Really, really really really happy I came upon this thread. I have read through each and every post a few times. Sorry in advance for the long post, but this has been plaguing my mind for a long time. Maybe I should have made this a separate post.
Re: me - I am in a strange place with beer. I have brewed just shy of 50 5-gallon batches. I have become decent at it. Haven't won a comp yet, haven't even placed other than hedonistic comps. But I make good beer. I know how to control cold-side and fermentation. I know how to pitch the right amounts of yeast. I like to think I can tweak a recipe. I make good beer and I spend ALL my free time reading about, talking about, thinking about, and (oh yeah) writing about beer on forums like this. I just took my BJCP tasting exam, I have brewed 10 batches so far in 2013. I have had an appointment cancel multiple times and have brewed a batch with the 'found' time. I've actually left work on a slow day to brew. I have a few friends (free spirited types) who tell me I should quit being such a pragmatist and 'work in beer'. I spend the majority of my spare energy (the most VALUABLE of commodities in my mind) on it.
I have an undergrad degree in finance, training from a top 5 commercial bank, a masters degree in real estate finance, 10 years experience in banking, a year and a half of law school (one of the biggest, if not the biggest scam out there), and a good, steady job that pays well above the median salary and allows me and my wife some nice luxuries. I know I can do just about anything, its just a question of where I want to deploy my energy and if I have the balls to do it. I have seen plenty of startups fail, have liquidated plenty of them, and I know selling beer is a hell of a lot different than brewing beer for and enjoying it with one's family and friends. Yet it still haunts me that I should be spending my life doing something surrounding this. I have an opportunity to move back into a business development role at my employer and get my company to pay for my wife and I to move back to our home town. It would/will be a great life for us. Yet beer still haunts me. I can write a business plan, build a cash flow, a DCF, figure out an IRR, glad-hand/chin-wag with investors, and could go to a release party and get everyone just as psyched about beer as I am.
Yes, there would be A/P and A/R. Yes, there still would be licensing. Yes, there would be keg leases, disputes with landlords, a $#!tload of grain to clean up, payrolls almost missed, sleepless nights worrying about the loan I took against my 401(k), shelf space, a $#load of competition, shelf space, capacity issues, spoilage, breakage, oh yeah, shelf space, etc etc etc. But its beer. And its awesome. And we all know it.
When I throw out the 'yeah, you know I really love it BECAUSE its recreation and NOT work' to my friends (one of whom is in the wine industry), the response is "that sounds like someone who has never really done what they loved for a living". I suppose there is something to the notion that as soon as your 'love' becomes 'the way you put food on the table', it changes. Maybe not for the better. But I don't know that for sure. And I won't know until I try to make it my life. Maybe I'll never know.
Re: Financing Options (this is actually where I might add some value and not just vent my frustrations - People have said it well on this thread prior to my chime in. As Steve Hindy from Brooklyn said (paraphrase), "don't let lack of money stop you from pursuing your dream. There is money out there, but you need to be able to tell your story. You can find the money. But you need to be willing to work. Work harder than you have ever imagined, but you will have to give some things up".
Debt is cheaper on paper than equity. However debt has its dangers too. In my job, I live this everyday. I manage 'distressed' commercial relationships for a super-regional bank (its been a 'growth industry' since 2008). Before that, I was a small business lender. Standard 'shelf' Laser-pro bank documents (note, guarantees, security agreements) essentially allow the bank (ie someone like me now) to come in and nuke your business if we want to and/or are the least bit uncomfortable. Its not because banks are heartless, banks (like breweries) just operate on razor-thin margins and are in the business of managing risk, as opposed to selling suds. Now, typically, MY BANK does not operate that way (though every bank is different and could give far different top-down directives based on their need to maintain capital levels and NOT charge-off/write off bad loans). 1. it gives us a bad reputation in the community, 2. It usually makes sense to work with a business before you liquidate it. That being said, banks don't have enough people in my role these days. I am managing way more relationships than I should. Which MEANS that it is more efficient for me to just EXIT a relationship (ie have a UCC Article IX creditor sale of my collateral, which could be fermenters, kegs, brite tanks, mash tuns, etc. and sue the principals for whatever is left) than let them limp along on forbearance agreement after modification agreement after loan extension. Banks essentially need to be 'right' on 99.5% of their loans to make money. Banks (despite their ad campaigns) are NOT your business partner. They are banks and they need to protect their depositors' dollars.
Re: All the people on here who are DOING WHAT THEY LOVE Thanks! You guys are what give the rest of us spineless working stiffs hope. Don't get me wrong, I like what I do and love the people I work with. But I have to believe that if I actually summoned the stones to sacrifice a bit of lifestyle to do what I really love, it would be a different life I would lead. I am not sure if I could live with the 'entrepreneur's night-sweats', but part of me would sure love to find out.
Re: The BUSINESS of beer My wife's 2nd cousin is a sensory analyst/QC guy/Doemens-academy-certified brewer who now works for a top 5 craft in QC. I had an hour conversation with him a few months ago about how it might not be the worst idea to 'keep brewing right where it is' in my life. Beer is 'heavy and cheap' as he said. Its competitive as hell. Maybe I'm better off hanging out and ENJOYING beer at a beer release party instead of pushing it to vendors.
I understand that every fly fisherman can't become a guide on the big blackfoot, and everybody who loves to get drunk and play golf with his buddies can't become David Feherty. But I've had a lot of hobbies, and none of them have infected me like this one.
re: the OP: Do it :-)
Sorry for the rant and thanks for reading if you haven't fallen asleep.