Which Culture is Your Startup Culture? :: The Chicken Bark Story

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If you live in central Texas and have a startup, you are supposed to get into the Austin startup scene. If you live in the country, you are supposed to start your company with the local boys. If your product is for people with modern ideals, you are supposed to sell via modern mediums, like the Internet. But, what culture are you supposed to have if you live on a hill just outside Austin, your family is in the chicken biz, and you want to distribute wholesome pet treats to people whose pets are family? Well, I suppose your culture is the Jake McNulty Chicken Bark culture.

Chicken Bark is pretty simple to explain: Jake takes high-end chicken, that would otherwise be the expensive stuff at the human grocery store, and does some fancy slicing and some normal dehydrating. That is the whole recipe. Dogs Love It.

The company is significantly more interesting than the recipe.

Before meeting with Jake, I did my homework and I couldn’t find Chicken Bark’s website, which seemed odd for a company run by a 30 something founder in 2014. I asked him about the website, thinking I just couldn’t find it. He told me that, in fact, Chicken Bark does not have a website. How can a modern company that is just outside Austin not have a website to help promote their product? Well, Jake has not figured out what he wants out of his website so it just does not exist yet. Still more interesting: This startup without a website is covering operating expenses at the 12-month mark and will be profitable at the 18-month mark. Further, big box stores have approached him about selling Chicken Bark. That is not how that works. Startups approach box stores and grovel until someone takes their product…but not Chicken Bark. Point is, Jake is doing something right with Chicken Bark and it might be that he is so conventional his techniques are wholly unconventional in current startup culture.

Each time I asked Jake about a challenge, he had a well-contemplated response. He reports he works with good people, labors long and hard himself, pays a living wage, insists on integrity, offers grace, asks for help, and really receives advice. All his problems are remedied the right way and with hard work. Chicken Bark will also share profits with a charity in every state where they sell product…because making the world better for animals and people is a fundamental part of the Chicken Bark business plan. None of this fits the mold for a startup but I am impressed.

Jake is working through growing pains and taking slow integrity-ridden steps towards growing production. He does not seem to care that the norm is to bite off more than he can chew and hope it works out. Frankly, despite doing everything counter to startup-culture, Chicken Bark is doing everything quite appropriately and really impressively. Jake’s background story is not even what an entrepreneur’s background is supposed to look like. Jake is one of a bazillion kids (to be more specific, he has five brothers), this is his first venture, and he is a recovered addict but he believes Chicken Bark would not be making waves if he was not a veteran of his experiences.

Toward the end of my time with Jake, we talked about the future. Chicken Bark will be big enough that it will need managers and department heads and Jake knows he will need to have trusted leaders. I asked which piece of the company he will want to continue to lead when he is the CEO of a large Chicken Bark. He stated he could not say because it never occurred to him he would not hire someone smarter than him to head every department. Later, before I left, he said he would want continue to manage the day to day of the donations department. I like that a lot too.


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