Jonathan is the “reasonably qualified” creative guy at Monday Night Brewing. He develops and maintains the Monday Night brand, including all design, social media and their obsession with Bryan Adams. He graduated from Emory in 2005 with a BBA in Marketing and a minor in Religion. His background is in marketing strategy consulting, where he worked with some large beer brands that you’ve definitely heard of. He is married to the lovely Sarah, and has a daughter named Addie Gray and a Pit Bull-mix named Eden who comes to the brewery everyday. She’s a lover, not a fighter.
Shantel: Hey Jonathan, welcome to the Imagine More podcast.
Jonathan: Thanks for having me.
Shantel: Yeah, of course. We're excited to learn more about your brewing journey, and perhaps we'll leave this episode craving a beer. Can you kick things off and tell our audience a little bit more about your background, and then we'll dive into Monday Night and how you guys got started.
| AS COMPLICATED AS YOU WANT IT TO BE |
Jonathan: Sure, so I am from Nashville originally. Came down to Atlanta to go to college at Emory, go eagles. Did marketing strategy consulting for a while after that. I've always had an interest in marketing. My father is actually a consultant for ad agencies and PR firms, kind of on the business side. He owned an ad agency, so kind of grew up in that world, and learned fairly quickly while consulting that I had very little patience for making recommendations that may or may not be followed; so wanted to start my own business. At the time, was in a Bible study, actually, with a couple guys who we had started home brewing together. One thing leads to another. All home brewers dream at some point of starting a brewery, and we ... started out that way.
Shantel: Wow. ... I'd love to get into the nitty gritty of you guys are brewing beer, I'm imagining in a garage, or a basement, kind of typical story. How did you even know how to start distributing? Did you have a network of people that you leaned on to share how to do that, or did you guys figure it out by yourselves?
Jonathan: Yeah, we had no network. We had expertise in other areas, so finance, marketing, operations; but we had no brewing background. We had no industry background. Actually, took the slow journey to starting the brewery, spent five years starting it. Probably the first two or three years was really just teaching ourselves how to brew, and brewing is kind of ... It's one of those things, it's as complicated as you want it to be. We started on the simpler side, and then added complexity as we were able to make drinkable beer. The distribution side you touched on, it's a really highly regulated marketplace. It just took us a while to make those connections over time, pitching distributors. We actually spent a lot of time at bottle shops getting to know the owners there, figuring out what they thought sold and didn't sell. We would actually do little product mock-ups on bottles back in the day, and then put them on the shelves at bottle stores, and have the owners come over and give us feedback on it.
Shantel: That's so smart to do some market research with those friends and on the shelves. Are you still with the original buddies that you started home brewing with?
Jonathan: Surprisingly, yes.
| BREWING BUDDIES |
Jonathan: We met back in 2006. That was when we started the journey towards a brewery, opened up in 2011. We just celebrated our seven year anniversary. I don't think this is always the case, but my two business partners are very ... they're very different from me, and perhaps that's why it works out so well, but I think we're probably stronger now than we were when we started.
Shantel: Did you early on gravitate to that marketing role because of your background and also growing around your dad?
Jonathan: Oh, I kind of claimed it. It wasn't gravitating. I put down ...
Shantel: 'I'm going to own this,' yeah.
Jonathan: Yeah. I'm also kind of a self taught graphic designer, so ... did all of our labels and signage for the first probably five years of our business ... which is just a lot of fun creatively, right? It's just a fun little outlet.
Shantel: Now every time you see your brand on a billboard, or in stores, is it just kind of that neat feeling of, 'I designed that?'
Jonathan: It is, yup.
Jonathan: It's pretty cool. It's pretty cool.
Shantel: You have two other business partners?
Shantel: How do they divvy up their roles?
