When beef is on the menu, longtime friends and Seattle software wizards Ethan Lowry and Joe Heitzeberg are more interested in the dry-aged variety from Washington ranches than the mystery meat found in grocery aisles. So the cofounders created Crowd Cow, which puts pasture-raised meat on tables, one crowdfunded head of cattle at a time.
1991–96 Seduced by Software
Ethan Lowry grew up in Olympia but strayed from the state capital to study product design at Stanford University. Though he planned on making gadgets, upon graduating in 1996 Lowry landed a job at a software startup in Texas. Joe Heitzeberg, on the other hand, was born into the tech world, growing up in the rare family that owned an Apple Lisa. And in a game of musical chairs, Heitzeberg—originally from Texas—moved to Seattle in the early ’90s for a degree in computer science at UW.
1998: Passing Ships
Lowry returned to the PNW in 1998 to help launch drugstore.com, which shared a building with Starwave, the Paul Allen–backed company that produced early versions of espn.com and abcnews.com. It also happened to be where Heitzeberg had been working as a software engineer for the previous year. Though they worked close enough to “wave to each other through the window,” as Heitzeberg recalls, they wouldn’t meet for three more years.
2000–10: Pressing Pause
A year after Lowry began leading the product design team at mobile software startup Avogadro, Heitzeberg joined the company and the two became friends. Officially joining entrepreneurial forces would have to wait, but for the next several years the pair would lend each other a hand on various projects. After Lowry helped create Urbanspoon in 2006, Heitzeberg gathered restaurant intel for him on one of his monthly business trips to Japan. And when Heitzeberg started his own companies—Snapvine in 2005 and MediaPiston in 2010—Lowry reciprocated with design feedback.
2013–14 From Software to Hardware
After selling their respective companies the startup vets finally dove into their first project together. From their long list of ideas came Poppy, a device that converts iPhones into 3D cameras. Despite having never manufactured hardware nor employed crowdfunding, their Kickstarter campaign for Poppy blew past its $40,000 goal in less than nine hours. The pair went on to sell about 10,000 of the modern-day stereoscopes.
2015–Present: Crowdfunding Dinner
Heitzeberg and Lowry also share an appreciation for flavorful meat, so they were intrigued when friends bought a side of beef from a local farm. But with a lack of freezer space (and with a vegetarian wife, in Lowry’s case) going in on 300 pounds of steer wasn’t feasible. Instead, the now seasoned Kickstarters decided to crowdfund and share a whole cow with like-minded meat eaters. And after visiting ranches and securing ole Bessie, they realized they could replicate the experience for others. Heitzeberg and Lowry launched Crowd Cow in summer 2015 and sold the inaugural cow in one day. Today customers around Washington and Oregon can crowdfund their dinner by purchasing “shares”—or cuts of dry-aged beef—until the whole animal has been divvied up among 50 people; days later there’s brisket at their front door. “Unlike code or big data or web,” says Heitzeberg, “this is hitting people at an emotional level.”