Ep 1 – Graham Sherman – Starting the Alberta Craft Beer Revolution
The Ambition Project – Calgary Entrepreneurial Podcast
The Ambition Project is a video series in which we interview successful and ambitious Calgary entrepreneurs and talk to them about their struggles, what they’ve had to overcome on their journey and valuable insights they have to share with up and coming business owners. The series will premiere on September 18th, 2018. Be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel to stay updated or stream an episode on Spotify or iTunes.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Awesome. Well, welcome Graham. Thank you for giving us your time today. We really appreciate it.
Graham Sherman: Thanks for having me.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So Graham is the owner of Tool Shed Brewing. You’re also avid public speaker, much sought after from what I’ve been told. And you’ve accomplished a lot in the last while. You also do a fair bit of downhill biking as well, correct?
Graham Sherman: Yeah, mountain biking cross country is my gem. Yeah.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Awesome. And you have a wife and kids as well.
Graham Sherman: Absolutely.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Awesome. So, tell us just briefly a little bit about the brewery.
Graham Sherman: Okay. You mean like the origins of it? How we started, or?
Jonathan Hafichuk: What it is and what you guys do.
Graham Sherman: Okay. Yeah. So Tool Shed Brewing company is the brewery, we’re a local craft brewery here in town. And yeah, brewing is an interesting thing. It’s one of those industries that connects the community around a thing. I think maybe the best way to describe it is I’ve always wanted to bring good people together to share good times and good stories. And that’s the secret of life for me is bringing good people together to share good times and good stories, beer does that better than anything else.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Awesome. So, before we dive into the deep of it, quick message from our sponsors. Our first sponsor is Symbol Syndication, which is a video production company that I started. We do video production and online marketing for businesses of all sizes, ranging from solopreneurs to fortune 500 companies. Our second sponsor is Gravity Cafe. They’ve been gracious enough to give us their space. The coffee’s awesome. They have live music three nights a week, the beers great. It’s an awesome place to come hang out.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Our third sponsor is the Better Business Bureau. For over a hundred years, BBB has helped consumers and businesses make smarter decisions with a mission of advancing marketplace trust. BBB is a resource to consumers and businesses by providing a framework for ethical enterprise and for handling marketplace disputes in an unbiased process. BBB accredited businesses fund our extensive community engagement and consumer education programs, allowing BBB to be a valued source of information and advice for consumers and businesses alike. BBB, start with trust.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Our fourth sponsor is Limitless Furniture. They provided these awesome chairs in this table. You can find them in Inglewood. Awesome place to get high end furniture. I would highly recommend checking them out.
Jonathan Hafichuk: All right, so tell us a little bit about how Tool Shed Brewing came about. How did you and Jeff meet?
Graham Sherman: Yeah. So, Jeff and I came together probably like no other brewery ever has before. We met in Kabul, Afghanistan of all places. And so back in the day, this was 2007 Jeff and I were IT nerds, and we worked over in Afghanistan in support of the US military, the Canadian military department of foreign affairs and international trade. We would design and implement top secret tactical communication networks for the US Marine Corps, the Canadian troops Satcom really.
Graham Sherman: It’s a different world when you’re over in a war zone designing encrypted tactical communication networks. But, I met Jeff over there and the funny thing about it is, is Jeff lives three blocks away from me here in Calgary. And we meet as roommates over in Kabul, Afghanistan, implementing these types of networks. So, a funny story, but what was neat was, so here we are, we’re roommates over in Kabul and what I think bonded us together and why we became friends was we loved this maybe a back and forth battle of taking hobbies too far.
Graham Sherman: So we would compete against each other on who could take the hobby too far. So we got into coffee, we got into roasting our own beans and getting insane coffee machines for our homes. And we got into barbecue and we’d compete in the Canadian Nationals in competitive barbecue. So smoking ribs and brisket and pulled pork and everything. But not just smoking ribs. I’ve got my pit in my backyard, it’s networked, it’s got its own IP address and it’ll tweet you and let you know when the ribs are ready. There’s an infrared camera that looks at the meat and I can give you administrative access to log in and have a look at the meat. Yeah, it’s pretty bad ass. The pit is … And it’s a charcoal pit, right? So, it’s adding tech to the hobbies that you love.
