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Grow A Small Business Podcast

May 3, 2020

In this episode, I interview David Vitale, the founder, and director of sales and marketing at New World Whiskey Distillery Pty Ltd (previously Starward Distillery), the makers of Starward whiskey. David left a distilling career in Tasmania and started the business in Melbourne around 2007 amidst the global financial crisis. Breaking many traditions in the nascent 15-year-old craft distilling industry, it took him three years to raise all the funds he needed to set up the distillery and get production underway. 

It was clear the business model was for a quality sub-100 dollar bottle of whiskey that lives in the sharing cabinet of a whiskey drinker, and it launched at $75 in 2013 when all Australian whiskeys were double the price. In that first year they sold less than 2,700 bottles and in 2020 will move more than 120,000 bottles. With enough stock going into casks each year, they have a close to $22 Million excise tax bill per annum. David moved the business from 1 full-time employee in 2007 to now 35, and with production capacity about to expand again, David highly values the key team members he brought along the journey starting with his first hire who is still there ten years after production began.

Funding from investors and selling whiskey investment casks helped get the business through fast growth, tough times, and be well-positioned for the world’s largest alcohol company with 18,000 sales reps in the US alone, to invest in late 2015. That bluechip investment helped them move to larger premises, increase production ten-fold, and get serious about export. David believes the hardest thing in growing a small business is letting go, and the advice he would give himself on day one is, “Keep going. It’s going to take a lot longer than you think, but you should still do it”

This Cast Covers:

  • Learning whiskey distilling from the godfather of Australian whiskey.
  • Raising the first round of capital and how their whiskey took off globally.
  • The absurdity of doing a great quality sub-100 dollar whiskey.
  • Starting the distillery and waiting 3 years to start selling.
  • 30 days away from insolvency and getting support from Distill Ventures.
  • Moving to a new upgraded location and scaling up to ten times their original volume.
  • The value of not having to worry about payroll and becoming the best craft distilled spirit in the world.
  • Advocating for building relevance for Australian whiskey outside Australia.
  • Relationship management at the distributor level and the importance of working on the ground.
  • The challenge of shifting from maker’s world to drinker’s world.
  • From 443 cases of whiskey in 2013 to 20,000 cases in 2020.
  • What all around success looks like for David and the amazing awards their whiskey has won so far against some of the best in the world.
  • Starting out with one full-time employee to grow over the last 10 years to 35 full-time employees.
  • The diverse forms of funding that Starward has had. 
  • Losing his dad, having a baby, launching a brand, and overcoming stressful challenges with the business.
  • Making hard decisions for successful cash flow management.
  • The most fruitful way of creating value and the power of meditation.
  • Recruitment wins and losses, and the valuable lessons learned.
  • Onboarding new employees into the company culture within 60 days.
  • The regret of selling his previous e-learning business and the most valuable course David ever took.
  • Having a coach who is ex-military/ex-Microsoft and how he helps him develop in his professional and personal life.
  • Learning more about leadership and work ethic from a podcast than from any book he’s ever read.

Additional Resources:

Music from "Cold Funk" by Kevin MacLeod ( License: CC BY (