, I was now a salesman.

Merlin: So I let someone else in the beer, worked with them via email, cold call. I visit the brewery and check on stuff with them, do tasting sensory, that kind of stuff. But then my time was spent around the city, going into bars, saying, Hey, I’ve got the spirit, we’ll try it, it’s available this way, this way. And then, then I had a distributor that would actually make the delivery. So I outsourced as much as I could and focused on just being the brand manager essentially, and working with people that I trusted and met through through the experience. Sure.

Steven: That makes, I mean, that’s, that’s cool that you’re able to make those transitions. Cause I feel like sometimes people get tripped up and that’s precisely why they don’t make it is because they’re not willing to make those hard choices. You get fixated on

Merlin: Want to do. And I’ve always looked at it less about what I want to do and more about what I want the business to be. And for me, I wanted a beer brand that I could call my own that people could drink. And so I achieved that in any way that I possibly could whether it was me brewing the beer and serving it, or if it was me contracting the beer, selling it and just marketing it. And so that’s kind of where we are today too. I wanted to get back to owning my own tasting room. That’s why we came to Arizona with the brewery. And the coven thing has really kind of threw a big wrench in that it’s just not financially viable right now to open a new space. The restaurants that are existing are struggling, the breweries are struggling.

Merlin: And I don’t, it’s part that I don’t think it’s financially viable, but it’s also that I don’t want to be another thing that someone has to make a choice about when there’s already really good beer here. So I would rather send people who would otherwise buy our beers to the places that that we know and like and support them in the meantime. And then we’re going to make that pivot again. And now we’re looking again at contracting and distributing versus brewing in ourselves just in the meantime, cause there’s a lot of advantage to having a tasting room.

Steven: Yeah. Well certainly like you know, I don’t know what kind of if you’re like a super social individual, but that seems like that’d be a great way to like rub shoulders with people and have a chance to introduce people to the brand and like really just have that FaceTime. Totally. So, so the difference between

Merlin: Kind of distributing beers to bar and the space when someone enters your space, you are completely in control of their experience there. Right? Right. You have, the employees are scripted in the way that you want them to you know, things are done in the way that you want them to. The visual experience for the consumers is all the way that you’ve designed it, that you can certain things that wouldn’t otherwise be available in in bars, you can take more risks with the beers that you produce essentially. And we do do a lot of frisky beers, you know, the ingredients that we use. So when it comes to like selling out in the bar, you have no way of knowing if people are cleaning the lines, washing the glasses correctly talking about your beer correctly. But for the most part, you just have to realize that the bartender knows the ADV and the name. And that’s probably it, unless you have a personal relationship with them. And you know that they’re going to talk about your brand the right way. So a huge advantage of, of, of giving the consumer, the actual war take experience when they walk into our space versus me trying to force someone else to talk about it as passionately as I am because of my own business. Right.

Steven: I would hope so. Well, you know, and, and we talked earlier, like on the phone, it’s like you know, brewers are kind of like a little nerdy in the sense that they have like really like, I mean like their formulas and there’s math involved in, there’s all kinds of crazy things. Like you’ve spent a lot of time and effort and a lot of like small tweaks to get something just the way you want it. Like, it’s, you know, anytime you’ve invested that much into something, like you could be like the best person to speak about it then, because you’ve had that chance to like really get adjust the way you want it to like you said, as opposed to someone just serving it, they’re just like serving it alongside something else. And they don’t even know how cool it is.

Merlin: I mean, the irony of that is too that you might produce something that only knew like, and then when you’re trying to feed it to somebody in the bar, they’re like, this is not, I don’t want this. Can I switch it out? And like, Oh man, but why you don’t even know if ingredients, blah, blah, blah, get really nerdy Adam. And they’re like, okay dude, whatever, just give me the logger.

Steven: Right. Totally. Well, I remember that was something that was something really interesting that I actually learned from Gary V when he was talking about like, when he was asking people like, okay, when you try this, like how much wine do you drink? And it was like, okay, if you drank like a certain amount of wine, then you get used to certain flavors. So when like the tannins or whatever from the skin of the grape, like, are really strong in a wine. Like you, you can get past that because we drink all the time. So you can like taste all the hidden things. I can’t taste nothing in the wine. I know if I like it or not, but like, if it says it has like a hint of vanilla, I don’t even know about it. Like you surprised me. So anyways, so it’s kind of funny, like, as I’m sure it’s you as an avid beer drinker of your own beers and others, like you have a completely different relationship with the complexities of a beer than the normal person.

Merlin: I mean, I, I tend to geek out a lot. I don’t want to be that kind of beer guy or judging you for your choices. People do have asked me for recommendations. I always start off with, well, what would you like? You know? And there is an approach to inviting someone into craft beer, because if they used to drinking a certain style, I usually an American lager. You know, there’s a lot of things in craft beer that’s can be off putting a lot of hops in your mouth can be a crazy experience for the first time. And so you know, you try to introduce them to styles that are adjacent and then slowly get them into the complexities. So I really, honestly, I like starting people off with Belgian pales because it’s, it’s similar in color and likeness that American lager is where you get the East complexity. And sometimes you can get some interesting hop things going on too. So it’s like, Oh, look, here’s a whole plethora of flavor. You never knew existed in beer. Right. And then from there you can piece it out. He said, well, I want more happiness. So let’s go down the paleo route. Or like, I like this. Folkiness like, let’s all right, let’s do sours or, you know, Saison house. So you can kind of divide people into a really interesting space with,

Steven: Yeah, I hope I’m not showing my naivety and saying this, but I remember the first time I had a I was like, you know, I mean, like, and you know, I, it’s not like I was like a bud light drinker, you know, but like that was the first time I had something where I was like, Oh, like, I feel like the flavors kind of going somewhere. Like there’s some transitions happening. There’s like, there’s a different finish than how it started. And I’m just like, I had no idea. Like it was just mind blowing to have that experience

Merlin: Yours too. Cause when they warm up those beers, in my opinion, actually get even better where if you’re drinking bud light and I think warms up on you, but nobody wants that

Steven: You got to be a better pound two more. And so you stopped tasting it, right? Yeah. Ice. Cool. That’s how I had my Natty ice when I was young. It’s like this needs to be as cold as possible. So if we kind of journey back into like a lot of the experience that you gained both as your own kind of marketing company and for the bigger brands you’ve obviously gained like a lot of experience in marketing and promotion and stuff like that. So certainly Arizona has a pretty big beer culture. I’d say just like craft beer culture in general is, is, is pretty widespread pretty popular now. So certainly product pays into it a little bit. Branding pays into it, but what do you really see people doing that are standing out well from a marketing perspective that people are doing right? That more people who are doing beers or even just small other small business owners in general should be thinking about.

Merlin: I think the biggest thing was that is that a small business owner could be doing is, is cultivating their community. Right. and it’s, it’s something that a lot of business owners, especially when they’re starting out, don’t realize legal or fall into it, or, you know, they, they struggle with just trying to get everyone in anyone to do their, to know, to do their thing. Yeah. And not the truth is not everyone is going to want your stuff. And as a, as a beer producer, not everyone’s gonna want every single beer you produce. Right. Or if they do, they might not like all of them. Right. You build that trust with them and then you sell them a can. And they’re like, ah, this was nice. This was not up to par with the last five cans that I’ve gotten from you.

Merlin: So I think community is the biggest thing. And this is something that I really learned in New York particularly with the brewery is that New York is such a big space, but it’s a big space crammed into a small area. Right. So it’s what I mean by that is there are a lot of people, there’s a lot of cultures and they overlap with one another. But it’s all within walking distance, which is amazing. So you can have a brewery that exists three streets away from another brewery. And they weren’t ever really in competition with numbers because of traffic, the way that it worked, they both existed quite well on their own. And if you, if you read back onto some of the New York history about how the breweries were established, I mean, it was essentially, it was every neighborhood and I’m not talking to burrow.

Merlin: So I’m talking to the neighborhoods within the boroughs. Each neighborhood essentially had their own brewery because they didn’t have a brewery that a brew pub, or they had a a bar that you had a watering hole that carried the other stuff that was nearby. And it was very, very localized and hyperlocalized and that mentality I wanted to bring out to Arizona and I kind of see it in some, you, you have the West Valley of central Phoenix, you have East Valley. But then even within there, you have breweries who have done a very good job of cultivating the two square miles around them. And they bring the same people in every time. And and the, and the people that are going there are advocating on their behalf. Right. it was just recently on our, our Facebook page for warts Vega.

