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Behind the Brand: Advice from Entrepreneurs in the Pet Space

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Passionate entrepreneurs leading the pack in the pet space

We checked in with four uber-successful pet-focused entrepreneurs to learn about their inspirations, their fears, and the advice that they have for anybody interested in starting their own pet business. Here’s what they had to say.

Lisa Senafe / Founder: Bentley’s Pet Stuff

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Bentley’s Pet Stuff • Petstuff.com • Established: April 2008

What inspired/motivated you to get into the pet industry?

I lost two cats to cancer. I’d buy the most expensive cat food thinking it equaled quality, but quickly learned that I was feeding my cats to survive, not thrive. I wanted to create a store where we did the research for you. Since day one our food promise has not changed: no food or treats made in China, no corn, wheat, soy, or by products, and no chemical preservatives. We live by this daily in our stores so that anyone can grab any product with confidence.

What’s the most unexpected thing you’ve learned owning your own business?

How fast industry shifts and trends happen. You need to always be open to change, quickly.

What is the most important thing you have learned about people over the years?

More communication is better than just enough. People love to be a part of every aspect of the company no matter what position they are in. It is truly a team effort here.

What is the best part of your job?

Every day I have an opportunity to change the way people look at their pet’s food and [teach] why it’s important to choose healthier, fresher options.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?

Marcus Lemonis [from TV show The Profit] told me to be open to everything. No matter the source, everyone can have a great idea.

Who is your greatest mentor?

My husband, but don’t tell him that! He challenges me daily to be a better business person.

Did you ever feel like quitting?

I wouldn’t say I wanted to quit, but I have felt that I needed to totally change direction. That can be scary for a company, but can also make a huge difference in its success. [I] redirected my focus back into the stores and made sure our biggest asset, our employees, were getting the best support possible so they could focus on the customers.

What book has inspired you the most?

The Method Method: Seven Obsessions That Helped Our Scrappy Start-Up Turn an Industry Upside Down, by Eric Ryan and Adam Lowry.

What is your superpower?

I do not like to stop. Not sure if that’s a superpower or I’m just stubborn.

What is the most challenging part of your work?

I like to see results fast, and that is not always possible when you are trying to accomplish certain things, especially on a bigger scale.

What is your best advice for anyone who wants to start his/her own business?

Be open and willing to change quickly. Listen to your employees and customers—they can sometimes give you better answers than what you can come up with yourself.

What do you still dream of doing?

Creating a place that foster kids can visit and work with shelter pets. Working with children and pets would be the ultimate dream.

Rusty Sproat / Founder: Figo Pet Insurance

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Figo • FigoPetInsurance.com • Established: 2012

What’s the most unexpected thing you’ve learned owning your own business?

I learned how much I didn’t know. Despite owning my own business in the past, this was an entirely different scenario—fundraising, technology, insurance, digital marketing, customer acquisition, customer service, etc. It was all overwhelming.

What are you happy you didn’t know before you started?

If I knew how hard, how long, and how much it would take out of me to start this business, it may have never happened. It would’ve seemed unachievable.

What is the most important thing you have learned about people over the years?

If you are truly passionate about something, people will believe you. They will join your journey and help you in ways you never knew possible.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?

“You can do anything you set your mind to.” It may sound trite, but my grandfather told me that in 1997, at a time when I was questioning my career in property management. It wasn’t until now that I really understand the impact of his advice.

Did you ever feel like quitting?

I have never felt like quitting. We have received $12 million in investments (to date), and we have many talented people—some who have quit their jobs to make this happen. Failure is not an option.

What is one thing no one knows about you?

How many things I have failed at in life.

On the days when you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning, what keeps you going?

The things that I still want to accomplish with this startup keep me going each day. It’s still a partially blank canvas.

What is your superpower?

Research: I constantly read and research things on my tablet. I probably spend two hours a night reading Flipboard articles.

What book has inspired you the most?

Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth.

What is your favorite quote?

“I have learned more from my failures than my successes.” I love this quote because it is true—people are afraid to fail. And personally, I have learned my greatest lessons from my failures.

What is the most challenging part of your work?

There’s been a learning curve. I can’t begin to describe the different topics, in different categories, at the level of detail, regarding the things I’ve had to learn. It blows my mind when I look back and realize what I know now.

What is your best advice for anyone who wants to start his/her own business?

Be prepared to make incredible sacrifices, and don’t be afraid to fail.

What do you still dream of doing?

Creating more technology for pet parents, completely free and useful to enhance their pets’ lives. And we are! We have an exciting Pet Cloud Mobile App release set for the second quarter of 2018. The things in development are very cool!

Paul D. Cannella / Founder: Poopbags.com

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PoopBags.com, Inc. • PoopBags.com • Established: 2003

What inspired/motivated you to get into the pet industry?

PoopBags.com really started as a side business. Like most people with dogs, I always had a need for dog waste bags. Back in 2003, I used to hoard shopping bags, and then started looking for places to buy bags online. I discovered numerous articles on plastic dog waste bags in landfills, plastic in the oceans, and overall pollution from plastic. That’s when I began my mission to create PoopBags.com and sell eco-friendly dog waste bags.

