Food and Beverage Interviews

The Backerjack Interview: SYNEK’s Eric Stoddard on tapping into the countertop beer market

Having raised nearly $650,000 and netting a Backerjack Editor’s Choice Award, the SYNEK countertop beer dispenser has been dubbed, somewhat misleadingly, “the Keurig of beers.” Backerjack caught up with Synek’s director of customer engagement Eric Stoddard, to trade drinking stories about how company came back from a slow campaign start and was accepted into the camaraderie of small, local brewers

Backerjack: Could you talk a little bit about what SYNEK is?

Stoddard: Sure. It’s a countertop beer dispenser that gives you access to any beer at home on draft at very high quality. The bag holds up to 30 psi, and you can get it from any tap anywhere — whether it be your local brewery or wherever it may be — and you can take that home and you get a shelf life of 30 days.

Backerjack: So, unlike Keurig where you can buy a K-Cup, this is more like a storage method where it stores already brewed beer?

Stratter: Yeah, we’re sort of packaging company, a social packaging company because of how ingrained we are with breweries and helping them connect with their customers. There’s a lot of big issues in this industry, and how we came about as an idea was by considering the problems affecting lots of breweries. Smaller guys can’t afford to buy equipment because it’s a huge fixed investment upfront, so they have no way to get beer unless they use growlers.

The bad thing with growlers is that the beer only lasts for two days, three days if you’re lucky, once opened. It isn’t the most feasible option for most people. We’re trying to expand on that where now we offer this gallon size bag that’s able to be filled up the exact same way you would a growler and it’s available to a larger group of people. Now, these smaller breweries have a way to get higher quality beer out of the brewery.

Backerjack: What percentage of your customers do you think will be commercial bars versus consumers?

Stoddard: The unit is definitely meant for the end consumer. We do have a ton of other folks interested in different use cases. Right now we have partnerships with over 1,200 breweries who are willing to sell the bags all the way to wholesaling and retailing the unit itself. These breweries love that because they’re like “You should own it because you’ll buy gallons of my beer!”

Backerjack: Coffee is something a lot of people drink every day, and Keurig has had dozens of different coffee brands that have been able to sell their grounds at a wide range of retailers, supermarkets, etc. Would people buy bags of beer? Or would they have to get it from a local brewery?

Stoddard: That’s what we’re working towards. We’re launching this upcoming spring. The primary method would be to get it from your local brewery. But, since we’re totally agnostic in terms of where you get the beer, we are moving towards other options, like buying bags at retail channels. Ultimately, our end game is creating the most choice. You order any beer fro any craft brewery anywhere in the world and you’ll have it in 48 hours, ice cold.

Backerjack: Could you talk a little bit about of the campaign?

Stoddard: Actually, the interesting thing is that we were a total flop 10 days in. We had a $250,000 goal and only raised roughly $25,000 in the first 9 days. We originally positioned to home brewers because they can still use it in the exact same way without the brewery relationships, making it a softer launch. We moved on to another, already planned phase during the Kickstarter to appeal to all beer enthusiasts everywhere to address the pace of funding.

Once we hit the ground running by reaching out to breweries, we really hit our sweet spot. We were featured in Gizmodo, Uncrate, and Engadget, and then from there the media took it and exploded it. We were then featured in Time, a few TV interviews, and a bunch of cool opportunities. The media definitely embraced us. That’s about the time we were branded the “Keurig of beer,” so it was an uphill battle explaining to people that we weren’t exactly that. [Laughs]

We finished the campaign with roughly $650,000 in funding with 2100-2200 backers. We were really really active on Twitter because of the big media coverage made it so that there were tons of people all across the world talking about us. So we had folks, including myself, who just sat on Twitter for 14 hours straight jumping in on the conversations revolving around us, urging people to back on us by pre-ordering. From a branding perspective, we have a lot of humor which really resonates with the beer community. We took off there, had a few $100,000 days, and finished strong.

Backerjack: Was this a make or break campaign? If you had not met your goal, would you have been able to move forward? Were there other funding sources? Did this open up other doors?

Stoddard: I mean, it’s hard to say. We definitely would not have given up, having worked on the idea for two years before we Kickstarted. In terms of funding, we’re all self-funded through a few different start-up competitions.

Backerjack: In terms of coming to market, what stage were you in during the campaign? What lessons have you learned getting this thing made? And how have meetings been with retailers?

Stoddard: Very early on, we were in the process of creating the unit. We had the bags which was the most important patent because that’s where we got all the patent needs and [intellectual property]. The dispenser is cool and user-friendly,but the big tech leap is in those bags.

I feel like we’re kind of an anomaly working in the beer industry. It’s very friendly, but huge. We’re talking 3,500 breweries in the US, and right now there’s a new brewery opening every 16 hours. There’s a rapidly changing environment. Let’s say we approach someone in Belgium, they agree, and they point us to other breweries. In any other industry these other places would be competitors, but the way these breweries are connected really helped us in these early stages.

Backerjack: What’s it been like since the campaign and what can we expect from the launch?

Stoddard: It’s been fun. {Laughs] Very hectic at some points, as most other campaigns are. Some are the biggest challenges included just how best to communicate to our customers as things change. It’s a sort of Catch-22 because people want details as soon as they’re available, but then if you come back and have better or worse news, it can be challenging. We are experiencing a lot of that recently with the release of our big design change.

Our launch strategy includes having launch parties in cities across the United States in breweries we’ll partner with. At these parties, our units will circulate, having people’s first interactions with it be in these large, lively environments that embody the best communal and social aspects we want to give to beer.


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