By Gregory Daurer | Jan 08, 2018
"We do distillery and brewery management," says Lippa. "We effectively make the lives of distillers, brewers, vintners, a lot easier, so they can focus on their craft. So, in effect, we take the tedious overhead out of it, so that they can truly just focus on what they need to do or they're passionate about."
Lippa knows what it takes to keep a distillery running smoothly, remaining federally-compliant. He knows the nightmares of report production, the mind-numbing sets of numbers, steps, and practices that need to be logged and calculated to keep things running smoothly.
In 2007, while working at Stranahan's Colorado Whiskey, Lippa went from distilling to business management. Lippa says Stranahan's had grown much quicker than its ability to keep track of orders. On his desk that first day in the front office, there were piles of paperwork, orders coming in. He asked, "Which are filled and which aren't?" No one knew. It was his job to figure it out.
"I can create small program that will manage our orders for us," he eventually informed his colleagues.
Lippa was in a unique position to help out. Not only did he now understand the ins-and-outs of production at the distillery, he had studied computer science at SUNY Fredonia. After college, Lippa went to work for Lockheed Martin in New Jersey as, literally, a rocket scientist. There, he burnt out quickly. "The culture wasn't the right fit for me," says Lippa, who moved to Colorado for a change of pace. He became a homebrewer, before eventually cultivating a position for himself within Stranahan's.
While working at Stranahan's, he began developing Stillhouse -- his company Distillery Solutions' signature product. Lippa says, "I decided I would make a computer system that would basically mimic what happens on the floor, so all the information would flow up."
Along each step of the way, notations are made by distillery employees, who are logged into the system. The software program assembles the information, acting as a "central artery," keeping the documentation offsite within the cloud, where it's able to be viewed at the distillery or remotely.
Stillhouse allows its users to keep track of recipes and materials used or needed, providing the ability to create purchase orders when ingredients or packaging are low. Using onscreen icons, it visually tracks the transferring of spirits from one vessel to another, then from vessels to bottles. It provides accounting that's compatible with Quickbooks.
Perhaps most importantly in terms of compliance, it calculates how much tax needs to be paid to the federal government's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), based on what's been produced.
Lippa says Stillhouse frees up time for business owners -- and allows for peace of mind. What might have taken an owner 16 to 24 hours per month to assemble has been reduced down to one to two hours, providing "tremendous savings, inventory control." Daily, it provides answers for distillers: e.g., "This is what your grain bill looks like today."
One of those head distillers helped by Stillhouse is Jake Norris, formerly of Laws Whiskey House. Norris, who previously worked with Lippa at Stranahan's, says within a video on Distillery Solutions' website: "I wouldn't consider running a distillery without it."
And now brewery employees at Plymouth Brewing Company in Wisconsin, Paradox Beer Company in Colorado, and Seventh Son Brewing Co. in Ohio are using Lippa's software product Brewhouse. Similar to Stillhouse, Brewhouse helps breweries to stay TTB-compliant, track kegs, create purchase orders, store brew logs, and forecast demand. Around 20 breweries use Brewhouse, according to Lippa.
And about 300 customers use Stillhouse. Having started with a "shoestring $5,000 budget," Lippa thought it would be "pie in the sky" to hit 100 clients. "Every year, we've had almost 100 percent growth," he says.
The company employs six engineers, who do specific builds of the product for each client; Lippa says, "afterwards, the company charges monthly service fees and provides unlimited in-house support." In an age of 99-cent apps, Lippa acknowledges that those costs may exceed some people's expectations. But he expresses confidence over his distilling and brewing software's unique abilities, and he praises his staff's customer support: "To say we are customer-driven is an understatement."
Orders are coming in from Europe, as well from throughout the US. In 2018, Lippa plans on adding wineries to his customer base and he envisions the software's use in food production: "We have effectively written software that could be housed within that space."
"We have helped grow so many small businesses," says Lippa. He's seen beginners -- overwhelmed distillery owners -- with that "deer in the headlights look" over what's expected of them by the TTB. His product has helped them survive audits, maintain compliance. Lippa says he's been told by now-successful business people, "Listen, I couldn't do this without you. You were an integral piece."
Challenges: Educating breweries and distilleries about what Stillhouse and Brewhouse have to offer. Lippa says, "The biggest challenge is proving that our software is more robust [than others], that it's more than just a pretty picture, that the guts underneath the hood are absolutely something that will allow you to succeed, have peace of mind. And, not only that, you will have the full support [of our staff]."
Opportunities: Lippa points out how his software is already being used by a soda company. And he notes how the FDA is introducing stricter regulations in 2018 for consumable products. "That's ripe for effectively what we're doing," he says. "So the opportunities for the software, and the directions we could go, are really sort of endless. And that's really exciting."
Needs: Harnessing his team to achieve even more results, says Lippa. "Working together in an agile environment and having the velocity; being able to deliver on deadlines and being able to align with sales goal, business development goals. Really, just growing the business and expanding from a single track to working in tandem, multiple teams."