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August 19, 2015
Portland, OR
Ticket Proceeds Donated to the Oregon Brewshed Alliance
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Video: Commons Brewery Founder Michael Wright Shares Entrepreneurial Lessons at Brew Talks PDX

Commons Brewery founder Michael Wright started his career in beer as more of a licensed hobbyist — a “one man show, on a one barrel system located in [my] garage,” as he describes it.

“To my surprise, I was actually able to get licensed in the garage,” he told attendees during last week’s Brew Talks meetup in Portland, Ore. “What I had lacking was any sort of a plan.”

Like many entrepreneurs, Wright describes his journey to becoming self-employed as a “ridiculously cliché small business story.” Originally launched as the Beetje (be-cha) Brewery, Wright (quite literally) began brewing and selling small batches out of his garage. He initially juggled his responsibilities as a business analyst and project manager for Multnomah County and brewed in the evenings and on the weekends.

“I really wanted to be in this industry, but I just couldn’t completely leap from my position with a family, house, kids, car – the whole deal,” he said.

As a nano-brewer, Wright knew he had more of a licensed hobby than a business and in 2011 made the decision to quit his job and scale up.

“I was really good at spreadsheets at the time, because I did a lot of that stuff, and they all told me not to do it,” he said.

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And like any good entrepreneur, he ignored the forecasts, purchased a 7-barrel system, rented a 1,500 sq. ft. building and decided to “give it a shot.” At that time, Wright also hired a brewer and a sales manager to help him run day-to-day operations, a decision that would become the backbone of his core business philosophy.

“Delegate and hire people that are smarter than you,” he said, when asked what advice he’d share with other entrepreneurs.

Making the leap from hobbyist to business owner was “like jumping off the cliff without a parachute,” he said.

Despite the early challenges as a garage brewer with a funky name, Wright said there isn’t much he’d change if given the chance to start over.

“The ability to produce a little bit more beer and more emphasis on retail,” he said.

Since his launch, Wright has scaled The Commons business considerably and is now capable of producing about 2,500 barrel annually. Nevertheless, he still wrestles with the need for continued growth and a desire to remain a small, hands-on niche brewery.

“It’s been clear to me recently that we are in this very messy phase,” he said. “Even though we are still really small, we’ve just gone through this big transition and we are trying to figure out where we are going next.”

In the video above, Wright shares his entrepreneurial lessons and discusses how the Commons brand might develop over time.