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Harley Finkelstein

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How One Entrepreneur's Love of Ale Led to a Successful Startup

Posted: 10/11/2013 3:44 pm

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By Dave Selden, 33 Books Co.


When I started my company, 33books.com, I didn't know I was starting a company. I didn't really know how to start a company. That was something other people did; people I worked for.

Let me back up a bit. In late 2009, I'd been a graphic designer for about 12 years, mostly working in advertising. People hired me (through the companies I worked for) to promote their products. After hours, I did what most people who work in advertising do - I drank. And then I blogged about it.

It's a lame claim to fame, but I was one of the earlier beer bloggers. I started a beer blog that became somewhat popular, at least here in Portland, Ore. Because of that, I started getting invites to "major beer events" from PR firms who wanted bloggers to write about them.

So I went. I drank, and I drank some more. The next morning, I would try to piece together some kind of recap for my reader. But as any beer aficionado will attest, while it's easy to colorfully describe the first beer or two of the night, the thirteenth is a bit of a blur - especially the next morning.

That's why I designed a little book that would help me take notes on the beers I was sampling. I wanted it to be quick, and I wanted it to be pocket-sized. Basically, I created my "33 Bottles of Beer" tasting journal for myself.

It's tough to get just a few books printed, and I somehow talked my wife into an initial run of 1,000 books or so. I agonized over that initial investment, and was sure I'd be giving the books away as gifts for the rest of my life.

But a funny thing happened. Some of my blogger friends wrote about the books on their blogs, and things started growing from there.

It wasn't explosive growth, but it was steady. Traditional media picked up the story, and I started adding some new, related books. In 2010, I debuted "33 Glasses of Wine," "33 Cups of Coffee" and "33 Pieces of Cheese."

Cut back to 2013. I've got eight books out in the world, a U.K, and Japanese distributor ... and a day job. My book business, which I'm now calling "33 Books Co.", is my night job. I've got two small children, a two-car garage half-full of inventory, and quite possibly the world's most patient wife.

In June 2013, I took a leap of faith and decided to turn my "side job" into my main job. I resigned from my position and decided to get serious about 33 Books Co. I retired my beautiful (but somewhat dysfunctional) homegrown ecommerce solution and upgraded in a big way to Shopify, which has helped me immensely on so many levels (mobile compatibility, fulfillment, customer experience, sales metrics ...).

In September 2013, I launched a new product that I think will help my business grow even more, a giant beer-tasting map of the U.S. based on my original beer-tasting book.

I've learned a lot on my own, but I think the mentorship and exposure that the Build A Business competition could bring would ensure my success in this new chapter. I feel like Daymond John and Mark Cuban are already mentors of mine (Shark Tank is absolutely my favorite show on TV), and I have been following Gary Vaynerchuk since "Crush It" came out. It's on my bedside table even today.

And, you know, $50,000 would be a lot of capital for a business like mine. I'd probably have to add on to the garage!

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Dave Selden is a Portland, Ore.-based graphic designer and creator of the "33" series of pocket-sized tasting notebooks. He's an avid runner, woodworker and beer geek in his spare time, which is fleeting these days thanks to the recent arrival of his second child. He hails from the great state of Iowa and smokes his own bacon, two facts which may or may not be related.

 

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