Graham Sherman: So yeah, I think the main thread that Jeff and I loved was we loved taking hobbies too far, but we also loved hobbies that brought people together. And that’s coffee and that’s barbecue, and that’s beer. I loved if I could get people to come over to my place and enjoy the best coffee they’ve ever had or the best rack of ribs they’ve ever had, right? And eventually that’s what led into the beer was beer I think is just the next logical step when you’re trying to bring good people together and to share good stories and good times.
Graham Sherman: So we started brewing beer in my backyard tool shed. And from the first moment that we brewed, we put our very first beer and it was magnificent this first beer. I remember thinking it should be crap because we don’t know what we’re doing. And we made all these mistakes and when we went to get the ingredients for the recipe, we had all the wrong stuff and we were just substituting things. But the beer was so damn good. The people that came over to our house to try it loved it so much. We knew we were onto something.
Graham Sherman: And along that road, comes the inevitable question, what if? What if we didn’t have to do our jobs anymore and we could do this for a living, right? And that therein lies the, I guess the start, the spark of the entrepreneurial journey, yet something that you think might be better than the crap you’re dealing with in your nine to five job. I don’t know what you deal with in your nine to five, but in mine we were getting shot at, there’s kidnapping attempts, there’s bombs going off in Afghanistan, right? And we think, what if we could brew beer for a living? That would be better than Afghanistan And that was-
Jonathan Hafichuk: A little safer.
Graham Sherman: Yeah. And, I have a wife and three kids at home that do not like that I live in Afghanistan for as long as I do every year, right? Six months to a year at a time. So, that’s the start of it is what if, what if we could start a brewery and not have to go back to Afghanistan? That was the start.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So what was the next step after that? Did you develop a business plan or did you look at what it would take to move from a shed to inspected certified location I guess.
Graham Sherman: Sure, yeah, we looked at it. One of the things that we looked at was that there was no breweries in the province. When you think about a business that you want to get into and you go, wow, nobody’s doing it. You think what a great time, what a great opportunity and you quit your job and you go after it. But inevitably, I think a lot of times if there’s nobody doing something in a city or in a region, lot of times there’s a good reason for that. In our case, the reason was it was illegal to do what we were trying to do in Alberta.
Graham Sherman: We went after writing a business plan to start a brewery. The problem with Alberta at that time was that the laws were, you had to show the government that you could brew 500,000 liters of beer a year or more even to apply to be a brewery in Alberta. So, here we are, I’ve gotten into my house and told my wife, I quit my job to go after the dream, right? And, don’t worry babe, we’re going to do it, right? And my wife hates beer. She wants nothing to do with beer.
Graham Sherman: I think this is part of what most entrepreneurs go through. I mean, maybe not that their wife is totally against what they start out with, but it’s a tough thing to go into the house and say to your wife, “Okay honey, we don’t make money anymore. We make beer.” Right? And, I’m still just a home brewer in the tool shed. Jeff and I are clever dudes, we wrote a great business plan. But when you find out that what you’re trying to do is illegal in the province and that people that have gone before you, that have tried to start breweries have either left the province or left the country in an effort to get a brewery started, it’s pretty disheartening.
Graham Sherman: So people as big as Lanny MacDonald tried to start breweries and these insane laws of how big your brewery had to be in this province to us seemed unfounded. We couldn’t figure out why these laws were in place, but we also couldn’t figure out why nobody had stuck around and fought the fight to get them changed. And maybe the straw that broke the camel’s back was only found out that Lanny McDonald, our local hockey hero had a brewery and it wasn’t in Alberta, it wasn’t even in Canada. It’s down in Montana.
Graham Sherman: So even people with millions of dollars and influence and the ability to lobby and make a noise, if they can’t get a brewery started in Alberta, who the hell are we? Right? I mean I’m a ginger, but I’m not Lanny McDonald’s, I have no mustache. My mustache is atrocious. But, I laugh and refer to it as we got married that night, Jeff and I, because you literally look at across the tool shed at your business partner to be, and you go, “Okay, are you willing to spend 18 hours a day with me for the rest of our lives? Because that’s what it might take. We’re going to be in this thing forever, and we’re going to see each other more than we see our spouses, our actual spouses.”
Graham Sherman: But we had a couple of concepts that we said we have to abide by. One of them was that we would plan for nothing but total success. Meaning, every decision we’re going to make, we’re going to balance that back or measure that back on total success. We’re planning for total success. So, are the decisions we make based on we’re going to crush it, and the other one was, we’re just not going to stop until we’ve achieved that. So.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So, in planning for total success, did you still have a partial plan or contingencies in case things went wrong along the way?
Graham Sherman: Absolutely not. I think that for us, one of the things that worked and was so important was there’s no dipping your toe in the water.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Yeah.
Graham Sherman: You don’t get to say, “Oh that’s cold water. I better go back to Afghanistan.” We quit our jobs, we went after this thing, all or nothing. And there’s a concept of having your back against the wall that you have to succeed or your family perishes.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So, what did you risk at this point?
Graham Sherman: Absolutely everything in our lives, our families, our marriages, our homes. I mean, I was the only breadwinner in my family at the time. And so, I have a wife and three kids and a mortgage and my kids go to a school that is expensive, and I mean this is nothing new. This isn’t, I’m some unique story that I risked everything. This is, I think one of the real core concepts behind why Tool Shed succeeded is because-
Jonathan Hafichuk: It had to.
Graham Sherman: When you’re a rabid dog with your back against the wall, it’s a fist fight every day to get it done. But you get it done because you have to, there’s no other option. And the first concept or the first struggle that you come up against is the legalities of what you’re trying to do provincially. Well, that’s not an insurmountable barrier. It just means nobody’s done it before. So, we set out to change the laws and we knew we couldn’t change the laws by fighting the government or belittling them or suing them.
Graham Sherman: People were in litigation with the provincial government over these rules. But, it never works to sue the government, I think is what I’ve learned, right? So what we did was we said, what if we could make a noise so big, about local craft beer that the community around us would hoist a sup on their shoulders and stand for what we stood for. The government would eventually look and say, I mean, this is who votes for us. We got to do something here.
Graham Sherman: So what we did was we made a noise about Alberta, about agriculture, about the local farmers. We actually have the greatest barley on the earth right here in Alberta. The best breweries on earth use Alberta barley. So what we did was we said, if we can’t brew here, can we import our beer? And the government said, yep, you can import. You just can’t brew here. So ridiculous, but whatever. Fine.
Graham Sherman: So we found a brewery out in BC that let us brew our beer in their facility. And then we shipped our barley across the province over the border to British Columbia. Drove 12 hours out to this brewery just outside of Vancouver, brewed our beer with Alberta barley right out there, drove back home and then imported our own beer back into the province and that allowed us to make a noise, and we went to the media. We went to every radio station that would listen, every TV station that would listen, every newspaper that would listen.
Graham Sherman: And there was a lot of people that were in the media at that time that said, “Holy crow, these guys aren’t just saying, do you realize what we would have to do? They’re saying, look at what they’re doing.” That truck right there has almost 600,000 kilometers on it because of driving out to BC and back a couple of times a week to brew our beer. But that’s what I think made a big impact on our provincial government to say this is a pretty antiquated law, it’s time for change.
Graham Sherman: So, we know that we didn’t do it individually. There was a lot of people trying to get this law changed, but sometimes it takes a noise at that amplitude, right? You need some decibels with your noise to make the government change their mind sometimes. And so December 2013 the AGLC changed the requirements to start a brewery. They went from that 500,000 liter minimum to zero minimum.
Jonathan Hafichuk: Wow.
Graham Sherman: And so, that was a massive win for us. We, for the rest of our lives, we’ll take that to our graves that we were a part of that change that opened up the floodgates to all the, almost a hundred breweries in the province that you see now that are flourishing. I mean, literally there was two breweries in our city at that time, now there’s three on my city block where Tool Shed is. So, that’s a huge one.
Jonathan Hafichuk: How did you go about getting financing? How did you approach that? Because there’s a lot of options for that in business, but this would have probably been a difficult one because I imagine the banks here didn’t have a lot of history with funding breweries.
Graham Sherman: Mm-hmm (affirmative). No, they had none. There was no breweries that were funded. In fact, the one brewery that popped up just before us was Village Brewery and that was a bunch of fellows that had worked at Big Rock for … And Molson before. I think they touted something like 157 years of combined brewing experience and they didn’t need to go to the bank. So, we were really one of the very first breweries going to try to get funding from bank, and we were laughed at.
