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Lawless Jerky: A Kickstarter Business Takes Off

We caught up with a crowdfunding success story to see how his business has grown.

Then:

Matt Tolnick was a poster boy for the feel-good side of crowdfunding when we first caught up with him in February 2014. The former sports attorney had just completed his second Kickstarter campaign, raising a cumulative $53,000 to launch Lawless Jerky, a specialty food company that makes craft beef and pork jerky. Tolnick founded Lawless in the basement of his father’s New Jersey home with a meat de­hydrator and a handful of recipes.

Now:

The 33-year-old entrepreneur has moved to Phoenix to be near the current Lawless Jerky production plant. Lawless has six full-time employees, including Tolnick and Jason Vegotsky, whom Tolnick took on as an equity partner after a chance encounter. Following the Kickstarter campaign, Tolnick was running around town trying to find retailers willing to carry his products. With a load of samples on hand, he approached a man working at a Wegmans market, who turned out to be Vegotsky. But Vegotsky wasn’t employed by Wegmans. He was the store’s outside liquor and wine distributor and also a fan of quality jerky. He volunteered to help Tolnick sell Lawless products, and he proved his worth by getting the jerky into dozens of outlets within a matter of months. Vegotsky’s “sweat equity” earned him shares and a job as head of sales. Stephen Christoffersen, a numbers guru and supporter of the Kickstarter campaigns, recently signed on as chief financial officer.

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A passionate staff willing to pitch in to do any job is key to handling Lawless Jerky’s exponential growth. “Having people who are obsessed with what they are doing really helps push the company forward,” Tolnick says. “Running a company that’s growing this fast is like playing Whac-a-Mole. Just when you think you have everything under control, something else crops up.”

In 2016, Lawless was on track to sell 1 million bags of jerky with net revenues of between $2 million and $3 million, up from sales of $1.6 million in 2015. Sales in 2014 were just $140,000. The company is now on the hunt for experienced partners who can help finance its next step: breaking into large regional and national food chains. “One of the continuing challenges is to create the right amount of product in the face of unknown sales growth,” says Tolnick.

Nearly three years into running his own business, Tolnick likens operating a start-up to treading water in the middle of the ocean. “Sometimes a wave will come along and lift you up, and sometimes it will push you down,” he says. “But I am every bit as excited to put in a 14- or 16-hour day now as I was when we started.”

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