Mark Silva is the quintessential Internet entrepreneur. In 1995, he quit his day job at Bernard Hodes Advertising to found Real Beer Inc., a Web publisher and online marketing consultant for brewers. In short order, Silva maxed out his credit cards, moved the company into a friend’s flat and used another friend’s server to get started. He even convinced his wife to take two years off from her job as a television producer so they could travel the country in a trailer making contacts and evangelizing the medium’s potential to beer marketers.
“We’d park in one place for one to three months and get a phone line in,” recalls Silva. “We had long, shaggy hair. We usually stayed in parks-the higher-end parks, though, because we were traveling with $20,000 worth of computer equipment.”
The couple criss-crossed the U.S., visiting brew pubs, mid-size craft brewers, ad agencies and the coup de grace, Miller Brewing Co.’s specialty division in Milwaukee. “We’d smile and dial before we hit a place,” Silva says. “I’d say, ‘Hey, we want to talk to you about the Internet, and we want to do it for free.” As they racked up the miles, Silva and his Web publication, www.realbeer.com-which covers the culture and business of beer, from essays on drinking games to major brewers’ marketing plans-became a must-read for industry insiders.
“Because of my travels around the country, I don’t think there is anybody else out there who could tell you more about the pulse of the beer market from the retail level,” Silva says confidently.
For Silva, the road show is over, but the workload continues to mount in his San Francisco office. He figures Real Beer Inc. could blossom into a $200 million outfit, combining advertising and publishing revenues from realbeer.com with substantial income from clients.
Silva and his partner, Pat Hagerman, president of Real Beer Inc., claim more than 100 clients, ranging from small brew pubs to Samuel Adams and Miller, plus 52,000 devotees of his monthly e-mail dispatches, RBP Mail. Their Web work includes building the site for Miller’s Shipyard specialty beer, the design of a branded game on the Labatt Blue site, and mapping the online ad buys for Labatt USA.
Enticing the beer industry to sample the Internet is no small task. But Silva says the beer-swilling crowd is becoming increasingly wired, with the Web becoming the great equalizer.