In June, Greg Heller-LaBelle of Colony Meadery was honored at Lehigh Valley Business’ fifth annual “40 Under 40” reception and awards ceremony. According to the LVB web site, “The 40 honorees were selected for their commitment to business growth, professional excellence, and the community.”
We wanted to ask Greg what he did to make his manufacturing startup successful, and also get some advice for other startups.
1. Your business did something that few other startups usually achieve – it attained a positive cash flow within the first four months of sales operations. How did you accomplish that so quickly? What were your strategies?
It helped that we didn’t take any money out of the business for the first six months, and then took almost nothing for the next six. The reality is that fast growth and cash flow are going to be reliant on running a very capital-efficient startup
2. How has your time as an incubator company at Bridgeworks Enterprise Center helped your business to develop and grow? What do you get out of being a part of an incubator program? What’s the biggest benefit?
The biggest benefit is the support of the other entrepreneurs in the building. There’s an entire world of expertise and skill right in our building, and we’ve taken advantage of everything from having custom plastics fabricated next door, to advice based on some of the entrepreneurs’ previous careers
3. Part of your work with Colony is to make mead a more widely known and accepted mainstream beverage. How are your current efforts trying to effect that change?
I think we’ve made a lot of progress where we’ve had the ability to communicate. In the Lehigh Valley, the standard response when I meet a stranger has gone from “you make meat?” to “oh, yeah I’ve heard of you guys.” That’s a lot of mindshare gained for three years and almost no advertising budget.
4. What do the next few years hold for Colony? Additional new product introductions? Wider distribution? More store locations?
In short, yes. We want to continue to expand to markets we can support and to grow market share in our existing markets where our wholesaler partners will allow us. We continue to look for new locations for tasting rooms, and of course, we’ll need a permanent production home as we will be graduating soon.
5. What advice do you have for an entrepreneur who is considering starting a business like yours in the beverage industry?
Know what type of business you want to be. If you want to run a brewpub or a lifestyle business, you can make very different choices than someone who wants to grow a production facility. Also, have a business partner who complements you, not one who mirrors you. It’s too big a job for one person, or even two people with the same skill set, to undertake and succeed.