Robert Babbage (M.S. in Commerce ’10) is a Co-Founder and the CFO of Taihu Brewing, a producer, distributor and retailer of craft beer in Taiwan.
What made you decide to start your own business and how did you come up with the idea?
My partner and I worked for banks in New York before moving to Asia to start a private investment firm. We are predominantly contrarian investors with a focus on private opportunities where we can hopefully have some degree of direct influence or control. As we traveled across Asia examining these opportunities we typically drank craft beer. What we found was frequently overpriced, old, and not treated properly. We love craft beer, and we thought it should be done better in Asia. That experience is the genesis of Taihu Brewing.
In 2014 we made a decision to focus more on proprietary investments (so much smaller) and spend more time examining opportunities in Taiwan. Taiwan is a contrarian’s dream. It has been largely neglected by the investment community in favor of China the past twenty years. The culture, people, business environment, and rule of law are phenomenal. Taiwan has a rich legacy of highly skilled manufacturing, a highly educated workforce, and great living standards. Finally, we believe Taiwan is the most logical place to launch and test a concept before entering China (and exponentially increasing complexity and risk).
When we moved to Taiwan we were running into the beer issues we had experienced in the past and we were incredibly fortunate to meet a couple of like-minded people who eventually became our co-founders. We still invest inside and outside of Taiwan, but Taihu Brewing takes up the majority of our time.
So what is Taihu Brewing? We’re a vertically integrated craft beer company. We brew (one existing brewery and currently building another, much larger, facility), we import and distribute (fifteen brands from the United States and one from Japan), and we have retail locations. We are launching distribution and retail in China later this year. Our team has just over forty people, and we’ll likely have about eighty by the end of 2016.
How do you think about building your business and scaling it?
We have a very long-term view. Our ultimate goal is build the best beer company in Taiwan and to have some effect on how beer tastes in Asia. Our daily way of addressing this goal is to put quality above all else.
What is one piece of advice that you would give commerce students and other alumni?
Students: paraphrasing Twain, try not let schooling interfere with your education (too much).
Alumni: Read voraciously, surround yourself with people you respect and admire, constantly test your boundaries, and stay in good shape.
Is there anything else you want to share about your company or your experience?
Let me know when you’re in Taiwan and want to meet up for a beer!