If you're a beer enthusiast, and working in the high tech industry, how do you combine those two passions? Kerry Finsand--talks about how he created Taplister (www.taplister.com) to make it easier to find great beers on tap, and how it became a startup at Portland's Upstart incubator.
Explain what Taplister is all about?
Kerry Finsand: Taplister helps consumers discover craft beers on tap, and lets bars market what beers you have on tap to those consumers. It's all about discovery. For a consumer, they can look for their favorite beer on tap, discover new ones, and look at new places you didn't know that have great beers on tap. For example, if you looking Portland, you can see there are all kinds of beer on tap, and you'll also find more information about those beers. We've got a partnership with RateBeer.com, which gives you lots of information about those beers, like what their alcohol levels are and how hoppy they are. As a beer geek, it used to be you had to call to see what's on tap at your favorite bar. This has solved that problem, because people can just look online to see what is on tap. For bar owners, it's always been a hassle to provide that information online, because they had to update their website, Facebook, Twitter, and even their chalk board. To solve that problem, you can use our platform to update your tap list, in one interface, and push it out to Twitter, Facebook, your website, and even our Beer Board, which turns a high end HDTV into a digital chalkboard.
How did the service start, and what's the story behind the company?
Kerry Finsand: In 2009, a group of us got together and started this as a side project. We wanted to make it easier to find our favorite beers on tap. There are lots of people in the craft beer scene--beer geeks--who want to find what's on tap. We'd make our dining decisions not based on the food, but what beer was where. So we started up the site to solve that problem, and over time, it started getting some traction. Over the last three years, we got busy with our jobs, and I decided I should see what I could do with Taplister, so I quit my job doing marketing in May and moved into the Upstart incubator in Portland. I raised a small round of seed funding to take this to the next level. I had also recently gone to the Craft Brewer's conference in San Diego in April, and heard the keynote talking about how this area is really exploding. All of these things aligned at the time, to really make my vision come to fruition. Before, when it was just a side project, I didn't have the time or resources to put into it. Now, with our recent first version of our platform, there's a lot more we're going to do, and we're just getting started. It's really a culmination of my experience in technology marketing and interest in beer.
What's your background?Kerry Finsand: I started to go to beer industry events six years ago. I happened to run into Brian Butenschoen, Director of Oregon's Brewer's Guild. He said--hey, I've seen you around, why don't you write about beer for the Portland Tribune? I started doing that, and writing for Travel Oregon about beer, and a couple of years ago I started going on radio shows. I was on KXL on Lisa Morrison's show talking about beer and technology, as "BeerGyver". Then, when Google was talking about bringing Gigabit fiber to the area, we recruited some people to create a special beer called Gigabit IPA, which we gots lots of publicity around. That was a great project, and brought a lot to us from a marketing standpoint. The Mayor of Portland got involved, and it was picked up by all of the big tech blogs. My own background is I worked for Citysearch from 2004 to 2007, then left to start working for startup companies, and spent four or five years at a lot of different startups in the startup scene. I got a pretty good knowledge of the local space and how to market to it from my experience at Citysearch and Groupon.
What is your new service?
Kerry Finsand: We just launched our new website out of beta, and we have an iPhone app which we've just submitted to Apple. That application will be out hopefully in the next couple of weeks. Plus, we have a new website which is mobile friendly and works on any type of device. We're also hoping in the first quarter of next year to have our Android app finished. What we are doing, is over the next couple of months, we hope to learn from our users and bar customers, to figure out what services they really want, and develop those features. Our first stage of the Taplister management system, allows bars to update their tap list, making it a lot easier for bar owners to add beers on tap and promote them through social channels.
We also want to integrate more great beer information into the platform. If a beer is not in the database, although ninety percent of them are, there are always one-offs which are not in our database. We'd like to have people add those beers and also push it into RateBeer, so they can vet that beer. RateBeer is one of the largest beer sites, and they know what they're doing about beers.. That's why we have a great partnership with them.
The other thing we're working on is our Digital Beer Board, our first generation of that. We have a platform right now that has three different templates to choose from, and we can customize that for people, which we're doing as well. Hopefully, sometime in Q1 we a can add some more functionality to those boards, to help promote in-store promotions and events, and provide more than just information on the beer itself. We really want to transition it in a way that makes sense from the chalkboard. Although chalkboards mike make sense sometimes, lots of bars are now putting televisions into the bar. Where it was once expensive--I remember working at Circuit City in college, when they were selling plasma TVs for $10,000, nowadays they are only $300 or $400. We've seen the technology evolve over the decade and our platform is really affordable, in terms of hardware. You can go to Best Buy, and use Google TV boxes to make any television a smart TV, so even for a small business it's not much cost to get on board. So we're working with restaurants and bars, and our goal is to have a thousand bars in three to five years with our Digital Beer Board.
What's the biggest thing you've learned so far in the startup process?
Kerry Finsand: There are many things. Probably, the biggest is that it definitely takes lots more money and time than you think. I think you hear it all the time in business, but until you do it yourself, you don't realize that it takes so much more time, resources, and money than you ever would think. That's especially true when you're not a web developer. I'm a techie, but my background is in sales, marketing, and business. I've also definitely learned another big thing, is you need to choose who you want to work with very wisely. It's definitely really important to get to know people before you hire them, and give them a few small projects to work on first, so you can make sure they're the right fit. The other thing I've learned, is the startup life is fun, but it's lots of work, which I think some people don't realize, thinking it's just very glamorous.
Finally, what's your favorite craft beer?
Kerry Finsand: I guess, the answer would be the one in my hand. I don't have any kids, but I think that's like asking who's your favorite kid. My taste buds change all the time, and there are lots of great beers out there. My favorite style of beer is the IPA, my number two is Sour. But right now, as summer is gone, I'm now levitating towards stouts and seasonal beers. But, the answer really is the one in my hand, because I like to try something new literally every day.