Co-Founding and Exiting: Brewhouse
In 2008 thanks to a random email conversation with a college associate I got involved with a group of creatives and helped start a small co-working space inside the walls of GBD Architects in Portland Oregon. The office was located in a section of NW Portland dubbed the Brewery Blocks, home of the original Weinharts’s Brewing Company. The name of the office building where we worked was aptly named the Brewhouse Tower.
The co-working space was a bit of a success. We gelled well with our gracious-hosts and soon were labeled The Brewhouse Studio by those we met in the cafe and passed in the halls. It wasn’t long before GBD began seeking the expertise of several different freelancers working in the space. Some of these projects were more independent endeavors while some required collaboration with other studio members. Sensing that something great was happening, five of us got together to create an LLC and unify our collective creative energy. Our nickname stuck and we became The Brewhouse Studio, for real.
Over the first year and a half-or-so, five co-founders became two and Brian and I set out to grow the Brewhouse on our own. Brewhouse went on to hire two incredible individuals, Kenny Crippen and Youn Hee Lee Williams and together the four of us grew the business and eventually moved into our own office space in SW Portland. These were exciting times for Brewhouse, we had recently finished our first major project for whole foods and were excited to hang stuff on our blanks walls and decorate our space.
I continued to work for Brewhouse as a designer, developer and creative director while at the same time working on Brewhouse, pitching ideas to clients, putting together RFPs and maintaining client relationships. Running and working for Brewhouse has been both educational and extremely rewarding but it was tiring. It has helped me sharpen my development skills and hone my creative vision and it also made me realize I had bigger plans than what I was doing.
Falling into a niche
Typically niching-down and focusing your core skills to a select audience is a good thing. For the most part Brewhouse did an OK job of chasing our niche. Because of our history and connection to GBD we found ourselves surrounded with a great network of companies and individuals individual in the Architecture, Construction and Engineering industry often referred to as the ACE industry. We had done a lot of work for companies in the field and those projects attracted similar work. It really is true that the work you demonstrate in your portfolio will yield similar requests from other clients. So in a sense Brewhouse niched-down. We recognized that over 70% of our revenue came from web based projects or projects that had digital components. So we got really good at building websites and tools for companies in the ACE industry.
As I gained new experience and a deeper understanding of building custom tools on top of WordPress I soon realized that the niche that Brewhouse was focusing on wasn’t the type of work I wanted to be doing. As I worked on more complex tools and interfaces for many of our client’s projects I quickly became more interested in developing more component based tools as apposed to one-off client projects. I was interested in building a product or service. I was not interested in running a client-service based business any longer.