How an Ex-Showrunner Turned a Love of Beer Into His Next Business Chapter
Steve Ezell, Craft X co-founder — who was also a former reality TV producer — was inspired by a "subpar" beer subscription box to connect hyperlocal breweries with their best customers.
Former reality TV producer and most recently Bad Girls Club showrunner Steve Ezell walked away from his 14 years in Hollywood to follow a passion project. “I went back to get my MBA in 2015 and that was really with the understanding that my wife and I were getting ready to start having a family. I just didn’t want to be stuck doing 100 hours a week with no control on the location or the timeline,” says Ezell, 36, of letting go of the unpredictable lifestyle of being a producer, a director of photography or showrunner. The co-founder of craft beer subscription business Craft X came up with the just-launched concept after his wife, Ally Zonsius — a former assistant director and commercial director who also left the entertainment industry behind — gifted Ezell with a subscription box that was “subpar in terms of beers,” he notes. “I was already a beer collector and so the opportunity to go work in that community without actually being a brewer was something that I just couldn’t pass up,” Ezell says of his business foray, which connects beer lovers like Craft X fans Joel McHale and Kyle MacLachlan — people “who want to experience something made in a higher quality and little higher price than Budweiser or Stella Artois” — with independent breweries. “Our customer appreciates the ingredients and work that goes into [making beer],” he says. “They see it more than just the beer, there’s a story behind it.”
The process of choosing a brewery begins with “looking online for breweries that have a story we like and depending on if they’re in California, we’ll go out to them without them knowing and taste their beer,” Ezell explains. Once the beer is tasted and approved by the company’s three founders (including Jordan Toplitzky and Ted Hamory), they follow up and start bringing in a mobile canning operation, since many of these hyperlocal breweries don’t have the packaging equipment. “That’s a big part of why we’re of value to the breweries — for most of them, the minimum batch size to can is bigger than what they could actually sell,” he notes.
With only four employees in total, Craft X has sold out its first release of subscription boxes. “Since we have launched, we have breweries just mailing us beer left and right,” says Ezell, who credits a kind of perfectionism common in Hollywood for his initial success. “Anyone I’ve worked with over the past few years understands what goes into making a thirty-minute TV show. It doesn’t just happen. We may shoot a hundred minutes for every minute that makes the air,” says Ezell. “It correlates to what a brewery goes through — they go through five different recipes to get [the right one].” Working as a showrunner taught Ezell people-to-people skills which serve him well in the beer industry that he admits he couldn’t get elsewhere. “My customer relationships in Craft X were greatly affected [by my past career] because I have seen so many different sides to the human element in producing reality TV shows. It has given me a better understanding of different people.”
For better or worse, Ezell misses two things about Hollywood — the people and level of productivity. “I miss the comradery. [But] the most unexpected transition from production life to regular business is that in production, we take for granted how efficiently people work and how quickly we can get things done. You get so accustomed to working under that kind of pressure and timeline,” he says. “But then you get into the real world and it's like okay, cool, I sent an email an hour ago and nobody has responded and they may not respond until two days from now at two o'clock, and it's like I needed it yesterday. That’s been the hardest part for me: trying to slow myself down.”
Working behind the camera also gave Ezell technical skills that his competitors don’t have. “We make micro documentaries about each of the breweries and we find that as a valuable way that our customers to relate to the brewers,” he says. “But as startup we don't have $2,000-$3,000 [to shoot] every brewery — I have the equipment, I conduct interviews and I come back here and either I or my wife edits them.”