My Big Idea: Grass-Fed Beef, Mailed to Your Home
Mike Salguero (Pardee’03) on his start-up meat delivery service, ButcherBox
Grass-Fed Beef, Mailed to Your Home
Mike Salguero (Pardee’03) on his start-up meat delivery service, ButcherBox
In our My Big Idea series, we bring you interviews with BU alums and other members of the University community who have launched a business, built a new product, or solved problems big and small. We ask them about their inspiration, what were their biggest stumbling blocks, and what’s next for their big idea.
In 2015, Mike Salguero’s wife was living with an autoimmune thyroid condition called Hashimoto’s Disease. Doctors told the couple that a grass-fed beef diet could eliminate some of her symptoms, like fatigue and joint and muscle pain, but Salguero was soon surprised at how challenging it would be to kick off their new way of life.
“We lived in downtown Boston, and the grocery store had grass-fed ground beef, but they didn’t have any of the other types of meat that we like to cook,” says Salguero (Pardee’03). “And so I just got obsessed with how to find it.”
The answer was a DIY solution. Unable to get what he needed in the stores, Salguero bought a quarter share of a grass-fed cow directly from a butcher; anyone who has been up close to a ruminant can appreciate that it is a ton of meat. The family kept buying hundreds of pounds of the specialty beef in bulk until a friend commented that it would be a lot easier if they could just order the meat online when they needed it.
That gave Salguero an idea, and that idea morphed a few months later into ButcherBox, a monthly delivery service that sells high-quality, humanely raised meats, poultry, and seafood. The business has shipped to 1.5 million US households, with $600 million in revenue 2022, their seventh in business.
Salguero originally planned for Butcher Box to offer only beef, but he knew people wanted more variety in their diets. Today, ButcherBox sells beef, chicken, pork, turkey, lamb, bison, and 15 types of seafood. Customers choose the size of the box they want to receive (classic, which includes 9 to 14 pounds of meat, or big, 18 to 26 pounds), and shipments start at $146 a month. All the meat is packed in dry ice and mailed to the customer.
“We sell everything you would get at the butcher, but under a brand you can trust, since we go above and beyond to find the best,” says Salguero, who earned an MBA from Babson College in 2010. To Salguero, quality means meats that are humanely raised or free-range, and USDA certified organic.
“The way we think about the best is: You really need to think about the animals, the planet, the farmers, the fishermen, and the workers in the supply chain,” he says. “And all of those need to be treated well in order to have a product that is the utmost of quality, and healthy, for the consumer.”
Bostonia interviewed Salguero about what it took to build ButcherBox, how he got up to speed on shipping meat by mail, and how the pandemic unexpectedly affected the business.
with Mike Salguero
Bostonia: What makes ButcherBox stand apart from its competitors?
Mike Salguero: First and foremost, we’ve never raised outside capital. We had a Kickstarter and bootstrapped this, which is unique. Second, we have a B Corp Certification [a designation that means a business meets high standards related to employee benefits, transparency, and supply chain materials], because I believe in running a company that is not just focused on profit, but focused on the positive impact we can have on the world and on our employees. And third, our sourcing is second to none in terms of how we choose products and the farmers and fishers we work with.
Bostonia: Did you have any background in the food industry when you launched the company?
Mike Salguero: No.
Bostonia: So did people think you were crazy?
Mike Salguero: Oh, yeah.
Bostonia: How did you get up to speed on what you needed to know?
Mike Salguero: I’m a big believer in finding mentors. I had this idea, but I couldn’t figure out how to ship frozen meat in the mail until I met the former head of operations of Omaha Steaks, who opened doors for me. I’m constantly seeking mentors to help round out what I know. It’s impossible to know everything, but there is somebody out there who does.
Bostonia: Was it difficult to grow the business?
Mike Salguero: We are a $600 million business, in our seventh year, which is fairly astounding growth, especially for a company that hasn’t raised money [via venture capitalism, for instance]. We have 215 employees. Our everyday growth is getting harder right now. But I wouldn’t say it has been hard to grow; I think we have had an easier time than most.
Bostonia: You told the Boston Globe that ButcherBox doubled in growth at one point during the pandemic. Why was this the case?
Mike Salguero: We had access [to suppliers] and [the ability] to get you this product. And then people also started focusing on getting the highest possible quality and the best possible taste, because they weren’t going out to restaurants, and they wanted to make dinner special.
Bostonia: Did you have any other start-up experience, and was your endeavor successful?
In 2017 we launched SmoothieBox, which are preportioned frozen smoothies delivered to your door. [SmoothieBox shut down for some time, and has since relaunched.] You can add protein that we also provide. We believe that breakfast is broken—most people are having a non-nutritious, nonhealthy breakfast. People in bad health are often prescribed to take Ensure every day, which is a really big chemical and sugar bomb.
[It was] a $4 million business; ButcherBox is a $600 million business. It was way smaller. What we realized was, it was really hard for us to manage the growth of Butcher Box, which was doubling every year, while running another company within Butcher Box. So we spun it out. It’s now going really well.
Bostonia: What’s the most fun part of running ButcherBox?
The really cool thing about companies like this is that you can have somebody come in, and they don’t really know what they want to do with their career. And they can take on more and more and more responsibility, and you really get to watch people’s career catapult forward. I love to see that.
Bostonia: Looking back at the business, would you do anything differently?
I don’t think so. In business, you make so many decisions on a daily basis. And not all the decisions necessarily are perfect, but you are trying your best. And I think it’s a mistake to spend a lot of time thinking about if you made the right decisions because you have so many more decisions to make that day. It’s better to just say, “I did my best,” and move on.
Bostonia: What advice do you have for someone who wants to launch their own business?
First and foremost, I think entrepreneurship is about lifestyle design. What do I mean by that? I think people should take the time to understand what they want to get out of this business. A lot of times people write down their business plan, but they’re not writing down what they want out of life. The beauty of entrepreneurship is you can live whatever life you want to live. It doesn’t have to be slugging it out 24/7. It could be the ability to travel the world and make money passively. So having a really good understanding of what you want is important.
The best entrepreneurs I know have a lot of boundaries around their time and their energy.
Because of things like [the TV show] Shark Tank, everyone seems to believe that the only way to be successful as an entrepreneur is to raise a bunch of money. I like to say that we’re an example of the fact that that’s not true. You don’t have to raise money in order to be successful. And I think not a lot of entrepreneurs believe that a nonfunded path is the right path for that. Heavily focus on bootstrapping if you can.
Bostonia: This question may be like asking you to name your favorite child, but do you have a favorite cut of meat?
Currently, I would say our Tomahawk steaks are my favorite. It’s a massive bone-in ribeye. You can cook it on the grill.
Bostonia: And what would you pair with it?
Chimichurri sauce and sweet potatoes.
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