Merlin: We had, we made an announcement that we weren’t going to be opening our own space this year. And then someone asked for a recommendation on where to get beer. And I sent them to the places that I knew were near them. And then someone else chimed in and said, here are two or three others that you could try that are also within the facility. So when you have someone doing that on your behalf that’s when you’re really winning. That’s what, like, that’s what these Instagram influencers have figured out. You know, they have people who are just so infatuated with what they do, that they are, they want others to experience too. And that’s, that’s kind of where you want to get. And that doesn’t mean that you’re spending ad dollars. That doesn’t mean that you’re, you know, running you know, running a magazine advertising or, or what have you. It means that you’re, you’re speaking a language to a group of people that understand you and know what you’re tired and, and want to learn more about you. And then you’re powering them to go talk about you somewhere else. And it’s, it’s you either fall into that or you, or you try very hard to design it that way, but you, you can’t, you can’t just try to market to everyone and, you know, set up your advertising on to go 18 to 55 people like beer. It’s like, that’s not going to work.

Steven: Not to mention that’s extremely expensive.

Merlin: Yeah, no joke. You got to find the overlap on the people. Like, what are people coming into your taproom or your business, whatever, what are they interested in? What are they like? Are they dog people? You can see there’s a couple of spots around here that have a huge overlap with dog culture. And so they advertise the dog people and you probably get more people coming.

Steven: I’ve definitely noticed probably to, I w I would say, I noticed that the most in coffee shops actually, where they really have a lot of overlap with like they’re like other hobbies. So there’s like at least one or two, like car coffee, shop places. There is a place in California, which the name escapes me at this point, but it’s like a bicycle coffee shop. There’s actually one in Scottsdale, too. That’s a copy bicycle place where they kind of combine those passions together. It’s an old town. Actually the, both the car and the bike one are, but I can’t think of the cross streets right now, but it’s just an interesting concept to be able to combine those things together, to be able to speak to that. If you had to give an example of what, like, like hyper, or at least pretty localized like community building looks like physically and online, what would be your, your thoughts? Like, is it walking around, handing out pamphlets in the neighborhood and putting it on people’s doors? I mean, like practically

Merlin: If you know your demographic and you know, what life stage they’re at you know, most people these days want millennials and millennials right now are in the midst of starting families and buying homes. So there’s, you know, there’s all those struggles that come with that. If you have that understanding, you can, and you understand kind of where they’re coming from, then you can speak to them and reference those references moments in their lives and how maybe your product fits it. Right. So like a goddamn kid all day have a beer, you know?

Steven: Right.

Merlin: Yeah. So I think that’s part of it. And you can do that both online and offline. What I think is fun is that at least with beer and brewing beer fits into a lot of different activities, right? I mean, you see beer being combined with yoga, beer, being combined with painting beer, being combined with outdoor adventure. It’s, it’s a beverage that is also known as a social lubricant, but it’s now being appreciated more and more as a, as a culinary ingredient. Also as a, just pairing with food in general. So it plays in so many spaces. And I think that’s one of the advantages of, of being in food beverage is that you can do all those things. I mean, obviously not everyone you’re talking to this food and beverage and I think what you just need to find is that of interests between your business and your customer and just try to speak to them in that way. It’s really hard without a tangible example in my mind, but it is possible for all businesses to do that. You know?

Steven: Okay. Yeah. I just think it’s, sometimes it can be a little overwhelming and I mean, like it’s kinda funny, I guess, like the perspectives you have, like, cause like I’m a Phoenix, local native. And so like I kind of view Phoenix is like a pretty big place. And so like sometimes it can be intimidating to be like, Oh, like I need to make it here in Phoenix before, you know, the United States and the world. And you know what I mean? But sometimes even Phoenix itself can seem like an intimidating place to get like saturated into the market. You know, my, my history, I think I’ve explained, I don’t know if I explained it to you at all, but a lot of my history is like in the wedding industry and there’s like a good zillion wedding photographers in Arizona. And so then it’s like, it becomes that much more challenging to be able to like stand out and look different and everybody’s using the same presets for their pictures.

Steven: And so like they all start looking the same and it’s just like, it can end up being a nightmare to try to like really insert yourself in the market. And so that’s what I was kinda curious what your thoughts were on that localized marketing, because I think that is something that people are missing out on. And I think it’s something too, to be able to kind of, you know, it’s like the, the elephant, you eat one bite at a time, you know what I mean? It’s like, have you even started in your own neighborhood? And if you haven’t started there,

Merlin: If you don’t understand the people who are within one square mile of your physical location, probably the ones that 90% chance they’re going to be buying from you, you’re missing out because those intermittent travels from, you know, across the way five, 10 miles away, unless you’re on the way to something that they’re doing every day, like work thinking coffee shops again, they’re probably not going to stop by you. That’s a special occasion. You really got to know the people within the square miles and miles of you. And it’s funny you talk about the wedding photography thing, a very similar kind of attitude applies. So most of your business comes from referral business. You did a good job for somebody. They know someone in their same life stage again, because they get married. They probably have friends, same age they’re going to refer you to, to that person.

Merlin: And so you’re right. A lot of wedding photographers do the exact same thing. And it’s, it’s why a lot of people look at a wedding photographer and say, well, I could do that, right? But it’s, it’s a special skill that you bring in either you’re entertaining or you connect with the groom and bride a certain way, you have specific shots that you are willing to take the risks to do. You know, it’s like those jumping fun shots or whatever. But there’s a unique flair you can bring to the work that other photographers might, and maybe, you know, maybe your clientele don’t want you to be the exuberant photographer and they want you to be the hidden photographer. That’s a whole different skillset, right. And there are photographers that are really good at just the sneak in candid shots and stay out of the way. You never know they were there.

Steven: It works perfect when you’re introverted, especially you’re like, I don’t want to be here anyways. So I’ll just hide in the corner and take pictures. That’s really cool. So I guess on the flip side, then what do you see people doing that like, they definitely should be like, like knocking that off as quickly as possible. Like, for me, like, just to give an example, like I see a lot of companies who have like a social media presence, but then like they don’t respond to anything. Like they don’t see your messages, they don’t respond to them. Like you don’t see them commenting a lot in, like, I think that’s just like the dumbest thing in the world, because it’s like, at that point, it’s just like you’re using social media as a billboard. There’s nothing social about it, which I think is kind of weird. So I don’t know. That’s like the one thing I noticed

Merlin: Take it back to my agency days here in Arizona. And it was the same thing I told my clients too. It’s like, look, be on the platforms that, you know, you can actively be on. And if you can’t, you don’t want to, you know, you don’t have to be on all five platforms, LinkedIn, Pinterest, you know, maybe your business don’t even need to be on LinkedIn. Right. I think now most people are still on like the Facebook, Twitter train or Instagram is where at least but you really want to do the, you know, do the activities, the business activities that, you know, you can manage and do the well don’t spread yourself too thin, but that’s true of all business activities, whether you know, you’re talking about running the kitchen or doing the marketing, you gotta be very, very focused. And that doesn’t mean that you, like, if you’re on social media, you need to post every day or take it as a post every day. But we, we do engage with people every day. We’re commenting, we’re talking, we’re liking you know, we’re messaging with, with other people. And, and that’s still presence. It’s just not a billboard presence. Right. Yeah. And so it’s just a matter of being focused on what you want and doing it well and, and realizing that you don’t have to wear all the hats, but certainly not all at once.

Steven: Certainly. And I think that actually transitions perfectly into our next question, which is you you’ve hired people before, correct? Sure. Yeah. Okay. So, you know, when we talked a little bit earlier, I just wanted to make sure we talked a little bit about kind of like that solar preneur entrepreneur transition that happens when you, you know, kind of more transitioned to, to a business owner over time, as opposed to I’m the only person doing all the work. What is it that you think holds people back from making that transition in a hiring and being that you’ve been on the other side of that? What are they kind of like missing out on when they don’t make that leap?

Merlin: Yeah. Well, I’ll start with the last half of the question is what are you missing out on? Well, you’re missing out on growth potential, right? By, by wearing all the hats and doing it all yourself. You’re missing out on the hockey stick of growth that is in your future because you’re too focused on the minutia and hiring someone to even do one simple task. Even if it’s part time or half, quarter time frees up your time to go do the other things that are important, or you still have to be focused. Right. Cause you can’t, you can’t be distracted in the other things just because someone has taken up this one task doesn’t mean I have more time now for the other tasks, right. It’s really trying to clamp down on what you’re trying to achieve. And so I, I think the hardest part of hiring there’s two things.