What’s the most unexpected thing you’ve learned owning your own business?

How far I can push myself. When you’re juggling finances, to-do lists, employees, supply chain, and everything else, there are times when you ask yourself why the heck you are doing this. At the end of the day, you do it because you love the challenges, and you love the mission.

What is the best part of your job?

I love when we’re able to work with a charity hands on. It’s one thing to send some product for a Facebook post, but when we’ve done events, visited shelters, etc., there is nothing more rewarding. Someday, I want that to be my full time job.

What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?

In life, it was from my dad, who told me to just be happy. Being happy takes work, but it’s worth it. In business, it’s that a sale isn’t a sale until we’re paid. That was from a former sales manager, Rodney Brown.

What do you do in your personal life that makes you a better business person?

I love to travel, and when I do that I allow myself to learn from the world. People, cultures, products, etc. are so different everywhere I go.

Did you ever feel like quitting? If yes, how did you get back in the game?

Hell yeah. Entrepreneurship pushes you to the brink in all capacities of life— personality, relationships, finances, time, and enjoyment. Whenever I’m pushed to the point of failure, I look to my years of playing rugby. When I didn’t think I could get back up, I was seeing stars, and just wanted to lay there, I’d roll to my stomach, get to a knee, stand, look for the next phase of play, start to walk, run, and then sprint back into the action. Time is constantly winding down, and you have to be in the action to be successful.

What book has inspired you the most?

Recently I’d have to say Unfu*k Yourself: Get Out of Your Head and into Your Life by Gary John Bishop. You basically have two choices in life, you can fu*k yourself and keep letting something that upsets you build, spill over into work, or home, or whatever. Or you can unfu*k yourself, and get over it, or at least compartmentalize it and enjoy your home life, work, the evening you had plans for, or whatever. There’s more to it, but that’s my take away.

What is your superpower?

Resilience.

What do you wish everyone knew?

As it relates to PoopBags.com, I wish everyone used compostable bags that were made from plant matter. We have to curb the use of plastic and protect our environment. In general, I wish everyone knew how to walk in someone else’s shoes for a moment.

Who or what has made the greatest impression on you during your journey so far?

Everything that you read, listen to, engage with, react to, or whatever manner you experience the input from in the game of life, will become a part of you. So, I’m proud to say it’s me, and I am a reflection of all the people and impressions, good or bad, that I’ve come across. I look forward to the impressions yet to come.

Dustin McAdams / Founder: PupJoy

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PupJoy • PupJoy.com • Established: 2015

What’s the most unexpected thing you’ve learned owning your own business?

How generous many people are with their time and knowledge. We’ve been extremely fortunate to have folks from all walks—from CEOs and industry experts to our partners and customers—who have helped us in so many ways. Ask for [knowledge] and embrace it anywhere you can.

What do you wish you knew before you started?

The amount of work it takes to start a business.

What are you happy you didn’t know before you started?

The amount of work it takes to start a business!

What is the best part of your job?

I get to make people (and their dogs) happy. That isn’t trivial to me. We started PupJoy in large part because we wanted to build and run a successful business in a way that felt right to us. Getting glowing reviews or notes of appreciation from customers, and being able to help shelter animals, simply makes us feel good. It is the gratifying part of our business that transcends the financial aspects.

What is the most important thing you have learned about people over the years?

Every person you meet is likely better than you at something. That’s a lot of opportunity to learn from.

What do you do in your personal life that makes you a better business person?

I hang out with dogs a lot…which in my business, fortunately helps. I’m lucky, I know! Beyond that, I do things that keep me thinking and exploring, like regular chats with other leaders or a personal counselor, reading, and exercise.

Who is your greatest mentor?

I have a lot of them, for which I am truly grateful. But I would have to say my father is my greatest. He taught me the most about how to be the man that I am. Skills are important. Who you are is fundamental.

What is your favorite quote?

“Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.” (Babe Ruth) I believe in the need to embrace mistakes as an important tool to grow and succeed. Especially as an entrepreneur, I feel that you need to be comfortable that you are going to swing and miss often. It’s the nature of what we do. But your ability and willingness to learn and adapt very quickly can be a crucial advantage.

What is the most challenging part of your work?

Finding work-life balance. When you run your own business, especially a 24/7 online business, it’s hard to ever turn it off. That can be tough for those who love you. It challenges me to have more discipline— on and off the clock—than ever before.

What do you wish everyone knew?

About 1.5 million pets don’t make it out of shelters each year. And you can make a difference. Spay/neuter your pets, oppose breed bans, support shelters, and adopt.

What is your best advice for anyone who wants to start his/her own business?

Do your homework. Really check your gut. Then jump.

What do you still dream of doing?

In 2018, I would like to deliver $100,000 to our charitable partner, the BISSELL Pet Foundation. That will mean that we have gained a lot of new customers and will have made a substantial impact for shelter animals through our Helping Paws program.

 

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