Graham Sherman: I went to my bank that I have been with since I was a little kid, and when debit cards first came out, now you’re a little guy and you go to get your debit card. That’s how long, I was with my bank and they literally laughed in our faces trying to get money for this venture. And, that’s a frustrating thing for anybody starting a business because where else do you go? You go to the bank you’ve been with since you were a kid. That’s the longest relationship I have with any business in my life is my bank, and they actually laughed. Their comment to us when we showed them our business plan, they said, “A brewery? Well, that’s adorable.” That’s …
Jonathan Hafichuk: Wow.
Graham Sherman: Yeah, that was the comment we got. So we’re no longer with that bank anymore, but that’s a tough thing. So you, okay, well screw banks, I’ll go talk to some investors because I watched Dragon’s Den, right? Investors believe in the people, not just the business plan, right? So, you go and you meet a bunch of people around the city, you show them what you’re going to do. But if you’re a savvy investor, you’re going to ask qualifying questions like, have you done this before successfully? Right? So, no, I have not done this before. I’ve lived in Afghanistan for the last however many years. So you don’t have the qualifying features of what a bank or an investor wants to feel safe with their money.
Graham Sherman: Again, this is not anything unique to me. I’m a random IT ginger, right? Who just spent time overseas doing IT work who now wants to start a brewery and I’ve got a great business plan. I know it’s going to succeed. I’m planning for nothing but total success, but I can’t convince a bank or an investor to give me a penny. Really, we learned a lot in this journey and what blew our minds was the whole way along when we were trying to get money from banks and investors. We had friends that said, “Man, I’m in.”
Graham Sherman: I don’t know about you, but I was raised never to take money from friends. My dad was always telling me that that’s the fastest way to lose a friend, so you don’t mix friends and money, and so great. So my friends would say, “I want to invest in Tools Shed.” I go, “Nah, no, it’s all good. Don’t worry, we’ll be fine.” I remember it was one of my absolute best friends, he lives in the city here. He’s a firefighter, his name is Chuck, and Chuck, the firefighter goes, “Dude, I don’t have a lot of money, but I have $50,000 to my name.” And he goes, “I just believe in you and I know you’re going to do it, but I can’t give you all my money because I’m getting married this month so I can only give you 40 grand.” Right?
Graham Sherman: And I’m like, there’s no way I can take this guy’s money. How on earth? And I’m standing up as his best man in his wedding. I can’t go to this dude’s wedding, stand up, and see them get married, then come home and take his life savings, right? But I did, that’s ultimately the only area sometimes when you’re getting started that you’ll find money. And I came home and I told my wife that this guy was trying to give us money, and I told her, “Don’t worry. I said no to Chuck.” And my wife goes, “Well, you’re an idiot.” And I’m like, What do you mean I’m an idiot? No, I said, no to Chuck. Don’t worry. I’m thinking this is a good thing. I’m not going to mix friends and money.
Graham Sherman: And she says, “Well, what happened to your planning for nothing but total success?” And I’m like, wow. She just calls me right out. And of course we’re planning for total success, but in my own head I’m still apprehensive. And what if we fail and Chuck’s not my friend anymore because I lose his money? Well then I’m not planning for total success, right? I don’t even believe my own hype, right?
Graham Sherman: So there’s a real moment of laying awake at night and stressing out on, do I even believe that we’re going to be totally successful? Because if I do, Chuck, the firefighter should be the guy who is along for the ride, not somebody else who I’m not emotionally attached to. And so, when I told you that I was all in when you said, what have you invested in this and what … I’m not even just all in with my all in, I’m all in with all the people I love around me with they’re all in. And that’s, I think the true definition of all in.
Jonathan Hafichuk: No room for failure at all.
Graham Sherman: No room for failure. You’re all in with all the people you love around you with they’re all in, right? So if I screw up, Chuck, the firefighter is getting divorced. We needed millions of dollars, but that was a mental hurdle of accepting money from people that I didn’t think I should be taking money from. So, what Tool Shed is still to this day is 10 good friends that believed in Jeff and I.
