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Joe Heitzeberg, right, and Ethan Lowry are the co-founders of Crowd Cow. The company won Startup of the Year at the 2018 GeekWire Awards in May. (Crowd Cow Photo)

Joe Heitzeberg is a serial entrepreneur, launching and running Snapvine, which was acquired by Whitepages, and then MediaPiston, which UpWork bought. He co-founded Madrona Venture Labs, a startup studio and incubator. Three years ago, he co-founded and became CEO of Seattle-based Crowd Cow, an online, global marketplace for “craft meat.”

So where does one find the nerve to dream up these ideas, toss them out into the universe and convince people to invest in them? The question, when put to Heitzeberg, lands like a cow pie. It just doesn’t compute.

“I’ve always had a penchant for skiing off the trail into the trees,” he said. “Why do the straight and narrow path?”

As someone who in high school once ventured off the trail up at Stevens Pass, got lost and almost missed the bus back down the Cascade Mountain slope, I can’t quite grasp Heitzeberg’s easy audacity.

He tries again.

Launching your own companies, “it’s more rewarding, ultimately,” Heitzeberg said. “It’s not really about confidence, it’s about learning and challenging yourself….you want to prove to yourself that you can do something.”

Part of Heitzeberg’s motivation for starting Crowd Cow was a desire to have a company that his son, who is now 8, could conceptually grasp. Heitzeberg can take him to visit farms and meet the cattle and farmers, they taste the beef and talk about feedback on farmers’ website designs.

“He can actually participate in all those very fundamental company-building activities,” he said. “The product is so relatable as a child.”

The experience gives his son a sense of where his food comes from, which is one of the company’s broader goals. “We’re transforming the connection to people who bring food to you,” Heitzeberg said.

Crowd Cow cows
(Crowd Cow Photo)

The startup recently announced a partnership with the popular burger joint Shake Shack, which opened its first Washington location this week in Seattle. Crowd Cow is helping Shake Shack source Washington-grown, grass-fed, pasture-raised beef for a deluxe burger called the Montlake Double Cut.

While he helped start Madrona Venture Labs and spent more than a year there, Heitzeberg said that he prefers doing his own startups to the studio’s rapid-fire screening of ideas and handing-off of potentially viable enterprises.

“It was hard because all of our little babies were sent off right away,” he said. Growing and nurturing a venture, “is where the satisfaction comes.”

We caught up with Heitzeberg for this Working Geek, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.

Current location: Mercer Island — or as some people like to call it, The Rock.

Computer types: MacBook Pro. Apple all the way.

Mobile devices: iPhone X

Favorite apps, cloud services and software tools: I am currently in love with a calendaring and scheduling app Calendly which makes it easy for people to find times to meet that are open on both person’s calendar. I also love the app Photolemur on OSX that uses AI to tune photos. I also enjoy hacking together productivity tools in Ruby and have quite a few little time-saving command line scripts.

Joe Heitzeberg, CEO and co-founder of Crowd Cow, at his desk. (Crowd Cow Photo)

Describe your workspace. Why does it work for you? I’m really low maintenance in this regard. All I need is a moderately quiet place (or a good set of headphones), a flat surface for my laptop, a cup of coffee and I’m good.

Your best advice for managing everyday work and life? Make lists. Work begun is half done and lists are easy. I tend to focus on tasks that will move the needle, what unknowns and needs should be addressed and what’s overwhelming at the moment.

Your preferred social network? How do you use it for business/work? Instagram because it feels in balance. The other major ones all feel forced or somehow coercive.

Current number of unanswered emails in your inbox? My executive assistant starts Monday. Ask me in a couple of weeks.

Number of appointments/meetings on your calendar this week? Fully booked every hour. But about half of those are me booking time with myself to get work done.

How do you run meetings? I don’t run meetings. I try to empower initiative owners to run meetings as much as possible. Nobody likes a taskmaster or someone who makes the whole company about themselves.

Everyday work uniform? Seattle formal, which is a Crowd Cow “steak holder” t-shirt, jeans and Camper shoes.

How do you make time for family? I always make it a point to read in bed with my son every night, and weekend adventures with the family are a must. We also plan an annual adventure trips, something that will help us bond by putting us in situations where we can’t just look at our phone the whole time.

Best stress reliever? How do you unplug? Playing classical guitar is really the only thing that makes me feel unplugged and stress free.

What are you listening to? Currently it’s Father John Misty. But most of my new music is acquired through Spotify’s “Discover Weekly” playlist, which works for me.

Crowd Cow
A cooler of burger patties arrives from Crowd Cow on dry ice. (Kurt Schlosser / GeekWire)

Daily reads? Favorite sites and newsletters? Reddit always makes me feel like I have a pulse on current events. Aside from the “reddit: the front page of the internet,” I read Hacker News and Google News. And of course, GeekWire.

Book on your nightstand (or e-reader)? “Badass: Making Users Awesome,” by Kathy Sierra. Silly title for a rather profound book, but I bought a copy for everyone at Crowd Cow because I think it has amazing takeaways. I couldn’t recommend it more for anybody in marketing or who designs for users.

Night owl or early riser? In general, I’m an early riser. I sleep when I’m tired and can stay up pretty late when I’m on a roll.

Where do you get your best ideas? Honestly, I don’t have a method that constantly brings me really good ideas. I’ve found the best ideas can come from anywhere, so I pay attention.

Whose work style would you want to learn more about or emulate? People who have lots of very different businesses and projects going at the same time — like entrepreneur Richard Branson. Or locally that would be Jonathan Sposato, chairman of PicMonkey and GeekWire, and Expedia founder Rich Barton.

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