The startup took something of the crowdfunding model to sell beef-loving customers a share of a steer fresh off a Washington state ranch.
What: Crowd Cow, a website that allows customers to buy cuts of meat from steers bought from Washington state ranches.
Who: Ethan Lowry, co-founder. He also co-founded Urbanspoon, the restaurant- and food-review site.
Only carnivore in the house: Lowry’s wife is vegetarian, and as the only meat-eater in the house he couldn’t justify stockpiling hundreds of pounds of beef in the freezer. He envied people he knew who bought a cow straight from a ranch.
Hacking an industry: Lowry wanted to allow people to buy a manageable amount of meat — 10 pounds, say — and maintain fresh, ranch-sourced quality. He teamed with Joe Heitzeberg, with whom he also owns Hack Things, which helps software engineers learn to make hardware.
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How it works: About once a week, Crowd Cow puts a steer from a Washington state ranch up for sale on its website.People then buy preset cuts of the steer meat. Many of the packages equal about 10 pounds of beef; there are also à la carte items, such as beef patties or kidney.
In one package: A premium share on the site right now includes a $124 package with two 12-oz. New York strip steaks, two 8-oz. round steaks, two 8-oz. top sirloin steaks, two 12-oz. chuck shoulder steaks, 2 lbs. of ground beef and four burger patties.
Tipping the cow: A cow “tips” on the website when the shares have sold out. Crowd Cow has found most tipping occurs in about two days, some as quickly as 24 hours. The company relies on the back-end software Lowry and Heitzeberg built that ensures the crowdfunding aspect of the sale is calculated correctly.
Retail beef: Crowd Cow buys the steer directly from six Washington state farms. It then works with a butcher to dry age and cut the meat. At first, the company waited for the cow to tip online before buying it from the ranch. But once it realized the meat sold quickly and consistently, it started buying the steers and doing the dry-aging in advance.
Not actually cows: Ranchers laughed at Lowry and Heitzeberg when the pair told them the clever idea for a company name. What the company is really selling is steer, a bull that has been neutered, or heifer, a female that has never had a calf.
What’s next: Crowd Cow launched last summer and Lowry and Heitzeberg are the only two employees. The pair plan on expanding to other states, likely California next.
— Rachel Lerman