About a year ago, I was walking the floor of a trade show in Chicago and came across a booth that was handing out beef jerky samples. This wasn't your average, run-of-the-mill, 7-Eleven jerky. This was the BEST. JERKY. EVER. It's what I now refer to as the Filet Mignon of beef jerky. It was incredible. I walked by the booth many times--on purpose.
Finally, after maybe 10 (x 3) samples, I had asked where I can buy their product. I come to find out, it was only available in one market (read: not mine).
I mean, I felt I had been lied to my entire jerky-eating life. We have been led to believe that the gold standard is either a rather tasteless jerky that you have to fight a Sasquatch over or something Macho Man Randy Savage is telling you to step into. Liars. All of them.
I accepted this as tragic and continued on with my life.
A few weeks later, I had a sudden craving for the best jerky in the world, but alas, I couldn't get. At that moment, I pronounced that beef jerky distribution was broken and I'd be the one to fix it. Enter Stick in a Box.
Quick primer: Stick in a Box is a simple concept. I find the best tasting beef jerky made by small batch makers from across the US and send them to my subscribers each month.
When I first started out, I decided that this project was going to be bootstrapped from the start. I wasn't going to build a venture-funded business and I would only invest my profits in growing it. It was a personal challenge, inspired by one of my idols, Robert Stephens, founder of Geek Squad.
One of the things that I'll always remember him saying is that if he had had money to promote Geek Squad in the beginning, it never would have become what it is today. His lack of funding is what drove the companies creative gorilla tactics which ultimately put them on the map.
Here are some of the steps I took to grow Stick in a Box from $0 to $100k in 6 months:
- Decided on a business model: Without having money to buy and experiment with inventory up front, I was forced to explore options that didn't require an initial outlay of capital. The subscription model made perfect sense. Up front sales, predictable inventory and very little overhead. Sold.
- Built a knowledge network: I didn't know squat about the subscription model business and unfortunately there wasn't anything all that helpful online either, so I built a knowledge base of my own. I did that by creating a private group on Facebook and reached out personally to a handful of other non-competitive subscription box founders who were willing to collaborate. Together, we've help each other out tremendously. This has singlehandedly been the most helpful thing I've done.
- Built the site: I'm not a coder nor a designer, both of which I needed. And, both of which are not cheap. Fortunately, the subscription model has been around for a bit and platforms such as Shopify have started to support them. For less than $100, I was able to buy a domain and set up a site with a slightly modified template in two days. None of which required an outside developer or designer.It wasn't (and still isn't) the prettiest or most optimized site, but it was cheap and worked like a charm.
- Drove subscription sales: Turns out selling online is the same as selling offline--they both require hustle. The approaches I've taken are too numerous to list here, but all of them involve spending no more than $25. There is no magic bullet here, just a requirement to always keep pushing. I've used social, blogging, press, partnerships, email, etc., but none have worked as well as happy customers.Over deliver on customer experience and you won't have to spend a dime on marketing.
There is still a long way to go, and I'm still learning new things each week. While $100k in sales isn't making me rich (at least yet), I haven't built any debt and I don't have investors breathing down my neck.
If you're sitting on an idea, but haven't done anything with it yet. Don't overthink it, just start. You don't need to quit your day job and you don't need to invest your life savings. Passion and hustle can get you far.
Oh, and by the way, the best jerky in the world is called ... you'll have to subscribe and email me to find out. #Hustle