Last year, Michael Salguero bought a cow. A whole cow. A whole, dead cow.

He'd started with smaller meat purchases--a family friend from upstate New York had introduced him to buying shares of freshly butchered livestock--but one thing led to another, and soon enough the day came when he sat in his office in Cambridge, Massachusetts, staring at a few hundred pounds of beef, trying to figure out what to do with it all.

"I basically split it up like a drug dealer and sold shares to my friends," he said. "They were ecstatic, and thought it was really good quality, but it was still almost impossible for everyone to store it all." (Salguero, for his part, had bought a freestanding freezer.)

With that, the light bulb went on: Couldn't this whole high-quality meat-sharing thing be made much easier?

This week, Salguero is launching a Kickstarter campaign--and a company--to do precisely that: deliver fresh, 100 percent natural, grass-fed beef, cut up like a farm share, but portioned out in dinner-size pieces, by the month. It's called ButcherBox, and starting September 9 at 9 a.m., it's aiming to raise $25,000 to get its first shipments under way. A single-month kit, with individual portions of cuts of meat and recipes, is $129. A full year can be had at the slightly discounted rate of $1,399.

It's an idea that's particularly on target for this cultural moment, when uncooked-meal delivery is considered an area ripe for innovation (and for money-making: HelloFresh, Blue Apron, and Plated together have raised nearly $500 million and serve roughly seven million monthly meals), and even the most minute aspect of the culinary experience seems to be vulnerable to Portlandia-fication. (Artisanal ice is no longer some rare thing; meanwhile, we seem to be near reaching peak butchering.)

And the monthly subscription-box business model is in boom mode too. Refreshing your wardrobe? Check. Discovering new puppy toys? Yep. Surviving the zombie apocalypse? But of course. There are so many potentially lucrative subscription-box services today that there's even a startup company that manages subscription-box services

Salguero is also targeting two fashionable modern lifestyles: natural eaters, who steer clear of hormone-laden animal products; and the cult of CrossFit. The latter he is targeting as customers in part owing to his own passion for the workout routine, and in part because a CrossFit habit seems to go hand in hand with a meat-heavy Paleo diet.

Sitting in the confluence of so many trends is, of course, risky. But it could pay off big. If demand for natural grass-fed beef (which is, according to Salguero, just 1 percent of the beef produced in the United States) continues to rise--and grocery-shopping-by-delivery simultaneously sustains its popularity--ButcherBox will be in a very nice place.

There was a time when Salguero was lean on startup ideas. After graduation, he and Boston College buddy Seth Rosen would sit racking their brains for startup ideas--and find nothing that was worth quitting their very good post-college jobs in real estate.

They did, however, stumble across an existing business they loved, and saw as one of great potential. It was called CustomMade.com, and was a marketplace for handmade, custom goods--mostly woodworking and carpentry.

Rosen and Salguero left real estate during the bust of 2008, and bought the URL--and the business--for $150,000. They inherited a community of about 350 carpenters, and, with the help of a great deal of venture capital--including First Round Capital, Atlas Venture, and Google Ventures, which also helped with expansion and tweaking the business model--turned it into a community of 20,000 makers.

Since May, Rosen has been running Custom Made, and Salguero has stepped aside to work on setting up ButcherBox. His new project wasn't without some false starts. The biggest hurdle was shipping: How do you get fresh meat distributed all over the United States, quickly and without spoilage? Salguero says he discovered that most frozen shipping domestically is done by biotech firms--and shipping facilities don't often deal outside of that. Complicating matters: These packages would be quite hefty. It takes about 20 pounds of dry ice to keep a single shipment cool for four days on the road. Another hurdle was simply procuring the amount of meat he'd need to meet demand.

"We are dealing with 100 percent natural grass-fed beef. That, in it's own right, is hard to source," Salguero says. "Then you have to work with the right farms, and there is lots of red tape with certification."

He hit about six months' worth of dead ends, before sending a LinkedIn message to Ron Eike, the former head of operations for Omaha Steaks. Eike wrote him back, and the pair got talking. Eike was a perfect expert--he ran what Salguero refers to as the "cow to door" portion of the business, basically, everything Salguero was lacking.

Together, they found a facility in Wisconsin that would package and ship the boxes. They also partnered with Soldier Design, which has done branding for Under Armour and Canada Goose--exactly the rustic, masculine types of brands that fit into the affluent, Paleo-eating, CrossFit-practicing, steak-delivery-committing target market.

With these partners, and one employee, Salguero is launching the idea to the world on Wednesday. Consider it a test of the staying power of oh so many trends, all coming together in one beautifully designed, dinner-ready, monthly box of all-natural, grass-fed beef. 

Published on: Sep 9, 2015