Mayonnaise Wrestling, Flavor Fanaticism, and Social Media on Steroids: The Bacon Salt Story

11/20/08Follow @gthuang

Sometimes the best stories are the hardest to tell. This isn’t one of them. I’m not quite sure where to begin, but here goes. There is a startup in South Seattle called Bacon Salt. Maybe you’ve heard of it, maybe you haven’t. But the name says it all: Bacon Salt is a zero-calorie, vegetarian, kosher seasoning that makes everything taste like bacon.

Why is Xconomy writing about this? OK, a crucial aspect is how the company’s founders have used social media and the Internet to promote their product and grow their business. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Mostly it’s just a good tale of entrepreneurship. And the company has just released an interesting new product, which I’ll get to shortly.

The story goes back to January 2007, when Dave Lefkow and Justin Esch were working at Jobster.com, the Seattle-based office networking firm. A company speaking tour took them to Miami Beach, Florida. Late one night, at 1 or 2 a.m., they were having drinks at Wet Willie’s on Ocean Drive. Esch brought up the concept of Bacon Salt, which had occurred to him while he was attending a kosher wedding. Lefkow thought the product had to exist already. They Googled around on a BlackBerry and found nothing. So they bought the domain name right there and then.

For the next few months, they met after work to kick around ideas for getting the business started. They had to learn everything about “how to take a food product to market,” says Lefkow. How to get manufactured, how much material you need, how to package it, how to label it, how to get a product code, and so forth. At a wine and food expo, they met a shadowy advisor (who shall remain anonymous) who walked them through the ins and outs of the food industry. What they still needed was money to get started.

In May 2007, Lefkow won $5,000 from America’s Funniest Home Videos, thanks to his 3-year-old son hitting him in the face with a T-ball. That was their seed funding round. “A pretty standard formula. That’s Harvard Business School stuff there,” says Esch. At around the same time, Lefkow and Esch both left Jobster to focus on their new venture. They began trying to make Bacon Salt themselves, by pouring bacon fat over salt crystals. “It was totally disgusting,” says Esch.

So, with help from friends and family, they hooked up with food scientists and chefs and developed the taste profile they wanted to synthesize. It was more art than science. “The primary thing was taste,” says Lefkow. “We wanted the most delicious product possible.” (You might wonder why anyone would want to make everything taste like bacon, but that’s beside the point, as you’ll soon see.)

Lefkow and Esch launched Bacon Salt in July 2007, and with their Web expertise, immediately tapped into the social networking space to promote their product. They put up profiles on MySpace and Facebook, set up discussion groups, and friended all the people who said “I love bacon” on their own profiles—an astounding 37,000 on MySpace alone. They reached out to bacon bloggers and sent them samples of Bacon Salt to help spread the buzz. They’ve since gone on Twitter. “There’s a huge bacon subculture,” says Esch. “There’s love, and there’s fanaticism.”

And their product started selling. At last count, they’ve sold 600,000 jars of Bacon Salt to people in 50 countries and all 50 states. It is in 8,000 grocery stores across the U.S. They’ve done national TV and radio interviews, and they’re in the December issue of Maxim. Their 2007 revenue was … Next Page »

Gregory T. Huang is Xconomy's Deputy Editor, National IT Editor, and the Editor of Xconomy Boston. You can e-mail him at gthuang@xconomy.com. Follow @gthuang

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