Crowd Cow’s crowd of cow-tipping beef lovers just got a lot bigger.
The Seattle-based startup announced Tuesday that it is expanding its reach and will now deliver its sustainably raised beef to customers throughout the United States.
The 2-year-old business, founded by tech vets Joe Heitzeberg (Madrona Venture Group) and Ethan Lowry (Urbanspoon), has opened a new order-processing facility in Lancaster, Pa., and has grown to include 10 employees.
“We’ve gone from two us at the end of last year to this, and we’re trying to hire great people every day now,” Lowry said. “That’s been one of the biggest changes that we’ve seen from the inside over the last few months, just going from being the Joe and Ethan show to being … there’s a real team here. It’s great to have that.”
The company raised $2 million in funding in January from backers including Fuel Capital, Maveron, Zulily founders Mark Vadon and Darrell Cavens, and ex-NFL star Joe Montana. Heitzeberg, who also helped found Snapvine and Poppy, said he feels better about Crowd Cow than any business he’s ever been involved with.
“It’s fun to work on, we’re solving hard problems that are meaningful that people haven’t done before in terms of the supply chain and the market opportunity, consumers love it, farmers love it,” Heitzeberg said. “It’s just run as fast as we can and execute. That’s the funnest part of the startup. Some days you feel totally buried, but you know anything that you do will help. The hard startup experiences are, ‘Shoot, this isn’t working. What are we gonna try next?’ And you’re iterating on trying to find your way and find your aim. We’re not. We’re definitely past a couple of the very early inflection points that are the hardest ones, I think.”
In March, Julep and Blue Nile vet Dwight Gaston joined the company as its new COO and Heitzeberg called Gaston “a perfect fit.”
“Shipping a diamond is very difficult. Sourcing diamonds is very special. Shipping them — there’s a lot of risk in that and the supply chain of diamonds is very unique,” Heitzeberg said. “It’s similar to what we’re doing in terms of the challenge level: cows are produced and you’ve got to get them butchered down and shipped out on dry ice, it’s a valuable shipment. There’s actually a lot of parallels there and Dwight is fantastic.”
With almost all of the key positions filled, Heitzeberg said there is still so much opportunity that he thinks there are probably at least five ways they could grow the business if they had the people to do those tasks.
Crowd Cow works with independent ranches and cuts out the middleman to bring quality beef direct to consumers. Users of the company’s website can select cuts of their choosing from select animals and help “tip a cow.” With the desire to bring their unique service to a larger part of the country, Heitzeberg and Lowry have been busy building out the supply chain.
“I would say over the last five months we’ve been approached by and spoken to literally hundreds of ranches across the country,” Heitzeberg said. “We’ve cherry picked some of the very best ones on the East Coast that we could find. We’ve got thousands and thousands of people on our wait list on the East Coast and it’s growing every day like crazy.”
Ranches in states including Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Virginia and Pennsylvania will ship their cows to USGA processors to get the meat “cut and wrapped,” Heitzeberg said. It will then be shipped from the Lancaster facility where Crowd Cow does the packaging with dry ice, etc. Delivery will be available to the lower 48 states.
“The shortest distance that we want to keep is the distance between the farm and the processor,” Lowry said. “You don’t want to have to transport the animals a great distance. The beef itself can be transported further and it’s OK, so we’re able to draw on a pretty wide pool and get people a nice selection — they can take stuff that’s very local to where they are, they can take stuff that’s further afield and sounds interesting.”
When it comes to the middle of the country and whether those customers will be serviced by Seattle or the Lancaster facility, Heitzeberg said both have the ability to ship a good distance and there’s quite a bit of overlap — and that gives meat lovers more selection. And a consistent “cut plan” across all of the farms and butchers allows consumers to know what they’re going to get.
Rather than work with brokers the way traditional beef businesses do — online or offline — Crowd Cow is “bringing an efficiency that they’ve never seen before,” Heitzeberg said of the startup’s methods
“That supply chain has not been built. We’re building it,” Heitzeberg said. “No one we’ve talked to has ever encountered anyone like us. It’s really exciting. We’re definitely shifting the weight of our feet from, ‘Let’s go national’ to ‘Let’s go win this.’ We’re getting to be much more aggressive in our thinking in how big this opportunity is.”
And while Heitzeberg and Lowry have been visiting ranches and hiring new employees and getting the East Coast up and running, the business is still growing in the Pacific Northwest.
“It’s not like we’ve been holding steady on the West Coast. We’ve got probably five new ranches that we’re spinning up as we speak to be able to offer more variety out here,” Lowry said.
The company, which used to do one cow a week or one cow a month is now shipping out on three different days a week. And Heitzeberg said that while it is challenging to grow the business, there is something that will continue to set Crowd Cow apart from competitors.
“The unique thing that we specialize in is creating the direct connection between the consumer and these ranches that are ‘doing it right,'” Heitzeberg said. “They have a story, it’s compelling, the beef is raised honestly and it’s healthy. It’s raised on a single ranch from birth to harvest. These are the things that they all have in common. The things we’re doing, it’s absolutely bespoke. We’re creating the supply chain to link up all those producers.”