Jonathan: I am currently CMO and if you don't mind, I'll backtrack a little bit. I was the first of the three of us to jump into the business, and was kind of the only employee for eight months. Then, I kind of had every role at one point, ... and have slowly shed roles as we've grown. Now, I have marketing and tap room, so we have two tap rooms. I oversee the experience there. Then, one of my business partners, Jeff, is CEO, so he does CEO stuff; culture, finance. Then, my other business partner is Joel, and he's kind of an operations ninja. He's the guy you call when you've got a problem that seems impossible to solve. He's kind of just unflappable. We call him 'special projects Joel.'
Shantel: I like that, and ninja; that's a good word. That's a pretty cool title.
Jonathan: It's a great word, yeah.
Shantel: Yeah. Okay, this is so random, but you guys all have 'J' names.
Jonathan: JJJ. My mom wanted us to call ourselves the JJJ Brewery.
Shantel: Yeah, and you didn't want ... Where does Monday Night Brewery come from, the name?
| LOOKING FORWARD TO MONDAYS |
Jonathan: Oh, yeah. We started brewing beer on Monday nights back in 2006. It was like the only night that we all had free. There's not a ton going on usually. It was the only night we could all get synced up, and we started just falling in love with brewing on Mondays. We actually started looking forward to Mondays, and we're like, 'I think there's something here.' The name kind of found us.
Shantel: That's great. When you told your mom and dad, who you mentioned your dad had a business, that you wanted to maybe stop what you were doing before, and start this brewing company, what was the response?
Jonathan: I think they knew at some level that I was going to start a business at some point. I had a lawn mowing business growing up, and many, many failed endeavors as a child trying to sell random stuff to neighbors. I think the brewing thing was a little out of left field for them, and frankly, it was for me, too. I didn't know I loved it until I got into it. No kid grows up thinking, 'I want to brew beer,' right? Because you're not allowed to. ... They've been very supportive. There were definitely some questions early on. I would say a lot of questions from my dad around my business partners, not knowing them personally because in his line of work, he sees a lot of failed partnerships, and knows that, that is one of the main reasons why a lot of businesses fail. I think he told me at one point that he'd never seen a trio of partners actually work out, so just be really careful.
Shantel: Yeah, that's an interesting perspective. What do you feel has contributed to that success in the seven years?
Jonathan: What do you mean?
Shantel: With your business partners.
| PASTOR BEFORE LAWYERS |
Jonathan: Oh, yeah. I think our shared history in a Bible study is actually a really interesting foundation for a business partnership. It's a place where you're kind of vulnerable from the start. We all have seen each other naked, so to speak. ... We've approached our partnership as a friendship first, and I think we've ... after what? 15 years or so, there's just a certain amount of trust, right? There have been portions of time when one of us has been less engaged than the others. One of us has been going through something, and the other guys have always been there to pick up the slack. There's just kind of a shared trust over time. One of the really interesting tidbit that I think is cool is in our operating agreement that defines how the company operates, we wrote a pretty long section in about how we were going to handle disagreements if it came up between the three of us, right? Because some things require unanimous decisions. WE said that before going to any court, we all agreed that we would go to our pastor first, so we wrote his name in there, and talked to him about it.
Shantel: That is amazing. That's very unique. I've not heard anyone sharing something like that before.
Jonathan: We haven't had to do it yet, thankfully, but ... he's a good dude, so I'm sure it would work out and be much cheaper than going through the court system.
Shantel: I can imagine so. You guys started as friends, and now having a company together. Do you spend a lot of time outside the business together as well?
Jonathan: We don't. That's a function in part of where we are in our lives. Both Jeff and Joel have four kids each. I have one, and another on the way in two weeks?
Jonathan: Thank you, I think. ... We have very busy lives. We have to kind of intentionally schedule time, which we probably do once a quarter with all the families together. As a small business, there's no kind of ... It's not a nine to five, so we see each other quite a bit.
Shantel: Yeah, certainly. Well, congrats again on the baby. Is it boy or girl?
Jonathan: It's a boy.
Shantel: Okay, and you have a daughter?
Jonathan: Yeah, we have a daughter now.
Shantel: Okay. Is she excited about the baby?
Jonathan: She is. We just told her the name, and she was not excited about the name. We're like, 'Well, what should we call him?'
