I walked through the front door of an empty Ploughshare one morning to hear its founder, Matt Stinchfield, tell his story. That day he gave me the invaluable gift of saying the one thing I needed to hear most in the very moment I needed to hear it:
We all have an inexplicable need to contribute to something bigger than ourselves. Once we find what it is that allows us to do that, we have to chase it with everything we have.
Matt didn’t start chasing until after years in a different line of work. But he’s certain now that he’s doing exactly what he’s meant to do with his life. He took me through his story, pointing to all the moments that made him sure.
“It’s like you know you’re on the right path. And it validates itself,” he says.
Matt grew up in Vermont, studied chemistry in college and headed for the west coast to clean up hazardous waste. When a project in Las Vegas he’d been working on fell through, he decided it was time for a change.
He had passed through Lincoln, Nebraska as many do — on the way to somewhere else. But he felt something different about the city. It was wholesome and welcoming. He decided to make it his new home.
“I say I got half way back to Vermont,” he smiles.
A change in location also meant a change in career. Lincoln didn’t need the same kind of environmental cleaning Las Vegas did. Matt says he went through a few months of deep confusion about what to do next. His girlfriend suggested he open a brewery.
“You always smile when you make beer,” she said. “You should make beer.”
He’d been making beer for more than 15 years, but just for himself and close friends.
“‘I’ll do it if it pencils out, but I’m not doing it as a starry-eyed dreamer,” Matt told her.
He wanted to do his homework before setting out on a serious business venture. For three years he gathered research and studied the market. And in the last of those three years, it almost came to an end.
He had 12 months to raise the capital necessary to start the brewery. After eight, he had only one third of what he needed. If he didn’t have it all by the year’s end, he’d have to give everything back. It would all be over.
“The only word I can use to describe it is despondency. I was absolutely beside myself,” he said.
The small community he had built since moving to Nebraska rallied. Shockingly, they raised the remaining two thirds of the money in just 48 hours. And Matt’s path was validated once more.
“A lot of highs and a lot of lows. But that can be the life of an entrepreneur,” he laughs.
He says he’s had little time to enjoy the wins. Once something is accomplished, his focus is turned to the next thing. There was one recent moment, though, that allowed him to reflect and celebrate the work he’s doing.
He traveled to Boulder, Colorado for a brewers’ conference and brought with him a jug of one of his favorite brews. He cracked it open one night while sitting around a table with some of the country’s most well-known brewers. One of them happened to be the man who handpicks each judge for the World Beer Cup. He took a swig and turned to Matt, “You’re entering this next year, right?”
It was while Matt was telling this story that his eyes welled up.
“Why I’m emotional about it is, I feel like I’m connected to the main power grid. Whatever makes the universe work, that’s what I feel.”