Innovation That Matters

Wise Words with Ian Williams

Wise Words

We're speaking to Ian Williams, who has spent five years developing the world's first home brewing appliance.

This week we’re speaking to entrepreneur Ian Williams. Ian spent many years working in the brewing industry, becoming the first person in New Zealand and the youngest person in the world to achieve Master Brewer status. Having worked in breweries all over the world, Ian returned to his homeland in 2006 and began working on a prototype all-in-one brewing appliance.

After five years of development, Ian has now launched the WilliamsWarn, a personal brewing machine that can produce customized, commercial-quality beer in as few as seven days. Developed with the help of government funding from the Ministry of Science and Innovation (MSI)’s TechNZ business support programme, the WilliamsWarn is currently available in New Zealand, with the company hoping to soon expand to other countries as well.

1. Where did the idea for WilliamsWarn come from?

At a Christmas party in 2004 my Uncle asked me why homebrew was still so bad compared to commercial beers and why no one had tried to improve the flavor. I looked into it, being an international brewing consultant at the time and discovered that there were 12 main problems in homebrewing and went about solving them all. It took 6½ years to launch my Personal Brewery from that first discussion.

2. Do you think WilliamsWarn can challenge commercial brewers?

The beer coming out of it beats top commercial brands in blind taste test all the time. So the quality is fine. One in three New Zealand men have tried homebrewing and stopped, so if we get a few of those back it can challenge commercial breweries in that regard. There are similar stats in other countries. Actually we are targeting beer drinkers not homebrewers per se, so yes, I think it’s going to get interesting. This is for sure the world’s first brewing appliance. No one has done this before.

3. Can you describe a typical working day?

We launched 3 weeks ago. Since then I’ve received 500 emails so 80% of my day has been getting through those. We’ve had 70 offers for distribution in 30 countries already and numerous orders to ship. We’re only launching in NZ for the first 6 months to perfect the machine for export, so can’t meet those orders just yet. We’ve had offers for investment too so I’m working through those, as we can see we can be a global player in time, so need serious funding and brains now to do just that. Otherwise I’m having a beer with visitors to my showroom and selling units to the early adopters here.

4. How do you unwind or relax when you’re not working on WilliamsWarn?

I find that hard. My mind doesn’t stop very easily. In general channel surfing on the couch I have to admit chills me out quite well, as does playing with the kids and a few mainstream or craft beers after work. The sporadic run listening to hard rock does wonders too.

5. What’s the secret ingredient to success as an entrepreneur?

I’ve really struggled mentally with this process. It’s been stressful since my wife and I sold our house and spent every dime on it and went into debt. I’ve read volumes of self-help books and they inspire me to keep going. You have to keep hearing that the secret is belief in yourself, getting on top of your mind and never, ever, ever, ever, ever giving up.

6. What drove you crazy when building your business?

Being in debt. Not knowing where the next paycheck was coming from to feed the kids and pay the rent. Things not going our way in design and build and sourcing of parts. Cloudy beer not clearing properly! Poor taste test results from the blind taste tests.

7. What motivates you to keep going?

The thought that I could be the guy who invented the world’s first brewing appliance. The thought that I can touch so many peoples lives and turn beer drinkers into brewmasters in regards to the knowledge they can gain quite quickly about different beers. You can make 78 beers, cider and sparkling wine and other beverages in this machine so it’s going to be great ride for all of us as we grow.

8. If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I think I’d try and get investment early rather than going through all my own wealth. That’s been scary. On the other hand it helped the first investor buy in when he knew I’d burnt my bridges and could only march forward… that may have been necessary…although painful.

9. Where do you see your business in five years, and how will you get there?

I see us with a model that is cheaper than Version 1 (due to economies of scale) doing well in the US, Canada, Brazil, Australia, NZ and the UK. I see our product offering expanding beyond what I can imagine (Ginger Beer, Mead, Gluten Free beer, etc). I see us going into Russia, Japan, Asia, Europe step by step.

10. If you weren’t working on WilliamsWarn, what would you be doing?

Good question. Probably working for a brewery.

11. Tell Springwise a secret…

I tear up when I see great sporting achievements. For some reason I get really touched by human’s achieving great things after a struggle and sport is a great avenue for seeing that occur live and unscripted. You just know the athlete has spent thousands of hours training for that one moment and got to their goal.

12. Any final words for aspiring entrepreneurs?

You only really need three things to make it big as an entrepreneur; a good idea and the balls to take it to the market.