"Iconic" Dragons' Den success for brewing startup

- January 18, 2017

The Iconic Brewing crew on Dragons' Den.
The Iconic Brewing crew on Dragons' Den.

Dal alumnus Cam McDonald and his colleagues didn’t have a lot of time to prepare for their appearance on a recently aired episode of CBC’s Dragons’ Den.

“They called us the week before, actually,” explains McDonald, one of the founders of Iconic Brewing, an alcoholic beverage startup behind the increasingly popular Dusty Boots Hard Root Beer.

Despite the short notice, McDonald (BComm'14) and the other two co-founders — Daniel Bartek, also a Dal grad (BComm'15), and Bobby Besant — accepted the invite and entered the den the following week last April to give their pitch.

They walked out of the taping shortly thereafter with a deal in hand. Indeed, a bidding war of sorts broke out amongst the dragons during their pitch. They ended up going with dragon Michael Wekerle, who offered $500,000 with no stake in the company in return for a small slice of sales profits until he doubles his investment.

“It’s always nice when you get interest from the dragons. They see a lot of different businesses,” says McDonald, who started the company with the others in 2013 shortly after researching the concept in the Starting Lean class at Dal.

Watch the Dragons' Den segment with Iconic Brewing on CBC.

A return engagement

If McDonald sounds like he’s an experienced dragon-handler, you’d be right. After all, the company had appeared on the show before in March 2015 under a different name (Sage Mixology) pitching a different product (a juice and vodka mix) and secured a deal then as well.

While they ended up dropping the first deal at a later date when they pivoted away from their original product idea, they approached the second appearance in much the same way as the first.

“We always try to be ourselves and lead with our core values,” says McDonald. “We didn’t have any interest in doing anything gimmicky in the den.”

They did, however, offer the Dragons a sampling of their hard root beer and Crazy Beard Wild Apple Ale in between talking up the company’s rapid sales growth and expanding footprint in liquor stores across the country. Since the taping last spring, the company has launched a third beverage — Dusty Boots Hard Cherry Cola — and now has products in every province across the country.

The company’s fun attitude seems to have rubbed off on consumers, who have scooped up six packs of the company’s bevvies in greater and greater quantities over the past year. McDonald says the company exceeded their sales forecast for 2016 (stated during the show as $4.2 million) and set even more ambitious targets for this year.

The importance of mentorship

McDonald says the startup owes a lot to Dal and to management professors Mary Kilfoil and Ed Leach, both of whom he says were invaluable mentors to them during the early stages of the company.

Drs. Kilfoil and Leach have been instrumental over the past several years in scaling up entrepreneurship programming at the university, both in and out of the classroom through the Norman Newman Centre for Entrepreneurship.

When the company was nominated for an Ernst and Young Entrepreneurship of the Year Award in 2016, they were allowed to bring two guests with them to the awards gala. McDonald and Bartek knew right away whom they wanted to invite.

“Ed and Mary were our guests because they had such an impact on our venture,” says McDonald. “Those classes were an excellent training ground for us and accelerated our growth.”


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