Chad Brodsky is the founder and CEO of City Brew Tours. City Brew Tours currently operates in nine cities and was recently named one of Inc. Magazine’s 5,000 fastest-growing companies in America. Chad created City Brew Tours in order to marry two of his passions: entrepreneurship and craft beer. Chad studied business administration at the University of Vermont. After a brief finance career in New York City and Vermont, Chad left the world of finance and moved to Boston to focus on growing City Brew Tours, a fledgling startup at the time. It was in Boston where Chad met his wife, Liana. When Chad’s not doing something entrepreneurial, you can find him drinking a Duchess de Bourgogne, Samuel Adams Boston Lager, or any hazy NE IPA.
How did the concept for City Brew Tours come about?
I had just come off a semester abroad in Austria and I was heading into my senior year at the University of Vermont in 2008. My ideal summer job back then was a finance internship. However, we were in the heart of the great recession and opportunities were sparse. Given the fact that beer is recession-proof, that summer I decided to create a business instead. Dressed in German lederhosen, which I acquired on my recent travels, I hit the busy streets of Burlington, VT convincing strangers to hop into my van, which I had just purchased from a minister in NH, to take tours of local breweries.
Since then, we’ve honed experience and purchased eight more vehicles and now have operations in Boston, MA, Washington, D.C., Vermont, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York City, Baltimore, Cleveland, and Montreal. We currently showcase 100+ breweries to 25,000 people per year across 9 different cities.
How was the first year in business?
It was a busy and difficult time! In the beginning, it was difficult to convince established breweries to give me, a college student at the time, access to tour their facility. Given the nature of the business, navigating local regulations, liquor, and the insurance landscape proved to be challenging. From a marketing perspective, I would try to find any way I could to expose people to my business. This translated into me flyering and canvassing the city of Burlington about my value proposition. In the first year, I was balancing a full-time job in finance with running all aspects of the business. I was a one-man show.
What was your marketing strategy?
Get someone to build me a website, make a flyer, get local businesses/hotels to put up said flyer, and link their website to mine. Reach out to local news outlets and offer them free tours.
How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
The growth was very modest in the beginning. We did $36,000 in the first year. Now, we can do $36,000 on an average weekend.
How do you define success?
I define success as the financial freedom to do something you love that makes a difference in the world while also providing for the ones you care about. I think there is a big difference with personal success vs business success. I strive for both!
What is the key to success?
Not being complacent with how things are and always trying to innovate, persevere, and overcome obstacles and challenges.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
It never hurts to ask a question, and chances stop coming to those who stop taking them.
What are some quotes that you live by?
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
“Chances stop coming, to those who stop taking them.”
Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
I can’t think of any particular hard day. Every day comes with its own set of challenges. If I had to pick one particular day, it would have to be the day when my van was stolen from a repair shop. At first, I wasn’t even aware that the vehicle was stolen until my employee informed me that the repair shop never received the vehicle. It turns out that two individuals had stolen the van the evening prior and proceeded to joyride it into a bunch of parked cars. I then had to do damage control, due to the fact that some of the locals who witnessed the accident thought the assailants worked for me and were drunk. This was a PR nightmare. In order to render tours that weekend, I had to then drive to multiple cities and shuffle vehicles around. A lot of time was spent on the phone with the police, insurance companies, community forums, and driving.
When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I lost both my parents at a young age, but before they passed, they instilled in me a drive to succeed, overcome obstacles, and to be inquisitive.
What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Empower your staff, find out what matters to your customer by actively listening, create measurable goals, and track productivity through lists.
This interview was conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.
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