Q&A with one of Columbus’ well-known entrepreneurs
Startup maven Tanisha Robinson knows a thing or two about running a company — even if the odds are stacked against you. After starting multiple companies, she made the pivot to hops and punks as CEO of BrewDog USA, headquartered in Columbus. We sat down with Tanisha to see what this serial entrepreneur has to say about what she wishes she knew starting out, and how she’s tackled new and exciting challenges. And how about her favorite seasonal beer? We’ve got the scoop on that, too.
Q: What’s it like starting your own company? Where did that desire come from?
A: I sort of struggled to figure out what I wanted to do. I never envisioned myself working at a normal company. Even when I was really young, I started my own businesses — everything from babysitting to my own landscaping company where I was cutting grass. Then I realized I could sell more jobs than I wanted to do, so I started hiring the neighbor kids. Another thing I realized about myself was that I really wanted to feel like I was moving the needle and making an impact, and I don’t know if that’s the typical desire for people who join giant companies. So I’ve been pretty opportunistic in the businesses I’ve built — I jump on chances that I’ve seen in a segment, market or technology to turn them into a business. In terms of the overall entrepreneurial experience: it can be really hard and brutal, of course — there’s a lot of responsibility that comes with starting your own business. I find though, that taking the chance is worth it.
Q: What are some of the things you wish you knew when you were starting out?
A: I think it’s important for anyone starting a company to make sure they have their legal ducks in a row. A lot of times people are like, ‘“let’s do stuff,” but having a handle on a company structure and the terms, especially if there are partners involved, and seeing how that goes before you start making or losing money is really important. In my early days, I didn’t have as much of a handle on finance as I do now, but I would say that’s absolutely critical because it’s important to understand where every penny is going. I think a lot of times, people think if they begin a startup that they then have control over their schedule and can be their own boss, but it’s a consuming journey and effort to lift a business off the ground.
Q: You’re recently named CEO of BrewDog USA. How do you know when it’s time to move onto something new, especially if you’re a serial entrepreneur?
A: For me, I had a big epiphany at Print Syndicate as our growth trajectory slowed down. I realized that I was running the same plays with the same playbook, so I took some time to seriously reflect on that exact question. I realized that if I’m going to spend the vast majority of my life working, I want to learn and push myself — to visibly make progress on a regular basis, and I want to have a platform and opportunity to make an impact. In the early days of a startup, you definitely are confronted with new challenges and opportunities. When BrewDog came on the horizon, I saw an opportunity to fulfill all of those desires and have a great time.
Q: How do you pivot into an industry where people might think you don’t have enough experience or industry knowledge? What skills or lessons have you taken to new jobs and adventures?
A: Even with companies I’ve built, I didn’t have a deep understanding of or experience with the industry. I think that if someone is curious, hardworking, resilient and adaptable, then industry knowledge is not necessarily as important to build a great business. When I came over to BrewDog, 85 percent of my job is super familiar because we’re an early-stage startup. For me, growth became understanding how the beer industry works and its mechanics. I’ve been able to have great coaches and people on my team inside the industry who know exactly what they’re looking at. If you’re not familiar, just get up to speed quickly and surround yourself with smart, knowledgeable people.
Q: We know that a diverse workforce adds to new ideas and creativity. Can you tell us about your experience in the startup world?
A: I don’t tend to match what people first think of when they think “entrepreneur.” Working in a tech startup, I went from working with dudes in hoodies to brewing, which is dudes with beards. I think I really learned to enjoy being underestimated. If I didn’t enjoy it, I’d just be angry all the time. I think the key is about execution. I really enjoy bringing fresh perspectives and ideas to different spaces. I don’t come from the beer industry, I don’t look like a typical beer industry person, but the performance of BrewDog under my leadership speaks for itself. We have a new hotel, called the Doghouse and even an airline to get you there. By delivering and executing well, people start to realize that an entrepreneur isn’t a cookie-cutter mold. These kinds of ideas only come when you think outside the box and empower people with different backgrounds.
Q: Why is Ohio a great place to start a company? What is it like being an entrepreneur here?
A: Ohio is awesome because its cost of living is much lower than living in San Francisco or New York. You don’t have to spend a fortune on rent. There’s also such a pool of great universities and colleges and a great community here. Like in many cities, raising capital can be a lot of work, but in Ohio, there are phenomenal business leaders who are open and receptive to spending time with up-and-coming entrepreneurs. This can really give you a leg up in the startup space.
Q: We saved the most important question for the end. What’s your favorite beer?
A: It changes by the season, but right now Hazy Jane is my favorite — it’s a New England style IPA, a great fall beer.