By Kris McDowell
For the Oregon Beer Growler
Six years ago the craft beer world was considerably different than it is today. Six years ago technology was considerably different than it is today. Both were less sophisticated, still children with unexplored potential.
That's when Kerry Finsand had the idea to put technology to work to create a product that would help craft beer drinkers find specific beers on tap. As a craft beer consumer himself, he was tired of calling places or finding outdated information on websites and felt he could create something that would make his life and the lives of other craft beer consumers easier.
During that time he had been a regular attendee at Beer and Blog events at the Green Dragon. They were geared toward the technology crowd, and Kerry found three like-minded individuals who were interested in working on something he describes as "a fun side thing." With shared interests of craft beer and technology, Kerry, Ken Baer, Kevin Scaldeferri and Scott Wray created Taplister. Less than a year later their product, one that allowed consumers to both look up beers and submit beers into the searchable database, was ready to be launched. Kerry drew upon his experience working at Groupon and similar companies marketing their products to implement marketing for Taplister. A kickoff party was held at EastBurn, Taplister's first account, followed by a significant presence at that year's Oregon Brewers Festival. They secured a booth at the festival, hiring friends who were paid in beer tokens, to get the word out about what Taplister was and why it should appeal to the craft beer community. Following the festival, they brought on a group of Taplister ambassadors to visit establishments and ensure tap lists were up to date.
Fast forward two years and Taplister, now far more than the side project it had started as, was expanding to Seattle and beyond. This was also a time of restructuring for the group of four that had started the company.
Scott and Kevin were the first to leave Taplister and not long after that Kerry became sole owner when he bought out Ken. With the full weight of the company on his shoulders Kerry kicked Taplister into high gear, raising $100,000 to help fund the young company. That success was followed by acceptance into local business accelerator Upstart Labs, a now-closed entity that focused on early-stage development of technology companies. That opportunity provided Kerry with hands-on mentorship and business experience to draw upon. The initial money raised was then supplemented by Kerry's efforts that raised an additional $150,000, the majority of which went toward developing the technology to support his vision of Taplister. With things getting considerably more serious, Kerry left his full-time position to focus on Taplister.
Taplister founder Kerry Finsand kicked the business into high gear after becoming sole owner, but eventually found he needed a team with the knowledge to complement his. The search for help grew frustrating and Taplister actually shut down for a period of time. It’s now been revived with Finsand taking on the role of consultant. Photo courtesy of Taplister
Kerry eventually found that he needed a team of individuals who had skillsets to complement his. He worked with multiple people, but had difficulty finding those with the right mix of skills and passion. A bit frustrated and needing a break from devoting all of his time to the company, Kerry made the decision to shut down Taplister in the summer of 2014. The announcement brought forth multiple people who wanted to help out or even buy Taplister in order to keep it around. The unexpected positive response was heartening and prompted Kerry to reconsider the future of the company. It was important to him that Taplister remain a Portland-owned business, therefore he wanted to find someone who was more skilled in running the business side of the company he had created.
Enter Mark Meyer, a man who grew and ran a company for 22 years before selling it. His background was in computers, and after he sold his company he began working with the beer industry on the equipment and software side of things. He found the industry to be full of "nice, fun people," so when the Taplister shutdown was announced he was quick to contact Kerry. Not long after that, Mark purchased Taplister with Kerry remaining involved as a consultant. Then it was time for Mark to get down to business to figure out how to resurrect and improve Taplister.
The first step was to rebuild the entire platform, retaining the same functionality but improving its performance and adding new features. Beyond that, Mark focused on getting feedback from customers. Mark is proud to hear people say, "You give really, really good service," and it's something that is of the utmost importance for him to continue. He knows that listening to potential customer feedback is key improving and expanding Taplister.
The world in which Taplister exists faces increasing competition all the time, so finding the right niche, doing a superior job of filling that niche and working with customers to help them understand the power the platform provides when it's fully utilized is key to both customer and consumer satisfaction. Customers, like EastBurn, have four levels of engagement to choose from that range from the most basic, free listing of their establishment and tap list (The Six Pack) to a full package of capabilities (The Keg), which includes digital beer boards on-site, pushing information to social media accounts and even transferring digital beer listings into easily printed, hardcopy menus. Keeping tap lists up to date benefits Taplister's customers by allowing craft beer drinkers to find locations that have beers they are looking for, a win-win for both parties.
