People 09 April 2017
Are there perhaps no two greater friends in the universe than beer and bacon? I think not.
Kate Levenstien had worked for the Oprah Winfrey show until it came to a climactic end back in 2011. Following the grand finale, she chose to travel, and was sightseeing in Vietnam when she received a call that would go on to mold the rest of her life to date.
The call came from an old college friend about a job opportunity that had just arisen in Chicago. Given that Levenstien was summer-deep in a world of exploration she was very much reluctant to leave the wide expanse of travel.
After a few days of deliberation however, Levenstien decided the opportunity was too good to pass up on.
Her friend’s company had been bought by Living Social and they required more people for the team going forward. Levenstien had never been involved in organizing events professionally and at first thought the prospect daunting. Living Social nevertheless proved to be the perfect place to launch a new element to her career.
“The beautiful thing about working at Living Social was that they were very young, very eager and basically gave you the reigns to run your events and your city the way you wanted to,” she explains. With that, she was able to undertake any new venture with relative ease, gaining approval for most of the events she pitched.
She was at the helm of a team of 60 after only a couple of years with the platform and was readying herself to pitch her next round of events that were decidedly riskier than previous ventures because of their size. Levenstien was looking toward events for between 5,000-15,000 people, a dramatic increase but one she says she was fanatical about, and had researched extensively.
It had been two and a half years since she was travelling through Vietnam and received that fateful phone call, when out of the blue - Living Social decided that live events were a liability, and they would be cutting that arm of the platform off.
Having just pitched her biggest and most exciting event, Levenstien had another choice to make; would she stay within the company or pursue this series of events she had prepared and devized?
She had been running small Bacon and Beer dinners in Chicago with enormous success and the trend had begun to take root in other cities. The beer festival craze had really taken off in 2011 and she looked to capitalize on this.
“I was sitting on this idea,” she recalls, “I had all the research and information done and I believed that it would be a good thing - I was young and fearless.”
She was running trips on the side to garner capital and traction for the new venture, through a smaller company called Mid-West Adventures. They were putting on day adventures like wine outings, ski trips, themed days that were so popular, she would go on to gather enough money to launch the festival she’d been dreaming of. Having the aid of a few favoured clients, Levenstien was readying herself for a giant leap.
At 26 she founded her company Cannonball, with a view to bringing Beer and Bacon festivals to Chicago and further afield, in venues people wouldn't typically associate with food.
“There were other bacon and beer festivals around at the time so I thought if we’re going to do this we have to go big.”
Levenstien looked to situate the festivals in large arenas, sports stadiums etc., and liked the idea of the juxtaposition between food and venue, and the atmosphere that would create. Before a website was even launched, she was selling tickets to her first classic.
“I loved the idea of bringing this craft festival in to have a little artisanal spin on the hot dog - the footlong and the tall boy,” she says. And it’s paid off, majorly.
“I want to take a big risk and do this right."
This April 29-30 will be The Bacon and Beer Classic’s fourth year at Citifield in New York, and in the first two quarters of this year alone, Cannonball will host nine classics throughout the country, where in years previous, they were booking maybe nine in total for the entire year.
Cannonball is thus a most fitting name for a company that has veritably shook up the events world and arena gatherings for the next decade no doubt. Marrying two of this country's favorite commodities has proved her meal ticket, and this achievement is perfectly encapsulated in the company name.
“I was really struggling coming up with a name for the company and my then-boyfriend reminded me that I had loved the idea of Cannonball,” she remembers. “Really what our events - what the company about is taking a risk; doing something out of the ordinary; being a kid again and getting out of your daily routine - doing something unexpected, and that's what a cannonball is to me.”
While the jump out of a cannonball is really fun, it's the weapon analogy that is perhaps a more fitting reason for the brand name. “The weapon makes an impact, leaves an impression and is a force to be reckoned with,” she says defiantly - the company name, superbly mimicking its bold founder.
Where of course she cannot reveal all of the details about the upcoming festival this month, she did say that participants this year will be introduced to Virtual Reality in the VIP section, and the festival will launch its first blind tasting. The concept will test those who consider themselves beer connoisseurs and bacon lovers, and should bring a new element to the festival - a little beer fueled competition.
3 Min Read
"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.
Find A Need And Fill It
I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.
Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.
Have Working Capital And Credit
There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.
I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.
Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.
My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.
Know Your Product Thoroughly
I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?
My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.
My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!
More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.
Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth
I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.
I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.
Delegate From The Bottom Up
I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.
In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.