By Max Sellman
Red ale infused with black tea… Date-spiced barley wine… A chocolate-peanut butter and coffee porter… MobCraft Beer is certainly unusual, but that’s just how the customers want it.
Founded in 2012 by Andrew Gierczak, Henry Schwartz and Giotto Troia, MobCraft has carved out a niche for itself in the Wisconsin microbrew scene by crowdsourcing zany recipes. The brewery is taking this community-grounded philosophy to the next level by becoming the first company in the state to raise money under a new crowdfunding law.
Anybody can send a recipe idea request to MobCraft. This is how the brewery crowdsources and crowdfunds its creations. The brewers review and refine the recipes and put them to an online vote. Each month, customers visit MobCraft online and vote for their favorite idea by ordering a four-pack of 22-ounce bottles. They only brew about 15 barrels at a time, but that’s enough to satisfy the orders and any customers that want to change their vote afterwards.
With the unique recipes and wacky names such as “Candy for Breakfast,” this brewery might come off as just the latest gimmick in a crowded Wisconsin craft beer market. But the MobCraft’s reception has been overwhelmingly positive, with critics praising their innovation and attention to detail.
MobCraft was one of just seven Wisconsin breweries to win a medal at the 2014 Great American Beer Festival in Denver. The company took home a silver medal for their “Batsh*t Crazy” coffee beer in a category with more than 100 entries.
The company’s recent success has CEO Henry Schwartz eyeing expansion. MobCraft hopes to raise $2 million to “build our own facility from the ground up,” Schwartz said. To raise the cash, this crowdsourced brewery is turning back to their customers.
Crowdfunding for emerging companies is not a new concept in America.
Websites like Kickstarter and GoFundMe have existed for years, giving anybody with an Internet connection the opportunity to contribute money towards the launch of a product or project. Donors may receive some sort of perk in return for the donation, but don’t have any financial stake in the final product.
The Crowdfunding and Securities Exemption for Jobs Act allows for small businesses in Wisconsin to make small public stock offerings to potential in-state investors. There are a few bureaucratic hurdles, but not nearly as many as an opening on Wall Street would pose. Shareholders can own a stake in a local, emerging company with a product in which they believe. If the fundraising goal is not met, the money is returned to the investors with no loss.
After a few months of searching for a Wisconsin bank to hold the investment funds, MobCraft finally partnered with Monona State Bank and launched its stock offering in late September.
“It’s going really good so far,” said Schwartz about the partnership. “It’s really exciting to have a bank so close to home.” He said MobCraft was excited to “be guinea pigs” for a law that opens the door for everyday consumers to become investors.
MobCraft has until January 15 to meet its fundraising goal. Schwartz is optimistic, saying the company has seen investments from “a good mix of people” so far.
The company founders have been active at events around Madison. They were one of five companies to pitch AOL co-founder Steve Case for a chance at $100,000, a category winner in the 2014 Governor’s Business Plan Contest, and pitched at the Wisconsin Early Stage Symposium in November. And, of course, they’ll keep producing some wild beers.
Next up, a new line-up of sour beers that MobCraft is calling “Sour Stash.” The first beer will be called Sour Safari, which Schwartz says “kind of tastes like a Flemish Red.”
— Sellman is a student at UW-Madison in the Departments of Life Sciences Communication and Genetics.