Ep. 049: On Launching an Innovative Pet Product Company — The Ken Goldman Interview

Hear the fascinating story of how Ken Goldman launched his dog gear company, Stunt Puppy.  Learn how he started producing dog leashes and collars by hand, and how he utilized his professional marketing experience to grow the brand. Listen as he describes his number one lesson since starting Stunt Puppy, and who has most influenced him in his career. Hear why he chose to produce his products in the United States, and what has frustrated him the most as an entrepreneur.

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Transcript

John:  Greetings Product Launch Rebels, and welcome to the Product Launch Rebel podcast, brought to you by Venturesuperfly.com, where we help double your entrepreneurial courage, even if you don’t know what you’re doing. Please visit the Venture Superfly website and check out the contact page to join our mailing list.

Today we’ll be learning about the pet product industry, which should be a lot of fun. I’m interviewing Ken Goldman. He’s the founder of a unique brand of dog gear called Stunt Puppy. It offers products such as collars and leashes that are designed and made in the United States, right here in Minnesota. The company designs products with cues from the rugged camping and climbing gear industry, so they are extra durable. Seems pretty smart and cool. Ken’s products are available at StuntPuppy.com, as well as through many retailers across the United States. To learn more about his company, visit StuntPuppy.com.

Hello, Ken. Thanks for being here, and welcome to the Product Launch Rebel podcast.

Ken:  Oh, it’s great to be here. Thanks for the invitation.

John:  Absolutely. This is going to be a lot of fun. Thanks for your time.

Ken, within this podcast there are three segments. The first is called “give me the basics,” which helps set the context about your company for our listeners. The second part is called “let’s get personal” where we get into some of the more personal topics about what it’s like to start a business. The final part is what I call “tell me how” where we’ll get to the heart of the matter on issues that aspiring entrepreneurs want to know now to help them move forward.

What do you think, Ken, are you ready for some questions?

Ken:  I’m ready and I’m hoping you’re gonna tell me how at the end.

John:  Fantastic, here we go!

02:29 — Ken, tell us the story. How did you originally come up with the idea to start Stunt Puppy?

Ken:  It probably sounds cliché but it definitely was not on purpose. My dog Bauer and I, he was a golden retriever and we were a therapy team so we spent a lot of time in hospitals moving out and about and I wanted some gear that helped us move around the hospital easier and more fluidly. And that combined with the fact that I know how to sew, combined with the fact that I love gear, uh, it just all kinda came together. I went down to my basement and started making stuff for he and I. So we were, it’s definitely a happy accident. Um, then layer on top of that, I have another company that’s a marketing agency and we kind of looked at it and said, hey, we could build a brand around that. So that was 11 years ago.

03:31 — John:  Yeah. That’s very interesting. And tell me about your sewing background. How did you get into that?

Ken:  Definitely not on purpose. My mom, who still sews to this day, she’s a big quilter and so I was the youngest of three and just kind of hanging around so I stepped in a lot of pins and needles growing up and their fabric swatches all over the place and so I just wanted in on that. So I learned how to sell early and you know, I learned a sewing machine wasn’t something strange to me and I always kind of had one. It’s not that I was making myself clothes or anything, but I wasn’t afraid of a sewing machine. So when I got to the point where like, hey, I want to do this, I just pulled out the machine and, and went for it.

John:  Yeah, it’s interesting. It’s interesting that you were a sewer before that. I remember when I started my snowboard and ski clothing brand, I was not as sewer but I really sort of got interested in it, but I never took the time to do that. So I’m sort of fascinated by that.

Ken:  Something just really cool about sewing in general. I mean it goes along with Legos and putting things together and I’m actually doing a week long sewing workshop in a couple months to kind of build out that skill even more for prototyping.

John:  Yeah, very interesting. It’s so neat to make stuff.

04:56 — Ken, the pet product industry is just so competitive. So tell me what’s so unique about Stunt Puppy.

Ken:  I will, but give me a minute because I want to talk a little bit about when people talk about the pet industry and how giant it is. And of course I should have the number off the top of my head, it’s like $70 billion, I think. And so when people look at a business and that, you know, they get really excited but it’s, it is so fragmented. One, I mean, first of all it’s not all dogs, right? Um, and there are more cats than dogs, just FYI. And then, so let’s slice off, get to just dogs and then you get to, well there’s specific kinds of owners and dogs that were relevant to which are basically active dogs and active owners, and there’s nothing against non active dogs and non active owners. And I define that as people who take their dog outside of the house.

Um, and this is a long way of getting to the answer your question, but essentially we try to really narrow our focus and build off our position. So if we just focused on these active dogs, active owners, which is really a small slice of that big market, and then within that market, try to focus on the ones in a more urban setting and really trying to build a brand around those people and speak to those people. So that’s number one, how we stand out. Number two, and this kind of dovetails into that, we’re not trying to be everything to everybody and so it’s OK to build things only for some of the segment. Another separate element of our unique character is that we are made in the US. Um, we feel really strongly about it and so we really try to, it’s about making the stuff ourselves, number one and building jobs in our own community and just basically building stuff that is as good, if not better than anything we’d use for ourselves, like our human gears, so to speak.

07:15 — John:  What type of retailers do you sell to?

Ken:  We focus on independent running store retailers because we focus on the running industry, but that doesn’t mean we’re not in pet stores. We are in some or even in some bike shops and things like that. But our, our effort and focus is in the running channel. And then interestingly enough we have, we have two distributors, one is in South Korea and the others in Japan. Our South Korean distributor is focused purely in pet. So we’re much more of a fashion brand there, which I mean everything is different there. And how we’re perceived there is different and it’s pretty cool because they didn’t ask us to change any of our gear. They’re just seen in a different light. And then in Japan we’re definitely seen as an outdoor brand. So along with selling gear, like outdoor, wearables for people and climbing gear, et Cetera.

08:19 — John:  What types of products do you offer now?

Ken:  The majority of our products, our leashes and collars with some special functionality, we also have a harness that is only about a year and a half old. That is has been received very well. It was five years in the making and later this year we are doing a joint venture with another company out of New Zealand and we’re bringing in a full line of outerwear.

John:  That will be really neat and complicate your product mix a bit and to manage.

Ken:  Very much so in a couple of different ways. One, OK, where are we making these things? Cause now I’m going to go back on what I said about made in USA. We will make the majority of that in the US, but there are a few things that need to be made in specific places because it’s the best place to make them. For instance, a dog flotation jacket we make in the best flotation jacket factory in the world. That factory is in China. There is a Merino jacket that we will continue to make in New Zealand because that’s where the wool is and it makes the most sense in terms of footprint, but probably everything else of their stuff will come to the US and get manufactured here.

09:45 — John:  How many employees do you have now, and just give us some perspective, I think you started 11, 12 years ago. Give us also a look back into those early months. And given that we’re talking to aspiring entrepreneurs here, gives us a sense for how many employees you had during that first year, let’s say.

Ken: Well first year it was just me. It was literally making everything like with my own two hands and everything, so we’re a little different or I’m a little different in that I also own a marketing agency, so they’re a big piece of the effort. So right now 11 years in Stump Puppy has three full time employees but a full time marketing agency behind it. So it, and I can’t separate the two, so we’re more than three people, but there’s three people full time.

10:48 — John:  Sure. How did you choose the name?

Ken:  You know, it’s actually not a very interesting story. So many people ask me that. I wanted something where we get own the URL. I wanted something that was, that felt good to say that something that would be memorable and that’s really all there is to it. I wanted something that, you know, in terms of design, we could work with it in terms of letters and letter shapes. There’s a lot of dog gear out there that isn’t branded. You know, bottom line is I wanted something that kind of at least expressed active and people would remember.

11:29 — John:  Say, Ken, most entrepreneurs go into business with a set of assumptions and many of those assumptions proved to be different from what they expected, thereby making them scramble to make changes in order to survive. Regarding Stunt Puppy’s uniqueness, did your original assumption about that prove motivating to consumers or did you discover a different selling proposition after being in business for awhile?

Ken:  You know, I, I think the thing that changed from the beginning or that was emphasized more after we got going is that we should, I immediately thought, oh, this is going to need to scale wide and we’re going to need to, the line is going to have to be really wide. But as time went on, it was almost the opposite. So like, you know, what, if we just focus narrowly, like talk about people who run with their dogs, that’s something we can own, we can be authentic in and talk about it and produce better product so that it was almost like a reverse epiphany there. Um, the other one is I never would have thought how long it would take to develop some product, like the harness was literally five years and it wasn’t five years of constant working on it, but it was oh, we’re throwing that away. Oh, that’s no good. And every time we thought we had it, then it’s like, ah. Um, and there some of that was in the end realizing that there is no silver bullet, um, that maybe we just need to say, OK, this is what we’re going after. And it’s not going to be the perfect thing for everybody, but it’s going to get a nice, good, majority of the people looking for it.

13:17 — John:  So Ken, let’s get personal on a few topics. Many aspiring entrepreneurs don’t know what they don’t know before starting a business, they’re sort of unconsciously incompetent in certain areas and they’re not as fully prepared as they thought they would be or should be in starting a business. If and especially, I’d love to get this answer from you, especially that the fact that you are a marketing guy. Before you started Stunt Puppy, to what extent were your previous career skills and your knowledge in line with the task of launching a pet product? Let’s say on a scale of one to 10, 10 being very aligned, how did your previous skills and knowledge fit with your new startup?

Ken:  Well the marketing skills I felt really good about and even more specifically the brand skills, like in terms of building a brand, so I’m, you know, like sevens and eights there, but in terms of product development or manufacturing or quality assurance, I had no idea what I was doing. I was completely making it up.

14:36 — John:  How about sales?

Ken:  That’s a great question. And so often marketing gets lumped with sales and they’re so different. I had sold marketing services but never sold products into retail or distributors. So that was, yeah, I was completely green and probably good that I didn’t know what I didn’t know cause it’s, it’s a little daunting; I mean, trade shows sitting in a trade show booth for three days. There’s nothing that can prepare you for that.

15:05 — John:  How much better of a marketing guy are you now? Since starting Stunt Puppy and having sort of that real life honest, authentic exposure to all the elements of the marketing mix now including product development and, and all the functions of a business.

Ken:  I think a lot. I’m definitely more tolerant of a marketing guy now. I, for instance, if somebody can have this great idea for a product extension or something like that here and on paper it’s like, Oh yeah, that is a good idea. But there’s all those other things like what does that do to the SKUs and how does that reflect, how do get into stores that already have the associated product. And so just kind of feeling that pain. Um, even down to like how many UPCs are we going to be sitting over or regenerating UPCs or recycling them things that as just a pure marketer, if you’re working with a client, if they said something like that, you’d be like, oh, that’s ridiculous. Like, get over it. Let’s move on. I’m definitely getting more of that full picture or yeah.

16:19 — John:  Ken, what’s the number one lesson you’ve learned since starting your company?

Ken:  Stick to your positioning and don’t try to be something you’re not. Authenticity, people, they smell it. It’s amazing. I mean some of the feedback we get there, we have one comment we get, something about our attention to detail and you can really tell that these people really care about dogs. I would never write that marketing copy, but it’s 100 percent true. I mean from the way we turn a seam over on the inside of a collar that nobody would know, but it’s more expensive and takes longer to do, but we know that that is a more comfortable feeling on the inside of a collar for a dog. I mean, that’s it. You know, our, our tagline built from the dog up is that we really believe in that. Like that’s where we’re starting.

17:16 — John:  Yeah. Ken, many entrepreneurs, including very successful ones have regrets in doing things incorrectly early in their entrepreneurial journey. And I think those regrets can reveal valuable lessons to aspiring entrepreneurs. Since you started Stunt Puppy, would you have approached the business differently if you could go back and do it over again?

Ken:  Wow. I mean we’ve definitely made mistakes and continue to make mistakes. Like I’m sitting on hang tags that are deficient because I jumped into the project too fast and they don’t hold the product up, but I don’t know if I would’ve done anything different because unless we do something and fail, we’re not learning. And that sounds so cheesy, but I mean I guess I could think of if I would’ve gone another way in the beginning. I mostly think around the money side. Like if I would have brought in a bunch of other people and the money and maybe I’d be regretting that now, but I didn’t so I can’t complain there now. Definitely bumps in the road and different turns and tosses and tumbles, but that’s, I mean, it’s the journey. Um, and at the end of the day we’re working with people who are crazy about their dogs and that’s a pretty amazing audience.

18:44 — John:  Yeah. It seems that 99 out of a hundred people can just talk about starting a business, but they never star one. It’s all show and no go in a way and starting a business is special and pretty unusual. What motivates a person like you, Ken Goldman, to stop just talking about launching a business and actually go out and start a pet product company.

Ken:  You know, it’s just something I could really sink my teeth into and feel good about. It just hit all the right buttons in terms of, Oh, I’m working with my hands, I’m creating something, a building a brand. At the end of the day it’s with dogs that, I mean, it’s rare that we run into people who don’t have a good connection to dogs and if they don’t then we just, we’re not really talking to them in the first place. Uh, and some of it, you know, like I said in the beginning it was an accident and you know, I have this other agency that, you know, in some ways was a crutch in terms of, uh, you know, monetarily I didn’t have to worry about completely making it with this one thing, but I also had a lot of other people saying you can’t do two things. You can’t do both. You need to pick one or the other. And I don’t think that’s true. You can do two things and it’s, it’s not a perfect world, but man, if you’re doing what you want to be doing and you enjoy it and you’re with the people you want to be working with, then it’s a done deal.

20:26 — John:  Do you think you’re a creator at heart and was it your destiny to start Stunt Puppy?

Ken:  Creator is an interesting word. Maybe. Yeah, I was gonna say maker, but that has such a, that’s such a loaded word now to some people. Something that, that brought me there originally. Like when I went to school as a music major, a percussion performance and I still play. There’s something that I need to be up and about and doing something with my hands and that definitely is part of stuff.

21:04 — John:  Do you think being in the ad industry or the marketing agency world in working with clients that have their own products was some drive and your motivation to actually have full control from beginning to end the product on, on whether or not they succeeded or not?

Ken:  Yeah. One hundred percent. That is absolutely true. It’s like, OK, this one I get to make all the shots and whether I’m making the right ones or not. Uh, but yeah, there’s that, like I wanna I wanna be the client. Yeah. And we’re lucky in the agency world in the sense that when you get to see so many things in such a short amount of time in some people’s jobs, uh, you know, they might work even if they work at six places in their career. A lot of times it’s in the same industry and like in the agency world, you’re, you’re just seeing new stuff every day and you’re seeing success and failure and in between it’s, we’re, we’re lucky in that sense.

22:02 — John:  Did Stunt Puppy’s success, and your success with it, surprise you?

Ken:  Yeah. Yeah. Because on one hand, just because this wasn’t the intention. I mean the intention was for me to make stuff for myself and my dog. So the fact that 11 years later it’s like, hey, this is a real thing and we’re employing people and making people happy and in I wake up in the morning and really want to go to work. Yeah, that’s, that’s a nice surprise. I mean, I didn’t think it was going to fail either, but um, but yeah.

22:40 — John:  What has been your biggest joy since being an entrepreneur?

Ken:  Wow. Uh, I don’t know. There isn’t one singular thing, but one of them is having my kids kind of see that they’re old enough that they’ve kind of seen the lifecycle from the beginning of the company and just having them have the experience to know you if you want to do something, he can just go do it. Like there aren’t drawn paths so to speak that you need to follow. And then the other thing is just long term relationships I’ve developed with employees and customers that have just kind of been around for the whole ride in, you know, are in it for the same reasons and it’s, it’s cool just seeing that growth among all of us.

23:40 — John:  Since a lot of aspiring entrepreneurs are listening to this podcast, it’s sometimes helpful for us to give them a sense for the disappointments and frustrations because I think there are a lot of learning lessons there. What have been your biggest disappointments or frustrations and how have you overcome them?

Ken:  Wow. The first part’s easy. The second part of that question, I don’t know if I can answer. One disappointment early on, Amazon was a big customer of ours. Uh, they’re still a customer, they buy directly from us and then they sell to people and man, it just like clicked and it was cool and, and, but lately the last, I don’t know, handful of years, there’s just a lot of deep competition and their product isn’t built as well. It’s, I mean, some of it is directly knocked off. Um, and that’s, that’s been frustrating. Um, I mean to the point where sometimes people were taking our pictures like that. And for those of you who don’t know, and I’m sure that’s most of you to like photograph a dog leash, like as a still photograph on a tabletop is, is a pain in the butt. A lot of things moving around and flowing and just to kind of see someone like lift that photo and then sell another product and it’s like, yeah, that feels horrible. And then our business going down on Amazon. So to combat that, what we’ve done is really just try to again go back to our positioning and build our brand and build more equity in the brand. So when people are looking at things just like, you know what, I really want the Stump Puppy version of that, that’s authentic and I know that those guys care. I don’t know. I don’t know if that sounds like a BS answer, but the first end is it’s like, ah, there’s, there’s so much sweat and whatever. And so when you. It feels like some of it, some, it just gets like taken away. It’s a, it’s a bummer.

25:41 — John:  And related to the disappointment and frustration piece, Ken, many entrepreneurs, even seasoned ones, experience feelings of self doubt as they go along their entrepreneurial journey. How much self-doubt have you had, if any, and how have you dealt with it?

Ken:  I’ve definitely had some like it. Some of it comes down to the money part where to a fault I feel like we’re not in this for the money and I know that sounds strange, but we just want to make good stuff and we want to make a profit. But we could be doing things in different ways that would just crank the margins up, but then we wouldn’t be working with the people we’re working with and so sometimes I’m like, why are we doing this and that after remind myself, like again, it’s way more about the journey. So it really, honestly, I’ve just had amazing support. I mean, my wife is, she’s never doubted me a second which, and I’ve made some big messes, like literally physical messes all over that house, you know, building stuff and tearing stuff down and I’m not a very neat person to start with, but there’s been times where the basement is being completely overrun. Fortunately, none of that is happening now. It’s all at work, but just have just like, yeah, go for it. That’s great. Uh, so I’ve had amazing support.

27:11 — John:  Do you think starting your own business, Ken, has changed you as a person?

Ken:  Yeah, it’s, well, it definitely makes me look at a more rounder picture and I have to put the agency, I mean, I have two business partners in the agency as well. And they, it just, it makes you look at when people are talking about their jobs or their boss a, it gives you a rounder picture. It’s like, well, you know, here’s the other side of that. Or there’s a lot of things going on there. It just made me think like why we do what we do other than the money part, obviously you know, you need to make a living and get through the day, but it’s why we do the things the way we do and who we do them with even down to where we do them. Um, when we moved recently, a year and a half ago and to northeast Minneapolis and just in this space is really important to the amount of light that’s coming into the space and it just, we spend a lot hours at work. I mean there’s, this all goes with the whole mattress marketing thing. You spend so much time sleeping, get a good mattress. Well, you spent a lot of time at work that there’s a lot of physical pieces of that that are important.

28:26 — John:  What do you think you’ve learned most about yourself since starting Stunt Puppy?

Ken:  I think I knew some of this before, but it’s just emphasized that it’s working with people that you respect is really important and respect in a way that you can freely collaborate. It just makes things so much more enjoyable and you know, kind of gets to that team effort and that’s really how this New Zealand venture has come about. I mean we’ve known them 10 years and we’ve collaborated over 10 years and finally on different products and finally we’re just like putting something formal together. It’s just how fun is that really.

