Saving and Investing, Part II

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This is my $167 beer mug. I didn’t pay that amount to purchase it, but this is all remains from an investment two of my friends and I made during the mid-1990s. So, I think of it as an expensive piece of glassware. It also was part of a great learning experience and fun time we all had together.

Previously I wrote about how two of my women friends and I saved money each payday so we could take a trip or do something fun together, like going to a luxury spa. This was clearly saving, putting money in the credit union in a savings account. The money was not growing much, it was just accumulating. It wasn’t at risk of shrinking either. Plain old savings and it worked for us. Over time we spent most of it, but one time we had an extra $500 in the account and no plans for it. This time we were looking for something different to experience together and we opened our minds to a new opportunity.

Our adventure started with an ad in the Denver newspaper. A new brewing company was starting up and they were looking for investors from the general public. We read the information and became interested! Small brewers and brew pubs were becoming popular (and profitable) in several parts of the country, including Denver. The one we were familiar with was Wynkoop Brewing Company Brew Pub which is still operating today. It was created by some entrepreneurial folks who had the vision to see downtown Denver as it could be, a thriving social center. One of them was John Hiickenlooper who went on to be the mayor of Denver and is now the Governor of Colorado.

We also liked adult beverages. I was really the only beer drinker in our small group, but the others could definitely see how a specialty beer was a potentially profitable product. Most importantly, the initial investment was very small. We read all the paperwork, signed on the dotted line, submitted our $500 check and we were in. Yes, there may have been a little interest, and maybe even grumbling from our spouses, but it wasn’t money we needed for necessities or retirement. Our loss potential was only $500 and our lives would go on as before if we lost it all, so we weren’t worried. We were, however, optimistic that we would make a little money.

So we had done our due diligence. The company seemed legitimate and over time we could see it was a real business. The product was marketable, the business model had been tried, downtown Denver was growing rapidly, we could see other companies who had been successful with similar products, and the timing seemed good. We also were very clear about our goals for this investment. We accepted that it was a very risky investment. We agreed to accept the reality that we could lose the entire amount. There would be no blaming or “what ifs”. If we made money, fine. If not, we at least tried.

Things were pretty exciting. As the beer mug says, we were founders. We received updates on the progress of the business. We were invited to downtown Denver to the building where the business was located. We had lots of free and delicious food. Most importantly, we were provided lots of free beer to sample. This was better than going to a restaurant or a bar and we were treated like very important people. That $500 was beginning to look like a good deal. There was such fun, energy, and excitement all around us. There was another event which must have been the ribbon cutting. The press was there, founders were there, and the governor dropped by for the festivities. Things were looking good.

Then…silence. We didn’t hear much, but we didn’t worry. We were busy with our lives. We knew that businesses take time to grow and evolve. We figured it was normal to have a period of silence. In retrospect, it was not so normal for a growing business, normal for one which was struggling.

I don’t recall the details, but there were media reports that weren’t so great, and then probably some communication from the company where we learned the business was in trouble. Then the dreaded letter came which told investors (founders) that the company had folded. As I remember, it was about timing and market saturation. Seemed like a case of too many brewers all at once trying to do the same thing, and not enough customers to support them. Whatever the cause, our money was gone and so was the warm fuzzy feeling we had experienced. One of the spouses asked optimistically, “well, can you write it off on your taxes”?

We had our own view of the situation. Those folks who started the business and worked so hard had our sympathy. We were out $500, but they had lost much more.

Our Mile High Brewing Company experiences enriched our friendship, helped us to meet new people, taught us more about business and investing, brought us in touch with the re-development of downtown Denver, and gave us the chance to be called “Founder”. The best part of the whole process was that we had so much fun together. Each of us always felt that the money we spent gave us a huge return on investment, just not in the way we expected it. We were clear about our goals and accepted the risk so we had no bad feelings. We were fond of saying that we had gotten our money’s worth in food, beer, adventure, and new experiences. Mile High Brewing was a subject of many subsequent happy hour conversations.

Later on, when we accumulated a little money, we made another investment. This time it was in a large publicly traded company. The brokerage paperwork was incredible for a small investment by three individuals. We persisted. This time each of us held equal shares of the company in our individual names. This investment made money since the company had split shares and had performed well. We felt redeemed! I remember being grateful for those stock certificates because I sold the stock to pay some licensing fees for my business.

When Lee, Lea, and I started our savings program and ventured into investing (outside of retirement investing which we already had in place), we could never have truly envisioned the good times we would experience, or the closeness of our friendship. Sometimes “girls just want to have fun” and we did. It just took a little goal settling, planning, persistence, and a sense of adventure.

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