Army Vet’s Love for Entrepreneurship Leads to Wagyu Beef Business, Hot-Dog Fame
“I never envisioned anything but hunting down bad guys as a career,” Patrick Montgomery says.
But after five years in the Army with the 75th Ranger Regiment, he started to reconsider. Little did he know his path would lead him from Afghanistan to Weston, Missouri – and to online hot dog fame.
A thirst for knowledge
When it was time to reenlist, Pat’s girlfriend — now wife — encouraged him to explore the civilian sector. He enrolled at the University of Missouri as a pre-vet major, but things didn’t work out as planned. Pat decided veterinary medicine wasn’t for him. But he did enjoy the entrepreneurship classes he took at Mizzou.
“I found this inner passion for business that I didn’t know I had,” he says. “In my last year in college, I put together the plan for KC Cattle Co.”
Based outside of Weston, Missouri, KC Cattle Co. focuses on wagyu beef. Intramuscular fat makes this beef heavily marbled and flavorful. Kobe beef has grown in popularity—it’s from the Kobe region in Japan and is wagyu. But in 2017, not many people knew about wagyu at all, and that was a big hurdle for Pat’s fledgling business.
Starting KC Cattle Co. meant starting from scratch.
“In 2017, I was just trying to get proof of concept going,” Pat says. “We sold our first carcass of beef in July. I sold it out of the back of my truck, driving around Kansas City to friends and family, showing up with a cooler of beef.
“Back then, nobody had any idea of what the heck wagyu was. They’d ask, ‘Why are you trying to charge me $30 for a strip steak?’ So it was an education process.”
While Pat worked on getting his business up and running, he also worked on his Executive MBA at Mizzou.
“That was a huge help because I was able to go to on-campus weekends and talk to professors and my cohort—the other students in my class were extremely intelligent,” Pat says. “Some of the tools I learned those weekends, I was able to turn around and apply them to my business that next week.”
Figuring it all out was fun but stressful. Pat was losing money hand over fist, but he had a plan. In 2018, the business model was to start selling to restaurants. But that market proved tough. Pat found a highly competitive atmosphere with no contracts or commitments.
“We were heading down a bad path financially,” he says. “We made a choice in September 2018 to get out of restaurants altogether and focus on how we can make our e-commerce business successful.”
As a last-ditch effort, Pat brought in a public relations firm.
“It was a huge spend for us at the time,” he says. “I think we had $9,000 left in our business checking account, and we were paying the PR firm a significant amount each month.”
Within three months, KC Cattle Co. was mentioned in The New York Times. Then, “The Today Show” talked about the company’s products right before Christmas.
“That was huge; it was just the nudge I needed to keep going,” Pat says. “I was pretty defeated at that point in my journey.”
The new year didn’t help Pat’s frame of mind. The PR firm was still getting mentions for KC Cattle Co.’s products. Pat would see a small bump in sales — and then it would drop right off again.
“We were still losing money in 2019,” he says. “At that point, it felt impossible that we’d ever make money with this company.”
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Perseverance and military discipline pay off
Cut to Thursday, Aug. 1, 2019. Pat’s phone started blowing up. It turned out he had 25,000 visitors to his website.
Food and Wine published an article online titled, “We Found a Hot Dog that Tastes Like Steak.” KC Cattle Co.’s hot dog was, indeed, that hot dog.
The feature was the No. 1 article on Apple News, Yahoo and CNBC. It was also syndicated. That meant that about 1 million people visited the KC Cattle Co. website in three days, which sounds awesome until you consider the logistics of filling all those orders.
“It was just me and a part-time employee at that point,” Pat says. “Hot dogs were our worst seller before this article, so we had 50 packages in stock. We sold 7,500 overnight.”
Veterans are often uniquely positioned to be successfully entrepreneurs. This is a great example of why.
“That’s where military experience comes in handy: You’re used to being in really crappy situations,” Pat says. “There’s no sense in complaining about it. You just come up with a plan and get to work, so that’s what I did.”
Pat worked with his processor to create more hot dogs and his logistics contact to order more boxes and coolers. And he renegotiated his contract with UPS.
“Our shipping model was set up for our average order value,” Pat says. “Then, all of the sudden, we had thousands of people ordering one pack of hot dogs. We actually lost a couple of bucks on all those orders.”
Mistakes were made. But Pat credits transparency with customers as the thing KC Cattle Co. did right. They updated the website to set shipping expectations and were in email contact with customers about their order status. They worked through the backlog – and realized they’d scored a huge win.
“The big thing was we got a customer base,” Pat says. “We got 25,000 emails overnight. That set us on the path to success.”
In 2019, KC Cattle Co. broke even. In 2020, Pat says his company is on the path to its first profitable year.
Drawing on military experience and learning new skills
Pat credits his time in the military for the point of view that helps him be an effective business owner.
“Having been in situations where life is literally on the line, it puts things in perspective when you’re trying to start a business,” he says. “What’s the worst that could happen? I could lose all my material possessions. You still have your family, your health — so why wouldn’t you try?”
When Pat decided to go for it as an entrepreneur, he consumed all the information he could. Whether it was a book, a podcast or an audiobook, he was all over it. In addition to learning business tactics, he also came away with a larger epiphany.
“I was looking at extremely successful entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and even guys like Carnegie and Rockefeller,” Pat says. “These guys aren’t any different than me. The common denominator between them was they were all willing to try.”
Trying also means learning constantly. That’s why Pat participated in ScaleUP! Kansas City’s four-month immersive program.
“I never turn down opportunities like that,” he says. “If you’re within the first three years of owning your business and you’re trying to figure out what the next steps are to help you scale, the name’s not misleading. It gives you some basic tools and things to think through within your own business to help you reach that next level, whatever that may be.
“The other part is, why would you turn down an opportunity like that? It’s not every day that you get the chance to get removed from your company and be able to think at a 30,000-foot view. You get to take a look at it from somebody else’s eyes, which I always find incredibly beneficial.”
Keys to entrepreneurial success
Pat is the first to admit he doesn’t have it all figured out. But certain factors have made a huge difference in his entrepreneurial journey.
“First of all, my wife is a saint,” he says.
Having a supportive spouse aside, Pat does have some business advice for his fellow entrepreneurs.
“Ask for twice as much capital as you think you’re going to need,” he says. “Qualitatively, know the first three years are going to suck, no matter how good your plan is. So make sure you plan for that.”
He also encourages veterans to take advantage of the unique opportunities available to them.
“There’s some benefit with the Small Business Administration of being a veteran,” Pat says. “And in the ag community, talk to the USDA or your Farm Service Agency rep – there are some really good opportunities out there for veterans. Keep an eye out for grants, too. We haven’t been fortunate enough to get the grants we’ve applied for, but it’s worth trying.”
Pat isn’t done trying new things. When he started his company, he set his sights on farm-to-table events at KC Cattle Co. That time is coming.
“Weston is the epicenter of the farm-to-table movement in Kanas City,” he says. “But when we were starting out, we didn’t have the capital or time to do events on site. But in the future, we’ll have that capability. It’s beautiful out here.”
Image courtesy of Blk5media.
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