The Watt Club recently caught up for a chat with Adi Challa, a graduate of our International Centre for Brewing & Distilling who has gone on to brew an exciting new beer in Asia.
What’s your background?
I’m from a small town in the badlands of Southern India: Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh. Like all good boys from this part of the world, I got myself a degree in computer engineering without having thought a whole lot about what I wanted to do with it.
I worked at a range of IT jobs as well as in agricultural development, and I got interested in the Japanese way of doing business and structuring the work environment – this led to me pursuing an MBA with a focus on Japanese Business Management.
After the MBA, I spent a few months working in Tokyo, decided it wasn’t for me, and got right back to rural development work in India, while I figured out what I was going to do next. I concluded that starting a business was what I needed to do. I’d been working in the service industry up until this point and found it wasn’t very satisfying. My company had to make products.
What inspired you to do your course and study at HW?
Although I didn’t like beer much when I first tried it at age 14, by 20 I was putting away quite a bit of it.
I enjoyed trying all the great new styles of beers while living in the UK, the US and Japan. When I got back to India, I found that the plain old lager beers that I’d beer drinking before were too boring. This was a great market opportunity!
I began reading about how beer was made and found it very interesting. Interesting enough to pursue it as a career. I looked into the various options, and Heriot-Watt seemed to be the best option. Also, I’d visited Edinburgh a few times while working at the bank in London, and I liked the city a lot.
What was your time here like?
I had a great time in Edinburgh. Our class was small but came from diverse backgrounds – this made for many interesting discussions both on and off campus. The lecturers were very patient with teaching subjects I’d never encountered before, like botany and biochemistry.
My brother ‘happened’ to be studying for an MBA at Napier University the same year so we shared a house. That was the first time we were both in the same city since we were kids – both of us went to different boarding schools and had always worked in different cities. A generous cousin who lives in London lent us his old car for the year so we were able to drive around Scotland visiting the many distilleries and breweries.
What have you done since graduating – what are the highlights?
I decided to take a PG Diploma instead of spending an additional 3-4 months doing research to earn an MSc. I spent the remaining few months on my visa working with a local Scottish microbrewery instead of doing the research project. I got back to India and spent over 6 months trying to start a microbrewery there. Unfortunately, the different laws in various state and the accompanying red tape meant I didn’t make much progress.
Around this time we had a reunion on my MBA class from the US and some of them wanted to invest in the business. A couple of them were living in Singapore and thought it would be a good place to get started. We spent some time studying the Singapore market and met with the appropriate government departments.
A couple of months later we started Barefoot Brewing Company and in mid-2011 started selling our Jungle Beer. The Singapore and SE Asian beer markets are dominated by a few big global brewing companies with aggressive marketing budgets.
These big brewing companies have exclusive contracts with most of the pubs and we weren’t able to sell any beer the first two months. We brewed less than 10 times in the 6 months of 2011. This led us to start bottling our beer to give us a wider reach, revenue grew slowly.
We won more awards than any other local brewery at Asia Beer Awards 2012; this added credibility to our new company in a market unfamiliar with craft beer. Sales rose steadily through 2012, helped along by exports to Malaysia, China and New Zealand.
We won even more awards at the Asia Beer Awards 2013, including “Best Beer in World” from among 450 beers entered. We are now well known in the craft beer community in Singapore and are beginning to make an impression in Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong.
What does the future hold?
Our goal is to be the premier craft brewery in Asia and be well represented across the region. Asian craft beer markets are in different stages of evolution and we are excited to play an important role in this process.
What advice do you have for future graduates hoping to follow in your footsteps?
The one non-negotiable part of being an entrepreneur is to love what you do. The chances of succeeding at a business or job that you don’t like are bleak. Take the time to find out what options are out there and which one best suits you interests. Once you find something you love there is no need for any other motivation to be successful. Jungle Beer is far from being successful but we are on the right path and its always fun!
You can keep up with the latest news from Jungle Beer by following the links below: