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Good Beer Hunting

Feb 13, 2021

This week’s guest invented one of the most impactful things in American beer history —but it’s not a beer style, or a recipe, or a festival, or a piece of equipment—it’s an app.

Untappd grew from a side project for Greg Avola and his partner Tim Mather—one that they moonlighted for on weekends—to a leading social experience for beer geeks in a very short amount of time.

Basically you try a beer, you log the experience, and it keeps track of your history. You can share that experience with others, rate it, post pics, tag bars and breweries where you enjoyed it—each little interaction creates a massive web of crowd data over time.

Some producers find it fascinating and valuable. Others are haunted by it and think it’s ruining beer. Or maybe already has.

But it’s surely, like any software, largely what we make of it.

But what is Untappd itself made of?

This interview follows on co-founder Greg Avola’s recent exit from his role at the company—after it was acquired by Next Glass a few years ago, Greg’s role became less of a product engineer and tweaker, and more of a creative director, working across a lot of other roles, outlining new strategies, and integrating with the ecosystem of follow-on acquisitions like Beer Advocate, and most recently Hop Culture. With the intent to build a B2B and B2C ecosystem that enabled the rating, tracking, promotion and purchasing of the beers people find most interesting. Basically leveraging content to create a new sort of tier in the 3-tier system.

But it’s not without its challenges, both personal and professional.

In this conversation Greg talks a lot about what it’s like to be a founder of a small tech project that goes big. The burden that places on the individual, and how evolving in an acquisition environment is fraught with personal challenges.

But it also outlines how the scope of Untappd is shifting. Their numbers are down in the U.S. but growing rapidly abroad. Not unlike what happened with one of its predecessors, Ratebeer. And the other acquisitions, like Beer Advocate, haven’t really panned out the way it was imagined, leaving most of the creative and strategic onus on Untappd itself, a challenge it seems to have met with some renewed focus on content, events, and overall community-building in the past year.

In Greg’s open letter about his decision to step down, he was uncommonly transparent about his rationale, experiences, and hopes. And that’s the catalyst for us talking today—from one start-up founder to another. I think it’s critical that more people openly share the nature of the sacrifices people like Greg make to see their idea grow.