Manage Your Business
Veteran craft brewer has advice on tap
This story is part of "Dream Builders," a series that spotlights how women turn their business aspirations into reality—often defying tremendous odds—and innovate along the way. It is presented by Chase for Business.
After serving 13 years in the U.S. Army and National Guard, I started to think about what life would be like after the military.
I knew I couldn't work for someone else. The military made me headstrong. It also gave me many risk-taking entrepreneurial traits where I wanted build and lead something. Owning my own business felt like a natural direction, so I decided to jump off the cliff head first. I thought: "You can play it safe, or take some risk and do something different."
I was passionate about making quality beer, so I started Backward Flag Brewing Company, a veteran owned and operated craft brewery. It wasn't easy getting it started, and it's not going to get easier any time soon.
It's OK to admit what you don't know
Like many breweries, it all started with home brewing. I learned from one of the pilots I served with in the Army. A few bad batches led me to being completely obsessed in learning more. I started reading everything and constantly listened to podcasts—as soon as I woke up and stepped into the shower, I'd hit play.
My biggest hurdle wasn't learning how to make great beer—it was starting and operating my brewery. I had no business background. No one in my family ever owned a business. I didn't even understand a few simple business terms. Here's an embarrassing example: I remember calling someone to look at properties, and the person on the phone asked me how much capital I was working with. I didn't know what the word "capital" meant. That's how far behind I was in the business world.
I had to catch up. I became a member of the Brewers Association, met with other brewery owners, and got involved with my local SCORE office—a partner of the U.S. Small Business Association.
Every few weeks, I would meet with one of the SCORE mentors to go through my business plan. I got questions I never would have thought about. This process led me to scrap the initial restaurant portion of my business plan and only focus on the brewery. And I'm not out of the ordinary—according to the latest Business Leaders Outlook report, 65 percent of veteran-owned businesses have mentors. I would encourage other veteran entrepreneurs to seek them out.
I'm a mother, business owner and veteran—not always in the same order
Balance is hard. I'm very much involved in the business as well as trying to improve as a manager. We are currently going through an expansion, which finishes this December.
Plus, I have a 5-year-old daughter. During the week, I get up at 5 a.m. and work until I have to wake her up. My partner and I do a lot of juggling for school drop offs, pickups and everything in between. My ex-husband has her on the weekends, which is mainly when the brewery's tasting room is open. It's a lot of coordination.
I also care about making time for my staff. I went through leadership classes during my time in the military, and one lesson I applied in my business: make sure you're taking care of your troops. If someone is having a bad day, take time to understand their personal life before jumping on them. I'm big on giving people room to grow. I'm there to oversee, but I believe everyone is a leader and can manage themselves.
Since many of us are veterans or law enforcement, we operate in the same way. From the way we talk to each other, to having everything in the brewery in military time on a 24 hour clock. We work in organized chaos and we have thick skin. There are things we care a lot about and have a lot of respect for, and there's things that have taught us to not take life so seriously.
Yes, a woman veteran owns a brewery
The brewery industry is male dominated, but the assumptions multiply when you add veteran. I've encountered issues as a women business owner, but I've struggled more as a women veteran. I've heard: "Well, I thought this was a veteran-owned brewery?" Fortunately, most times my staff and I can have a laugh about the surprised looks we get when it's unveiled that I'm the veteran owner.
Women in the military are outside the box to begin with, and women in general have a lot to take care of with the weight of feeling obligated to more responsibilities at home. As much as we like to think we have progressed, a women who asserts herself as focusing on something else than family or home can be seen as a bad spouse or mother.
At the end of the day, if you are shocking and surprising people, you're probably doing things right because you're doing something that not a lot of people have done. It keeps me going, and thanks to my military training, I've learned that if you're not edging on failure then you're probably not pushing hard enough.
Photo: Benjamin Rosser | Torie Fisher is a veteran and owner of Backward Flag Brewery in Fork River, NJ.