Graham Sherman: So a lot of times now when I speak a lot to universities and kids that are going to school and they’re going to take over the world, they’re going to be entrepreneurs, they’re going to get something crazy started. I always love asking, like the Olds Brewmaster college, like, “Who wants to start a brewery?” Every single kid in that program wants to start their own brewery. I go, “Great. So who here has a friend that they believe in so much that they would give their life savings to that friend?” All the hands go down and I go, “Okay, well that’s a problem if you’re not that friend to all the people that have known you for 20 years.”
Graham Sherman: Because a lot of times you’re just not going to get the money from the bank. You’re not going to get it from investors. You’re going to have those people that say, “Jonathan, are you the guy that I would believe in so much that I would give my life savings too? Because whatever you’re going to start, I believe in so much. Here you go.”
Graham Sherman: That’s a reality check, bro. And I think that that’s an awesome level of burden because there absolutely is no failure. There’s no way to say, “Oh, sorry guys, we didn’t pull it off this time. But next time.” You just know that you have the lives of the people around you that are so important to you in your hands, and there’s no option but total success, right?
Jonathan Hafichuk: Yeah.
Graham Sherman: Yeah.
Jonathan Hafichuk: So a lot of people, I believe they want to get out of the nine to five job because they believe they’re going to have the flexibility of being their own boss. They’re going to need to do what they love. I think a lot of people don’t really realize that they’re going to be spending more of their time on managing a business than doing what they love. I think a lot of people don’t realize how much work they’re going to have to do when they first start a business. So can you touch on a little bit on how much time you had to put in, in the beginning. How much time you and Jeff had to put in, how much effort you had to put in.
Graham Sherman: It was 18 hours a day. Yeah, almost every day. And so that’s different than a nine to five because a nine to five is for somebody else. 18 hours a day for your baby is different than nine to five for somebody else, right?
Jonathan Hafichuk: Why do you say that?
Graham Sherman: When you’re babysitting, right?
Jonathan Hafichuk: Yeah.
Graham Sherman: And so, Jeff and I were fortunate to be named as top 40 under 40. One of the questions they asked us, if you look at the magazine, it says, lay out your day with how much sleep you get, how much time you have for family, how much time you have for exercise. And we laughed as we did this. We submitted our numbers and they texted us back and said, “No, this is a mistake. This just says you work 18 hours a day and sleep for an hour and a half at night.” I’m like, yeah, that’s it. I don’t work out. I don’t have time for my family. I don’t have time for friends.
Graham Sherman: At the beginning of starting a business, it’s just whatever that business needs, it has to get. You don’t get to say, “Well, maybe I should just take some time for myself right now.” That’s a luxury you do not get, at the beginning when you’ve got the burden of everybody that you love around you, right on your shoulders depending on you to get it done. You just do whatever it takes. And if it was 26 hours a day, I would have done 26 hours a day.
Graham Sherman: Well, we’re approaching 50 employees right now at the brewery, but back then it was two, it was Jeff and myself, right? My buddy Jeff and I had all the roles and we sat down and said okay, what are all the roles that it takes to run this business? And there was something like 300 jobs, right? And so we said, okay, let’s write our names beside all these jobs because we have to know who’s responsible for every job in the brewery. Okay? So, sales Graham, taproom, Graham, spreadsheets, Jeff, accounting, Jeff, brewing, Jeff and Graham, right? And we just wrote our names beside everything. And so you just go off and you do all of the jobs.
Graham Sherman: I would get home around two or three in the morning because you’re literally, you’re driving out to brew, you’re driving back home and you’re trying to build the brewery. You get off, you finish brewing, you’re driving downtown trying to sell your beer, trying to get people excited about what you’re doing, you give samples away and you’re at all the bars in the pubs trying to make a noise for your brewery. And my wife gets up at five o’clock to leave for work.
Graham Sherman: So I get home at two or three in the morning, I wouldn’t dare go up to bed and wake her up a few hours before she gets up, right? So, I just chill out in the couch and watch some ridiculous stupid TV for a minute, and when she wakes up, make her coffee, I take her to the train station. That’s our time together. Our time together was from five to 5:30 in the morning. And then off she’d go to work and then I would take the kids to school and come home at two or three in the morning. So, it was a long time that I only saw my wife from five to 5:30 AM.
Jonathan Hafichuk: How old were your kids when you started the brewery?
Graham: We started the brewery in 2013, and now it’s 2018. So my kids right now are 12, 13 and 14, seven, eight and nine.