Jonathan: She said, "Hot dog." ...
Shantel: That's way better, I imagine, than what you guys have.
Jonathan: It's actually not a bad name, yeah. I could see it as a nick name.
Shantel: Yeah. I know from just some email conversations offline, you just had a pretty long trip or time off. Can you elaborate a little bit on that? Because I think it's amazing and would love to draw some inspiration and learn from you, how you did that.
| BRAIN SPACE |
Jonathan: Yeah, so earlier this year, I took a two-month sabbatical from the brewery. I put an away message on my email saying this mailbox would not be checked. I logged out of all my social media accounts. I logged out of Slack. I actually logged out of my email so that I couldn't even get to it without figuring out what my password was. Just kind of gave myself some time to think. It was really amazing, and now I want to make it an annual thing. I spent some time traveling, building furniture, watching Netflix, drinking things that weren't beer, like gin. ... Cooked a lot, it was a lot of fun.
Shantel: Do you mind if I ask, is there anything that prompted that hard stop, or was it something you've always just wanted to get to a place in your business that you could do it?
Jonathan: I'd always wanted to, but I think it was prompted probably in December when I realized as we were growing, and we have 45 full-timers now, and I think 85 people on payroll. As we were growing, I was becoming less integral to a lot of the day to day stuff that I was doing. Don't get me wrong, I was busy, but I didn't think I was busy doing the right things, necessarily. I wanted to just be able to disconnect to reflect on what I think those things should be, what should I be spending my time on? What does the brewery need from me at this point? I've grown with it for seven years now, and my role has changed dramatically throughout those seven years. I think I just needed ... brain space to be able to process all that. I'm definitely a processor, and of the three of us, I'm also the aloof creative guy. That means I have to be by myself a lot more. ... I took that time. I actually asked Jeff and Joel, 'Hey, what do you guys think about this?' They were fully supportive. It was probably a four or five month plan in place to make it possible. Do we need to hire anyone? What are you doing now that we need to transition? What can wait? How does this change our goals for the year? Yeah, I mean it was definitely a function of where I was in the company, and being a little, perhaps confused about what my role should be.
Shantel: Coming back, has it been a hard transition? In that time ... Yeah, I guess that's the first question. Was it a hard transition coming back?
Jonathan: In some ways, yes. In some ways, no. I missed the people a lot. We have a great team, and it's fun to be back with them. I was ... curious coming back, like would it be hard? Would things just be running completely smoothly? Am I necessary? Part of me wants me to be necessary, part of me doesn't. ... I will say, I didn't come away from the sabbatical with a ton of answers. Probably more questions, but maybe better questions. I'm still kind of working through what my role should be long term. I came back relatively recently, so kind of in the middle of a few fire drills, still, but the goal is to start fleshing that out early next year.
Shantel: Do you think you inspired Jeff and Joel to do something similar at some point?
Jonathan: I think they were jealous, for sure.
Jonathan: Both of them are like, they go, go, go. There's like no such thing as being too busy. It's hard for me to imagine sabbaticals for them unless they are insanely planned out already. I think at some point, they will definitely want to do something similar.
Shantel: That's really fascinating. I recently, ... we are not at the scale of you guys where you're at with 45 full-time; much less. I just recently brought on a virtual assistant to help with email management. I was finding that I was in meetings all day, every day, and didn't have the chance to respond until 8:00 p.m. after I ate dinner. That was really wearing, and now that she's started, it's helped me not have to be as plugged in at night. It's almost just those boundaries have almost made me feel like I'm not doing enough anymore. It's kind of interesting to hear you reflect on you were doing things, but maybe they weren't the right things. Now, jumping back into that, trying to figure out where you fit in. I wonder if a lot of other entrepreneurs, as they continue to grow, feel that way because they're not wearing as many hats. They're not in the weeds with a lot of things anymore.
| ENTREPRENEURIAL WITHDRAWAL |
Jonathan: Yeah. I think there is some level of entrepreneurial withdrawal, where as you grow, you miss some of the craziness and knowing everything that's going on with the business that got you there, right? You have to enjoy that stuff on some level to even be an entrepreneur. Yeah, it is. It requires a different skill set as you grow. I think it's something you either learn to cultivate, or maybe you do just end up stuck in the weeds.
