This story is part of a series featuring each of the fourteen startups in the CYstarters 2021 summer cohort. Each team has the opportunity to focus on their startup or business idea while receiving $6,500 or up to $13,000, along with mentorship, accountability, and educational sessions on how to build a business.
By Samantha Dilocker, ISU Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship
Founded by Iowa State University graduate Ray Schmidt, Farm Story Meats’ goal is to bring their customers transparency to the locations, farms, and people that supply their food. They share the stories of the farmers that raise the animals and strive to make the supply chain from the farm to customer as short as possible.
Education: Received Bachelor’s Degrees in Marketing, Management & Graphic Design from Iowa State University, pursing MBA currently
Passionate about: Knowing where your food comes from, meat, grilling, biking, camping, the outdoors & the Cyclones
Most recently I: joined the Ames Farmers Market with Farm Story Meats (find them there starting June 19th)
Education: Senior studying Business Management at Iowa State University
Passionate about: being involved in the community, health & wellness, knowing where your food comes from, personal development & helping others
Most recently I: hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and back up in one day
Currently working on: Farm Story Meats
When did you start working on Farm Story Meats?
Ray: I’ve been planning the company most of my life since I was a little kid on my parent’s farm, but most recently started implementing those ideas in mid-2018. I formed the LLC in July of 2018 and then made the first sale of April 2019, so about three years.
Jessica: I’ve been working with the company since last April or May. I officially started having a role with farmer’s markets, shipping, and delivering around then.
Have you always seen yourself starting something?
Ray: I know I have. My dad is a farmer, but he’s also an entrepreneur and business owner, so I wanted to emulate that. When I was a real little kid, I would sell coloring book pages to the neighbors, so that was a pretty profitable business because I didn’t have any of the upfront costs that most businesses deal with their first year. So since I was a little kid, I’ve been interested in entrepreneurship. When I was in college, I had a pumpkin company, so I was kind of working out the kinks of running a business, getting to know what it’s like to run a business, and then in 2018, I began this, and it’s been good so far!
Jessica: I was in nursing school originally, and I knew it wasn’t for me. So I met with a lot of career counselors and took a lot of those exams and quizzes you’re supposed to take to find your career, and entrepreneurship is one that just kept popping up for me. I never really knew what that was going to lead to— I don’t know if I always saw myself starting something, but I always saw something very community-based to be a part of and begin with. I got to work with a coffee shop that owned its own farm, and that was huge in my small business learning, so that’s why I started pursuing a business degree here at Iowa State and got connected with someone else who loves to tell the stories of farmers and knowing where your food comes from, so in my later college years I figured out entrepreneurship was for me.
Why transparent food distribution?
Ray: So with growing up on my family farm, my dad would work really hard to get high-quality genetics and good meat quality on the animals and take them to the local commodity buying station, and then they go who knows where after that, probably to another facility and then to a packing plant, several warehouses and then eventually to the grocery store, but we never knew where it came from and then likewise, at the end of the supply chain, the customer would see a pork chop in the grocery store and have no idea where it came from. Being at Iowa State, I found that people don’t know where their food comes from, but there’s definitely a desire to know where it comes from, so linking those two things, that’s where I wanted to show people where their food comes from. The logo kind of lends to that. It’s a compass with a pig snout in it. It’s all about geography, the farm it comes from, the compass pointing you to it. The slogan is trademarked; it’s “Because where matters” because where you get your food matters, what farmer raised it matters, and then it’s all about telling the farmer’s story. That’s where the name comes from.
Jessica: For me, it’s a lot more about the health side of things, knowing where your food comes from, knowing that they’re raised without added hormones or antibiotics, we have grass-fed, just knowing that audience as well, for me it’s about knowing the animal was treated right, as well as the added benefits that come with eating healthy and knowing exactly what’s in your protein.
How have you grown since you started?
Ray: Starting the first year, we had around 50 sales, mostly to friends and family or friends of family— pretty steady growth, which allowed me to find my footing and find my target customer. I was able to really lock it in and perfect our shipping and delivery methods, I felt pretty good about that by February of last year, and it’s a good thing we did that year of planning because obviously, the pandemic hit, and we were able to hit the ground running. COVID actually accelerated sales quite a bit because people were looking for high-quality protein they didn’t have to go to the store for. Delivery and shipping really came in handy there. There was also a brief period of meat shortage. Luckily I was fully stocked by that point, so I was able to accelerate sales and retain those customers. They obviously enjoy the product and like to know where their food comes from, and appreciate our outstanding customer service. We’ve been able to build really great relationships that started from that event but have been able to nurture and grow relationships with other customers outside of the pandemic as well. We’ve done a few educational campaigns and a few marketing campaigns to help expand our customer base.
Jessica: We started at the farmers market end of things. We began with one farmer’s market at Maxwell, and this summer, we’ll be regularly hitting up three markets and doing guest appearances at two other markets. Just getting that brand recognition out, we have really been able to expand in our local communities.