Jonathan: I guess, so you really were able to spend some time around them for the formative ages, even though you’re in Afghanistan and stuff, but do you feel like you missed a chunk of them growing up?
Graham: Absolutely, yeah. In your mind you say, well, I’m doing this for my kids, but it’s a tough thing, boy, when you’re missing volleyball games or you’re missing the city championships, you’re missing big parts of their development and you’re trying to balance it in your head that, you’re doing this for them. But, am I or am I convincing myself of that? And yeah, it’s a hard, hard journey, those years. They say it’s at least five years to get a business up to a point where you can take some time and get away from it and be okay.
Graham: And yeah, the first five years of Tool Shed were a very hard thing. I’m very fortunate that my wife and my three sons were all dedicated to the cause, and they were willing to sacrifice and willing to contribute. We had a lot of years of when my boys would come and label cans, right? And, they’d be in the back with me and canning beer and labeling beer throughout the night. It’s one of those things that you have to get your head wrapped around that where it’s, you’re not a victim of it, your family are all sacrificing for something neat.
Graham: So, we would have great conversations about why we’re sacrificing right now and what we’re doing and why we’re building the business, and to teach the boys about hard work, and about work ethic and about making that sacrifice. Yeah. Those early years of hard work, what I look back on now and I’m so thankful for, my boys were old enough to understand that the success that Tool Shed is experiencing now has nothing to do with anything other than the hard work that they were part of in the beginning here. So, there’s no luck. There’s no … It’s hard freaking work and sacrifice. So they were old enough to see that that’s what it took.
Jonathan: I don’t think anyone in the argue that you would be considered a successful or quite successful business owner, but do you have any regrets around that whole side of the sacrifice for the family and stuff like that?
Graham: No. I have absolutely no regrets because everything from the moment we started to now is perspective, right? And so I could look back and say, boy, I wish I was at home more. Well, I could be at home more working a shitty job and being in Afghanistan more, right? So, it truly is all perspective. I remember my son coming home from school one day and saying, “Dad, I know Tool Shed is going to be a success.” And I’m like, “Really? Why?” And he said, “Because we as a family work harder than any other family in our school.” And I was like, oh, he gets it. My son who I’m trying to raise to know all the things in life that you want as a father for your son to learn understood the concept of that if we do pull it off a Tool Shed is because we’re working harder than anybody else he knows.
Graham: He made that connection that we work harder than anybody else. What a win as a father, right? So, no, I mean my kids don’t look back and go, “Dad, you weren’t around.” I know that we’re going to share fun stories of them working illegally in a brewery when they should not be working in a brewery. They could operate my whole canning line, right? But that is not allowed for a young kids to be in a brewery working in a canning line. But those are fun stories now that we get to look back on and say, my young boys can pour a perfect beer, right? They know their bittering units. They can taste an IPA and pull out aromatic notes, right? Because they’re my sons, they’ve brewed with me in the Tool Shed. They’re part of this family business.
Graham: So, I think if you’re looking back with regrets, it’s a mistake because I know that the things that we screwed up still are not regrets because we learned so much from them or better for them. So, there are so many great lessons to be learned along the journey of starting a business.
Graham: Jeff and I aren’t some magical business people that knew how to run a business and just aimed it at a brewery. We liked home brewing, that’s it. So we’re a couple of IT nerds that liked home brewing and we pulled it off because I think there’s this mentality of just saying there is no turning back. You must succeed at all costs. And when you look at the things that you screwed up, you go, thank goodness we screwed that up then because of what it means to us now.
Jonathan: Yeah. I think with your kids going back to your kids there, that work ethic is going to serve them so well later on. Because I know for me with my parents, my parents, they started a business when I was about five and they always had a very strong work ethic. My parents are older, my dad’s like 72 and I think that potentially was the most valuable thing they taught me was how to work.
Graham: Yeah, yeah. There’s no secrets, no shortcuts, it comes from hard work. What I love now is they hear people’s tell me that I’m lucky, and we go home at night and I go, what did you think about that guy saying we were lucky and my sons will say, I can’t believe. But they get it. They go, but they didn’t see all the hours throughout the middle of the night that we worked and pulled this off, right? So of course it seems lucky when it looks like an overnight success when really there was all of the hours, all of the hours going into building it, right?
Jonathan: Going through the process, especially in the first couple of years there, did you doubt yourself often if you’re doing the right thing, if you should keep pushing?
