An interview with Mark Roberts

In our complicated and diverse modern world, even the fundamentals can be difficult to get right. That’s why we’ve found the players who are changing the game, embracing complexity and doing amazing things to delight their customers.

Ahead of the 2019 dotdigital Summit, we sat down with Mark Roberts, co-founder of Beer Hawk. Leading the charge of our ‘brilliant fundamentals’ breakout sessions, we wanted to know a little bit more about Mark, where he’s come from and get a little insight into the wisdom he’ll be sharing at the Summit.

Mark Roberts, Co-founder of Beer Hawk

So, you and Chris France founded Beer Hawk around 6 years ago, what were you doing before then?

After I graduated in 2000, I joined the Grad team at Procter & Gamble. After working there in various sales & marketing roles for 5 years, I moved into consultancy where I specialized in marketing and innovation, advising brands such as Coca-Cola and Kimberly Clark, before moving into the finance industry around the time of the financial crisis. Great timing! During my time at HBOS and then Lloyds Banking Group, I was involved in a number of different areas including innovation, existing customers and customer marketing.

It was during my time as Marketing Director at Laithwaite’s Wine that I got the inspiration to start Beer Hawk. Not satisfied with the beer offerings of the supermarkets, there was a growing demand for unknown and undiscovered craft beer brands. With so many small, amazing craft breweries out there, I couldn’t understand why there wasn’t a similar offering to Laithwaites, but for beer drinkers. So that’s what I did.

And why were you interested in marketing in the first place?

My interest in marketing is two-fold. Generally, I’ve always been interested in psychology and in particular the psychology behind consumer behavior. The other side that really interests me is the way great consumer brands make things, especially the new and adaptive ways they innovate.

Could you explain what your job entails?

It’s a good question, as one of the things I like to do is continually try to make myself redundant, by hiring better people than me!  I always find up with something new to do!  At Beer Hawk, I now look after all our Marketing, B2B Sales, Product, Tech and Finance.  My business partner, Chris, looks after our Customer Service, Operations and Buying teams. On a day to day basis, I really spend my time thinking about our people, how our team is working, and the big strategic things that we need to do differently.

Do you have a favorite experience from your career so far, I know you’ve won quite a few awards so that might be quite difficult for you to choose?

It is. It’s a really difficult question, but if I had to choose something, it would be the moment someone really credible promoted our brand for the first time.

In six weeks, Chris and I had taken Beer Hawk from an idea, to a fully functioning website selling craft beers from around the world. We were using social media, door drops and visiting product fairs to spread the word about our new business. We were doing well, but we knew we needed someone with a significant customer base to give us a much-needed boost.

And that was when we signed a deal with East Coast Main Line trains (now LNER). As part of their rewards scheme, the train line offered deals and discounts to customers who racked up points with every journey – and Beer Hawk was now part of it.

I still remember the day they announced that we were part of their rewards scheme. Chris and I had sold our cars to finance the business, so we were walking back home from our (very small!) office. At this time, we were still getting personal notifications every time an order was placed, and we were lucky to get ten of these a day. So, you can imagine our surprise when our phones started going crazy in our pockets.

East Coast’s email had gone out, and orders were flooding in. Our feelings quickly changed from “cool, new orders”, to elation, before dropping to dread. There were too many orders! How were we supposed to fulfil these orders? Would we even be able to?!

We didn’t have enough beer, packaging or people. But that wasn’t going to stop us, because if that moment showed us anything, it was that we were really onto something. We were offering something that people really wanted.

What are your biggest work goals currently?

The accelerated speed of Beer Hawk has massively increased the complexity of the environs we’re working in. Our customers are very different, there’s no single persona we can tailor our marketing to. We don’t just sell craft beers, but we offer gifts, homebrew kits, and draft beer appliances. We’re operating in the B2C, B2B markets and we’re planning on opening our first omnichannel bar experience. And our rapid growth has led to our workforce expanding and becoming increasingly diverse and varied.

I want the audience to leave our talk understanding that it’s still possible to grow and expand, no matter the complexities. I want them to leave thinking, not of the struggle complexity presents, but the amazing opportunities it holds in store and the amazing innovations just waiting to be discovered.

What are 3 top tips for success?

  1. Know what you want to do. Have a clear purpose and goals about something your passionate about, because it would be rubbish to be successful in something you’re not passionate about.
  2. Surround yourself with brilliant people. Better yet, surround yourself with brilliant people who compliment your strengths, and, more importantly, your weaknesses. Teamwork is everything behind success. Nobody is perfect, and you will need people who challenge you if you really want to be successful.
  3. Belief. Have massive belief in yourself, in your team and in what you’re doing. Success is never simple; the road is never smooth. You will experience so many setbacks and moments where you will feel like you can’t do it, that, without belief and belief in what you do, you never will.

What has been your biggest challenge over the last year?

Beer Hawk is still an incredibly young business, and over the past year, we’ve been experiencing some specific growing pains about being such a fast-growing business.

Our first employee joined the company 5 years ago. Our latest employee joined 5 weeks ago. We now have over 80 employees and continue to expand. Making sure everyone knew what they were doing, and how to communicate across teams is essential. For a long time, we had just enough processes in place to stop from falling over. Managing these growing pains was one of our biggest challenges over the last year.

What piece of advice would you give to your younger self?

I would tell myself to start earlier, younger. I always knew that I wanted to start my own business, but I held myself back for years. I would tell myself to go into the ‘doing’ stage sooner.  

And finally, we have to know, what is your favorite beer?

Well, that all depends on where I am, what mood I’m in and what time of year it is!

My favorite ever beer would probably be a Scheider Weisse Eisbock, sat in the amazing Schneider Brauhaus in Munich. But that’s not a beer I would enjoy on a hot summer’s day. For that I would probably prefer a cold, crisp IPA, like a Goose Island.

Join Mark Roberts for his breakout session at the dotdigital Summit on Wednesday 20 March. Not got your tickets yet?

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