Josh Goodman was on “a problem-solving quest.” Pushing 30, he had lost his enthusiasm for his career in IT staffing and was looking for business ideas. One night, he met some friends at a crowded bar in Baltimore but couldn’t get a beer. It happened again the next time they went out. And again. Goodman thought, There’s got to be a better way to get a drink. He envisioned a simple solution: a self-serve beer tap system, where customers could fill up a debit card, pour their own drinks and be charged by the ounce. Like an ATM, but for beer. This was 2007. “I thought I’d be sipping mojitos on an island in the Caribbean by 2013 or ’14,” he says. And the entrepreneurial gods laughed and laughed.
What followed was a 10-year odyssey of malfunctioning tech, unreliable partners and cruel breaks, culminating in the lesson all company founders must eventually learn: Even the simplest ideas can be maddeningly complex, and only the most persistent entrepreneurs survive.
Goodman’s journey unfolded in phases. During phase one, he heard about a small company in Atlanta that built a similar system to what he’d envisioned. He started a firm called Innovative Tap Solutions and struck a deal to sell its technology. The upside of this was that Goodman got practice convincing skittish local authorities that the product wouldn’t result in mayhem. (The system cut off after five beers and required drinkers to go to a bar employee to reactivate it, making it no different from ordering a pitcher of beer.) The downside was that in order to install it, bar owners had to rip up their floors to run tap lines, an outlay of time and money no one was willing to make for an unproven technology. He went 0 for 150.
On to phase two. Goodman sunk $10,000 of his own money into developing a “mobile draft table,” a self-contained unit on wheels that required no renovations. But as he was looking for manufacturing partners, he heard about an Irish company, Ellickson, that was looking to sell its own mobile draft table in the U.S. It had a deal with beverage giant Diageo, which gave the product credibility. Goodman ditched his own table, got in touch with Ellickson in 2009, flew to Ireland and wound up launching its U.S. operations. His small team sold 174 units, but the product was plagued by technical problems. “For lack of a better word, it sucked,” he says. Ellickson shut down the division in 2012.
Phase three! Fed up with working for someone else, Goodman restarted his company and named it PourMyBeer. He partnered with a number of small firms around the world -- in California, Austria, China -- that wanted to sell their self-serve beer systems in the U.S. Anticipating that the American market could become crowded soon, he invested heavily in SEO so he’d top the rankings when people searched “self-serve beer.”
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For a while, things looked pretty good. PourMyBeer landed dozens of clients, including some big ones like MGM, Aria and Caesars Palace casinos. It even wound up on the widely watched reality show Bar Rescue. There was only one problem: “The technology from California and China consistently failed,” Goodman says. Worse, their units were badly engineered and their tech support was nil, forcing Goodman’s small team to service the things themselves. By 2014, PourMyBeer was on the brink. Goodman’s business partner quit for a job that could actually pay him. Goodman sunk into depression. Why is this happening? he wondered. I’m not a bad person. Still, he kept at it. “You don’t lose faith for two reasons,” he says now. “Number one: You believe in your idea. And number two: You bet your entire life savings on it, so you don’t want to think it could be a bad choice.”
Which brings us to phase four. Goodman considered what he’d learned. He had a good idea and a track record of promoting and selling it. He dominated in SEO. He knew how to win over regulators. The problem throughout had been the technology. So he decided to develop his own. It would have to be clean, simple, affordable, durable and so easy to install, a child could do it. He also realized he needed to stop thinking of his product as disruptive to bars, and start thinking about it as disruptive anywhere people want a drink. During his visits to Vegas, Goodman had learned that virtually anything -- coffee, cocktails, kombucha -- could be served through a keg-based system. So he partnered with his only reliable vendor from the previous debacle, an Austrian company, Redl Gastrosystems, to develop this new product. When it was done, he made a video of his 6-year-old installing one.
PourMyBeer’s new unit hit the market in the spring of 2015 and did $650,000 in sales that year. In 2016, it hit $1.2 million. Goodman estimates he’s on track to hit $4 to $5 million this year. Customer acquisitions are up 400 percent; distributors have signed on in Argentina, the Netherlands, Brazil and other countries; and the company is getting 50 leads a week. PourMyBeer has landed major restaurant groups, Thomson Cruise Lines, Marriott Hotels and the U.S. Marine base at Okinawa -- all through its website. (That SEO work paid off.) And each installation brought more referrals. A contact at Aria moved over to hospitality Goliath HMS Host and got PourMyBeer into Chicago and Milwaukee airports. “We get emails from people as they’re sitting there using our system, saying, ‘This is phenomenal. I want to bring it back to our area. Call me,’” Goodman says.
“It’s the tipping point,” he continues. “We’ve crossed the chasm.” So does that mean it’s finally time for those mojitos on the beach? Not quite. “I don’t feel like I deserve a pat on my back yet,” he says. “I feel like I’m just getting started.”