Graham: Of course. I think if anybody says they’re not doubting themselves, they’re lying. I don’t even think anybody is self confident enough to say, of course I’m going to pull it off. We planned for nothing but total success. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t laying in my bed at 3:00 AM crying because of the thought of ruining Chuck the fireman’s marriage to his amazing wife, right? And it’s a horrifying thing to think that you’ve bite off more than you can chew because you were arrogant and just thought you could pull it off and now you’re going to ruin the lives of people that mean something to you.
Graham: And everybody goes through that. I don’t care who you are, I don’t care. In fact, the more confident you come across, I challenge that the more self conscious you are at 3:00 AM laying in your bed at night, right? And so, I’ve got my entrepreneurial pillow that I cry into at night, and those nights that you go through those moments of total fear are important because I lay in my bed so fearful that I’m going to screw up the lives of my wife and my kids and my friends and my family. But then, I find a solution in the middle of the night and then I get up in the morning, I put on my brave face, I make sure my kids know that we’re going to do it. My wife’s not scared going to work, and off I go.
Graham: But, I think you’re kidding yourself if you don’t think that every entrepreneur has those moments of self doubt. And I just think that we maybe don’t talk about this part as much. And I think that’s a flaw in the way we think. I mean, I used to do all the tours at Tool Shed, and I remember one day doing the tour and a guy walked into the brewery and looked into the back and he didn’t know we were doing a tour. I was talking, but he walked in and just looked into the brewery and went, “Wow, these guys are well funded.” And I almost broke down, right? I just, I’m like, you need to go inside my head and feel my pain of what I’ve gone through and come out, and to just think, ah, they’re well funded, and that’s it.
Graham: The whole tour changed for this group that was doing a brewery tour. And I said, “You guys need to know that I have three mortgages on my house right now and all three of them are in foreclosure. And I don’t know how I’m going to save my home. I honestly don’t know. And my wife doesn’t know that our mortgages are in foreclosure.” And man, I poured it out, but I never had more of a real connection with a group of people in my life. These people just went, oh, you’re a real person. And some of them were starting their own businesses and whatever was going on in their lives, they connected on such a real level because all of a sudden, if you come to Tool Shed, you look at it, you go, wow, look at this beautiful brewery. But to hear, hey man, I’m a real dude trying to pull it off with my friends and family and I got these mortgages and I’m in foreclosure. I don’t have enough money.
Graham: My wife called me today saying, there’s no money in that account for gas to take the kids to volleyball, all right? And I’m trying to pull it all together, right? And I never saw more of a real connection with human beings than the moment that I was truly honest and vulnerable and open about the challenge of starting a business like Tool Shed. And, that was an important thing for me to see because it’s like nobody cares if you’re out there spouting out about how great your business is. People want to hear the reality of what it took because we’re all going through the same thing, right?
Jonathan: Yeah. What’s next? What’s the next thing for Tool Shed? What do you see in the future? I imagine your work life balance is a little bit better now.
Graham: It’s much better now. Yeah. As of March actually I’ve been able to you … Like I said, we’ve got 40 plus employees now we’re approaching 50 and we’ve got the ability now to step back from the roles that we’ve been working full time. And so yeah, I do get to see the family more, which is amazing. However, the concept of what Tool Shed has always done has never been about just itself. We’ve always said, we’re about Alberta, we’re about all of the breweries.
Graham: We don’t open the floodgates for a hundred new breweries and then go, crap we got a bunch of competitors. We’re here to support all of the breweries in the city because every one of these breweries is using Alberta barley. Every one of these breweries is hiring Albertans. We’re all contributing to the economy in this province, right?
Graham: So it behooves us to not just be about our own products, but to promote that Alberta should be the place in the world that people look to for craft beer. So in fact, have you ever seen the movie Bottle Shock?
Jonathan: No, I haven’t.
Graham: Okay. You’re welcome for this. Have you seen it? Okay, it’s the best. It’s a document … Well, it’s not a documentary, it’s a movie about a true story, but it’s about the 1976 Paris wine tasting. So what it was, was in the 70s, the Italians made the best wine of course, right? Or the French made the best wine. It’s obviously going to be something over in Europe that makes the best wine. So the French are like, clearly the French made the best wine and we’ll prove it. We’re going to go around the world and we’re going to wine from everywhere and we’re going to do a wine tasting blind. And that will show that we are unbiased and we clearly have the best wine.