Merlin: The reason I think people don’t hire a lot is that they themselves don’t feel like they know 100% what that role is, right. They haven’t defined those roles and put it in a box, having worked corporate jobs before and run multiple businesses. I can tell you that outlining the job roles, understanding what each one does and how it fits into the greater machine is an important step. And you need to take the time to identify those roles. And you know, you can, you can almost template them off the internet. If you look up small business job roles, but like, you know, you don’t want your waiters to also be the cooks as an analogy. So and I understand that you start, you usually are the waiter, the cook, the salesman, the host, you know, and sometimes even the guests, but, but you start to chip off those roles and you give them to someone else and you freed up your time to go to do other things like market and get, get the growth that you want.

Merlin: And then you can hire someone else to fill another piece. But I think what I was going to was that because you don’t have those roles to find, you’re afraid that you’re gonna to hire someone and they’re gonna just kind of aimlessly walk around and not know what to do. Right. So you don’t have to all your cash and then just eat up your cash. Right. the other thing I think that people are afraid of is that because they don’t have those roles to find, they’re afraid of Heights hiring someone who they’re supposed to be the boss of and looking like they don’t know what they’re doing. Yeah. Right. And to be perfectly honest that you can approach two mindsets, you can approach it with the mindset that, Hey, I’m not, let me hire someone who is a lot better. Right. And I think a lot of people tend to just hire an agency to do that.

Merlin: But when you hire an agency, you spend almost the exact same amount of money for someone that’s partial time. Right. Because they’ve got other clients that they’re working on too. If you hire someone in house to do it and you can get them and they’re hungry and they’re young, wait, we’ve had senior internships before someone who’s older than I am more gray hair, which is becoming more and more impossible to do something for us that I’m not great at, I know should be done. And I know generally how to do it, but I haven’t done it a lot and someone else could do a lot better. So, you know, I think those are the two big things. It’s just not knowing the roles. And then feeling like they’re going to look like a failure in front of the person that’s supposed to to, to work for them. So you gotta get over that, that fear and you gotta be willing to accept that someone out there probably knows more than you. In fact, I know that there are people out there, there are definitely people out there that know a lot more about beer and, you know, I’m a Cicerone, so I’m up there, but there are people out there that know a lot more than I do. And I like, I like those people sometimes I wish I could afford to hire those people.

Steven: Right. Oh yeah. Cause it just takes things to the next level. Like I remember one time reading and I, I can’t remember what industry is for. I want to say it was kind of like for an agency thing. And they were just saying like the first person you should hire as like a CFO, because most of the time, like business owners and like, especially like makers of things are not like necessarily like numbers people. And the last thing they want to be doing is like double checking invoice numbers. And like, if you’ve paid your estimated taxes for the quarter, so it’s kind of, you know, we obviously, you know, someone, a CNA is going to know a lot more about that than I am.

Merlin: Yeah. I mean having a good admin is always, always good. You know, when we started the brewery, I was doing the survey and the beer, you know, and those are very separate time spots. But then on my other free time, I was filing quarterly taxes. I was paying excise taxes. I was, you know, ordering ingredients and to have someone manage the backend really nice. So that I could just focus on the, you know, the marketing and the customer engagement even hiring a brewer would have been probably pretty good idea. But at that time we had just started, I didn’t want to hand it off to anyone now, first thing I’m going to do, as soon as we open this, hire a brewer, Oh God. I mean, I love brewing, but it is not a great use of my doc

Steven: Point. You have people to manage and you can’t be brewing and managing and admitting and community building. And I mean, I’m sure you could, but then you’d also probably hate your life. So, yeah.

Merlin: And my wife and my daughter would never see me.

Steven: That’s true, but can’t be doing that. So one thing you mentioned before that I thought we could kind of talk about a little bit was, you’d mentioned something about focus. You talked about like focus on you know, having those people that you hired to help focus and so on and so forth. What, how, what’s your process as far as making those hard decisions on saying, you know, like this is where I’m headed, I’m going to stay focused and that’s different than being like unwilling to transition. I mean, but like, so how is it that you kind of determine your focus and stay focused? Because obviously it’s like a small business owner, there’s things coming at you all the time. There’s lots of decisions that have to be made. And I’m sure, you know, you could even say at some point that you’ve been a little off track, you know, I mean, and all of a sudden you like it from doing all the work and you’re like, Hey, this is not where I wanted to be. Like, what happened? Like, so how is it you stay focused?

Merlin: I think for me it’s really difficult cause I, I have a wandering mind and you know, I’ll be doing one thing and thinking about another all the time, my wife hates it because it’s, she thinks I’m not paying attention, but I am. I’m just halfway there anyway. It’s I think it’s, it’s between the role definition that we’re talking about before and then also knowing what you want your business to be. Right. if so in my case, I knew that I wanted a beer brand that was able to be enjoyed by public outside of, outside of my four walls. And so making a pivot wasn’t difficult, as long as I knew it was still going to be the end road to that goal. Now, if my goal had been, I want to just brew beer for money starting a brewery is probably not the best way to do that.

Merlin: You can just go get a job as a brewer. Right, right. Let everyone else deal admin and the salesmanship and the bartending. So, you know, really defining what you want to achieve and then what you want your business to be. And if you know those two things and you define them broadly enough, how do you get to those things? It doesn’t really matter. And that’s, I think I’ve always found it very easy to pivot because my goals were always a little bit broader and path, depending on, you know, what obstacles we encountered the same thing this time with a stupid COVID. I knew that I want to go back to having a tasting room. Cause I wanted to introduce the brand, my way to a new market. I wasn’t able to do that. So pivoting again, back to contracting, which is a path I’ve taken before and I know works. And then we have some marketing ideas that are going to help bring consumers closer to us that will give somewhat of a tasting room feel that won’t involve any kind of dangerous non masked people and disease and such.

Steven: Well, that’s always nice either that you drink enough beer, that the alcohol kills, whatever goes into you, right?

Merlin: Yeah. That’s, you know, that’s what I’ve been doing for less than that.

Steven: I dunno if that’s how it works, but I feel like that’s how it should work, you know? Right. okay. So let’s just kind of wrap it up with two different things and you’ve kind of already hinted at it, but just if you could just kind of display out just for the sake of sharing what kind of your guys’ plans are for the rest of the year into the next year? Yeah, go ahead with that.

Merlin: Okay, cool. Yeah. So right now what we’re doing is we’re exploring the contract brewing path. Again, we’ve reached out to a few people that we’ve met in Arizona brewing industry have capacity and are willing to play along with the best. So it’s a, it’s a slightly different path than I would hope for, but it is a way for us to kind of get this business, you know, baby, stepping it up to where we want to be. Part of it to me is really just a, is the passion for the product. I love making the beer, designing the beers, drinking the beers. And so I, that was a space that I want to be in and I want to share those with other people. So our plan is by, you know, by definitely by the end of the summer that we’ll have our first cans out for people to, to order and have delivered to their home.

Merlin: Right. So we have to kind of roll with the punches with the legislation, but the model that is currently available, I think we have done a win a little bit. Oh, the other thing I want to talk to you just mentioned was back when we were talking about the higher end stuff. So when we talked about the hiring, we had mentioned that you know, having the rules defined, that’s really important. I think the, the other big thing that people make the mistake of is not taking the time to hire the right people. They think they have a role and they just need to put a body in it. But as a small business owner, especially as your first like five hires you want people who are the right people for the bus, right? This is a analogy I take from Jim Collins book, good to great is getting the right people on the bus.

