Despite the number of cases in Japan starting to climb and the unfortunate side-effect that the state of emergency is having on people and businesses across the country, with people already starting to receive Covid vaccine jabs in certain countries and Japan’s own rollout supposedly starting from March, it feels as though there is some kind of relief in sight. 2021 should therefore be looked at
With that in mind, while the previous post in this series highlighted how Covid essentially shook us from our stupor as there was a clear and present danger of KBC being forced to permanently close in the wake of Corona’s first wave in Japan, this post is going to be about KBC not only reflecting on the recent situation but also taking stock of being in business for just over 5 years.
When KBC first opened its doors in 2015, craft beer in Japan was finding its feet. The idea that craft beer and regional “ji-beer” were different was finally starting to gain greater traction with a wider audience. Truth be told, there were many times when we acutely felt that we stand on the shoulders of braver individuals than ourselves, people who dove headfirst into this industry and had to compete against the publics’ misperception that craft beer was no different than a lot of the bad ji-beer that flooded the market when the beer industry first relaxed the laws in the mid-90s to acquire a brewing license. Without all of their hustling and sacrifice, our own growth could not have happened as fast as it did.
Prior to us taking our own dive into this industry, similar to any entrepreneur, the 3 of us couldn’t wait to be decision-makers, and as we embarked on the now well-trodden path to opening a brewery, though there were differences of opinion between the 3 of us, because of its relatively linear progression - buy stuff, build stuff, get licensed and then brew - the wiggle room for differences in opinion is quite narrow.
Running a brewery, especially one that is growing, is nothing like starting one. The linear path is gone and that means there is no longer a clear goal and you are free to pursue whatever you please. On the surface, it might appear to be extremely liberating; deep down, it’s an unending challenge. Compounding that undertaking is the fact that in KBC’s case, it is a company being run by 3 people and the goals and aspirations that each founder has are different. The wiggle room in opinion can actually be a chasm.
The interesting thing that we found is that as we were growing, the answers to ‘where?’, ‘what?’, ‘when?’ and ‘how?’ on a particular project never led to conflicts in opinion. Things were happening so fast and those types of questions were very much surface-level questions that revolved around executing a project. It was only when we started to ask our ourselves, ‘why?’, did we inadvertently discover that the opinions sometimes hugely diverge.
Since the beginning, towards the end of each year, the founders used to reflect on the shortcomings of KBC. We would then come up with a theme and have that theme represented by a word to describe what sorts of projects we would tackle so that the company could overcome those weaknesses. For 2020, prior to Covid, we had chosen “Access” as our keyword. Access represented us increasing our packaging options so that customers could more readily get access to our beer and drink it on their own terms. However, as mentioned above, due to not addressing the question of ‘why?’ (similar to all preceding themes), what took shape was a carefully staged plan of gradually increasing the number of beers we would bottle and the timing of when we would sell that beer to who.
In the immediate aftermath of Covid making landfall in Japan, those plans went out the window. Bottling every product and providing it to all customers became an immediate priority. “Access” strangely became a synonym of “survive”. However, in the midst of everything seemingly becoming immediate, the need to prioritize and the need to trust one another (because no one person can handle everything) were critical to overcoming this crisis. What Covid did was force us to systematically examine why we were doing things the way we were.
2020 has been a hell of a year, with several lows, numerous nail-biting moments, and oddly enough, numerous highs.
Coming next, we’ll talk about going back to our roots and examining the beers that helped get us off the ground and what applying the lens of ‘why?’ does to them and how we’ve decided to react as a result.