Book review: Business For Punks by James Watt

BREWDOG maverick James Watt pens an undeniably engaging “business bible for a new generation,” even if the advice often veers too close to Nathan Barley territory, writes Emma Newlands
BrewDog's James WattBrewDog's James Watt
BrewDog's James Watt

Business For Punks by James Watt | Portfolio Penguin, £14.99

A DESIRE to put together the type of business manual he couldn’t find when starting Brewdog in 2007 prompted the craft beer company’s co-founder James Watt to put pen to paper in what is modestly billed as “the business bible for a new generation”.

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The only how-to manuals he could get his hands on at the time, he says, were repetitive and written either by people who had never run their own business, or people who were at the end of their careers, and therefore lacked the necessary relevance. Choosing instead to write an “open and honest” guide for fledgling entrepreneurs, the result is chock-full of attention-grabbing hyperbole, something the firm is no stranger to with its product launches including a so-called “transgender” beer earlier this month.

Ironically, Watt tells readers to ignore advice as he embarks on a book containing pretty much nothing but. Words of wisdom often veer a little too close to Nathan Barley territory, including chapter headings like “Marketing For Postmodern Dystopian Puppets” and “Mediocre Vol-au-vents Are Optional”.

Underneath this froth, however, the book is an undeniably engaging read with tangible, pragmatic advice. Watts’ background as a sea captain gives him a credible, down-to-brass-tacks perspective, and it’s clear when he says he “loved every second” of his time on the unforgiving North Atlantic that he doesn’t shy away from an adrenaline rush. He drives home the importance for anyone starting a business of knowing their finances inside out, and there’s also seasoned wisdom on dealing with hurdles like conflicts and managing staff.

Brewdog’s well-documented fondness for releasing publicity “firecrackers,” as Watt calls them, is also addressed as he stresses the importance of getting as much bang for your buck as possible. He has admitted that the transgender beer launch, brewed with hops that have changed sex from before the harvest, hasn’t received a universally positive response. And he also acknowledges that sometimes you have to make necessary compromises, even if you want to stay true to your punk ethos. You have to master the rules “before you can even consider breaking them,” he says, and highlights the firm’s deals with banks and suppliers including Tesco.

Watt rounds off by saying that despite telling the reader to ignore advice (and that “by default, includes all the advice in this book”) even the most rebellious of businesses inevitably need to embrace convention.

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