Merlin: And then as a group deciding where that bus is going. Right, right. So like we know that there’s a bus driver, that’s usually the entrepreneur, but then the seats are, you can sit in the bus. And so you hire people that, that are able to take on a little more than what they were hired for. But they’re hungry and they’re their team people, and they’re not just there for the paycheck. Right. You need to hire those passionate folks to start and make sure that they’re helping you get the bus to the right location. And then once you kind of get the ball rolling and you’re, you know, you’re on the highway, so to speak and you can start just filling roles. But even, I think even up to, you know, your thousands employee, you should really be hiring people in those slots that are that are going to take that role to the next level. And aren’t just going to kind of turn the crank,

Steven: Right? No, that’s good. That’s good. I mean, I think that one of the things that like some of the people on my team are like, are pretty young. But at the same time they definitely come on board with some experience and they’re always willing to learn something more and do well and Excel and do excellent work. And for me, that’s been so valuable and I, and I told them it was like, you know, just as an employee, I’ve looked around and noticed like, okay, like if someone is willing to learn and willing to put in the work, like there’s no end to what they can be taught to do. Cause there’s so few things that can’t be learned to do well. And one of the things you really can’t learn is, well, if you do, it takes a long time, but like taking that initiative is something that really can’t be taught. Or just being like a real go getter is something that usually is inside of you. Isn’t something that you go and sit down and have a training seminar on, you know what I mean? So it’s like when you find people like that, you’re like, yes, come please join the team.

Merlin: Yeah, totally. I mean to a certain point too, I mean, there are negatives to the go getters and sometimes they go get the wrong way. You know, it really just kinda depends how you want to build your team. What kind of culture do you want to develop? You know, you, you said you were an introvert, sometimes it’s just a pile of introverts is okay too, depending on what it is you’re doing. Certainly if you’re, let’s say you’re programming, the next big app, you know, for introverts would be awesome. Cause you don’t want them to be distracted by anything just code. Right. So it all depends, but yeah,

Steven: Totally. So just to go on more of like the personal side, I guess and maybe this is too heavy, but whatever we’re going to go for it, what gets you up in the morning? What gets you fired up?

Merlin: Well, usually my daughter gets me up in the morning. Not because I want to get up either. It’s usually just that’s, that’s how it goes. He doesn’t know when your alarm set. Yeah, no, she does actually. And she wakes up an hour before and then when it goes off, she takes my phone away and stops it for me. Oh yeah. It’s cute. It’s very cute. But no, I think, I think you’re thinking more kind of metaphorically. What gets you up in the morning? You know, as a, as a 34 year old man of one daughter and wife for me, it’s really the family. I want to get up every day and work towards that dream so that, you know, with daughters of college age we can live quite comfortably and not have to struggle and work on someone else’s dime. You know? So for me, it’s about building this business to a point over the next decade or two that we are, that we’re living a lifestyle that we really enjoy. And that means grinding a little bit right now. But we’re going to get there and that’s, that’s, that’s my ultimate dream right there. It’s it’s getting better.

Steven: Yeah, no, that’s awesome. I feel that I do not yet have kids, but I have never, I don’t know if it’s just me and maybe you can help me out on this, but I’ve just never been okay with just like normal newness, I guess. Like for me, it’s like I never woke up and were just like, yeah, like I just love to have like a normal card, a normal and then a normal paycheck is just like, that doesn’t seem very interesting to me. And maybe it’s materialism. I don’t know, but like for me it’s like, okay, like I want what I like what I like, and I want what I want. And like, for me, that just requires an income and an amount of effort on this end of that. That just is too high and you’re not too high, but it is high.

Steven: And so, yeah, you’ve got to get up every day and kill it and move forward because if you want to have that comfortable lifestyle, most people don’t have that. And so you’ve got to do something that most people aren’t willing to do, which is stay up all night brewing and doing a taproom and having a full time job and moving and the whole nine yards, you know what I mean? Like you’re putting in the work to make happen. Absolutely. So anyway, that’s my, my preacher box on that, but Oh man. Well, can you just kind of let people know where they can find you right now, where they can interact with you and learn more about you and your delicious beer that will eventually be made?

Merlin: Yeah, my my favorite place to hang up is Instagram. So you can go to Wartega it’s app Wartega, W A R T G E A. I’m usually manning the helm there. So if you message us, it’s me. We, I I’ve been lately, so I’ve been lately. I’ve been just going around Arizona picking up the beers. I like, so we were at mother road recently. So I’ve been, this is what I’ve been drinking by the road, lost, lost highway. It’s a double black IPA, very tasty, well balanced. So I’ll be posting, you know, our beer travels there until we get our own stuff out. Sometimes there’s some home brew stuff that shows up because I, I still want to brew, but I can’t professionally right now. And then you know we also share things like this. So when, when this is announced, deal, certainly see it on their Instagram and our Facebook that way too. So those are the channels that I, that I linger in.

Steven: Cool. Well, that’s, that’s definitely where we connected with Instagram. That’s where I spend most of my my most of my time. So if people aren’t on Instagram, the chances of me actually getting a hold of them is pretty slim. But yeah. Well, thank you so much for your time today. Thank you so much for all your helpful hints and tricks and tips and just the, you know, all the mindset stuff that goes into growing a business. Cause obviously there’s a lot to it. There’s a lot of parts to it. And thankfully with all the experiences you’ve had you’re able to add a lot of value to that. So thank you very much for doing that. And yeah. And then we’ll, we’ll be sharing this Monday, Monday, and so yeah, we’ll be able to share this out and kind of get your name out there and so thank you very much.

Merlin: Awesome. Thank you very much. We really like to talk with you.

Steven Burkhart: Hey, everybody. Welcome to the digital hustle show digital version. Here we are on zoom and I have Merlin from Wartega Brewing. And yeah, if you could just introduce yourself a little bit and just kind of tell people what you’re all about, and then we can kind of, after that, get into the journey of how you got here.

Merlin Ward: Sure. Sounds good. So we’re taking it is a brewery that my wife and I started in Brooklyn. I was born in Arizona. We recently came back to Arizona after having our first child and we intended to, to launch Wartega here in Arizona. Of course things have gone a little sideways since then, but we’re still, we’re still kicking around. We’re still beer out this year.

Steven: So so just to kind of talk a little bit about your history as an entrepreneur and as a business owner and really to someone who’s like been, I don’t know it to be honest, kind of seems like brave and just like going into these new industries and, and what kind of started, you know, kicked off that journey that you had when it came to doing your own thing? Yeah.

Merlin: Well, so in college is actually when I got started in my entrepreneurial kind of path myself and a group of other students started what is essentially now the entrepreneurship program at ASU. We were kind of the fledgling group of kids that started exploring entrepreneurship as a as a means to, to survive as to, you know, to live as an, a true American dream kind of thing, right? This is around the same time the shark tank at launch. So it was like all this all these things coming out about entrepreneurship and small business ownership. So these groups of students and I were doing this before, or at the same time that like Gary V was just starting to get into the small business hustle. He was still doing wine library at the time. Shark tank had just come on TV.

Merlin: So there was this big boom of entrepreneurship and really exciting as a younger students to explore a business in that way. And I was already going to school for business and marketing. So I actually gave up my, my college scholarship to do my business for a year. And the business that we’d launched was I like to call it a pre Uber. It was a membership based limousine service dedicated to nightlife. And we had two, two or three cars running around in between mill Avenue, Scottsdale. It was exciting, but you know, with those assets we were a little over leveraged from 2008 hit and people stopped going out and we ended up having to close it, but it was through that. I really fell in love with the marketing aspect. And then from then on, I was essentially just a madman.

Merlin: I started my own small business as a it was a, it was a social media workshop or social media shop. So we were doing integrated marketing across social media print and advertising, and we were working with small business owners in Arizona. But I really, I really wanted to kind of bite off something a little bit bigger than that. And so I decided to drop the business here and moved to New York to join a bigger agency and work with clients in the, you know, the fortune a thousand fortune 500 range. Right. And that’s what I did a first client that I had out. There was a empire state building, which was exciting for that school shop that I was working in. Yeah. And then then I stepped up from there and actually started working on Madison Avenue for an Omnicom agency where I did a lot of video work and strategy.

Merlin: And it was in that time that I was working in kind of these corporate jobs that I still had this itch to my own business. And when I moved to New York, I needed something to do with my time off because I was, I was engaged at the time, so I wasn’t really going out. I have a few friends that I hung out with, but they, you know, they had their own things going on. So to fill my free time, I started homebrewing and quickly move through the home brain. You know, rings groups started very small. One, one gallon batches, five gallon, batches bottle kegerators started having 20, 25 gallons of beer on tap and with time in my, in my apartment. And then my my whole brain friends and I decided that we needed an organization to, so we started what is now new York’s largest and most diverse Homebrew club called the broom and Aries. And we went from, yeah, we went from five founding members to over a hundred. And I think now 60 members in just five short years,

Steven: Dang,

Merlin: Maybe it would be fun. I’ve never worked in a regulated industry. I mean, I guess the limousine service was regulated to some degree, but I’ve never had to pay excise tax on anything before. So I wanted to, I wanted to really explore brewing as an, as a way of means to make income. So I held my full time job for a while, but I did this brilliant on the side in New York. We had a nice little shop inside of jewelry in New York, and we just started pumping out beer and we were working on a two barrel system. So there wasn’t a lot going out. We weren’t working with bartenders and working with distillery and doing some combinations and things with them. So that’s, that’s kinda how we got to, or take its day and all, it’s kind of the weird business and marketing things that came along with it that I, that I still carry today.