Shantel: Mm-hmm. Yeah, I've also heard something similar when business owners sell their companies, and how they worked so hard to get to that point. Then, they sell, and that moment is not as fulfilling as they thought it would be; because then they're stuck in what do I ... who am I now, and what do I do now?
Shantel: I think it's fascinating. Is the company where you thought it would be when you first started home brewing in 2006? Did you have visions of being this big and notable, and recognized in the community?
Jonathan: We are pretty cocky guys. ... So yes on some level, although the journey has been completely different than we expected. I think you kind of have to see success from the start, and so ... Yeah. We have always been confident in our ability to be a big Atlanta brand.
Shantel: Do you anticipate continuing to grow?
Jonathan: I do. We actually do an awareness, brand awareness study every year; if we remember. We still have a ton of room to grow there. In our own little bubble, we're well known and liked, but craft beer is still such a small segment of the overall beer drinking population, particularly in the southeast. I think part of us, just as people, Jeff, Joel, and I, we thrive off of growth. That's the fun part, in a way. I could see the business becoming just kind of less fun if we stagnate.
Shantel: Yeah, I think the energy of growing, and growing quickly, and creating more opportunities for a team is a lot of fun, and definitely rewarding. I'm finding myself now in a point though, that we've grown really quickly, and it's really exciting. It's been very reactive, as opposed to proactive. We're just kind of flying by the seat of our pants. We've learned a lot because of that as well, now that we can kind of take a break and say, 'Hey, maybe I wouldn't have done that, or I wouldn't have taken on that client, or wouldn't have hired that person because we had that immediate need. I would have been a little bit more slow about that hire.' It's just interesting to reflect on.
| TRANSLATE YOUR CULTURE |
Jonathan: Yeah, I like to say that we're in our awkward adolescent years as a business. We're like not small enough to be a start-up anymore, where everyone's accountable for everything, and everyone knows what everyone else is doing. Everyone jumps in, but we're not big enough to have this layer of management between us and the folks doing the work, or the right kind of processes and structures in place. That's all something we're trying to develop right now, right? I mean I think one of the hardest days for us as a company has been this one because it's so hard to translate your culture ... from start-up mode to bigger business mode. We've been spending a lot of time and energy trying to crack that nut.
Shantel: Do you have business coaches, or a community of other entrepreneurs that you lean on to help navigate some of that?
Jonathan: We do. We all have very different networks of people, too. We kind of reach out to those, and get different perspectives. We did bring in a consultant at one point, which helped us put some kind of ... process in place, but I think more importantly, probably a shared vocabulary in the company so that when people say certain things, everyone else understands what it means, right? I mean a lot of it's ... We all listen to a lot of podcasts. We read a lot of articles, business or otherwise. We're always talking to other entrepreneurs, getting ideas from different places. I got a really fun weird idea yesterday talking to a sales guy at another brewery, actually. They have an anniversary party every year where they offer free tattoos of something related to their brand. A ton of employees love the brand enough to actually get it tattooed on their bodies, which is ... I don't know if that's something we should aspire to or not, but it's intriguing nonetheless.
Shantel: I was going to ask, fake tattoos, stick-on.
Jonathan: No, they're real.
Shantel: Wow. Yeah, I think that definitely says something about the culture and commitment if someone tattoos something ...
Jonathan: Or poor judgment.
Shantel: Yeah, that could be it, too. Yeah. Have you seen the craft industry just change so much in the last couple years because of the spike in ... I don't know if it's popularity, or just awareness? Or, is this maybe just something that I'm starting to become privy to?
