Providing a New Experience to Craft Curious Customers
A Candid Conversation with Entrepreneur and Rootmaster Robert Finkel
Robert Finkel, founder and Rootmaster of the new brewery in West Town, Forbidden Root, saw an opening to do something new in the popular craft beer industry – create a unique experience that focuses on designing beer around natural botanic ingredients. He sought to provide a familiar foodie experience to the craft curious through a vast variety of natural ingredients like flowers, stems, roots, leaves, spices, herbs, honeys, etc.
However, he’s not just a craft brew genius, he also has some seriously good advice for budding entrepreneurs. From planning, to creating a braintrust team to getting investors, his words of wisdom can be translated to almost every industry.
He also notes how important it is to have a trusted advisor along the way when first getting started. Finkel says, “Advocate’ is the one word that best sums up the way I view Lema and her team’s differentiation.”
What gave you the idea to start this brewery? What did you learn that you might not have otherwise thought about when starting your own business?
It was my obsession with root beer that led me to question, why was there not a real root beer on the market? Having researched the transition of botanic beer into soda in the late 1800’s, whether Ginger Beer, Dr. Pepper, Coca Cola, Root beer, were relegated to sweet soda with the invasion of the CO2 cartridge. Mankind has fermented what it locally foraged for 10,000 years — hops have been used only in the last 500 years. The use of such a vast variety of natural ingredients…flowers, stems, roots, leaves, spices, herbs, honeys, etc. gives us a wide palette to offer our exploring beer consumers, and provides a more familiar foodie experience to the craft curious. If the label says juniper and grapefruit, you will taste gin and juice vs. having to grasp at imaginary clove notes in a malt or yeast.
I learned that situations, buildings, and people reveal themselves over time, and there is no way to accelerate that process beyond an organic process. We could not see that the entry was supposed to be a beer garden until the vestibule was demolished and ceilings raised. My investment of time planning the space, an impatient exercise in attempting to accelerate our progress, was a waste of time and resources, as the building would reveal the right plan at its own pace. People’s zones of genius aren’t necessarily apparent until they are put in situations where they can excel. Settings a culture of valued participation, while hard and at times frustrating, leads to better decision making, sense of real inclusion, and pride. I knew this going in, but seeing the extent of the resultant leverage confirms a valuable lesson. Hire people with diverse thinking but common values.
What advice do you have for other budding entrepreneurs?
You learn more from success than failure. There are many fewer ways to be really successful. You can’t overthink things…literally – think about your plan from every angle, collect a great braintrust of advisors, test product, you can’t do enough planning. Knowing when you have enough information to conclude you are taking an unfairly good risk is the art. Don’t be greedy when fund raising. No one who is highly successful looks back and regrets giving on the valuation of their early rounds. People do regret having ignorant, heavy handed, investors who invest too much of their net worth in a given deal. You can be as patient as is your investor base. All money is not the same.
What tips do you have for making your business stand out?
I think of my decision to go into a brand new industry, as an artist pondering their first album. Am I contributing some new and special to the conversation? Not based on my mere desire to be in the business…will my product and presence forward the industry? Do you genuinely bring a unique perspective? If you do, can you convince great people to share and tweak your vision? Can you create a culture that is the driver of sustainable differentiation? As a very wise business visionary, General George Doriot wrote, “businesses are living organisms.” They are born, shaped, fed, have personalities, and can be strong or weak. I think if leaders view their positions as having a purpose, as custodians of that mission, they will be able to articulate a specific set of goals upfront, and those who join self-select based on how excited they are to further that goal, caveat that, to me, the highest order of culture is one that questions itself, so strap in!
As an entrepreneur, what is the best part about your day/running your business?
Watching people develop, and self actualize. Beer brings people together, and is a connective force…seeing people really enjoy themselves, seeing the joy and passion of their experiencing a new flavor combination is like watching a baby eat a favorite food so much they kick with joy in their high chair. Watching parents come in with strollers to relax and enjoy a great cool beer and food experience, and then the later crew of younger or empty nesters, all enjoying themselves, with slightly dimmer lights and louder music. It’s a high for a pleaser.
How has Lema/her team helped you along the way?
Lema is a fixer. She is an ET of a professional in that you sense she genuinely cares, is putting herself in your shoes, and is opposite of a mercenary attorney. Over 25 years, I am guessing the legal fees expended in transactions and companies I have worked easily eclipse $10 million. I have worked with many many varieties of firms: small, medium, large – Intellectual property, bankruptcy, M&A, Securities, ERISA, Litigation, Real Estate, Estate, Tax, Maritime law, International law, liquor law, etc. Having a trusted legal advisor, a really good and caring emergency medicine doctor gets to the heart of the matter and does not cut corners to further her agenda to bill hours, is a treasured resource. I have turned to Lema in several situations, including a critical lease negotiation, where she and her staff were highly responsive, very competent, and very fairly priced. ‘Advocate’ is the one word that best sums up the way I view she and her team’s differentiation.