Steven: Okay. That’s awesome. That’s, that’s a pretty, pretty wild story. A lot of transitions in life, location industries. Dang, I mean, I guess both now as you pursue or Tega, and even like you had mentioned before of like giving up your scholarship for your business, what do you think? Like, is it just that you like, felt like you had to be an entrepreneur or what was it that like really made you like go after something so uncertain?

Merlin: I mean, I’ve always been a little bit of a, of a risk taker. I’ll call it. I’m not like I was never a wild child. I wasn’t stealing cars and doing drugs in high school or anything. Do that until college. My, my parents were,

Steven: You were an entreprenuer probably

Merlin: I wasn’t selling the cars, I shouldn’t say nevermind. So no, I never sold a car, but my feet, my roots me in a way that I felt like I had a lot of freedom of choice, you know, as long as it was calculated. And so they never let me jump off a cliff, but they did let me make a choice if I could kind of convince them that it was the right thing to do. So dropping my, my college scholarship was a big deal for them. They didn’t have to pay for my college. I didn’t have to. And so I was like, look, I want to take a year off. I’ll probably use this scholarship if I do this, but I want to pursue this business. And I had a small bank of money in a childhood account that I had pulled out.

Merlin: I basically quit my job at the time too, and went full on into this thing. And my parents said, Hey if that’s really what you want to try then go for it. And so I kept that mentality throughout I’ve always been willing to take a risk if it’s calculated. And I think I had a little pay off we, and with the brewery, that’s where, that’s where it came out. Like I didn’t quit my full time job to do the brewery. I figured out a way to design it into a lifestyle where I could brew it at night. And I could serve on the weekends and the tasting room that we had, it was it was in a strange space where we’re on the sixth floor of a giant industrial park that they were trying to turn into kind of a walking mall. And so the opportunity was there for people, but it wasn’t like we were going to be packed. Right. So we’re able to open Friday, Saturday and Sunday. And I usually bartended late on Saturday, brewed on Friday nights, Saturday mornings and Sundays. And so I was able to keep up with demand and things like that. But yeah, that’s, I mean, it was all just about being very calculated and strategic in what we were going to do and how we were gonna do it. Right. Welcome.

Steven: I mean, like, I mean, you sound like you were probably pretty busy, like maybe insanely busy. How did you end up like balancing some of that out? Was it just that you didn’t care and you were just going to go for it, or those are kind of ways that you like blow off steam? Yeah, there’s definitely there are definitely things that,

Merlin: That came with that, right. Like I didn’t get to spend as much time with my wife because at night I was, you know, doing celebrant work or, you know, I’d get home later than normal. And then when the kid came around, that’s when things really changed. So throughout this whole time, as I’m taking calculated risks in my life to start these businesses, I’m also hoping for my life, right. So I got married and then two years ago we had our kid and when we had the kid it coincidentally coincided with the distillery having to move locations cause our lease was up. And so we decided we split away from the distillery. We just started contracting beers. So it’s a slightly different business model for the brewery and we were distributed. So instead of time rowing and bartending, I was now a salesman.

Merlin: So I let someone else in the beer, worked with them via email, cold call. I visit the brewery and check on stuff with them, do tasting sensory, that kind of stuff. But then my time was spent around the city, going into bars, saying, Hey, I’ve got the spirit, we’ll try it, it’s available this way, this way. And then, then I had a distributor that would actually make the delivery. So I outsourced as much as I could and focused on just being the brand manager essentially, and working with people that I trusted and met through through the experience. Sure.

Steven: That makes, I mean, that’s, that’s cool that you’re able to make those transitions. Cause I feel like sometimes people get tripped up and that’s precisely why they don’t make it is because they’re not willing to make those hard choices. You get fixated on

Merlin: Want to do. And I’ve always looked at it less about what I want to do and more about what I want the business to be. And for me, I wanted a beer brand that I could call my own that people could drink. And so I achieved that in any way that I possibly could whether it was me brewing the beer and serving it, or if it was me contracting the beer, selling it and just marketing it. And so that’s kind of where we are today too. I wanted to get back to owning my own tasting room. That’s why we came to Arizona with the brewery. And the coven thing has really kind of threw a big wrench in that it’s just not financially viable right now to open a new space. The restaurants that are existing are struggling, the breweries are struggling.

Merlin: And I don’t, it’s part that I don’t think it’s financially viable, but it’s also that I don’t want to be another thing that someone has to make a choice about when there’s already really good beer here. So I would rather send people who would otherwise buy our beers to the places that that we know and like and support them in the meantime. And then we’re going to make that pivot again. And now we’re looking again at contracting and distributing versus brewing in ourselves just in the meantime, cause there’s a lot of advantage to having a tasting room.

Steven: Yeah. Well certainly like you know, I don’t know what kind of if you’re like a super social individual, but that seems like that’d be a great way to like rub shoulders with people and have a chance to introduce people to the brand and like really just have that FaceTime. Totally. So, so the difference between

Merlin: Kind of distributing beers to bar and the space when someone enters your space, you are completely in control of their experience there. Right? Right. You have, the employees are scripted in the way that you want them to you know, things are done in the way that you want them to. The visual experience for the consumers is all the way that you’ve designed it, that you can certain things that wouldn’t otherwise be available in in bars, you can take more risks with the beers that you produce essentially. And we do do a lot of frisky beers, you know, the ingredients that we use. So when it comes to like selling out in the bar, you have no way of knowing if people are cleaning the lines, washing the glasses correctly talking about your beer correctly. But for the most part, you just have to realize that the bartender knows the ADV and the name. And that’s probably it, unless you have a personal relationship with them. And you know that they’re going to talk about your brand the right way. So a huge advantage of, of, of giving the consumer, the actual war take experience when they walk into our space versus me trying to force someone else to talk about it as passionately as I am because of my own business. Right.

Steven: I would hope so. Well, you know, and, and we talked earlier, like on the phone, it’s like you know, brewers are kind of like a little nerdy in the sense that they have like really like, I mean like their formulas and there’s math involved in, there’s all kinds of crazy things. Like you’ve spent a lot of time and effort and a lot of like small tweaks to get something just the way you want it. Like, it’s, you know, anytime you’ve invested that much into something, like you could be like the best person to speak about it then, because you’ve had that chance to like really get adjust the way you want it to like you said, as opposed to someone just serving it, they’re just like serving it alongside something else. And they don’t even know how cool it is.

Merlin: I mean, the irony of that is too that you might produce something that only knew like, and then when you’re trying to feed it to somebody in the bar, they’re like, this is not, I don’t want this. Can I switch it out? And like, Oh man, but why you don’t even know if ingredients, blah, blah, blah, get really nerdy Adam. And they’re like, okay dude, whatever, just give me the logger.

Steven: Right. Totally. Well, I remember that was something that was something really interesting that I actually learned from Gary V when he was talking about like, when he was asking people like, okay, when you try this, like how much wine do you drink? And it was like, okay, if you drank like a certain amount of wine, then you get used to certain flavors. So when like the tannins or whatever from the skin of the grape, like, are really strong in a wine. Like you, you can get past that because we drink all the time. So you can like taste all the hidden things. I can’t taste nothing in the wine. I know if I like it or not, but like, if it says it has like a hint of vanilla, I don’t even know about it. Like you surprised me. So anyways, so it’s kind of funny, like, as I’m sure it’s you as an avid beer drinker of your own beers and others, like you have a completely different relationship with the complexities of a beer than the normal person.

