secretleaders | BrewDog: From Salty Sea Dog to Rebellious Beer Captain

BrewDog: From Salty Sea Dog to Rebellious Beer Captain

From salty sea dog to captain of BrewDog in the space of a year. James Watt is the founder of the rocket ship brewery and brand known as BrewDog. Now valued at over $1 billion, this incredible startup began life in co-founder Martin Dickie’s mum’s garage.

“No one wanted to buy our beer. Everyone told us to make beer with less flavour, with less bitterness, with less hops, that our labels looked stupid, like nobody wanted to know and we were working almost 24/7, sleeping on sacks of malt on the floor, filling bottles by hand, doing deliveries out of the back of my beat up Volkswagen car, and just going absolutely nowhere.”

But it took a meeting with Michael Jackson (no, not that one), a punt at Tesco and playing two high street banks off against each other to give them the kickstart they needed.

Today, BrewDog are well known for their rebellious marketing tactics and have recruited a clan of investors known as equity punks, raising £80 million through a range of clever crowdfunding campaigns.

But how have they handled the COVID-19 pandemic? What have they done to ensure the nation’s thirst remains quenched – and how the hell have they produced and distributed over 250,000 units of hand sanitizer (free) to the NHS and charities? All the while operating the brewery AND adhering to social distancing measures?

If you’re an entrepreneur, James has one piece of advice for you:

“The only logical thing that my useless advice could be is don’t listen to advice, which would also apply to this advice just now.”

We chat about:

  • From rebellious child, to quitting law, to making beer
  • Overcoming the first disastrous year
  • Fanvestors – advocate ambassadors AKA equity punk investors
  • Developing the next generation of leaders from within the company
  • The importance of culture fit when hiring
  • Managing BrewDog through the pandemic


Want to receive our podcast on a weekly basis? Subscribe to our newsletter!


The Secret Leaders podcast features interviews with key figures from the UK tech and creative ecosystem. From entrepreneurs (both early and latter stage), to journalists, VCs - and even royalty - the series profiles those who have helped shape the nation's culture of innovation and growth.

Have Your Say: