Manjit Minhas is certainly one of the most incredible women that I have met in my life. Super smart, spontaneous and self-confident, she was definitely born to be a successful entrepreneur. More than that, we was born to be a caring mother and an happy person who truly inspires others around her. She was born to be a successful human being who has the power to change the world.
Well, on that day, she clearly inspired me. Despite her very busy schedule, Manjit was kind enough to give me one hour of her time. She shared with me her inspiring story, we chatted about the challenges that she has faced and most importantly, we spoke about what seems to be her true passion in life: entrepreneurship.
If you are an entrepreneur or aspire to become one, you need to read this. I decided to keep the full interview, because I just didn’t know where to cut! Thank you Manjit for this gift, I am sure many people, entrepreneurs or not will appreciate it as much as I did.
How did it start?
The idea came when I was a teenager. My parents had a liquor store. My dad was an engineer but one day he was laid off because of the economic situation. So he opened a liquor store. I was 13 at the time and I used to work there on weekends and holidays.
When I was about 19 I thought that I could create a house brand for them. Because they were so busy, they had no time for that. I wanted to create a product that would be appreciated by customers for its really good quality and its fair price. So that’s how the idea started.
I made lots of phone calls and wanted to learn everything about the alcohol industry. Then with my 10 000$ in savings I tried to get a loan, but all the banks refused to get me one. But one day I met a gentleman, who eventually became my mentor. That businessman owned one of the oldest distillery in Kentucky. He helped me a lot and he put me in touch with a lot a people who could help me even more, like contacts in Mexico and Holland to source my tequila and my irish cream. So we started with liquors, but eventually we decided to go in the beer market because we like beer and we found that there was not so much competition. Yes, there are many brands, but nothing comparable in terms of quality and fair price. Our goal was to offer a 6 pack of beer for 6$, which was a first (normal prices are closer to 10$ for a pack). Of course that would take a lot of ingenuity!
One day we got a contract for a brewery in Wisconsin. They asked us to make their beer. We started to produce beer this way and we even invested in that brewery. And then in 2006, my brother and I bought that brewery and we renamed it and expanded it.
How is it to own a business with your brother?
It’s great! I could not ask for a better partner!
It is just the two of us. We have both studied Petroleum Engineering, and we have always been very close on a personal level. Despite the fact that we are very different, we complement each other like the ying and the yang. He’s good at things that I’m not good at and the same for me. So we can split the roles. I handle more the financing and the marketing and he handle the human resources and the government affairs (regulation), and our sales teams.
We have always shared similar goals and dreams. Also, one of the great things about working with a sibling is that you don’t have to say everything out loud; we can understand each other very easily. And we are a small but very close family.
When you start as an entrepreneur there are so many lows and highs (but more lows!), so it’s nice to have someone close with whom to share these moments, and to also share the successes
How many employees do you have?
What are the main challenges associated with the growth of a company?
One of the biggest challenge is to delegate, because as an entrepreneur you are used to do EVERYTHING! And the hardest thing is to let go. For me it is a challenge! I was wondering ‘oh my god, are they gonna be able to do it?’
But once you let go, you realize that the other people’s ways to make things are not necessarily wrong. Sometimes it might take a little big longer than you expected, but it is also their learning process. So for me, not to micro-manage was a big challenge for sure.
Sometimes you find that it takes longer to teach someone than to do it yourself, so it takes patience. But in the long run, it pays off to delegate.
It is also very important to share your vision with your employees to make sure that as a community we are all working towards the same goal. It is also important to let some space for employees’ creativity. It’s really a team work.
We now sell our products in 16 differents countries, so I can’t be everywhere all the time. We need to build our company on trust and teamwork.
How is it to manage a successful company like yours and be a mother at the same time?
My kids are 2 and 5 and it is not easy. I try to be really really organized. My assistant and my husband have a calendar; everybody around me has one! So it is just about being organized and using each hour of the day to be the most productive.
I also get a lot of help whether it is from grand-parents or from paid help. I never shy away from asking for help.
It is also important to focus on what you enjoy the most. I try to teach that to my kids, that it is possible to do what you love at work and in your life.