Merlin: I mean, I, I tend to geek out a lot. I don’t want to be that kind of beer guy or judging you for your choices. People do have asked me for recommendations. I always start off with, well, what would you like? You know? And there is an approach to inviting someone into craft beer, because if they used to drinking a certain style, I usually an American lager. You know, there’s a lot of things in craft beer that’s can be off putting a lot of hops in your mouth can be a crazy experience for the first time. And so you know, you try to introduce them to styles that are adjacent and then slowly get them into the complexities. So I really, honestly, I like starting people off with Belgian pales because it’s, it’s similar in color and likeness that American lager is where you get the East complexity. And sometimes you can get some interesting hop things going on too. So it’s like, Oh, look, here’s a whole plethora of flavor. You never knew existed in beer. Right. And then from there you can piece it out. He said, well, I want more happiness. So let’s go down the paleo route. Or like, I like this. Folkiness like, let’s all right, let’s do sours or, you know, Saison house. So you can kind of divide people into a really interesting space with,

Steven: Yeah, I hope I’m not showing my naivety and saying this, but I remember the first time I had a I was like, you know, I mean, like, and you know, I, it’s not like I was like a bud light drinker, you know, but like that was the first time I had something where I was like, Oh, like, I feel like the flavors kind of going somewhere. Like there’s some transitions happening. There’s like, there’s a different finish than how it started. And I’m just like, I had no idea. Like it was just mind blowing to have that experience

Merlin: Yours too. Cause when they warm up those beers, in my opinion, actually get even better where if you’re drinking bud light and I think warms up on you, but nobody wants that

Steven: You got to be a better pound two more. And so you stopped tasting it, right? Yeah. Ice. Cool. That’s how I had my Natty ice when I was young. It’s like this needs to be as cold as possible. So if we kind of journey back into like a lot of the experience that you gained both as your own kind of marketing company and for the bigger brands you’ve obviously gained like a lot of experience in marketing and promotion and stuff like that. So certainly Arizona has a pretty big beer culture. I’d say just like craft beer culture in general is, is, is pretty widespread pretty popular now. So certainly product pays into it a little bit. Branding pays into it, but what do you really see people doing that are standing out well from a marketing perspective that people are doing right? That more people who are doing beers or even just small other small business owners in general should be thinking about.

Merlin: I think the biggest thing was that is that a small business owner could be doing is, is cultivating their community. Right. and it’s, it’s something that a lot of business owners, especially when they’re starting out, don’t realize legal or fall into it, or, you know, they, they struggle with just trying to get everyone in anyone to do their, to know, to do their thing. Yeah. And not the truth is not everyone is going to want your stuff. And as a, as a beer producer, not everyone’s gonna want every single beer you produce. Right. Or if they do, they might not like all of them. Right. You build that trust with them and then you sell them a can. And they’re like, ah, this was nice. This was not up to par with the last five cans that I’ve gotten from you.

Merlin: So I think community is the biggest thing. And this is something that I really learned in New York particularly with the brewery is that New York is such a big space, but it’s a big space crammed into a small area. Right. So it’s what I mean by that is there are a lot of people, there’s a lot of cultures and they overlap with one another. But it’s all within walking distance, which is amazing. So you can have a brewery that exists three streets away from another brewery. And they weren’t ever really in competition with numbers because of traffic, the way that it worked, they both existed quite well on their own. And if you, if you read back onto some of the New York history about how the breweries were established, I mean, it was essentially, it was every neighborhood and I’m not talking to burrow.

Merlin: So I’m talking to the neighborhoods within the boroughs. Each neighborhood essentially had their own brewery because they didn’t have a brewery that a brew pub, or they had a a bar that you had a watering hole that carried the other stuff that was nearby. And it was very, very localized and hyperlocalized and that mentality I wanted to bring out to Arizona and I kind of see it in some, you, you have the West Valley of central Phoenix, you have East Valley. But then even within there, you have breweries who have done a very good job of cultivating the two square miles around them. And they bring the same people in every time. And and the, and the people that are going there are advocating on their behalf. Right. it was just recently on our, our Facebook page for warts Vega.

Merlin: We had, we made an announcement that we weren’t going to be opening our own space this year. And then someone asked for a recommendation on where to get beer. And I sent them to the places that I knew were near them. And then someone else chimed in and said, here are two or three others that you could try that are also within the facility. So when you have someone doing that on your behalf that’s when you’re really winning. That’s what, like, that’s what these Instagram influencers have figured out. You know, they have people who are just so infatuated with what they do, that they are, they want others to experience too. And that’s, that’s kind of where you want to get. And that doesn’t mean that you’re spending ad dollars. That doesn’t mean that you’re, you know, running you know, running a magazine advertising or, or what have you. It means that you’re, you’re speaking a language to a group of people that understand you and know what you’re tired and, and want to learn more about you. And then you’re powering them to go talk about you somewhere else. And it’s, it’s you either fall into that or you, or you try very hard to design it that way, but you, you can’t, you can’t just try to market to everyone and, you know, set up your advertising on to go 18 to 55 people like beer. It’s like, that’s not going to work.

Steven: Not to mention that’s extremely expensive.

Merlin: Yeah, no joke. You got to find the overlap on the people. Like, what are people coming into your taproom or your business, whatever, what are they interested in? What are they like? Are they dog people? You can see there’s a couple of spots around here that have a huge overlap with dog culture. And so they advertise the dog people and you probably get more people coming.

Steven: I’ve definitely noticed probably to, I w I would say, I noticed that the most in coffee shops actually, where they really have a lot of overlap with like they’re like other hobbies. So there’s like at least one or two, like car coffee, shop places. There is a place in California, which the name escapes me at this point, but it’s like a bicycle coffee shop. There’s actually one in Scottsdale, too. That’s a copy bicycle place where they kind of combine those passions together. It’s an old town. Actually the, both the car and the bike one are, but I can’t think of the cross streets right now, but it’s just an interesting concept to be able to combine those things together, to be able to speak to that. If you had to give an example of what, like, like hyper, or at least pretty localized like community building looks like physically and online, what would be your, your thoughts? Like, is it walking around, handing out pamphlets in the neighborhood and putting it on people’s doors? I mean, like practically

Merlin: If you know your demographic and you know, what life stage they’re at you know, most people these days want millennials and millennials right now are in the midst of starting families and buying homes. So there’s, you know, there’s all those struggles that come with that. If you have that understanding, you can, and you understand kind of where they’re coming from, then you can speak to them and reference those references moments in their lives and how maybe your product fits it. Right. So like a goddamn kid all day have a beer, you know?

Steven: Right.

Merlin: Yeah. So I think that’s part of it. And you can do that both online and offline. What I think is fun is that at least with beer and brewing beer fits into a lot of different activities, right? I mean, you see beer being combined with yoga, beer, being combined with painting beer, being combined with outdoor adventure. It’s, it’s a beverage that is also known as a social lubricant, but it’s now being appreciated more and more as a, as a culinary ingredient. Also as a, just pairing with food in general. So it plays in so many spaces. And I think that’s one of the advantages of, of being in food beverage is that you can do all those things. I mean, obviously not everyone you’re talking to this food and beverage and I think what you just need to find is that of interests between your business and your customer and just try to speak to them in that way. It’s really hard without a tangible example in my mind, but it is possible for all businesses to do that. You know?

Steven: Okay. Yeah. I just think it’s, sometimes it can be a little overwhelming and I mean, like it’s kinda funny, I guess, like the perspectives you have, like, cause like I’m a Phoenix, local native. And so like I kind of view Phoenix is like a pretty big place. And so like sometimes it can be intimidating to be like, Oh, like I need to make it here in Phoenix before, you know, the United States and the world. And you know what I mean? But sometimes even Phoenix itself can seem like an intimidating place to get like saturated into the market. You know, my, my history, I think I’ve explained, I don’t know if I explained it to you at all, but a lot of my history is like in the wedding industry and there’s like a good zillion wedding photographers in Arizona. And so then it’s like, it becomes that much more challenging to be able to like stand out and look different and everybody’s using the same presets for their pictures.

Steven: And so like they all start looking the same and it’s just like, it can end up being a nightmare to try to like really insert yourself in the market. And so that’s what I was kinda curious what your thoughts were on that localized marketing, because I think that is something that people are missing out on. And I think it’s something too, to be able to kind of, you know, it’s like the, the elephant, you eat one bite at a time, you know what I mean? It’s like, have you even started in your own neighborhood? And if you haven’t started there,

Merlin: If you don’t understand the people who are within one square mile of your physical location, probably the ones that 90% chance they’re going to be buying from you, you’re missing out because those intermittent travels from, you know, across the way five, 10 miles away, unless you’re on the way to something that they’re doing every day, like work thinking coffee shops again, they’re probably not going to stop by you. That’s a special occasion. You really got to know the people within the square miles and miles of you. And it’s funny you talk about the wedding photography thing, a very similar kind of attitude applies. So most of your business comes from referral business. You did a good job for somebody. They know someone in their same life stage again, because they get married. They probably have friends, same age they’re going to refer you to, to that person.

