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Aimee Millwood
Director of Content at Yotpo
May 1st, 2016

How 2 Brothers Raised 100K to Fund A Beef Jerky Brand

Brothers Max and Zach Zitney didn’t see it coming.

Table Of Contents

Not the $100,000 grant, not the chance to give back to their community by creating jobs for recovering addicts, not even the idea for their eCommerce business.

All they saw was Call of Duty.

The two brothers shared a love for video games – one night, while playing together and munching on their favorite snack, beef jerky, they had an epiphany:

Why not brand jerky as a snack for gamers?

After all, it’s a high-energy, protein-packed snack that’s easy to eat with one hand – perfect for gamers like them.

It wasn’t a new concept – beef jerky has long been considered a gamer snacking staple.

In the past, other brands like Jack Links had integrated gaming imagery in their marketing.

But none had full on branded a jerky specifically for gamers.

They’d been thinking of selling something online, but hadn’t come up with what.

“We would have considered anything, but this fell into our laps,” Max says.

It helped that one of their friends ran a local beef jerky company that sold local, grass-fed, free range jerky, so they had a supplier. Within 24 hours, they created logos and started running with the idea. JerkyXP was born.

Getting customers was the next challenge.

Gaining Trust, Boosting Growth

From the start, they wanted reviews to be an integral part of their growth strategy.

“You can’t taste a product before you order online, so you need to have some kind of solid evidence that it’s a good product to buy,” Max explains.

They’d seen how other brands like Diamond Candles and Beardbrand were using reviews in marketing and thought, “It’s a really cool visionary thing, a huge selling point. Even the bad reviews make the good reviews look good.”

We realized we really needed word-of-mouth – and great reviews were an enormous driving factor in that.

They ran giveaways and discounts to attract traffic, and then used these initial customers to get reviews on their website.

Driving Traffic with Targeted Twitter Outreach

Their marketing plan grew organically. They figured since they were gamers, they’d go to the communities they already interacted with to find potential customers.

“Social media’s responsible for 95% of our traffic. On social, we can interact with our audience on the same level that they interact with each other because we’re gamers too, so it’s a lot easier to understand what’s going on and make it more fun, rather than just being a billboard saying, ‘Hey, buy this product.’”

As far as their social marketing strategy, they say they don’t really have one. Their goal is to contribute to the community, not drive traffic to their site.

“All we do on Twitter is interact with people and make it fun. Sometimes we tell them about our site, but usually we’re just out there making relationships with people in the community, and then slowly they come our way.”

While Twitter has been a solid source of traffic for them for the past two years, they’re looking into other marketing opportunities like paid ads and influencer marketing on YouTube or Instagram.

“Up to this point, it’s just been all organic growth through social media, but we’re looking at different options going forward.”

Growth & Giving Back

Last year, JerkyXP was one of 20 small businesses selected from a pool of 35,000 for a national grant for $100,000 from Chase Bank.

“That was definitely a ‘wow’ moment for us – we applied for many other grants at the time and that was the biggest one and we didn’t really think we’re going to win it.”

They used the money to purchase a 10,000 square foot warehouse in Warren, Ohio.

They built their warehouse in a community that was home to a lot of recovery centers and transitional living facilities for recovering addicts. Their plan was to employ people from this community to work in their fulfillment center.

They were soon introduced to Zach Iukaszek, a recovered heroin addict who came on board as a consultant and then as a full-time employee.

At Jerky XP, Zach is happy to apply the skills he learned in graduate school and put his business experience to use.

The company’s efforts to help people get back on their feet means a lot to Zach and other community members.

“Heroin possession is a felony almost everywhere, so people who have been convicted typically have a very hard time with career development,” Zach explains.

JerkyXP also works with the owner of a local transitional living home, Foster Living LLC, to offer career coaching and find people who are at the point in their sobriety where they are ready to move on to part- or full-time employment in a safe and fun environment.

“That is how we were able to find Lance, our incredibly talented and hard-working warehouse manager,” Zach says.

Clearly, JerkyXP’s commitment to community is huge – online and off.

And while growing the brand from a dorm-room dream to a sustainable business hasn’t always been easy, the rewards are huge.

“We’ve had a lot of moments where we could have thrown in the towel, but we stayed persistent. We are still working on it harder everyday and we still have to innovate every week.”

Even as they expand, they stay close to their core community. They Periscope stream big game launches and sponsor Let’s Players, streamers, and a Call of Duty team.

Conclusion

Some brands build a community around their product. But for niche brands like JerkyXP, they already have a tight-knit community to tap into.

The key to their success has been creating a product they love and then reaching out to other gamers like them to get feedback and reviews to grow their audience.

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