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BeerMe: Brewing up a business

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Admitted tech geek and Cherry Voodoo Brewing founder Yuri Green on giving back to the beverage that saw him through drastic weight loss and taught him the meaning of camaraderie.

As told to Brian Yaeger

Life is driven by obsessions. It’s what makes me annoying, but it makes me successful. I don’t do anything unless I can see my inspiration through to the ultimate in domination, which applies to my still-infant brewery, Cherry Voodoo Brewing in San Francisco. I’ve guaranteed my partners that we’ll make a million dollars starting from the first year; by our 10th year, we’ll be making ten million dollars. We’re the Lamborghini of beer—even if there’s no physical brewery yet.

Beer is my latest obsession, but I used to hate the stuff. A few years ago at my unhealthiest when I weighed 410 pounds, I was also a chain smoker. Looking for a place to ash, I spotted a six-pack of Deschutes Black Butte Porter that my wife bought. I only opened one to have somewhere to put my cigarette ashes, but figured I shouldn’t let the beer go to waste. That was my first craft beer experience, and soon enough, I was conducting “Thirsty Thursdays” at the tech company where I work, sampling as many beers as possible. That first taste of Gulden Draak began my love affair with Belgians.

My wife soon grew sick of my trips to BevMo!, where my receipts usually ran upward of $200. To add to my spending, I’ve always loved chemistry. I had to know what it was about the brewing process that separated, for example, IPAs from schwarzbiers. So I took up homebrewing and brought my first batch to an experienced homebrewing friend, Alex, to ask for his opinion and some guidance. He said, “You know what? It’s perfect. I can’t believe how fast you did this.”

Brewing followed the same trajectory as my earlier passions. It all started with Wolfenstein 3D. I had to know how that video game worked. That game spawned my hardcore geekery, and eventually I majored in electrical engineering, aspiring to be the biggest hacker of all time. I still have the Wolfenstein 31⁄2-inch floppy disk on my desk at Hewlett Packard. It’s where I’ve worked ever since HP bought Snapfish, the photo-sharing site of which I am a principal architect.

That kind of geekdom comes naturally to me. I was always the fat kid. And that moment where I discovered craft beer was also when my second daughter was born. When my wife joked about doing a triathlon, I trained so hard I lost more than 200 pounds in less than a year, sometimes losing over 12 pounds a week. For every race I entered, I won my category, Clydesdales, who are male triathletes who weigh at least 200 pounds.

As within the software arena, I found myself not having any true friends because I wanted to stomp my fellow triathletes. But I’m actually a very social person, so despite being ultrahealthy physically, it didn’t seem healthy and, to my sponsors’ chagrin, I got out. I’d overshot my goal and slimmed down to 191 pounds, but my beer intake has since put a bit back on.

When I say I’m going to do something, I either come really close and nearly kill myself getting there, or it’s simply done, which is the approach I’m taking to brewing. As an engineer, I knew I could achieve the same results time and again. And because I was disenchanted with the tech world, I looked at the brewing industry as selling something real; I don’t have to sell you on some speculative software that will change your life. Because beer is real and good, I’m looking forward to doing something that’s devoid of that theoretical crap for once. Having said that, when Snapfish launched in 2000, it was 128th in the marketplace for photo output. Now it’s No. 1.

Cherry Voodoo will run like a dot-com, and I started by raising half a million dollars. I won’t be done until I can sell it to AB-InBev or whoever for $150 million. We’re not even licensed yet, but I’m putting everything into this. I know there are a lot of breweries that fail. But none of them are owned by me. We have a business strategy, tried-and-true cost management and a sales model I’ve seen work in countless other operations. I’ve constructed the most perfect team available to me to get Cherry Voodoo there. We’re way too smart to let Cherry Voodoo disappear into just another failure statistic.

Perhaps the best aspect of all is that the brewing industry is the polar opposite of the tech and triathlon worlds where everyone is out to crush you. There’s real camaraderie. And it’s open-source; I love the communal aspect. I don’t have to hurt my competitors in order to help myself. •

Cherry Voodoo Brewing will launch this winter with five beers, including a tripel, a 32%-ABV stout and two IPAs. Follow the brewery’s progress at CherryVoodoo.com.

 

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