It has now been a year since Mark took the reins at Taplister. He's pleased with what has been accomplished to date, but not ready to rest on his laurels. For the last year, he's primarily focused on educating customers and being responsive to their needs. As he moves into the second year with Taplister, he'll take a closer look at the craft beer drinker side of the equation. There will continue to be challenges — figuring out how to better manage the listing of collaboration beers, keeping up with the new beers that craft brewers seem to be constantly be rolling out and finding ways to use the vast amount of analytical data they’ve amassed. But as a veteran businessman, Mark is excited by the challenges and looks forward to the future of Taplister.
Eric Sterling, Andy Steinman and Lisa Marcus are the owners of DigitalPour, a digital beer board now installed in dozens of Oregon breweries, bars and this one, at Growlers Hawthorne in Portland.
Photo by Emma Browne
By Gail Oberst
You might mourn the old chalkboard that lists what’s on tap at your favorite bar, but not for long. Some taphouses and brewpubs are replacing the dusty bar feature with digital beer boards -- banks of flat screens that can enlighten you on everything from the color of the beer to the latest tweet about it.
DigitalPour – an Oregon company whose owners developed the software in 2011 – is not the only company providing these services. Although the San Diego-based TapHunter and other companies have some boards in Oregon, homegrown DigitalPour is elbowing its way onto the walls of your Oregon watering hole. Since the company opened, it has placed DigitalPour software in 120 locations – most in Oregon, but many across the U.S. and internationally.
Easy Beer Education
You don’t have to be a beer geek to appreciate the information DigitalPour’s software provides. Let’s say you are in the mood for a porter you haven’t tried before. On the screen, you would look for a dark brown glass or growler icon, read the info next to see if it’s a porter, and then ask for a taste to see if you like it. Viola! Pour power. Some drinkers don’t need much more than that little bit of help. Some digital feeds – especially those at brewery-based pubs – actually look like a chalkboard, listing just the beer, the international bittering units (IBUs) and the alcohol by volume (ABV) for visitors.
Want more? Of course you do. In addition to the basics listed above, your taphouse feed might include the name of the beer and brewery, the cost per unit, whether it’s on nitro or CO2, where it was brewed, and when the keg was tapped. If you need further info, you might watch the Twitter, Foursquare and Untappd feeds roll across the board as people check into the brew you are thinking of buying. Don’t want to stand around your local beer purveyor before you make your decision? Some of bars and growler filling station subscribers put their DigitalPour feeds right on their websites, including access to a mobile application.
Better Business Beer
Jim Hillman, owner of the relatively new 40-tap Growlers Hawthorne in Portland, said this sort of system was a logical choice for him. “First of all, we’re two Portland start-ups,” Hillman said. Second: “It’s easy to use.” Hillman can easily update his own tap information, which appears on the board, but his employees are also trained to do it as well. The software not only tells customers what’s on tap, but also inventories the back room – from beer levels in the kegs to suggesting price per pint or growler depending on mark-up rates. “I’m awestruck,” Hillman said. Analytics included in the software can track beer performance with up-to-the-minute profit reports on individual beers, breweries, styles and other trends.
Software subscriptions start at $99 per month with a $298 basic set-up fee. The downloadable software does not include the monitors, which are simply flat screen televisions hard-wired to a computer – all standard equipment that business owners can purchase on their own. Depending on the owner’s desires, equipment might cost around $1,800 for a bank of three monitors.
About the Owners
Lisa Marcus, CEO, Andy Steinman, COO, and Eric Sterling, CTO, at first glance, are unlikely partners. But as with all entrepreneurs, serendipity had a lot to do with their partnership. Lisa and Eric, for example, met on a dating website. “We quickly realized we were better at doing business together,” Lisa laughed. They both put some energy into WineSlingr software, a wine-based version of DigitalPour, but it was Eric’s favorite pub, Bailey’s, in Portland, that turned their attention to beer. Eric, a software developer who inherited the innovation bug from his dad, Jeff, was having a beer at Bailey’s, staring up at the pub’s hand-scribbled listings on the mirror, when the thought struck him. He could put the beer list on a television screen.
“I’d intended to put a one-off up for Bailey’s and that would be that,” Eric said. Instead, he took the idea to Lisa, who ran with it.
Andy Steinman, the company’s Chief Operations Officer, came into the business through Lisa’s wine and restaurant connections at Little Bird, a sister restaurant to LePigeon, and Walter Scott Wines. Steinman brings financial and business management experience to the mix. “This will always be a dynamic business,” Steinman said. Customers will decide the future of the business.
“I think it’s gonna get really weird,” said Lisa. New technology will be incorporated into the software. The bartender may be able to use his phone as a remote control, or expanding on menu items to answer customer questions.
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