In a conversation with skateboarders Mikey Taylor and Eric Bork, who host the recently launched AVNI Interviews podcast featuring entrepreneurs and influencers, Saint Archer Brewing co-founder Josh Landan opened up about the process of starting, scaling and eventually selling the San Diego-based craft brewery to MillerCoors.
Landan, who revealed that he initially raised $2.8 million to launch the brand in 2013, shared a bevy of anecdotes from the days before Saint Archer was established, and elaborated on the circumstances that led to his departure from MillerCoors in the months following the sale.
“As an entrepreneur, you want to disrupt,” he said of the desire to start a brewery. “You are looking at a segment and going ‘I can do it better.’ And I felt like that. I didn’t necessarily feel like I could brew beer better, because I’ve never brewed a beer in my entire life, and I didn’t know anyone in the beer business. But I felt like I could build a better brand than everybody else.”
Prior to becoming a beverage entrepreneur, Landan was an action sports filmmaker who worked with acclaimed surf film producer Taylor Steele. He also helped launch PMM Sports with former Green Day manager Pat Magnarella, building a talent roster that included some of the world’s best surfers and skaters.
Landan eventually traded in his career as a filmmaker and sports agent to make beer, and tapped his network of popular action sports figures — including pro skaters Paul Rodriguez (P-Rod), Eric Koston and AVNI host Taylor, among others — for funding to help launch Saint Archer.
Initially, he explained, the plan was to contract brew. Landan, along with Rodriguez and Taylor, met with two brewing companies: Bayhawk Ales Inc., which was rebranded as Evans Brewing Company in 2015, and Indian Wells Brewing.
“We sat in this meeting with Indian Wells,” Landan said. “And we got to the financials of it, and the guy goes ‘so it breaks down to where you pay us $18 for the case, and you’ll probably turn around and sell it for $18.25 to the distributor.”
Realizing that contract brewing would be less profitable, and feeling like the idea to open a craft brewery was the wrong one, Landan said Rodriguez encouraged him to think bigger before calling it quits.
“Scared money don’t make money dog,” Landan said, channeling his inner P-Rod as he retold the story of driving home from the meeting with Indian Wells.
He continued: “I’m like – so should we do a capital raise? And he’s like, ‘Let’s go get millions.’”
Initial investments from celebrity athletes Rodriguez and Taylor, as well as Eric Koston, Sean Malto and Taylor Knox, helped Saint Archer secure funding from its largest investor, Frank Foster, the managing director of Frontier Venture Capital.
The brewery eventually opened in April 2013, and secured more than 2,400 points of distribution as well as 785 draft accounts within the first six months.
“We had things break our way that, like, don’t happen,” he said. “We had the Islands Restaurant chain — two weeks being into business, in the market, they call and go, ‘We want to put you in 75 restaurants.’ The Dodgers, two months in, not available anywhere in Los Angeles, call and go, ‘We want to put the blonde ale in the stadium.’”
Despite the interest from retailers, Landan said his biggest challenge was managing rapid growth, something that ultimately led him to consider a sale.
“It just so happens that I needed to raise $10 million more dollars to keep up with growth, and then I got a call from Budweiser trying to buy the brand,” he said, admitting that Anheuser-Busch InBev took an interest in acquiring the company.
“I said: “Wow, maybe we could actually sell this thing.’ And then I made a film, telling Saint Archer’s story, and put together a deck, and away we went.”
In 2015, about two-and-a-half years after it launched, MillerCoors purchased Saint Archer in a move that, apparently, didn’t please all of the company’s investors.
“Some investors were like, ‘You sold too early,’” he explained. “I think for me, I was like – that was fun. Shouldn’t you just be stoked? No, that wasn’t the case a lot of times.”
Nevertheless, Landan said the opportunity to “change his friends’ lives,” made the decision to sell worth some of the headaches that followed.
“I didn’t want to risk it, and wait a year-and-a-half,” he said. “I wasn’t willing to play with their financial future like that.”
Following the acquisition, Landan said he didn’t always see eye-to-eye with MillerCoors executives.
“They just didn’t understand the way we did things,” he said.
He continued: “I think it was just really hard because I knew how to grow the business, and at that point, the brand was established. And I wanted to grow the business into a national brand. They made some decisions that really hurt it.”
One of those decisions, according to Landan, was moving the brand into the MillerCoors distribution network in Southern California.
“We lost a lot of business,” he admitted.
After 18 months, Landan, who said he “just wasn’t in it anymore,” departed MillerCoors, despite having five years left on an employment contract and “leaving a lot of money on the table.”
“When you are a part of MillerCoors or any corporation, they have standard practices and procedures, and you do it that way,” he said. “And I don’t do it that way. You do it my way.”
After he left the country’s second-largest beer company, he took over as CEO of Villager Goods, a non-alcoholic beverage brand he co-founded with former Saint Archer vice president Jeff Hansson.
Now, two years into that business, Landan admits, “Villager is much harder than Saint Archer ever was.”
“In non-alcoholic food and beverage, you are at the mercy of the retailer,” he said. “You can’t just go do marketing and brand things when people can’t buy it.”
Villager, which markets coconut water, alkaline water and a soon to launch line of organic juice and food products for children, is on the verge of “rolling out nationwide with 7-Eleven,” Landan shared.
“We have a great distribution with Target coming out in September, which is amazing, and we are doing some great things with Amazon,” he said. “We are in 250 Circle Ks in Denver and it is about to get expanded to 550. It is really crazy.”
Check out the full AVNI interview with Landan here.