What future milestones would you like to hit?
Ray: Well, the first sale is important, and then after that, it was the first sale to somebody I’ve never heard of, and of course those are usually through mutual friends. So then it was the first sale to someone that I didn’t have mutual friends with. We hit those milestones pretty early in 2020. I’ve kind of been playfully collecting states, trying to sell to all 50 states by the end of the year. We’re up to 38. So those are kind of just like demographic milestones, but ultimately we want to kind of lock in on our presence in central Iowa. We want brand recognition. We don’t expect us to be anybody’s primary source of protein. Farm Story Meats is more like an event, gathering, or family dinner kind of thing. I always say if you’re in a hurry to cook it, you shouldn’t be cooking it, because it’s high-quality meat, and it deserves its own event. The intention is to bring families together, kind of more of an occasion when you’re having Farm Story Meets.
Jessica: I’d like to grow our social media presence. So a goal could be getting 100 new followers by the end of the summer. I think that that would be something that would be really beneficial, having more of a presence on social media. Right now, we pretty much only post on holidays and specials, but having more weekly engagement is a big goal of ours.
What is the biggest challenge you face each day?
Ray: We face competition from the big guys. The farmers I work with, my parents, their neighbors, friends, that sort of thing, so we’re really the David to the Goliath. There’s plenty of Smithfields and Tyson’s out there as far as meatpackers go, then there’s the HyVees and the Fareways that have a wider range of products, so we’re trying to find our niche. I think to a certain degree, we’ve found it, but we’re not the only meat processor, and we don’t pretend to be. There are a lot of big guys that are kind of catching wind of what we’re doing and how we’re growing, so I think there’s going to be a lot of pressure for competition.
How has entrepreneurship at Iowa State impacted you?
Ray: I didn’t really know about the entrepreneurship program when I was in undergrad; I’m not sure if it was a major yet. But when I was in college, I took as many entrepreneurship classes as I could. Since I’ve been a grad student, I’ve found out about multiple competitions, and I’ve been a part of those. I participated in the College-by-College Pitch Competition and business plan competition; there have been several learning opportunities that kind of forced me to hone in on certain aspects of my business. I never really had a solid pitch until I entered that competition; it inspired me to write my own ninety-second pitch, which I pretty much have memorized at this point. I didn’t have an official business plan until I entered a business plan competition. I think that the contests they have are really beneficial. They’re pretty generous with prize money too, which is a really, really good resource for students. They provide that incentive to grow your business and those formal business aspects.
Jessica: For me, I think it’s given me the ability to develop a lot of soft skills that I would not have had the opportunity to, whether that was interviewing for CYstarters and the amount of practice we’re getting throughout with public speaking— getting comfortable selling your company’s story, giving your pitch. That’s the biggest thing I also want to get out of this summer is public speaking, the ability not to get a shaky voice every time I’m in front of a room of people, just honing in on those soft skills.
What advice would you give to a smart, driven college student?
Jessica: Don’t let college get in the way of learning! Get involved with everything that the campus has to offer. I know for me, it was huge getting involved in fitness. I’m a fitness instructor at Iowa State. Getting involved with rec services and honing in fitness instructing, learning what it means to command a room, that kind of thing was huge for me. There’s a lot that you can do in your time here, don’t get too bogged down with classes to miss out on those things.
Ray: Yeah, it’s exactly what Jess said. I participated in intramurals a lot in college. I still do, I guess. I’m still in college, but I participated in many of them, and it was a good way to get to know people for me. I’m not one to sit down and have a conversation with somebody to get to know them. For me, the way to make friends and socialize was kind of through the movement aspect. For example, if we were on the same ultimate Frisbee team and that’s kind of a good casual way to get to know people. I made a lot of friends through that, and actually, a lot of business networking can be done through those relationships you for during intramurals, fitness classes, or outdoor rec trips. Don’t get too bogged down with grades. I think that’s very important, that a lot of people probably should relax about their grades… some people should worry more! But most people should probably relax about their grades.
Where are you headed? And how would you invite others to join you?
Ray: I see Farm Story Meats continuing to grow. I’ve gotten some good PR recently, I’ve been in the Iowa Farm Bureau’s Spokesman, US senator Chuck Grassley reached out to me to talk about my business, and I’ve been in the Ames Tribune a couple of times, so with those waves of publicity came farmers that wanted to be a part of Farm Story Meats. I want to keep the group very small, more intimate, people I know very closely, but there is a waitlist of farmers, so I do have room to expand. As far as marketing goes, I’d like to devote more time to that. I think we will continue to grow the business with the skills we learn in CYstarters. The program will continue to give us good ideas and a network of people that we can rely on to bounce ideas off of and continue to grow the business.
Jessica: I’m looking forward to sticking with Farm Story Meats! We’ll be working on recipe development this summer, so follow along to learn how to cook the meat that you receive from us!
Order today to have meat shipped directly to your door! https://www.farmstorymeats.com/.