Innovation That Matters

Wise Words with Steve Marshall

Work & Lifestyle

We caught up with the Deskbeers founder to discover how he's working to convince both local authorities and potential customers that office drinking can be a good thing.

Drinking beer at work may be a strict no-no for those in consumer-facing roles, or more traditional offices. But progressive office environments — particularly young startups — often allow some drinking, especially towards the end of the week, as a motivational treat for their employees. Spying a niche business opportunity, Steve Marshall is now the founder of Deskbeers, which delivers a range of hand-picked local craft ales to London businesses every Friday. We caught up with Steve to discover how he’s working to convince both local authorities and potential customers that office drinking can be a good thing.

Steve previously worked as a designer for Brighton-based company, Jellyfish, before turning freelance in 2011. Steve now works for product development studio, Mint Digital, which acts as a kind of incubator for its own roster of product designers and web developers, and has been featured on these pages more than once (we recently wrote about its Instagram candy, Boomf).

1. Where did the idea for Deskbeers come from?

We work for a digital agency called Mint Digital, who have been creating products on the side (when client work was quiet) for a couple of years now. Recently, one of the products, StickyGram, has enabled us to dedicate a little more time to setting new proprietary businesses.

When this time came about, and being fans of the exploding craft beer scene in London, we knew this was an area that we wanted to get involved in somehow. Being aware that it’s still hard to get hold of decent local beer outside of pubs and bars, and knowing that a lot of our friends’ companies often had beers at the end of each week, we put the two together and things sort of fell into place.

2. Can you describe a typical working day?

I tend to spend the first couple of days in the week on business development. At the moment, this predominantly involves meeting up with brewers that we hope to supply soon, as well as speaking to potential future collaborators, and solving our future fulfilment and distribution challenges.

When it comes to mid-week, the concentration turns to sales and getting that week’s orders organised. At the moment, whilst we are limiting our customers (both on quantity and location), a lot of this is done manually. However, the site we are currently building should automate a lot of this, freeing up more of the week to concentrate on development very soon.

The week culminates in delivering the beers ourselves on Friday afternoons. Again, this isn’t the long term solution, but it has been a really great way for us to learn the hurdles we face in distribution, whilst giving us valuable (if fairly brief) face-to-face time with our customers.

3. How do you unwind or relax when you’re not working on Deskbeers?

It used to be by drinking beer. And it still is, but even that is sort of working now. At the moment, I’m forcing myself to regularly do things that aren’t in front of a screen: going for a walk, eating out, etc.

I was cycling a lot in the summer, but after my brakes broke a couple of months ago (along with me being a definite fair-weather cyclist) my exercise regime has definitely dwindled. The older I get, the more I realise that regular exercise is crucial for productivity and focus whilst working. I’ll be joining the climbing centre to get my fix throughout the winter.

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

I believe it’s having the balls to do something. So many people have ideas, but never act on them. Or have an idea, spend months or even years perfecting it, just to miss the boat or realise that others don’t want it.

When you have an idea, it’s scary to put it out there. There’s the fear of failure, that no-one else will like your ‘genius idea’, or the fear that someone will like it so much, they’ll have it for themselves. If no one likes it, figure out why and morph it into a winning idea. And if someone is willing to set up in competition with you, it just proves there’s a market for it.

5. What drove you crazy when building your business?

Legalities. Trying to speak to local councils and governing bodies about what we can and can’t do was (and continues to be) much harder and time-consuming than it needs to be. As we operate a different model to most other alcohol-related businesses, we come up against a lot of confusion about what it is that we actually do. The concept of drinking beer in an office in the public sector is still pretty alien.

6. What motivates you to keep going?

We’ve been lucky with DeskBeers, in that we’ve had such a great response. At the moment, that is more than enough to keep us going. Hearing from people from around the world, saying that they’re fans of the idea is really great.

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

It’s difficult to say, as we’re still so young. Although, I would have liked to have started with a bit more faith in our idea, and to have done more on the website before gaining customers, so that more of our everyday tasks were automated. However, having said that, we would never have predicted some of the requirements that are now being built into the system without having experienced the need for them firsthand.

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

Our immediate aim is to get DeskBeers fully launched and running smoothly in London. Once we’re there (the aim is January), we want to get the concept up and running in different parts of the country. If that goes well, the world. It’s a long way off and it’ll be hard work, but it would be amazing if we could make it a reality.

9. If you weren’t working on Deskbeers right now, what would you be doing?

I’m a digital product designer by profession, so I’d probably be working with another startup as a client, helping them get their business or product off the ground.

10. Tell Springwise a secret…

On occasion, the DeskBeers team have been known to enjoy the odd can of Red Stripe. Sometimes, it’s actually all you want…

11. Any final words for aspiring entrepreneurs?

Make your idea a reality, no matter what form that initially takes. Whether that’s telling people about it, sketching it out, building a website or whatever you need to do to get sincere reactions from people. People won’t steal your idea. And even if they do, it just makes yours better.