Danny Robinson | Crain's Philadelphia

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Danny Robinson

Background:  

Danny Robinson founded Backshore Brewing Company in Ocean City, Maryland, in 2013. Two years later, he created Hoop Tea, a flavored malt beverage brewed using the age-old process of fermenting natural sugars from steeped grains. Last year, Beverage World magazine awarded Hoop Tea White Mango the gold medal in its BevStar Awards alternative alcohol category. Hoop Tea is available in four flavors — White Mango, Sweet Lemon, Peach Tea Lemonade and Watermelon Mint Green Tea — and is sold at bars, restaurants and liquor stores in seven states.

The Mistake:

My No. 1 mistake started before I started the concept of Hoop Tea. I’ve owned restaurants and bars for 15 years, and without correcting the mistake Hoop Tea wouldn’t be in existence.

As an entrepreneur, my biggest mistake was what I call “chasing shiny objects” — I had to learn to stop doing that. It’s almost an entrepreneurial addiction to chase things — chase opportunities, chase business things, chase certain niches — or chase things that aren’t being done, or chase things that are being done but aren’t being done well. I spent most of my life in the business world just chasing things like that one after another. I didn’t stop and step back and say, “OK, instead of doing a million things a little bit well, let me just focus on one thing and be great at it.” It really held me back for a long time.

I had one restaurant on the beach in Ocean City, Maryland, when I was in my early 30s. A bar on the beach is what most people aspire to be doing in retirement, and I should have stopped there. Instead I saw other opportunities, and I couldn’t resist chasing them.

Before I started Hoop Tea I owned four bars. Instead of having one 100 percent awesome bar, I had four 25 percent awesome bars. I could never catch up financially, I could never catch up with my time and my energy, and when I finally stopped doing that is when things really took off for me.

I found in Hoop Tea something that was scalable, and scalable in a big way. I knew that it would never scale if I kept being pulled in a million different directions. I decided that Hoop Tea would be my one thing, because it’s the most enjoyable business that I do have, and a consumer-packaged good is way more scalable than restaurants and bars are, so that became my focus.

As an entrepreneur, my biggest mistake was what I call ‘chasing shiny objects.’

The Lesson:

Even to this day on a daily basis I have to stop myself and tell myself to stop chasing shiny objects, because you all of a sudden see something and your attention is diverted. It’s OK to continuously improve your current product, but you have to stick to your initial goal and be laser focused on that.

I heard Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, make the analogy that you have to be like a lion attacking an antelope — don’t be distracted by the tasty mice below your feet. If a lion eats only a diet of field mice it would starve, because the lion expends too many calories eating mice. It’s the perfect metaphor because it’s true, and that’s what I was doing for a number of years.

Hoop Tea was growing organically by itself a little bit, and I was happy with the growth, but once I devoted 100 percent of my time to Hoop Tea, it just grew by leaps and bounds.

In the grand scheme of things I don’t chase the shiny objects, and in my morning routine I don’t let myself get disturbed. Every day I sit down and bang out my to-do list of the most important things I need to do that day. My emails don’t go to my phone any more, I don’t have the Facebook app on my phone — I’m 100 percent focused on what’s going on in that moment.

Follow Hoop Tea on Facebook at @Hooptea.

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