What It Takes

What It Takes

My Way

By Callie Oettinger | Published: June 7, 2013

I love the Frank Sinatra standard My Way (written by Paul Anka). It gives me goosebumps every time I hear it . . .

And now, the end is here
And so I face the final curtain
My Friend, I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain
I’ve lived a life that’s full
I traveled each and ev’ry highway
And more, much more than this, I did it my way

A few weeks back I wrote a piece pulled from an interview Louis C.K. did with the New York Times.

The entire interview’s a great read, but the other piece that jumped out was his comment about selling tickets only through his site:

Boy, did that work. It was so satisfying to get that done. The special, I didn’t need to do anything. I just made it and offered it. But the tickets were really tricky. The big ticket companies make exclusive arrangements with these rooms. They pay them just to not work with others. So if a company gives you 30 grand a year to stay away from anybody else, you need it. We didn’t attack their territory. We just went to places that they didn’t care about.

He did it his way. And still got it done.

Regrets, I’ve had a few
But then again, too few to mention
I did what I had to do and saw it through without exemption
I  planned each charted course, each careful step along the byway
And more, much more than this, I did it my way.

Front and back images on the Sam Adams t-shirt circa. 1996. A play on that other famous Beantown bar. . .

In the mid/late 90’s, I lived in Boston and spent almost every day walking by the Sam Adams bar at the base of the Lenox Hotel on Boylston Street. At the time, the most famous Boston bar was Cheers—a tourist trap remaining long-after the much-beloved show of the same name ended. When a friend visited in the summer of ’96, he had no interest in Cheers. Sam Adams caught his eye instead. We headed over to the bar. He introduced me to its Cherry Wheat and we decided that they had the best bar t-shirt. Seventeen years later (and fifteen years of marriage as of this week) he and I still have the faded worn-out shirt I sent him after he left and we’re still enjoying Cherry Wheat.

Around the time I read the Louis C.K. interview, Fortune ran an interview with Jim Koch, founder-brewmaster of the Boston Beer Co. and I learned the back-story to a brand that’s a large part of summer BBQ’s and so many celebrations with family and friends. As with the Louis C.K. interview, it’s a great read—go whole hog and read it in full—but there are a few bits that jumped out at me, about doing things on his own, taking the beer and the brand bar by bar, sharing its story.

None of the distributors in Boston would deliver it because they were happy with the beers they already had. So we’d distribute it with a truck that I rented, and we did all the sales ourselves. I’d go from bar to bar, telling my story, educating people about quality in brewing and ingredients, and get them to taste the beer. Back then people thought the only good beer was imported. Here I was, making something that blew up that preconception. My beer was significantly more expensive, and people would say, “I can get Heineken for $14 a case, and you’re charging me $20 for a domestic beer?”

And…

We grew, one bar at a time. We expanded through New England, then I flew to D.C., selling Samuel Adams to bars two days a week in 1986, using Presidential Airlines. I flew so much on them that they started selling Samuel Adams on their planes, and I got Samuel Adams printed on the back of the ticket jackets. It was all guerrilla marketing. The big guys were so big, we had to do innovative things like that.

Yes, there were times, I’m sure you knew
When I bit off more than I could chew
But through it all, when there was doubt
I ate it up and spit it out
I faced it all and I stood tall and did it my way

There’s one more piece from that Jim Koch interview. At the end, he was asked his advice. He replied:

Learn to fail quickly. We’ve had dozens of beers that were not commercially successful. Minimize the damage, know when to pull the plug, and move on.

I’ve loved, I’ve laughed and cried
I’ve had my fill, my share of losing
And now, as tears subside, I find it all so amusing
To think I did all that
And may I say, not in a shy way,
“Oh, no, oh, no, not me, I did it my way”

A year ago this month, Black Irish Books was launched. No distributor. No wholesalers. No trying to fight to get shelf space with the big publishers, within the dwindling chains. Going one customer at a time, one sale at a time. It’s been fulfilling to be a part of the process, to watch Steve’s and Shawn’s vision for it evolve, to learn what does and doesn’t work in an environment that’s flexible, not constrained by red tape. It’s refreshing. I’m glad Black Irish is doing things its way—and that Louis C.K. and Jim Koch and so many others have continued pushing through and blazing their own trails.

For what is a man, what has he got?
If not himself, then he has naught
To say the things he truly feels and not the words of one who kneels
The record shows I took the blows and did it my way!

Posted in What It Takes

7 Responses to “My Way”

  1. June 7, 2013 at 5:26 am

    Being blessed with no singing voice whatsoever and basing myself out of Asia has always proven difficult (hint: karaoke is NOT only a Japanese past-time). The “pressure” to sing mounting with every late night adventure was becoming unbearable.

    But the chairman of the board became my savior. “My Way” is my go-to song in these situations, as an impassioned rendition of this classic can never go wrong, vocal talent or not.

    In those situations the resistance be damned, I’m crooning baby…

  2. Basilis
    June 7, 2013 at 5:34 am

    Happy birthday Black Irish Books!

    To places where no publishing house would care to go.

    Cheers.

  3. June 7, 2013 at 5:55 am

    Congrats to you and your husband Callie, and the Black Irish Books team! Thanks for blazing trails and providing tools for us to do the same.

  4. June 7, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    I love the shining example that you, Steven, and the whole Black Irish Books team provides. And Happy Birthday, from a fellow Gemini!

  5. John Thomas
    June 7, 2013 at 8:57 pm

    Great post.

    I love Black Irish Books. Just like I love Sam Adams beer. It’s the only American beer that I’ll drink. And it doesn’t seem to matter which one of their beers it is (the have the only Lager I’ve found that I like). It’s just consistently good. Come to think of it, kind of like Black Irish Books, eh? :-)

  6. June 8, 2013 at 5:22 am

    This is a terrific post. Thanks to the whole Black Irish gang for the inspiration.

  7. June 10, 2013 at 11:29 pm

    Doing things your own way is the only way to get things done. Otherwise you just imitate others. You’re just a knock off of others. I think of this with my writing, while I’m still barely at the beginning stages of my writing career, I’m doing it. I’m writing and sitting in front of the computer and pounding out what I can. I love that song, it continues to encourage me and show that there is no defined way of doing things. There is the way that works for you and that you create for yourself.