It takes guts to stand up and tell your company story in front of a conference hall of people. It takes more courage to talk about the failure of your business – as John Gyngell did at the International Beer Strategies Conference held by our sister events arm Arena International in Portugal last week.

Gyngell is the co-founder of UK indie brewery North Brewing, which went into administration in January.

The brewery was quickly bought by Steve Holt, the owner of UK peer Kirkstall Brewery. Gyngell moved from founder to employee. Three of the brewery’s four UK taprooms were bought, the final one closed.

Both Kirkstall and North are based in Leeds, West Yorkshire, and Gyngell was determined to remain “independent” but admits things have changed since the takeover – he jokes he is unemployable after twenty-seven years of North-focused entrepreneurship.

The most striking moment of Gyngell’s fireside chat – which he afterwards described as a “pretty difficult” interview – was that the administration could possibly have been avoided.

“A really interesting thing since we’ve gone into administration, we’ve lost the business, is the number of people who have said to me: ‘I wish I’d have known – I’ve got a million pounds,’” he said.

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“What we didn’t do was really talk to people. We didn’t get out there and consult our network, tell our network, because probably we were a bit embarrassed.”

The headwinds that eventually toppled North are not unique: Brexit, Covid-19, cost pressures, inflation. One attendee described the atmosphere at the conference as “subdued”, adding: “Times are not very easy for brewers.”

North’s experience was “exhausting” and dealing with potential private-equity buyers “horrible”, Gyngell said. He advised small businesses to look to “wealthy, private individuals” who are interested in their brand and avoid private-equity firms only looking to scale the business for a sale.

Gyngell’s resilience is remarkable. “Nothing bad has happened to me,” he said, despite going on to describe how he feared he would lose his home.

“Do it,” he said, when asked if he would advise anyone else to set up a business. “Building a brand was brilliant. We went from nothing to doubling turnover every year between 2015 and 2020. It was amazing.

“It took me to Shanghai and San Francisco and everywhere else in between, brewing with the most amazing people and breweries. So my advice is do it, but look after the numbers.”

If there was one takeaway from Gyngell’s story it was the importance of community in business. “Talk to people, learn from people like myself who have been through it,” he encourages. Certainly don’t be embarrassed to ask for help.