Dan Webster spent over fifteen years in sales, with roles at companies such as Sophos, Hootsuite, and Expa. In 2017, he left a Director of Sales role to start Container Brewing, which he has been running ever since. We talked to Dan about his background, taking the plunge into entrepreneurship, and how a sales background can help you succeed when you strike out on your own.
You’ve been selling your entire career (over 15 years). How did you get your start in sales?
Funny enough, I more or less fell into it. Having graduated with an Engineering degree, of all things, my first “real” job was actually in a role that was to have me grow into something that my degree was for, but I hated it. I didn’t even make it to probation before I left.
A good pal from school had somehow landed in sales and suggested that I interview for it. One phone interview led to an in-person chat and an hour long shadow session and I was sold. As I left, I was given an offer that I couldn’t refuse! As they say, the rest is history.
You left the corporate sales grind 6 years ago to start your own brewery. What led to this decision? How has your career in sales helped you succeed in launching your own business?
Throughout my career, I bounced between established companies and startups, which, as we all know, have both pros and cons. My best friend since grade 2, Terry, and I had been toying with the idea of starting something for about 2 years before my last gig cut me. That really stung, as I had left an established company to start their sales team. After that, I was done working for someone else. I called up Terry, told him I was done with the grind and that I’d do anything to get this going. I asked if he was game, and he said he was.
Ultimately, having the sales experience has been super helpful as you have to sell your idea to investors and banks, sell the vision to future hires, and then ultimately sell the beer! Having sales processes and organizational skills built from using CRMs has been super helpful too.
When you were working in the corporate world, you worked your way up to director of sales and ran your own sales team. Have you hired sales staff for your own business? What’s the difference between leading a sales team at a company you work for versus your own business?
I sure have! I have hired folks for a number of roles, including sales of course. While I did manage our sales for most of the first year, I ended up bringing on an independent sales agent (read: full commission sales person) to take on our sales thereafter and very recently moved to a sales agency, further expanding the number of sales people across the geography we are able to service from 1 to 7!
In this industry, the biggest thing is relationships, so for us, we just needed to be sure that the folks we had representing us had those connections and knowledge of who’s who in the space. It’s a funny business, different from anything else I have done, since there’s a finite number of folks who can buy the juice, since it’s all regulated by the government.
Obviously, with our lounge/bar, it’s different. There, we need people who are passionate about beer, and understand our story and can convey that to our patrons. We hired key folks early on that have stayed with us and taken on managerial roles, so now, I am no longer directly involved with that hiring.
What does a typical work day look like for you? Are you still selling? Walk us through it.
Well, I have a newborn, so he takes up a lot of my time now. Both my wife and I are small business owners (she’s an artist, see brycebarry.com and help us out!) so working from home is our only option, really.
Because of that, I am now mostly a desk jockey — lots of bill paying, emails to vendors and the like. We are a small team of a whopping 6 full–time employees, and a handful of part-timers, we all wear a lot of hats. For me, that includes doing a lot of our website work, distribution logistics, email newsletters, the list is endless.
Sales IS still a part of my role, but more for the key accounts like chains and such. The weekly, transactional sales are all handled by our sales agency.
What advice would you give to someone who is working in sales, but wants to make the jump to starting a business that they are passionate about?
The last part of that question is the key: be sure you are passionate about it. And plan like crazy WHILE you’re still employed. That being said, the only real way to make the leap, in my humble opinion, is to do it 100% — quit and commit. Especially if you’re building something brick and mortar, as you need to be there actually doing it. If it’s more of a SaaS project, I suppose you could manage it in parallel with a day job, but the more focus you can put toward the project, the better it will be, and the faster it will come to fruition.
What are your long term career goals?
Simply put, to be able to keep taking some pay from this little company, contributing ideas and such, but ultimately to become more of a “face” of the brewery and just be able to enjoy beers at the bar, shooting the shit and telling stories.
What’s your favorite sales movie?