Say you’re planning to meet with one of the founding members of a startup that wants to bring fresh craft beer directly to your counter. Where might you think this meeting should take place? There really only seems to be one choice: at a bar! I had the opportunity to meet with Eric Stoddard from SYNEK on a recent trip to St. Louis.
We chatted over some great craft beer at Urban Chestnut’s Grove location, a beautiful bierhall serving a wide variety of beer (if you’re curious, Eric had the Schnickelfritz, while I enjoyed the Stammtisch, and sampled the Zwickel and Winged Nut) with a kitchen cranking out some seriously delicious food. I was able to learn quite a lot about SYNEK, the St. Louis startup scene, and much more. Keep reading for a recap of our conversation.
This won’t read exactly like a typical interview. I had some ideas of questions I’d wanted to ask Eric about SYNEK, but didn’t have anything written down ahead of time. I jotted down some notes as we talked, and will go over the most pertinent information as we continue.
Eric has been with SYNEK since nearly the beginning. He met Steve Young (founder) back in January of 2014 while Steve was out pitching his idea for the SYNEK system. Eric joined the SYNEK team, and has been working in a Sales/Marketing capacity. Since SYNEK is comprised of a very small team, everybody wears a lot of hats. When I asked Eric what his title might be, he suggested Director of Customer Engagement.
SYNEK’s Kickstarter campaign was a wild success, raising just under $650,000 (I rounded, Eric knew the exact figure immediately – $648,535), more than 2 ½ times their funding goal of $250k. It’s pretty clear that consumers are excited about the SYNEK hardware, but craft breweries are excited about it as well! SYNEK is currently focused on smaller craft breweries, and they’ve had unanimous support from all of the smaller breweries they’ve contacted.
I asked if they’d contacted, or been contacted by, any of the bigger breweries. Since SYNKE is based out of St. Louis, the Anheuser Busch/Budweiser brewery was an obvious choice. Without going into any specifics, Eric said that they’d been contacted by bigger breweries, but their intention was to absorb SYNEK for their own uses rather than encouraging overall development. That is one of many reasons why SYNEK has remained focused on smaller breweries.
We chatted about some of the goals for SYNEK. Initially, the process will be very local – walk into a brewery or bar with an empty SYNEK cartridge, have it filled, walk out with your beer. You can technically fill your cartridge from any tap, though you’ll get the best freshness from a brewery where they can fill directly from their tanks. They’d also like to expand to selling SYNEK in a retail environment at some point, though those plans are still quite a ways off.
The ultimate goal, however, is for SYNEK to become something like the “Netflix for Beer.” That idea excites me greatly. Imagine ordering your favorite beer from SYNEK and having it delivered to your home in a container that will stay fresh longer than bottles, and is less prone to breakage. I don’t know all of the legalities, but if I could order something like Yuengling, which is not currently available where I live, and have it delivered to my house that would be a dream come true.
In that same vein, we discussed some of the laws affecting SYNEK, and beer in general. As they’ve already outlined, several states will not even allow SYNEK to be sold due to current laws. Other laws limit the possible distribution of beer – not over state lines, etc. Eric mentioned similarities between the wine industry of 20 years ago and craft beer breweries of today. The wine industry experienced a huge sudden growth, and outgrew many of the prohibitive laws on the books at the time. Those laws were subsequently struck down. Craft breweries are currently in the middle of explosive growth, it may only be a matter of time before the laws catch up with reality.
As for the present, SYNEK is currently finalizing their design. The finished model should look similar to the prototypes, but Eric said the goal is to have the final design look even better than the prototypes. Once the design is finished, SYNEK has several manufacturing options and they hope to start production in early fall. Around that same time, the team will be travelling extensively giving demos with the prototype hardware. September through November will be spent at conferences across the US.
Provided all goes according to plan, the goal is to start shipping US orders in March or April. The biggest US markets for orders are St. Louis, Seattle, and Florida. International shipping should start sometime between June and August and the biggest international markets are the UK, Australia, and France.
SYNEK has worked out several options for shipping the device to their backers. They can, of course, ship directly to the backer’s address. They’ve also worked out an option where local breweries have offered to have a pallet of devices shipped directly to the brewery – at a reduced cost to each backer – and the backer can leave with filled canisters when they pick up their SYNEK.
Eric said they’d also like to have at least a few launch events at some of these distribution breweries. Beer certainly goes great with parties, so it seems like a natural connection! It’s possible we may see discounts on filling SYNEK cartridges from certain breweries, or other specials related to the launch of SYNEK leading up to their launch early next year.
After chatting for around an hour and a half, I thanked Eric for his time, and we went on our separate ways – Eric to finish unpacking after moving into a new apartment, my wife and I to City Museum to run around like crazy people (that place is awesome, look for more about City Museum over at our sister site MOARGeek in the near future). I was happy to have had the chance to meet Eric. He was able to tell me quite a lot about SYNEK, and is a genuinely nice guy. We’ll hopefully be able to meet for another beer (or 3…) next time I’m in St. Louis.