Eric Schulz. Photo provided by Eric.
Eric Schulz and his partners founded Sunday Beer, a light and refreshing lager-style brew to be enjoyed with friends. Eric and I met at a Patagonia event, where he was providing free samples of his beer! Eric kindly helped me with this project via email.
CZ: Please describe your career path. What were your initial career aspirations and hopes? What fascinates you about beer and the food and beverage industry? What led you to make the decision to start a beer brewing company?
ES: My career path is a bit of an NYC cliché – the classic investment banker turned entrepreneur story. I moved to NYC from California right after college to get a job at a Big 4 accounting firm doing audit work for insurance companies (every young college graduate's dream!). I lasted about a year and a half doing that before I was lucky enough to land a job at a boutique investment banking firm, where I spent the next five years.
I didn't know exactly how it was going to look, but my career aspirations have always been to break off on my own and start something. I don't think I could have predicted that this is the path I would have taken and where I'd end up, but here I am and pretty excited for this next chapter.
As I mentioned, I am from the west coast, and specifically I went to College in San Diego – which is a bit of a craft beer mecca, so just being in that city during the latter half of the 00s was pretty much impossible to not get a little swept up in the whole craft beer movement. One of my co-founders and life long friends also ended up down in San Diego for school and so naturally with all of the interest in beer we found ourselves getting into homebrewing. While most college kids were drinking Natty and Bud Light, our formative drinking days were spent with Arrogant Bastard and Alesmith XIPA – the only pale lagers we drank were Mexican imports. As we got a bit older and frankly a little burnt out on the never-ending quest to put more hops and flavor into a beer – we started looking around for lighter, more sessionable beers that weren't overwhelming, but also weren't watered down like most Domestic Macro Beers. We really couldn't find something that we both fully enjoyed and were actually proud to drink. Around the same time we met a buddy through surfing who had been working for two of the biggest craft breweries in the U.S. and we sort of sheepishly told him what we had been looking for only to find he was looking for the same thing – and with that, Sunday Beer was born.
CZ: How did the idea for Sunday Beer come about? How long did it take you and your business partner to take the project from being an idea into a reality? What challenges did you face in transforming the vision into an actual business? What do you wish you had known before setting out to create a business that you learned along the way? Looking back, would you do anything differently in terms of creating the business?
ES: We started talking about the idea for Sunday Beer in summer of 2016 and launched in August of 2017 – so basically just over a year from idea to reality.
I think when it came down to it, the biggest challenges all stemmed from just having no experience with the industry before – except for Drew and the actually brewing part of it - everything took about twice as long as we thought – part of that was learning curve, part was the regulatory side and then part of it is just that manufacturing always tends to have a longer lead time then the industries we were more familiar with.
I think similar to the previous question – the biggest thing I wish we had known was just the time each big milestone would actually take to accomplish - we missed summer 2017 for the most part largely because we just didn't have a realistic idea of the timing.
I'm not sure there is anything specific about the business I would do differently, but as far as the road to getting there, I would have stayed at my job a bit longer and tried to get as much up and running before taking that leap. Probably always easier to say that in retrospect, but if you think you can still find the motivation to get stuff done while having a little more stability – I would recommend it.
CZ: What are the most valuable lessons you've learned through being a self-starter? What tips would you share with someone who wants to start their own project but doesn't know how to or where to start?
ES: Some of the most valuable lessons I've learned have been around task and time management. Starting a business is this almost impossibly large goal that seems at times that there is no way to get it all done, so breaking things up into very manageable succinct tasks is huge to focusing and actually feeling like you're chipping away at the larger goal of creating something.
It's not always possible with the product you're looking to create – but there is a mentality that is largely instituted in tech startups around creating a minimum viable product in order to just get things moving and get feedback from friends, family and potential customers. I know that I particularly struggle with wanting to have something perfect before sharing it, but the iterative process that happens from sharing things earlier rather than later is so valuable to building something that people would actually want to eat / drink / use. So if you're looking to start something maybe it’s as simple as bringing your beta version of whatever it is you're working on to the next party / gathering you're at you go to and just start sharing it with the world. You gotta start somewhere.
CZ: What do you hope to achieve/transmit with Sunday Beer? What role do you think food and drink play in changing our environmental, economic, and political landscapes? What does Sunday Beer hope to change in the beverage industry? How does Sunday Beer hope to achieve this change?
ES: The vision for Sunday Beer above everything else is rooted in this idea of "Play." It might sound a little silly as an adult, but I guess that's part of the attraction to it. We found craft beer getting a little too stuffy, too serious for us – maybe even becoming a little intimidating for the average consumer to approach. So we wanted to create a beer and brand that kind of bridged that gap between mass market beer and craft – something that made people feel welcome and celebrated the everyday adventure.
Food and drink play such a massive role in changing our environmental, economic and political landscape that its almost hard to know where to begin – but probably the most important thing we can do as producers and consumers is to just be educated on what we are creating and putting into our bodies. I don't mean that just from the contents of the actual food and drink, but what does the process and supply chain look like to get that product from creation to consumption.
For the most part, craft beer is already part of this local, high quality movement that I think is really important in the food and beverage landscape so it doesn't feel like we are necessarily trying to blaze any new trails in that regard, but something we chose to do was partner with 1% for the Planet as a means of just showing that a) we care about these issues in a particularly contested time for protecting our planet and b) that business can actually be a force for good, it doesn't just have to be about profit. These are not new or novel ideas by any stretch of the imagination, but they are definitely things that we've decided are important and wanted to weave them into our brand and business.
CZ: What does your work usually involve? What does a "typical workday" look like? What do you find most rewarding about your work? What challenges you most about your work?
ES: I'm sure everyone says this, but each day tends to be so different, since starting a business is basically one new project after another, that it's a little tough to pin down a "typical workday," but generally I try to use the mornings and nights to work on whatever main project I'm trying to get done and then the middle of the day is spent just on daily operations like selling, account maintenance, deliveries, etc.
The most rewarding thing by far is seeing someone enjoy something that you've created. After working with intangible things for so long in my previous career, there is something extremely gratifying about holding a physical product and if someone makes that a part of their life, particularly a part of their life that is associated with enjoyment, that's really tough to beat.
The most challenging part is just finding enough time in the day to get everything done, continue to grow the business and still feel like you have a life outside of this thing you're building. I have to imagine that is a pretty common answer – but it seems like there is a bit of a never ending search for productivity.
CZ: In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges we face as human beings? How do you think we can solve them and what role do food and beverages play in solving these challenges?
ES: Wow these questions really escalated! I'm not sure I'm really even qualified to plot these out – but I guess from a food and beverage lens - the first thing that comes to mind is feeding a massive and growing population efficiently while also making sure that it's done sustainably and with food that's actually good for us. I wish I knew how to solve that issue, but I guess maybe the first step is educating ourselves and other people on what we consume and continuing to support the companies and movements that prioritize those themes.
CZ: If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
ES: Maybe this sounds a bit idealistic, but I'd love if more people who disagree on issues or come from completely different backgrounds would sit down together and share a beer – doesn't even have to be a Sunday Beer!