But it is not easy, and I really do try to balance my work and my personal life. I try to take time to enjoy my fruits of labor at specific time. You will find me at Christmas, but in the summer, it is the beer businesses’ Christmas time, so not much time to take holidays!
What a normal day for you looks like?
A normal day starts very early for sure, around 5am. I try to get emails from East Coast and offices around the world. So I can work about 2 hours before my kids wake up at about 7am. Then we have breakfast together and I get them ready. My older one goes to kindergarten and my little one either stays at home with my husband (he is an entrepreneur with a flexible schedule) or with my parents or my mother in law. Then I get ready and I leave between 8:30 and 9:00am to our offices for meetings and working.
As a kid what was your dream?
As a little kid I thought that I would be a doctor, and then I changed and I thought that I was meant to be a engineer. When you are a kid you constantly change. But I knew I liked people and that I liked the idea of creating something better, of improving the world. Somehow I knew I would do something related to that.
As a kid I used to have some lemonade stands. I was adjusting all the time, moving my table down the street depending on where the traffic was and what kind of lemonade it was. I would have 3 sorts with different prices!
Why did you choose to study in oil engineering?
Coming from Alberta, it is normal. It is where the jobs are and assure you a consistent future. And I was good at sciences and math!
It might sound stereotypical but I’m an Indian, I’m a sikh, and my parents wanted to make sure that we had a solid degree for our future.
How is the female entrepreneurship going in Alberta?
It is right that we see more and more female entrepreneurs, and not only in conventional businesses but in any kind of sectors.
Even in my industry, which was typically a boys’ club, we see more women, not much though.
When I was starting out and having meetings, men were always wondering where was the guy or if a guy was coming with me. So in the beginning it was heartbreaking and tough, but I got a very useful advice from my dad. He told me: ‘’you always have to be the most prepared in the room, it doesn’t matter what happens.’’ I followed his advice wisely. It is time consuming for sure to be the most prepared! I had to learn a lot of stuff! and I’m always learning.
What would you say to young women in general?
A couple of things.
First you have to find something that you love, because it’s not easy! So much of your time will be spent working! So you need to find something that you are passionate about. Also, as a women you are likely to have many responsibilities.
Sometimes, whether you enjoy those responsibilities or not, you don’t always have a choice. But what you do as a career, most of the time, you have the choice. And if you really want to succeed at something, it will take time and effort, you will need to be ahead and work very hard. So if you don’t like it, it’s gonna be a rough life.
So don’t do something just for the paycheck. Do something that you LOVE and someday, you will see the fruits of your labour. It might not be tomorrow, but it will come for sure.
My other advice would be to get some help. You will need a support system because you won’t be able to do everything, whatever your career is.
At 35, you have already achieved a lot. What is your next big thing or what would you like to achieve now?
There is still so much in our industry that we need to cover. We don’t even sell our products everywhere in Canada and in the US. Of course we now sell in 16 different countries, but we are not everywhere in Canada. So, we would like to develop and get new breweries and distillery on the East Coast. We would love to cover Canada from coast to coast.
We are growing so much and we want to get new opportunities in different countries. We make private labels, Costco beers…and we need to invest our time and money wisely. You know we have no debt and no investors, it is all our money, so we want to make sure that we grow at a pace that we can stand.
For me it is important to listen my customers and see what’s happening in my industry and adjust accordingly.
What about your involvement in Dragon’s Den (Mankit is a new Dragon - on air since October 7th) ?
Dragon’s Den is more than investing my money, as I also invest my time in it. I’ve met some great entrepreneurs and some entrepreneurs that need some help. Sometimes, it is not easy to hear, but I think that some of them needed to move on.
What is a good entrepreneur?
A couple of things.
One that has a vision. One of the toughest thing about being an entrepreneur is to know when to quit and to move on when it is not working. The entrepreneur needs to listen to advice and twist and adjust the vision. Most of the time, what you have started of with is most inevitably not what you will finish with. This is just the way life is.
As an entrepreneur, it is important to listen around you, to listen to your industry and your customers, and to adjust accordingly. It is important to be able to recognize when you do some mistakes and to constantly change and adjust. This is one of the reason behind our success. We have been able to see when we were not going in the right direction and adjust very fast. It is clearly a market advantage for us, as opposed to some of the big companies that need to go through red tape to adjust. They have more money than us to invest, but we do have couple of things that they don’t and one of them is a quick decision making process.
It is thus really important to focus on your strengths and not dwelling on what your weaknesses are.
Also, it is really impossible to do everything on your own so you need a solid team. Sometimes I’ve found that the best team is made of people not like you. Of course the easiest thing is to go and hire someone just like you…you’d be like ‘OMG, I love you! you can be my best friend!’. But in reality the best people that we have hired probably would not be my best friends. When you are different, it’s great, you challenge each other.
So I guess you need to know yourself pretty well.
Yes you do. Especially your weaknesses, but you need to be self confident to know what you are good at.
Do you have a role model or someone who inspires you?
You know what? I is a combination of different people, because of different characteristic that they have. It is a tricky question!
I admire my mom for its patience...because I’m so not a patient person, but I see how great it can be.
I admire people who do their own thing and love what they do and do it their own way. They don’t listen to the naysayers…
I admire people, and mostly women, who are surrounded by traditionalists, and who don’t fall into that path just because it’s the easy path. And it is incredible that with all their responsibilities, they are able to persevere and be happy. Just be happy. It is one of the hardest thing to do in life.
We’re always looking for the next big thing. ‘May be if I can get there or if I can get that I will be more happy…’’ If, if, if, if...but it’s a matter of being happy with what you have and where you are at now.
Of course we tend to be looking into the future, but at the end of the day we only have NOW, we live now.
Yes! I agree with you! but it’s tough and I admire people able to be in present, because life is short. It is unbelievable how it goes fast. I’m 35! I feel like I’m halfway there. I think you need to enjoy it.
Also, the most successful people will tell you that it’s great to be able to do what you want to do. Whether it is work today or go to Italy tomorrow. But most of the time you feel that you have so many responsibilities and challenges that you’re letting many other people down, because of your company. Let’s face it, some people and their families depend on me. So it is a big pressure to have for sure.
You must be an amazing boss, probably tough but nice and smart!
Well, it is right that I can be tough, but I can’t let people go! When we need to lay off someone, I can’t do it and I always ask my brother to do it.
I think this will come off on the show. Some people think that I’m not investing my money, that we are investing CBC money. But it is my money, the money that I’ve earned. So when an entrepreneur come in front of me and pitch I get very serious. So I am tough! At the end of the day it is business and it’s my money, and it is somebody’s real future. I need to see a self confident entrepreneur with a vision and who is coachable. I’m investing in a good idea but mostly on a person. And being in the Den is a good life lesson. We learn a lot with these entrepreneurs and I wish the Canadian public can learn with us.
To give you a quick overlook of Manjit’s bio
Manjit Minhas is 35 years old and was born and raised in Calgary, Alberta. This petroleum engineer co-founded Minhas Breweries and Distillery with her brother Ravinder Minhas at the young age of 19 with all her savings ($10,000). In 2006, they purchased the second oldest brewery in the United States and renamed it "Minhas Craft Brewery" making them the youngest brewery owners in the world. Currently, they have over 90 brands of beers, spirits, liqueurs and wines and their products are sold in Canada, United States and in 16 other countries. The Minhas Brewery also makes all of the Kirkland brand beer for Costco worldwide, as well as all the craft beers under Trader Joes' label in the US. Today they run a group of companies that generated over $155-million in revenue last year. She is now the new dragon in the CBC show Dragons' Den.
Manjit has been recognized for several business industry awards such as PROFIT magazine's "Top Growth Entrepreneur", Top 100 Women Entrepreneurs in Canada, Calgary's Top 40 under 40, Chatelaine Magazine's "Top Entrepreneur Woman of The Year 2011" and The Sikh Centennial Foundation Award 2014. (Source: Startup Festival and manjitminhas.com)
I'm co-founder ofAtelier Ëdele, a baby organic bed linens company with a strong social philosophy. For Femmes Alpha, I play the role of Chief Editor. Having already made many changes in my life and career path, from pilot to political analist to entrepreuneur,I cn state without any hesitation that I'm a woman driven by my passion and adventures! Like many people, I share the strong desire to have a positive impact in our society and to inspire other women to follow that path. Ha! I'm also a proud mom of two little cuties.