“I played guitar in the streets of Nantucket to make money…” an Interview with Mike Filbey of Butcher Box
Mike Filbey, 25, is a co-founder of Butcher Box, a Boston-based company making some serious noise as they change the way we buy and consume meat. We spoke with Mike to learn about Butcher Box’s story and the lessons he has to share with other entrepreneurs. The conversation left our brains spinning and mouths watering.
The following is a partial transcript of our interview with Mike given via phone. It has been lightly edited for clarity and flow. The full interview can be found on our site here. All photos used throughout the interview appear courtesy of Butcher Box.
Thank you for taking the time to chat with us, Mike. Could you tell us a little about yourself and about Butcher Box?
I grew up in Boston and went to school at Wisconsin-Madison (UW-M). Since middle school, I’ve been selling things to people. I sold Pokemon cards and Digimon cards at recess. I would have bake sales outside of my driveway. I played guitar in the streets of Nantucket to make money…
In high school, I had the idea to start a company (Canary) that would make it easier for someone to sell a house full of furniture…Ultimately, we weren’t able to scale the business. We had to shut things down and while that was going on I was talking to one of our advisors, this guy named Mike Salguero.
He had an idea to start a new company shipping grass-fed beef in the mail. I knew nothing about meat and I wasn’t really interested in it to be honest. (Laughter.)
He was convinced that there was a good opportunity…He was actually the CEO of a company called CustomMade. He did that for 6 years and raised $40 million dollars from Google Ventures…The company was going in a direction he wasn’t happy with so he was looking for something new and I had to do something new so we teamed up.
We launched a Kickstarter campaign and wanted to raise $25K and ended up raising over $210K.
That was a good validator for us that there was, in fact, demand for a service that would ship 100% grass-fed beef in the mail. Doing Kickstarter was fascinating. I ran our Kickstarter campaign with the help of Mike and a Kickstarter consultant firm called The Arora Project.
Oh, that’s very cool.
Since Kickstarter, it has really taken off in a way we didn’t anticipate but are certainly enjoying. We are growing at a great pace so we are just trying to keep things rolling.
That’s fantastic..Could give a brief description for our readers about what exactly the business is and what it does?
Butcher Box delivers 100% grass-fed beef, free range organic chicken, and heritage breed pork directly to your door. You can select to get a box every month, 2 months, or 3 months and can cancel or pause membership anytime…We have 5 different boxes you can choose from.
It is a monthly membership, which people really like. Instead of going to the store and getting confused by labels and what does all-natural or grass-fed really mean, they can have the peace of mind that they are going to get the best meat delivered directly to their door…Everything is free of antibiotics and hormones and all of our animals are humanely raised…
Could you give us a brief overview of where Butcher Box is right now?
We are entirely bootstrapped, which is something we are proud of. We have 25 employees and our office is in Harvard Square in Cambridge, MA. We have over 15,000 monthly subscribers receiving a box on a monthly basis. Right now we offer beef, chicken, and pork and in the near future will be offering wild caught fish like salmon and lamb.
Definitely a unique business model for this industry. A lot of these subscription services are popping up and it seems like you hit it at the exact right time. What is one practice that the company had from the beginning that helped get it to its current level of success?
I would say focus on getting customers above all else…In the very early stages, we tried various different acquisition channels. We found that influencer marketing was far and away the most effective channel for us. We were acquiring customers for very low acquisition cost and it looks as if they are staying for quite some time. The lifetime value of these folks is high and we are acquiring them in most cases for less than $60.
To clarify influencer marketing, we identify really big influencers in the paleo world, the health and wellness world, and we are offer them an affiliate program. For every customer they sign up, they get ‘x’ number of dollars per referral. They’ll send out a dedicated email blast about Butcher Box to their fans with info on grass-fed beef and how Butcher Box works…
That’s been very effective for getting new customers, so we’re laser-focused on identifying these big influencers, getting them on board, and getting them on a quarterly promotion schedule.
Was there anything that you wish you had known from the beginning that could have saved you guys a lot of headaches along the way?
Yes, it would have been great if we knew somebody in the meat industry early on…Having an understanding of whatever industry you’re in and whatever product you’re selling to customers is extremely valuable and something we lacked in the early days. We were basically entrepreneurs who knew how to sell but we didn’t have a lot of experience in meat..
You spoke about your first company that you began at UW-M. Was there anything in particular that you learned from that experience that has been relevant for your new experience with Butcher Box?
I learned the importance of measuring key metrics so that you can track your progress…That is something we do really well at Butcher Box. We have almost 30 KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators) and they are organized by department for marketing, operations, customer service, etc. and everyone has access to them.
We also have group meetings and each department goes over their respective KPI’s. Having that level of accountability and focus is very important and something that we didn’t have with Canary.
I love it…A lot of young people, a lot of our readers, they have ideas or are interested in entrepreneurship but they are really apprehensive. What would you say made you comfortable taking the initial leap to go the startup route?
I think a lot of it is how you are wired. I am okay taking a bet on myself and celebrating my individuality and seeing what I can do. I also kind of have a chip on my shoulder. So I think that I am wired for this.
I do think that you can certainly be a successful entrepreneur if you are not wired for it, if you are risk-averse, but I do think it is extremely helpful to have that mindset and belief in yourself…
Another thing that helps to get confidence in getting going is to find a co-founder or two and try to find your foil. If you are Batman, try to find your Robin — someone who has complementary skills to you. I think if you have everyone with the same skills in the early stages, it is probably not the best recipe.
You just have to really get started. You can take entrepreneurship classes, you can read articles like this one, but at the end of the day the only way you learn how to successfully run a company is by doing it. You are going to fuck up and make a shit ton of mistakes and that’s to be expected but that’s the process and you have to do it to be successful.