In October 2014, Tech alumni Chris Doyle, MGT ‘07 MBA ‘11, and Jason Santamaria, MGT ‘06, opened Second Self, a brewery on the Westside of Atlanta. The name comes from how Doyle and Santamaria worked on the project in their spare time while still having full-time jobs.
It all started with Georgia law changing in 2004 to allow beer to be over 5.9% alcohol. This in turn opened the Georgia market for craft beers and especially IPAs (India Pale Ales) which are more hoppy and bitter than traditional beers.
Doyle and Santamaria, along with a couple of their Pi Kappa Phi fraternity brothers, decided to see if they could make it because, as Santamaria put it, “…we’re Tech kids; we want to make things.”
After graduating from Tech, they both got traditional day-jobs, Doyle with GTARC and Santamaria with Teradata (and later IBM). It wasn’t until 2009 that the pair started to seriously think about starting their own business — a brewery.
“In 2010 we went to the Brewers Association Conference, which is the largest group of brewers in the world, in Chicago. We went there and we were like alright we’re going to learn how to start a brewery, write a business plan and we’ll be open in like a year, two years max,” Santamaria said.
This timeline proved to be overly ambitious and the revised opening date became July 2014, four years later.
One of the first major challenges was fundraising.
“You have no experience, you have no reputation and you have to convince banks and people to give you money. It’s hard asking for it, something I wasn’t used to,” Santamaria said. “One of our first investors, I met at a Braves game and he sat next to me.”
The brewery also had issues with licensing and other bureaucratic red-tape, starting with the government shutdown in 2013.
“We sent our application in, got a hard copy, got it assigned to a person. And then the government shut down,” Doyle said. “So it sat there for a period of time and everything is contingent upon licensing.”
After getting through the government shutdown, there were further delays.
“[Our application] was assigned to someone. And then she went on maternity leave. Once it’s assigned to someone, it can’t be reassigned to anyone. So she was gone for eight weeks. Off the bat we had a 12 week delay,” Santamaria said.
The opening date was moved from July to October.
“Historically, one of the worst times to open a brewery,” Santamaria said.
Licensing and other problems pushed back the date, but the planned beers were still geared towards summer. In fall, beer sales tend to decline while liquor sales increase as the holidays approach.
“We didn’t know any of that. I mean we also just had to get open because we had promised everyone all this stuff,” Santamaria said.
Second Self opened with four beers, only one of which is still in production.
“There were definitely things that were completely out of our control that hit us hard,” Santamaria said.
On the flipside of that, there were many puzzle pieces that fell into place to make their dream a reality. “There have to be other side things going on near you that really help push your business up,” said Doyle.
Through the tumultuous years of planning, fundraising and building, Doyle and Santamaria have remained good friends and recognize their humble Tech beginnings.
Doyle started as a chemical engineer and Santamaria started as an industrial engineer.
They both later switched to business, albeit somewhat late in their college careers.
Santamaria got hands on experience with consulting in an industrial engineering co-op and found it too limiting.
“I realized that’s not what I can do the rest of my life, but I was really enjoying the management classes so I switched over,” Santamaria said.
Doyle found he enjoyed the engineering aspect but was not as fond of the chemistry.
“I wanted to apply myself to something that I was good at and I wanted to stay at Tech doing it. So I fooled around with IE again but I figured that major [business] would eventually get me to the right place,” Doyle said.
“Think about the end thing you want to be doing. If you want to create things, focus on creating things. If you want to manage people who create things, focus your energies on that,” Doyle said. “People switch around a lot but if you find the one style of life that you want: focus on that.”
The co-founders have taken away a lot from their time at Tech.
“Tech taught me how to solve problems,” Santamaria said. “A broader skill that I see with anyone that comes from Tech is knowing to look at five sides of the problem and then to ask for help if you need it.”
More specifically, Doyle is able to apply what he learned at Tech directly to their business.
“What I do day-to-day is operations planning projections. A lot of that is the baseline of strategy and operations at Tech and that’s what I focused on for my undergrad and my MBA,” Doyle said.
“For me this is the ultimate inspiration. So you know if I have to work 80-100 hours I have to work 80-100 hours. Also something I learned at Tech. Sometimes you just don’t sleep. And that’s just what happens,” Santamaria laughed. “It’s a lot more time but you know I don’t mind doing it because I know what I’m doing is creating something and I believe
The pair stress that the key to success, and in turn happiness, is following your dreams.
“Our whole business is about living your dream. It’s about how we are living our dream. We worked hard to do it. And you know I encourage everyone to do that,” Santamaria said.
“In college I didn’t know. I knew I wanted to have my own thing at some point, but what it was I had no idea. If you told me it was going to be a brewery, I would have probably laughed,” Santamaria said.
Second Self currently has 8 full-time employees and 5 part-time employees.
“Collectively, amongst everyone, we have literally a decade of experience,” Doyle said.
Even with their limited experience, the altruistic pair make time to stay connected to their roots and give back.
“We still do alumni tailgates and stuff like that for the school. I’m doing a panel next month,” Santamaria said. “We try to be as involved as we can with Georgia Tech. The skillset that we learned and the people we met — I mean we met at Tech — we wouldn’t be here without that.”
In addition to just giving back to Tech, Second Self’s tasting room features local artists and hosts monthly comedy nights with Atlanta stand-up.
“And that’s kind of my policy,” Santamaria said. “I’m living my dream and I want to help others. So if people need any coaching, I’m happy to do it. I’ve talked to servers about having to help them live what they really want to do. So I’m always willing to help and happy to do it. I think it’s my goal as a business owner to help other people do that.”
Everything about Second Self is near and dear to its founder’s hearts, from the award-winning can designs to their special occasion beer, Champenoise Saison.
Second Self will be celebrating their three-year anniversary on Oct. 7. This event will feature their special occasion beer, along with food trucks like The Fry Guy and Crepe Masters.
“It’s a beer made like champagne,” Santamaria said. “So it’s taken 12 months to do. It’s been a labor of love for this beer.”
“Really this was our nights and weekends,” Santamaria said. “This was our passion project; this is what we really wanted to do. We wanted to have our own business, wanted to create our own mark on world and we wanted to do something that we loved.”