First things first—what motivates you daily?
It has been one of the greatest joys of my life to be able to build a product that is used and loved by thousands of customers every month. No matter how difficult my day is, I am always motivated by our customers. Our inbox and social channels are constantly filled with adorable pictures of smiling puppy faces, posing with their monthly PupBox. Customers tell us how their puppies lives are progressing, how the training information helped them through a certain stage of puppyhood, or how the products they received are a perfect fit for their furbaby. For me, this customer feedback is truly the greatest daily motivator. Not only does it give me an excuse to look at puppy pictures for hours every day, but it also offers us insight into the challenges our customers face and how we can address their needs.
Looking at puppy pictures all day – I’m jealous ! So why did you decide to start your business?
PupBox was born out of personal experience. We wanted to make life easier for new puppy owners, because we struggled through it ourselves not too long ago. We adopted our furbaby, Maggie, when she was just 8 weeks old, and like many first-time dog parents, we became totally obsessed. We wanted to be the perfect puppy parents, but we had no idea what we were doing! All of the information we received online and from friends always contradicted itself, and we simply weren’t happy with the product options from the big box stores. We thought to ourselves, “There has to be an easier way to navigate puppyhood!” From there, we started piecing together the idea. We loved the subscription business model, and we thought it would be a great delivery mechanism for our vision. The rest is history!
Given everything you’ve learnt from Shark Tank, what three lessons would you want to share about your experience?
- Nothing replaces a solid growth and customer acquisition strategy. The Shark Tank experience really helped emphasize this for us. The show is a great platform to get the word out about a company, and we saw a big spike in subscribers after we aired. But after the airing was over we took a step back and said, “Let’s get back to the basics. What acquisition channels are working? What do we need to continue testing? What are our next milestones?” At the end of the day, Shark Tank is just another piece of our overall growth strategy, not a replacement for one.
- Hard work pays off. When people ask us how we got on Shark Tank, we give them the whole back story and run-down of the application process. But in all honesty we entered The Tank because we worked our asses off to build a great product that our customers love. Shark Tank is a reminder that if you work hard enough, you can really achieve anything.
- Acknowledge and appreciate your wins. When you are building a company, it is easy to get caught up in the whirlwind. Startups are truly an emotional rollercoaster that never seems to slow or stop. Take a minute to appreciate your successes. For us, Shark Tank was a really big accomplishment, and with everything going on around us it was important to just take a minute and give ourselves a pat on the back.
Definitely agreed – many entrepreneurs don’t celebrate the small wins – but that’s crazy ! A win is a win, no matter how small or big ! How did you know that this is what you wanted to do?
I think I have always known that I wanted to be an entrepreneur; building a company is fun, exciting, and hard work, but also extremely gratifying. I never had an aha! moment where I said to myself, “I am an entrepreneur.” But I knew that I wanted to build something from nothing, so I think entrepreneurship just came naturally.
I’ve always believed entrepreneurship is the one field where you just learn on the job. Now, let’s touch on what success means to you. How do you measure it?
I think it is important to differentiate personal success from the businesses success—especially for a Founder and CEO. It is easy to get so tied up in business metrics and milestones that you begin to think of yourself as a failure if you don’t achieve x% growth or y in revenue. As long as I am happy, healthy, and can provide for my family, I consider that a huge personal success.
For the business, I think it is important for a leader to set attainable and quantifiable goals and work to achieve them. For us, these goals come in the form of growth milestones and product improvements. Everything must be quantitative so we can measure how the company has improved, what works, and what doesn’t.
You’ve nailed it – when you’re measuring business success, the numbers never lie! Did you find that there is a price for success? If so, what sacrifices have you made to achieve yours?
The two biggest sacrifices I have faced as a young founder are time and money. It is so hard to state how much time is spent building a company. Every waking moment is consumed by the business, and this can really impact relationships as well as your personal health and well-being—especially as a husband and wife team, since our lives revolve around the business. Weekends, vacations, and holidays have all just become extensions of our regular work week. The business never turns off, so neither can we.
The other major sacrifice for us is monetary. I don’t think that outsiders looking in fully realize how much financial risk is involved in starting your own company. For Ariel and I, this has been a real struggle. We both gave up comfortable salaries to start PupBox, and we have put all of our savings into the business. The financial strain is difficult, but at the end of the day we love to work for ourselves and we are passionate about the business we are building.
Entrepreneurship is about the give and take – give the time and money and take the freedom. We talked about success, now how about a time you’ve failed? What did you learn from that experience?
To be totally honest, there isn’t a day that goes by where we haven’t recorded a failure. I would list some out for you, but I’m not sure how much time you have! I think this is one of the most important aspects of the startup life. When you are searching for channels to acquire customers, or introducing new product features, you typically see more things flop than succeed. I think it is really important for startup founders to embrace their failures. Look at everything as an experiment, double down on what works, and record what doesn’t so you don’t make the same mistake twice.
That last bit is key – never make the same mistake twice. So, what has been your biggest sales hurdle you’ve had to overcome and how did you do it?
The one thing that we struggled with early on was biting off more than we could chew. I got wrapped up in all of the different ways we could acquire new customers and I tried to attack them all at once. We had a mentor sit us down and list out all of our marketing channels on a white board. We listed about 20. He then asked us where the bulk of our sales were coming from, and we pointed to the top 3 channels on the list. He then erased everything else on the whiteboard except those 3 channels. He told us to focus on those 3 until we optimized them, and then we could start incorporating more. We did it and we doubled our revenue in less than 4 months.
I think this message is really valuable. Don’t try to do everything at once. Growth and marketing is layered. You need to start at the bottom and once you are able to systemize and automate a channel, you can start testing a new one.
You mentor sounds very wise — don’t try to keep a toe in every water. What is one significant goal for the future of your company?
One goal that is really important to Ariel and I as founders is profitability. It is a challenge to scale a subscription business without a lot of upfront capital investment. The cost to acquire customers isn’t typically realized until a few months down the road, making growth an expensive endeavor. It’s a balancing act between raising money, keeping our customer acquisition cost low, and improving our margins. Our goal is to get to a place where we can continue scaling the business without giving away too much equity and control. The opportunity to work with you, Robert, is a huge step in helping us achieve this goal. The investment and assistance you and your team provide on the customer acquisition side is invaluable for us as we work to build a sustainable and profitable business.