It only took three hours for the bug to completely take over his brain.
Just a few weeks later he was sharing a roof with eight new housemates: Miss Bojangles, Victoria, Bathsheba Everdeen, Beatrice, Little Jerry Seinfeld, Yolanda, Milton and Florence.
If that sounds like a strange brood, it is. Of chickens.
Renaissance man and Raleigh ambassador Justin Miller, CEO and co-founder of the wildly successful Raleigh WedPics startup, can now add chicken daddy of this mixed crowd to his long list of accomplishments.
So just where did he pick up this bug? On a whim, Miller joined his mom a few months ago for an NC State “Chicken Keeping 101” class.
“After it was done I was pretty certain I was going to build a coop and raise chickens for eggs,” Miller explained. “I spent the next couple of weeks reading up on chickens online and chatting with local folks who had them.”
The next step was bringing home the eight one-day-old chicks. Repurposing two wire crates his dogs1 no longer needed, Miller turned his guest bedroom into a brooder. For five weeks.
It sounds like he’s thrown the same kind of effort into egg production as he has his day job, the largest app in the wedding industry. During his talk at Hopscotch Design Fest earlier this month Miller explained that he and the WedPics team focused on design early on, making the app “sticky” by fitting in with what brides expect but with a twist. He made the crowd laugh when he said that “things like taupe live in this market” and explaining that “we don’t have the soft feel of a wedding company but we define tech in the wedding market.”
The twist has paid off. The statistics are astounding: 2000 brides a day sign up, with 10,000 weddings each weekend. The company has raised $10 million capital to date, nearly unheard of without a revenue model, but proving that “acquiring users has value.”
His closer-to-home hospitality will also pay off since he’ll soon be harvesting brown eggs in varying hues from his giant coop, also cheekily known as The Eggplant. Chickens start laying eggs at around five months, and often live to a ripe old age of 10. That’s a whole lot of huevos rancheros, Miller’s favorite egg dish of late.
Miller’s chicken investment seems nearly as brilliant as the WedPics concept considering today’s eggs prices have doubled since last year, thanks to the “highly pathogenic avian influenza” wreaking havoc on the country’s flocks.
This extremely contagious bug is expected to hit North Carolina this fall, and the Department of Agriculture is trying to spread the word to backyard flock owners like Miller to sign up to receive updates to help protect their birds if the virus is reported nearby.
Miller isn’t too concerned since “it would be pretty hard for mine to have contact with wild birds given their enclosure” but the NC State Fair is taking extra precautions, proactively canceling its chicken show this year to minimize the risk of exposure.
Protection is key. In addition to The Eggplant, Miller has a “chicken tractor” he’ll activate once they’re older so they can wander around the yard but still be protected.
“Predators are the biggest threat. I built my coop using this stuff called ‘hardware cloth’ and it’s pretty much bear-proof.”2
He seems to be in good company with other chicken owners in the Lions Park neighborhood, noting that “It’s funny, once I knew the sound that hens make, I hear them all over the place.”3
Miller’s advice to other wannabe chicken owners? “Do your research! Understand the proper way to build a coop and the right type of birds for what you are looking for; I wanted birds that are friendly and hardy and good egg layers. Understand that it’s a commitment and that they can live a long time. Honestly they are pretty easy to tend to though; just make sure they ALWAYS have food and fresh water and a clean coop (and plenty of treats) and they will be happy chickens.”
Based on their environment and his commitment, his flock of seven different breeds4 has to be happy. They are still primarily on chick feed for now but he treats them to a plethora of snacks; they love raisins, strawberries, watermelon, plain greek yogurt, mealworms, corn, and spinach.
Watch for Miller and his brood on the Tour d’Coop next year. “They are really funny/entertaining animals. I never would have thought. Little Jerry Seinfeld and Milton will fly onto my arm on command – I’m thinking the Chicken Olympics may be in my future.”
Miller’s final entrepreneurial advice at Hopscotch Design Fest was fairly straightforward. “You need to distill down to a very simple concept and build out after that. Solve a single-use case first, and execute it exceptionally well.”
It would seem owning chickens is just as straightforward, with one goal in mind: putting eggs on the table. But Miller admitted it’s more than that.
“Standing in the coop and watching them is actually quite relaxing. Each one has their own unique personality. And the dogs are accepting them a bit more now that they are getting used to them. Watching the chickens and dogs interact is hilarious.”
Sounds like a plateful of chicken zen, with a side of stand-up.
- Including Stella, now famous model for Nationwide Pet Insurance after blowing out her ACL and racking up a $5000 vet bill. ↩
- Which made me wonder if we have bears in Raleigh, besides this one? If so I’d rather not know. ↩
- Does that qualify as speaking fowl language? ↩
- 1 Rhode Island Red, 1 Barred Rock, 1 Black Star, 1 Golden Comet, 1 Light Brahma, 1 Silkie, and 2 Mille Fleur D’uccles ↩