Graham: So they almost didn’t go to Napa because these pot-smoking freaking hippies in Napa, what the hell do they know about wine, right? But they did and they grabbed a bunch of great bottles of wine from Napa. It turns out Napa cleaned house. Napa won everything, they won for red and for white. And, the French were so embarrassed that this blind tasting put California globally on the map. That day in 1976 is now a historic day in the history of the United States and the bottle of wine from Chateau Montelena, this Chardonnay is in the Smithsonian museum because it’s so significant the day that put California on the map, that put Napa Valley on the map for the best wine on earth.
Graham: They’ve since said, “Redo. Do over.” And Napa won again. Right? So whether you like Australian wine or French wine, Italian wine or California wine, that day was so significant for California because it put them on the map globally. So in Alberta, we grow the best barley on earth. On earth. There’s no question. So the best breweries on earth come to Calgary, come to Alberta to get their barley.
Graham: So that’s why Napa won, they just grow the best grapes. If you go for a wine tour, you go to where the grapes grow. So if you want to go for the best beer, I suggest you should be going to where the best barley’s grown. So Alberta needs its bottle shock moment. And so, that’s our next role I think at Tool Shed is to help the world see Alberta as the place to come for the best beer on earth. So that doesn’t come as an individual brewery that comes by us supporting every other brewery in this province to get the quality of beer up fast enough that we can make a noise globally, that we make the best beer here.
Graham: So some of the ways that we can do that is by helping package beer, helping people with quality control. We’re now in a position where we’ve got a lot of really expensive lab equipment. We’ve gotten multiple canning machines. So why wouldn’t I put my canning machine in a truck and bring it over to your brewery and help you package your beer the best way possible. Bring dissolved oxygen meters and all the lab equipment to help make sure that your beer is going into a package the best way possible. So, that’s what we’ve done.
Graham: We’ve started a new business under the umbrella of Tool Shed, it’s called Cantastic. And that business sole purpose is to support every other brewery in the province packaging their beer the best way possible, and giving them lab equipment that they might not be able to afford as a startup brewery. So, a lot of this lab equipments, hundreds of thousands of dollars. We have a half a million dollars in canning equipment in our brewery. So, if I could load that up into a truck and bring it to your brewery, at first it seems weird. Why is this dude bringing all this gear to help me out, right? But it behooves us both to put a better product in the market.
Graham: So I love nothing more than when another Alberta brewery wins an international beer ward and puts Alberta on the map because this is where the barley grows and this is where people should come for the best beer. So, that’s our goal is looking for that bottle shock moment and yeah.
Graham: Ironically, I get to go to Germany next year. I’ve been asked to buy this company in Nuremberg, Germany to come and try to teach German brewers and German farmers, why the connection that we’ve made between these farmers and ourselves as brewers is so important. So that’s a very significant moment in time where a brewery that’s, we’re six years old, is going to Germany, who’s been brewing beer longer than we’ve been a country, right? And trying to encourage them to have that local connection with the barley farmers in their local area. So.
Graham: So yeah, that’s what’s next for us is it’s always got to be something bigger than just our brewery. So I think it’s about putting Alberta on the map globally.
Jonathan: So where can people go to find more about Cantastic?
Graham: Well, it’s on our website, of course, at Tool Shed. I mean, of course we’ve got some cool folks that can beer for other breweries so you can go on their Instagram and their Twitter at Cantastic.
Jonathan: Well, thank you so much for taking the time. That was incredibly enlightening.
Jonathan: You got me really excited about breweries.
Graham: Nice. You’re going to start a brewery now.
Graham: And I’ll support you. I’ll come help you can your beer.
Jonathan: Perfect. Can’t wait.
Graham: Yeah, perfect.
Jonathan: It’ll be great. We’ll make awesome videos.
Jonathan: Our combined gear [crosstalk 00:40:14].
Graham: Yeah, exactly, exactly.
Jonathan: Yeah, great. Well, thank you so much for stopping by.
Graham: Thanks buddy. Yeah, of course I appreciate it.
Jonathan: I really appreciate it.
Graham: Yeah, absolutely, any time. Yeah.
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