These Friends Use an Underrated Strategy to Run a Charcuterie Side Hustle That's on Track to Make at Least $80,000 in December
Ryan Culver, Caroline Elston and Lowell Bieber, the co-founders behind meat-and-cheese subscription box Platterful, know what it takes to balance full-time jobs and a fast-growing business.
That's what Ryan Culver, Caroline Elston and Lowell Bieber, the Indiana-based friends behind charcuterie subscription service Platterful, discovered when they teamed up to launch their venture last year — and made $40,000 in their first month.
Culver and Bieber previously partnered on a health-and-wellness subscription box, which they successfully scaled and sold in September 2020.
This time around, Culver's logistics and shipping experience and Bieber's operations expertise proved to be the perfect pairings with Elston's background in digital marketing and burgeoning charcuterie business.
Entrepreneur sat down with the trio to learn how they built their meat-and-cheese side hustle — and continue to fuel its growth.
"We really didn't have any idea of how to pair things well together — certainly not how to create a board."
Culver and Bieber wanted to start another subscription service after the sale of their first, and recognizing the gap in charcuterie offerings, saw a prime opportunity.
"We definitely wanted to repeat the subscription model," Culver says. "We could've just created this brand [that had] standalone products that you could buy, which we do offer as well. But really the crux of the business is tied to that subscription model. We were both still highly interested in the recurring revenue that comes in each month. It's almost like a guaranteed buffer to keep the baseline cost of the business covered."
The only problem?
Culver and Bieber didn't know anything about the business of meat and cheese.
"We had no knowledge of charcuterie," Bieber recalls. "We just knew it was a growing space and that we liked to eat meat and cheese. But we really didn't have any idea of how to pair things well together — certainly not how to create a board."
"Meeting Ryan and Lowell [who already had] all of that operational background on subscription boxes and fulfillment was like the perfect timing and the perfect marriage."
Culver and Bieber began looking for someone to help them get their venture off the ground. Their search led them to Elston, a marketing professional who also operated a grazing-table side hustle serving events like weddings, birthday parties, bridal showers and more.
"I love meat and cheese as well — no surprise there," Elston says. "I loved cheese boards and would get them at restaurants. They were starting to catch on two, three years ago, so whenever people would come to my house or there were family gatherings, I would always make a board."
Elston continued to get creative with her boards in 2020 for her college friends' 30th birthday celebrations, and when people suggested she go into business for real, she decided to do just that. From there, it "caught fire;" Elston would craft 10-15 small boards every weekend in addition to five to six grazing tables for larger events. She was also about to become a parent.
She knew it wasn't sustainable.
"Meeting Ryan and Lowell [who already had] all of that operational background on subscription boxes and fulfillment was like the perfect timing and the perfect marriage," Elston explains, "because it was a way that I could continue this creative outlet that I found and fell in love with, but I didn't have to run all over the city of Indianapolis to do so."
"We took a month or so to build out our website, and that blew up in December, which was great to see."
Platterful planned a crowdfunding initiative on Kickstarter to gauge market interest but had to pull the campaign at the last minute when the co-founders learned their business was considered "reselling" — "even though it's much more than that," Elston says.
But with a quick pivot to Indiegogo, Platterful was back on track.
"The Indiegogo did well," Bieber says. "And then we took a month or so to build out our website, and that blew up in December, so that was great to see."
Platterful did $40,000 in sales during its first month, and despite being a "very seasonal business" with spikes in popularity around major holidays, it's been able to sustain that growth. This December, the business is poised to at least double last December's earnings.
Culver's logistics company Lessgistics fulfills Platterful's orders. "So I kind of see both sides of [the process], which is interesting," he says. "It gives us full control over the shipping experience, which we like."
"One of our big 2023 goals is just to ensure our packaging and presentation looks very nice when customers open it."
But Platterful's journey hasn't been without some challenges. Even though Culver and Bieber had subscription experience, the co-founders did have to contend with a new complication: cold shipping.
"Some of the meats are shelf stable, but all of the cheeses need to be refrigerated," Bieber says. "So we have to make sure that they're arriving cold, and that [brings] a whole new set of challenges that are frankly kind of expensive. We had to figure out how to still offer good value to the customers at an affordable price."
That's meant constantly refining Platterful's packaging.
"We've gone through six or seven iterations of packaging so far," Culver says, "and we're still working on that now, continually making that better. One of our big 2023 goals is just to ensure our packaging and presentation looks very nice when customers open it. So it's always been kind of a work in progress."
"[With co-founders] you have other people to lean on — if you're having a tough day, maybe someone else is having a good day."
Of course, balancing full-time jobs with a fast-growing side hustle is no easy feat either. But having dependable partners to fill in the gaps makes all the difference.
"We all have our core jobs, but there's also still a lot of free time, pockets at night or in between lunches, breaks, whatever," Culver explains. "So we stay in contact throughout the day, each day. Not Saturday and Sunday, that'd be a little too much. But Monday through Friday for sure."
Platterful also has two employees in the Philippines who handle significant portions of customer service and corporate outreach.
"We're all in and out all day long," Elston continues, "and very stressed with a lot to balance. [But it's] a blast and stuff I really want to do. So we all make time for it because it's like our baby, and it's going very, very well, and we're all very committed to making it work."
"I feel like it would be really hard to do [these things] alone," he says, "because you don't have a support system. [With co-founders] you have other people to lean on — if you're having a tough day, maybe someone else is having a good day. That balancing act of having three different people going in it together, plus the rest of the team, is what makes it sustainable."
So for those breaking into the subscription box industry? Find yourself a complementary set of business partners first.