WILMINGTON – In the world of startups, investors and ecosystems, most people are familiar with serial entrepreneurs. The grinding entrepreneurs that start, grow and sell their startups and then do it again as their reputation for success builds with each exit and that attracts new investors.
A portfolio entrepreneur has an even deeper addiction to entrepreneurship as they have multiple startups growing at the same time. In a speech in Myrtle Beach, SC for the eMYRge ecosystem organization in June, George Taylor used the phrase “Wash, Rinse and Repeat” in his final slide as a way to describe his pattern of entrepreneurship.
Taylor, who you may know from the NextGlass startup based in Wilmington, North Carolina, acquired the high profile UnTappd brand and built it up with his son Kurt Taylor until a Boston based private equity fund purchased the company last year at the start of the pandemic.
George Taylor has been involved with startups for 30 years with ten startups including multiple exits from an IPO with financial software to his latest adventure which will be the wildest story you will NEVER believe.
He is the first to tell you that not every venture has been successful and that makes him more relatable to first time founders that listen
to his stories when he speaks at entrepreneur events in the South.
Wine, Beer and Cars, Oh My!
One day, while considering a career change, Kurt Taylor and father George were having dinner and an expensive bottle of wine to inspire what was next. Turns out that wine was not a match for the kind of wine George liked and the conversation started. Could they create an app to discover a person’s wine tasting profile and help the app user to choose suitable wines while in a grocery store or bottle shop?
This idea became a business called NextGlass, where they invested in technology development and very expensive lab equipment to learn about the hundreds of characteristics of different bottles of wine. The NextGlass HQ was a very popular place to set meetings on Fridays when they would give away the bottles of wine after testing.
This company grew from the lab and expanded into a downtown HQ into a building where Brandon Lee died during the filming of the movie The Crow. (Wilmington, NC is home of the Screen Gems Film Studio where three #1 movies were made in 2013 including Ironman, The Conjuring and The MIllers.)
NextGlass went on to win investments from a high number of angel investors from North Carolina and Virginia. They had stage time at high profile pitch contests at events hosted by the Wall Street Journal and won many local and statewide awards. But after a successful launch, the downloads did not really achieve the “hockey stick growth” that George knew was necessary for success and eventually a successful exit for founders and investors.
As the father and son team had the tough talks about what to do next, Kurt fought for the idea to acquire the UnTappd brand as a way to grow the company. UnTappd had a great brand following but there was an opportunity to really boost the monetization of all of those check ins by users of the App. Turns out that this was a brilliant decision as the company grew to more than 125 employees before the buyout by the private equity fund.
At the same time, George has always had a passion for fast cars. While the family has owned a few racing teams, more recently they opened a business called National Speed. This is a very clean speed shop that has as much technology as they have tools.
Think of National Speed as a muscle shop for your stock car off the dealership lot instead of a place for a new stereo or window tinting. The company has now expanded from Wilmington and took over a former Safeway grocery store in Richmond, Virginia with very serious expansion plans into other up and coming cities. (In full transparency, my WALE angel investor network members are investors in National Speed.)
Now the TRU Challenge
Like other good entrepreneurs, George likes to start businesses by addressing big pain points. Wilmington was having a gang related problem and when there was a shooting in downtown, a few blocks from the UnTappd HQ, George decided to get to the root of
George talked with the District Attorney of New Hanover County and lined up conversations with the leaders of the various gangs to discover the basics of why the gang violence was growing at the beach. George discovered that this was an economic opportunity problem. Of course, if you have a criminal record, it becomes very difficult to find a job that pays the bills as an adult matures and may have a young family.
After months of discussions and eliminating other ideas, the group came up with the idea for a brewery. In of one of my favorite quotes, they told George, “we don’t want to make any ********* cupcakes.”
The aspect that surprises most people is that the employees MUST REMAIN active in the gangs. Yes that is right, they don’t leave the gangs but remain active and informed to prevent future violent activity by change from within the gang. TRU stands for Truth,
Responsibility and Unity.
A NEW Level of Support for Startup Brewery
As you would expect, the local beer industry has been supportive as they also want to reduce violent crimes at the coast. TRU Colors will not be a local craft beer so they are not really competing directly with local breweries. While starting just within North Carolina, this will eventually be a beer sold nationally with the help of a significant investment and distribution from a partnership with Molson / Coors.
The previous success at UnTappd with partnering with national brands has also opened doors for TRU Colors. VERY high profile people have contributed in impactful ways including some expedited brand designs and help finding aluminum cans in the current crush of lack of basic commodities during the pandemic.
The first beer, TRU Light, is now being packaged up to appear on North Carolina shelves right after the 4th of July holiday. In future months, you will see a ton of national media attention on the growth of TRU Colors Brewing. Soon, in a state with 300 plus breweries, TRU Colors will be the largest independent brewery. The new HQ, a large building that was abandoned for over 30 years is over 56,000 sq feet and will have
childcare, workout facilities and film and music studios.
The first months of employment for the active gang members is really about training in life skills about family, finances and other adult skills needed to succeed in the long term. On the last day of training, the employees have to get on a perfectly functioning airplane but they don’t land. Yes, despite the fact that many of these adults have never been on a plane, on the very last day of life training, they do a tandem jump out of the plane to change their perspective of the ride that they are about to join with the brewery.
While this for profit brewery is a fun story to tell, George is truly having a positive impact on the lives of these gang members when most people have just put up their hands and wondered when someone else was going to do something.
About the author
Jim R. Roberts has been working for 20 years in North Carolina with entrepreneur support organizations in Charlotte, Asheville, Durham and Wilmington. Jim is the founder of the Network for Entrepreneurs in Wilmington (NEW), WALE Angel Network and Rojo Octo Ecosystem Consulting. Jim also works with the SEEN Network at UNC Pembroke. Follow Jim on Twitter – @redspireusnc or @91omgbiz