Business lessons from Mad Giant Brewery

Eben Uys, founder of Mad Giant Brewery, shares what he has learnt from building his modest brewery into a world-class destination.
Eben Uys, founder of Mad Giant Brewery, shares what he has learnt from building his modest brewery into a world-class destination.

When we asked Eben Uys how he came up with the name ‘Mad Giant’ he looked at us with a crooked smile and explained: “When your dreams are as big as giants you have to be a madman to chase them.”

Eben is the type of down to earth guy with an immense wealth of useful knowledge that makes people want to sit and chat to him for ages. Unfortunately, he had a company to run, beer to make and 5-star restaurant to manage so we focused on his key learnings.

Mad Giant Brewery in Johannesburg.

1. Figure out what you need to grow your business

Eben started Mad Giant as a part-time after hours job whilst being a project manager at an energy and chemical company. He ran it this way for two years selling his wares to select distributors. As with all things you eventually learn you can’t do everything, Eben needed to make a plan to grow Mad Giant so he could afford to leave his day job.

“Mad Giant was a very small brewery and we just didn’t have enough volume to really grow. There isn’t a lot of money or margin in just selling beer so we had to open the bar and restaurant to make it work which allowed me to do this full time.”

Barrels of beer from Mad Giant Brewery.

2. Join forces with people as passionate (or crazy) as you are

Eben knew he wanted to make Mad Giant a key destination. Not just another restaurant and bar. Whilst his beer was already of a unique crazy high quality there was still the question of decor and food. Being a chemical engineer, interior decor and fine dining were a little removed from Eben’s core skill set. So he brought in the best to help.

His interior design was done by Haldane Martin, one of South Africa’s most renowned creative minds. Haldane did not hold back. He captured the essence of Mad Giant, from the 6m bottle cap style bar to the huge gold Yeti and elegantly crafted wood stools. Each item is bespoke and it shows.

To make Mad Giant an international destination, Eben knew he had to have top quality food. Having good beer just wasn’t enough. Angelo Scirocco took up the challenge of creating a fine dining experience worthy of big dreamers, mad chemical engineers and maybe that guy from next door who just needs something different. And so Urbanologi was created. Having just won S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2015 Mad Giant was just the challenge Angelo needed.

I love to work with people. I don’t want to have to call a call centre. It also works great for festivals and I love that you don’t have to print slips.

“Angelo designed the kitchen and every item on the menu. I taste things now and then and offer my two cents and he decides is my opinion is worth the two cents.”

Finally to run your business get the right systems in place. Eben chose to go with iKentoo and Yoco because it meant he could get hands on support when he needed it.

3. Love it. Really truly down in your gut love it.

“You have to love it and be in it for the right reasons because you’re not going to see much money lining your pockets right off the bat. You also cannot comprehend the number of challenges you’re going to have to face so you need that love and passion to make you get up tomorrow and say ‘I’m going to fix this”.

A number of young entrepreneurs think they will be rich and retired by 30. Unfortunately, this is seldom the case. You have to be in it for the long haul.

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