Jonathan: No, it's definitely become more popular. The sheer number of craft breweries, it's actually tripled since we started. There were, I think about 2,000, 2500 breweries when we started. Now there are 6,000 or 6500 in the US. In the beginning years, it was just this growth phase where everyone was saying a rising tide ... what is it? Something ... raises all ships, or something like that; right? Everyone wins. But now with the amount of competition in the space, it's kind of a rude awakening for a lot of breweries. I think the space is going to change even more in the next couple years, so it'll be interesting to see.
Shantel: How do you anticipate staying ahead of the competition? What do you think has helped you guys?
Jonathan: Our confidence.
Shantel: That's good.
| INTENTIONALLY THINK AHEAD |
Jonathan: You have to be really intentional about thinking ahead, right? It's so easy as a business owner to just get sucked in to the day to day, or even the month to month issues. Jeff, Joel and I, we always make time to have kind of an off site once a quarter. In it, we always revisit our three year plan and plan towards that. We don't always have the answers, but at least knowing what we're working towards so that if an idea kind of hits in the face, we can recognize it and plug it into that plan. It's a much more intentional process than I was expecting it to be. You really do have to pull your head out.
Shantel: Yeah, I certainly agree. Those quarterly off sites, we've been doing them just probably two or three times within the last year. They're really impactful. It's really nice to see how much comes of it, and how much it recharges all of us on the leadership team to just sit down and think big picture, instead of getting in the weeds of everything.
Jonathan: Yup, absolutely. It's also really, I'll say gratifying to go back and look at some of those old documents, and look at where we are today, and say, 'Oh, we actually executed on our plan.' Right? The business could have gone a lot of different ways between now and then, but we chose a path and look where we are.
Shantel: Are you good at reflecting and celebrating the small victories that happen as you guys are growing?
Jonathan: Getting better at it. Early on, it felt like there just wasn't enough time to do it. The opportunity was still too great. Like yeah, that's great, but we could have been doing this. It's something that we definitely need to work on.
Shantel: Yeah, I think it's hard to pause sometimes. I'm always eager to hear how other people do it.
Jonathan: I don't have tips and tricks for that one.
Shantel: Okay. We'll keep learning, I suppose; pulling from other people. Just have a couple more questions for you, Jonathan. Does one big, maybe mistake, or challenge that you guys have overcome come to mind that really helped either pivot the business, or you're thankful that you guys made that mistake, or had that challenge because you've learned so much from it?
Jonathan: I mean a lot of mistakes come to mind. ... Things perhaps we would have done differently. Starting out, we actually started as a contract brewery where we were getting another brewery to make the beer for us, and then we would do everything else. The sales, the branding, the legal accounting, all that type of stuff. It really mitigated the financial risk of entering the brewing industry. Knowing more about the market then, I think I would have probably bet a little bigger, and tried to build a brewery sooner. We weren't thinking there would be first to market advantages as a brewery, right? We're not the first brewery ever, but there is something to be said for time in the market, and longevity in terms of just building your brand. I kind of wish we had had that time still.
Shantel: Well, thanks for sharing. Appreciate that. Then last question, I know you're coming back from a sabbatical, but being the creative visionary behind the company, is there one thing that you want to be doing more of each day that kind of became really clear in that process?
Jonathan: Yes, and that is thinking and not about the business. I think there's something really powerful about just letting your mind do its thing. I read every day, but I don't read business books. I can't stand them. No offense if you've written one.
Shantel: No, I haven't.
Jonathan: Inspiration comes from the oddest places sometimes. Just seeing how other people are doing it in other industries, and ... getting ideas from fictional characters, even. I think those are the things that are going to transform your business. The challenge is you never ... It doesn't feel like productive time, right? Because you never know when inspiration is going to strike. I think it's important to put yourself in a place where it could.
Shantel: I like that, yeah. I mean I think it's tough sometimes after a long day of work to then come home and read more business books, so I appreciate you just being honest and saying that, because it's not for everyone; so that's okay.
Jonathan: I'll read 'Oliver Twist,' though.
Shantel: Yeah. Well Jonathan, I really appreciate your time. Thank you for carving out some space to be on the podcast.
Jonathan: Absolutely, thanks very much.