Merlin: And so you’re right. A lot of wedding photographers do the exact same thing. And it’s, it’s why a lot of people look at a wedding photographer and say, well, I could do that, right? But it’s, it’s a special skill that you bring in either you’re entertaining or you connect with the groom and bride a certain way, you have specific shots that you are willing to take the risks to do. You know, it’s like those jumping fun shots or whatever. But there’s a unique flair you can bring to the work that other photographers might, and maybe, you know, maybe your clientele don’t want you to be the exuberant photographer and they want you to be the hidden photographer. That’s a whole different skillset, right. And there are photographers that are really good at just the sneak in candid shots and stay out of the way. You never know they were there.

Steven: It works perfect when you’re introverted, especially you’re like, I don’t want to be here anyways. So I’ll just hide in the corner and take pictures. That’s really cool. So I guess on the flip side, then what do you see people doing that like, they definitely should be like, like knocking that off as quickly as possible. Like, for me, like, just to give an example, like I see a lot of companies who have like a social media presence, but then like they don’t respond to anything. Like they don’t see your messages, they don’t respond to them. Like you don’t see them commenting a lot in, like, I think that’s just like the dumbest thing in the world, because it’s like, at that point, it’s just like you’re using social media as a billboard. There’s nothing social about it, which I think is kind of weird. So I don’t know. That’s like the one thing I noticed

Merlin: Take it back to my agency days here in Arizona. And it was the same thing I told my clients too. It’s like, look, be on the platforms that, you know, you can actively be on. And if you can’t, you don’t want to, you know, you don’t have to be on all five platforms, LinkedIn, Pinterest, you know, maybe your business don’t even need to be on LinkedIn. Right. I think now most people are still on like the Facebook, Twitter train or Instagram is where at least but you really want to do the, you know, do the activities, the business activities that, you know, you can manage and do the well don’t spread yourself too thin, but that’s true of all business activities, whether you know, you’re talking about running the kitchen or doing the marketing, you gotta be very, very focused. And that doesn’t mean that you, like, if you’re on social media, you need to post every day or take it as a post every day. But we, we do engage with people every day. We’re commenting, we’re talking, we’re liking you know, we’re messaging with, with other people. And, and that’s still presence. It’s just not a billboard presence. Right. Yeah. And so it’s just a matter of being focused on what you want and doing it well and, and realizing that you don’t have to wear all the hats, but certainly not all at once.

Steven: Certainly. And I think that actually transitions perfectly into our next question, which is you you’ve hired people before, correct? Sure. Yeah. Okay. So, you know, when we talked a little bit earlier, I just wanted to make sure we talked a little bit about kind of like that solar preneur entrepreneur transition that happens when you, you know, kind of more transitioned to, to a business owner over time, as opposed to I’m the only person doing all the work. What is it that you think holds people back from making that transition in a hiring and being that you’ve been on the other side of that? What are they kind of like missing out on when they don’t make that leap?

Merlin: Yeah. Well, I’ll start with the last half of the question is what are you missing out on? Well, you’re missing out on growth potential, right? By, by wearing all the hats and doing it all yourself. You’re missing out on the hockey stick of growth that is in your future because you’re too focused on the minutia and hiring someone to even do one simple task. Even if it’s part time or half, quarter time frees up your time to go do the other things that are important, or you still have to be focused. Right. Cause you can’t, you can’t be distracted in the other things just because someone has taken up this one task doesn’t mean I have more time now for the other tasks, right. It’s really trying to clamp down on what you’re trying to achieve. And so I, I think the hardest part of hiring there’s two things.

Merlin: The reason I think people don’t hire a lot is that they themselves don’t feel like they know 100% what that role is, right. They haven’t defined those roles and put it in a box, having worked corporate jobs before and run multiple businesses. I can tell you that outlining the job roles, understanding what each one does and how it fits into the greater machine is an important step. And you need to take the time to identify those roles. And you know, you can, you can almost template them off the internet. If you look up small business job roles, but like, you know, you don’t want your waiters to also be the cooks as an analogy. So and I understand that you start, you usually are the waiter, the cook, the salesman, the host, you know, and sometimes even the guests, but, but you start to chip off those roles and you give them to someone else and you freed up your time to go to do other things like market and get, get the growth that you want.

Merlin: And then you can hire someone else to fill another piece. But I think what I was going to was that because you don’t have those roles to find, you’re afraid that you’re gonna to hire someone and they’re gonna just kind of aimlessly walk around and not know what to do. Right. So you don’t have to all your cash and then just eat up your cash. Right. the other thing I think that people are afraid of is that because they don’t have those roles to find, they’re afraid of Heights hiring someone who they’re supposed to be the boss of and looking like they don’t know what they’re doing. Yeah. Right. And to be perfectly honest that you can approach two mindsets, you can approach it with the mindset that, Hey, I’m not, let me hire someone who is a lot better. Right. And I think a lot of people tend to just hire an agency to do that.

Merlin: But when you hire an agency, you spend almost the exact same amount of money for someone that’s partial time. Right. Because they’ve got other clients that they’re working on too. If you hire someone in house to do it and you can get them and they’re hungry and they’re young, wait, we’ve had senior internships before someone who’s older than I am more gray hair, which is becoming more and more impossible to do something for us that I’m not great at, I know should be done. And I know generally how to do it, but I haven’t done it a lot and someone else could do a lot better. So, you know, I think those are the two big things. It’s just not knowing the roles. And then feeling like they’re going to look like a failure in front of the person that’s supposed to to, to work for them. So you gotta get over that, that fear and you gotta be willing to accept that someone out there probably knows more than you. In fact, I know that there are people out there, there are definitely people out there that know a lot more about beer and, you know, I’m a Cicerone, so I’m up there, but there are people out there that know a lot more than I do. And I like, I like those people sometimes I wish I could afford to hire those people.

Steven: Right. Oh yeah. Cause it just takes things to the next level. Like I remember one time reading and I, I can’t remember what industry is for. I want to say it was kind of like for an agency thing. And they were just saying like the first person you should hire as like a CFO, because most of the time, like business owners and like, especially like makers of things are not like necessarily like numbers people. And the last thing they want to be doing is like double checking invoice numbers. And like, if you’ve paid your estimated taxes for the quarter, so it’s kind of, you know, we obviously, you know, someone, a CNA is going to know a lot more about that than I am.

Merlin: Yeah. I mean having a good admin is always, always good. You know, when we started the brewery, I was doing the survey and the beer, you know, and those are very separate time spots. But then on my other free time, I was filing quarterly taxes. I was paying excise taxes. I was, you know, ordering ingredients and to have someone manage the backend really nice. So that I could just focus on the, you know, the marketing and the customer engagement even hiring a brewer would have been probably pretty good idea. But at that time we had just started, I didn’t want to hand it off to anyone now, first thing I’m going to do, as soon as we open this, hire a brewer, Oh God. I mean, I love brewing, but it is not a great use of my doc

Steven: Point. You have people to manage and you can’t be brewing and managing and admitting and community building. And I mean, I’m sure you could, but then you’d also probably hate your life. So, yeah.

Merlin: And my wife and my daughter would never see me.

Steven: That’s true, but can’t be doing that. So one thing you mentioned before that I thought we could kind of talk about a little bit was, you’d mentioned something about focus. You talked about like focus on you know, having those people that you hired to help focus and so on and so forth. What, how, what’s your process as far as making those hard decisions on saying, you know, like this is where I’m headed, I’m going to stay focused and that’s different than being like unwilling to transition. I mean, but like, so how is it that you kind of determine your focus and stay focused? Because obviously it’s like a small business owner, there’s things coming at you all the time. There’s lots of decisions that have to be made. And I’m sure, you know, you could even say at some point that you’ve been a little off track, you know, I mean, and all of a sudden you like it from doing all the work and you’re like, Hey, this is not where I wanted to be. Like, what happened? Like, so how is it you stay focused?

