Aurochs Brewing Company founders Doug Foster (left) and Ryan Bove pose in front of brewing equipment in their Strip District space
Describe Aurochs in one sentence.
Ryan: We provide great tasting craft beers made from unique ingredients that are naturally gluten-free.
How did you come up with the idea to start the company?
Ryan: Doug and I had been bouncing around different ideas for a while, and they were all over the place, in all sorts of different industries. Just before the beginning of my second year at grad school, I was in New York City with some friends and we ended up going to a restaurant that had very few gluten-free options; I basically had to eat a baked potato after being out all day in the sun. So when I started off my second year, we started looking at gluten-free customers and some of the problems that they face. We came up with maybe four or five pain points for gluten-free consumers and decided to pursue a business related to beer.
What are your own experiences with gluten-intolerance?
Doug: For me, I joke that I’m a career Celiac. I’ve been following a gluten-free diet since I was 5 years old. I was diagnosed at 5, and thankfully my parents have been very involved and very supportive. They bought a bread maker and started to educate themselves and eventually educate me on what I could and couldn’t eat and I just kind of grew up following a gluten-free diet and living a healthy life. I also got to see how the gluten-free diet became more mainstream, how there was a large growth in product options, and how many new people began to follow the gluten-free diet – whether it be for celiac reasons or some of the other reasons people choose to eliminate gluten from their diet.
Ryan: Towards the end of college I started feeling very tired, and as I started my job it was just getting worse and worse. I was 22 years old and could barely make it through a day. I had lost like 30 pounds and was experiencing all kinds of other health problems. When I would eat it would feel like I was digesting glass. Finally I started seeing a doctor and for 6 months they couldn’t find out what was wrong. This was when we finally started looking into the gluten-free diet and the first day I tried it, it was like a fog was lifted off of me. Since then I’ve been getting healthier, better, and I really want to start enjoying a wide variety of craft beers again!
I know you guys are both originally from Pittsburgh. How helpful has your support network been in terms of growing your company?
Doug: Ryan and I have been friends since high school; we played high school football together, and grew up together with a very close and supportive group of friends here in Pittsburgh. That has always been very central to what we have done and these guys have helped us as taste-testers and roommates.
Ryan: One of our close friends is also involved with Copper Kettle Brewing at Hough’s in Greenfield and has been a big inspiration for us on the brewing side of things.
Doug: Just having supporting and inquisitive friends – people asking about the business, people wanting to help you out. And then, really just a supportive network in the city of Pittsburgh – our friends, their networks, family, and the supportive network of people close to us who have really helped open doors. It makes Pittsburgh a perfect fit for us to start this business.
Ryan: We received a lot of help from the Tepper School at Carnegie Mellon University. The way it works at Tepper is that there are Minis – Mini 1 and Mini 2 – so we used assignments and projects in a lot of our classes to get the company off the ground. At the end of Mini 1 we had put together about four ideas all based around living gluten-free. On fall break last year I wrote a paper for a corporate strategy class that became the basis of the business plan. Dave Mawhinney [CMU professor and I6 Agile Innovation Program Director at IW] and Art Boni [John R. Thorne Distinguished Career Professor of Entrepreneurship at CMU and I6 Agile Innovation System Mentor] both ended up being huge assets for us and encouraged us to join the i6 Agile Innovation System Program, which we did last January.
Why did you apply to AlphaLab?
Ryan: We were trying to release the business more in line with how software startups are released. We also identified that an important aspect of our business plan was going to be online marketing, and we were able to learn a lot from our partner companies in AlphaLab about that side of the business. So those were the two things: business model approach and online marketing.
How have the agile development techniques you learned in i6 and AlphaLab contributed to your business growth strategy?
Ryan: When we look at it from an investor’s perspective, we recognize that our business is a pretty risky, highly capital intensive prospect. And with beer, there’s no way to really figure out the proof of customer demand due to regulations involved with bringing an alcoholic beverage to the market. Additionally, at Aurochs we’re developing a whole new way to brew – which obviously takes a long time – so we’re just trying to get it out to the market as soon as possible to prove our concept. Operating within these limitations really encourages us to be capitally efficient and agile in our development strategies.
Tell us about your first product.
Ryan: Our first recipe is called the Buck Wild White Ale. It’s made with millet and quinoa and is in line with other light, citrusy, beers – something everyone can enjoy. So far we’ve gotten really positive feedback from both gluten-free and non-gluten-free consumers.
If you could give one piece of advice to entrepreneurs just starting out, what would it be?
Ryan: I have two. Number one is to find a screaming pain point. For a gluten-free consumer, finding a really good gluten-free craft beer is a screaming pain point that they are willing to pay for. On this note, we found that people are really willing to talk about their problems. We didn’t start with an idea, we went out and found problems and figured out how to build a business.
Number two would be to find mentors. We’ve been very fortunate through CMU, AlphaLab, and i6 to have awesome mentors. I don’t know which one of those pieces of advice is more important; I think they’re pretty equal.
Doug: My advice is to partner with Ryan! [Laughs] Team is really important and to build a strong team you need to find people who are willing to go all in. If you’re going to lead that team, it means you are going to have to cut ties and really put the business first. We wouldn’t be where we are without the help of other people, but the founding team needs to be totally dedicated and focused on making the business a success.
Where can people go to find out more about Aurochs?