Merlin: I think for me it’s really difficult cause I, I have a wandering mind and you know, I’ll be doing one thing and thinking about another all the time, my wife hates it because it’s, she thinks I’m not paying attention, but I am. I’m just halfway there anyway. It’s I think it’s, it’s between the role definition that we’re talking about before and then also knowing what you want your business to be. Right. if so in my case, I knew that I wanted a beer brand that was able to be enjoyed by public outside of, outside of my four walls. And so making a pivot wasn’t difficult, as long as I knew it was still going to be the end road to that goal. Now, if my goal had been, I want to just brew beer for money starting a brewery is probably not the best way to do that.

Merlin: You can just go get a job as a brewer. Right, right. Let everyone else deal admin and the salesmanship and the bartending. So, you know, really defining what you want to achieve and then what you want your business to be. And if you know those two things and you define them broadly enough, how do you get to those things? It doesn’t really matter. And that’s, I think I’ve always found it very easy to pivot because my goals were always a little bit broader and path, depending on, you know, what obstacles we encountered the same thing this time with a stupid COVID. I knew that I want to go back to having a tasting room. Cause I wanted to introduce the brand, my way to a new market. I wasn’t able to do that. So pivoting again, back to contracting, which is a path I’ve taken before and I know works. And then we have some marketing ideas that are going to help bring consumers closer to us that will give somewhat of a tasting room feel that won’t involve any kind of dangerous non masked people and disease and such.

Steven: Well, that’s always nice either that you drink enough beer, that the alcohol kills, whatever goes into you, right?

Merlin: Yeah. That’s, you know, that’s what I’ve been doing for less than that.

Steven: I dunno if that’s how it works, but I feel like that’s how it should work, you know? Right. okay. So let’s just kind of wrap it up with two different things and you’ve kind of already hinted at it, but just if you could just kind of display out just for the sake of sharing what kind of your guys’ plans are for the rest of the year into the next year? Yeah, go ahead with that.

Merlin: Okay, cool. Yeah. So right now what we’re doing is we’re exploring the contract brewing path. Again, we’ve reached out to a few people that we’ve met in Arizona brewing industry have capacity and are willing to play along with the best. So it’s a, it’s a slightly different path than I would hope for, but it is a way for us to kind of get this business, you know, baby, stepping it up to where we want to be. Part of it to me is really just a, is the passion for the product. I love making the beer, designing the beers, drinking the beers. And so I, that was a space that I want to be in and I want to share those with other people. So our plan is by, you know, by definitely by the end of the summer that we’ll have our first cans out for people to, to order and have delivered to their home.

Merlin: Right. So we have to kind of roll with the punches with the legislation, but the model that is currently available, I think we have done a win a little bit. Oh, the other thing I want to talk to you just mentioned was back when we were talking about the higher end stuff. So when we talked about the hiring, we had mentioned that you know, having the rules defined, that’s really important. I think the, the other big thing that people make the mistake of is not taking the time to hire the right people. They think they have a role and they just need to put a body in it. But as a small business owner, especially as your first like five hires you want people who are the right people for the bus, right? This is a analogy I take from Jim Collins book, good to great is getting the right people on the bus.

Merlin: And then as a group deciding where that bus is going. Right, right. So like we know that there’s a bus driver, that’s usually the entrepreneur, but then the seats are, you can sit in the bus. And so you hire people that, that are able to take on a little more than what they were hired for. But they’re hungry and they’re their team people, and they’re not just there for the paycheck. Right. You need to hire those passionate folks to start and make sure that they’re helping you get the bus to the right location. And then once you kind of get the ball rolling and you’re, you know, you’re on the highway, so to speak and you can start just filling roles. But even, I think even up to, you know, your thousands employee, you should really be hiring people in those slots that are that are going to take that role to the next level. And aren’t just going to kind of turn the crank,

Steven: Right? No, that’s good. That’s good. I mean, I think that one of the things that like some of the people on my team are like, are pretty young. But at the same time they definitely come on board with some experience and they’re always willing to learn something more and do well and Excel and do excellent work. And for me, that’s been so valuable and I, and I told them it was like, you know, just as an employee, I’ve looked around and noticed like, okay, like if someone is willing to learn and willing to put in the work, like there’s no end to what they can be taught to do. Cause there’s so few things that can’t be learned to do well. And one of the things you really can’t learn is, well, if you do, it takes a long time, but like taking that initiative is something that really can’t be taught. Or just being like a real go getter is something that usually is inside of you. Isn’t something that you go and sit down and have a training seminar on, you know what I mean? So it’s like when you find people like that, you’re like, yes, come please join the team.

Merlin: Yeah, totally. I mean to a certain point too, I mean, there are negatives to the go getters and sometimes they go get the wrong way. You know, it really just kinda depends how you want to build your team. What kind of culture do you want to develop? You know, you, you said you were an introvert, sometimes it’s just a pile of introverts is okay too, depending on what it is you’re doing. Certainly if you’re, let’s say you’re programming, the next big app, you know, for introverts would be awesome. Cause you don’t want them to be distracted by anything just code. Right. So it all depends, but yeah,

Steven: Totally. So just to go on more of like the personal side, I guess and maybe this is too heavy, but whatever we’re going to go for it, what gets you up in the morning? What gets you fired up?

Merlin: Well, usually my daughter gets me up in the morning. Not because I want to get up either. It’s usually just that’s, that’s how it goes. He doesn’t know when your alarm set. Yeah, no, she does actually. And she wakes up an hour before and then when it goes off, she takes my phone away and stops it for me. Oh yeah. It’s cute. It’s very cute. But no, I think, I think you’re thinking more kind of metaphorically. What gets you up in the morning? You know, as a, as a 34 year old man of one daughter and wife for me, it’s really the family. I want to get up every day and work towards that dream so that, you know, with daughters of college age we can live quite comfortably and not have to struggle and work on someone else’s dime. You know? So for me, it’s about building this business to a point over the next decade or two that we are, that we’re living a lifestyle that we really enjoy. And that means grinding a little bit right now. But we’re going to get there and that’s, that’s, that’s my ultimate dream right there. It’s it’s getting better.

Steven: Yeah, no, that’s awesome. I feel that I do not yet have kids, but I have never, I don’t know if it’s just me and maybe you can help me out on this, but I’ve just never been okay with just like normal newness, I guess. Like for me, it’s like I never woke up and were just like, yeah, like I just love to have like a normal card, a normal and then a normal paycheck is just like, that doesn’t seem very interesting to me. And maybe it’s materialism. I don’t know, but like for me it’s like, okay, like I want what I like what I like, and I want what I want. And like, for me, that just requires an income and an amount of effort on this end of that. That just is too high and you’re not too high, but it is high.

Steven: And so, yeah, you’ve got to get up every day and kill it and move forward because if you want to have that comfortable lifestyle, most people don’t have that. And so you’ve got to do something that most people aren’t willing to do, which is stay up all night brewing and doing a taproom and having a full time job and moving and the whole nine yards, you know what I mean? Like you’re putting in the work to make happen. Absolutely. So anyway, that’s my, my preacher box on that, but Oh man. Well, can you just kind of let people know where they can find you right now, where they can interact with you and learn more about you and your delicious beer that will eventually be made?

Merlin: Yeah, my my favorite place to hang up is Instagram. So you can go to Wartega it’s app Wartega, W A R T G E A. I’m usually manning the helm there. So if you message us, it’s me. We, I I’ve been lately, so I’ve been lately. I’ve been just going around Arizona picking up the beers. I like, so we were at mother road recently. So I’ve been, this is what I’ve been drinking by the road, lost, lost highway. It’s a double black IPA, very tasty, well balanced. So I’ll be posting, you know, our beer travels there until we get our own stuff out. Sometimes there’s some home brew stuff that shows up because I, I still want to brew, but I can’t professionally right now. And then you know we also share things like this. So when, when this is announced, deal, certainly see it on their Instagram and our Facebook that way too. So those are the channels that I, that I linger in.

Steven: Cool. Well, that’s, that’s definitely where we connected with Instagram. That’s where I spend most of my my most of my time. So if people aren’t on Instagram, the chances of me actually getting a hold of them is pretty slim. But yeah. Well, thank you so much for your time today. Thank you so much for all your helpful hints and tricks and tips and just the, you know, all the mindset stuff that goes into growing a business. Cause obviously there’s a lot to it. There’s a lot of parts to it. And thankfully with all the experiences you’ve had you’re able to add a lot of value to that. So thank you very much for doing that. And yeah. And then we’ll, we’ll be sharing this Monday, Monday, and so yeah, we’ll be able to share this out and kind of get your name out there and so thank you very much.

Merlin: Awesome. Thank you very much. We really like to talk with you.