29:12 — John:  Who has been most influential to you can in your life either professionally or personally and professionally.

Ken:  My Dad and he passed away about a year and a half ago and, and I, I didn’t ever thought about it until maybe the last six or seven years and this is a guy who worked for one company, Sears, his entire life and really rose from entry level to managing some of their largest stores in the country and very successful. And so you would think like, what is the connection between that and, and what I do and what he came from a world of retail. Both his mom and dad both owned stores up in the upper peninsula of Michigan. Um, so we just had this like retail and merchandising kind of flowing through the blood so to speak, but the biggest piece that influenced me and I often go to work with him when I was a kid because he worked in stores, it was off, you know, you go there after school or whatever at night or on the weekend and just how he worked with his staff and who he surrounded himself. And there’s a couple of things that will stick with me forever. And the main thing is just surround yourself with people that are smart. That’s probably the most important thing anybody’s told me.

30:42 — John:  Ken, here we are in the “tell me how” segment of the podcast where we get to the heart of the matter regarding key issues for aspiring entrepreneurs. Let’s talk about raising capital. Did you originally raise capital for Stunt Puppy?

Ken:  We self funded it and, honestly, I feel like we cheated a little bit because I’m just going to be upfront, but we could go really slow because I had the agency to work for and rely on. I think it’s awesome that we didn’t have to go get capital, but it also, because we went so slow sometimes I feel like I would’ve had, I would’ve liked to have had a little bit more fire underneath me at some point. We might go, we might go raise capital to to grow bigger faster, and we’ve just explored that a little bit so I, that’s a long way of saying, I don’t have a lot of insight to that question,

31:40 — John:  But what’s your general gut instinct? Given your background, growing up, a professional career, what are your thoughts about that? I think a lot of people have different sorts of motivations and instincts on that.

Ken:  I’ve talked to a lot of people about it. On one hand I hear you’re always going to have to give something up. I mean more than just percentage of your company, like you’re going to lose some control. I think it’s a matter of finding the right people, like if we were to do it, they would have to be, a good percentage of them, they’d have to be dog nuts to really get things like, you know, well why do we spend more to make that this way to fit on the dog that way. So just finding someone who’s not just looking for an investment, but for someone who truly believes in your product.

32:35 — John:  Let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about the manufacturing, the production of your product. Obviously you’ve been doing most of that if not all yourself here in Minnesota. How have you made that decision and have you been enticed in the past to do the production elsewhere?

Ken:  Yeah, so it started in my basement. Then it went to Ely, Minnesota. There’s a guy up there who was making everything for us and then we kept getting like slowed down or delayed because he had to do stuff for Will Steger on his North Pole expeditions and which is totally fair. We should have been bounced for that. But I, I was getting frustrated so then we found a factory out in Maine and for anybody looking to do like cut and sew projects, it’s hard. There aren’t a lot of those factories left, but since we’ve started 11 years ago, they’re coming back and there’s companies like American Giant is kind of like a pinnacle example that’s making stuff here. And so there’s people here, but just, so we’re out in Maine for years and then three years ago we decided, basically the manager of that factory left, she retired. Um, she was there forever and she was amazing and when she left, it just wasn’t the same experience, so like, you know what, let’s bring it back, we can make some jobs, we can have better control. We were also fulfilling out of Maine too. So we’re like, let’s fulfill out of the middle of the country. It’ll be more efficient and let’s just have our eyes on everything. And it’s been great. It’s been easier to innovate. Um, I mean obviously we had to invest in machinery and things like that, but uh, so we’ve, so we’ve have had a couple of other options and we’ve had some of our stuff just made in China like some samples just to get ideas on pricing and quality and quality is fine honestly. And it’s a lot cheaper, it’s a lot, lot, lot cheaper, but most of our raw materials are coming from us as well who are like, it’s part of our green story so to speak. So we’re, we’re really trying to keep as much here as we can.

35:02 — John:  Do you have any top key pieces of advice on how to find the right manufacturer?

Ken:  References, references, references, and then if you can like go there, see their face, see their workers. A lot of times, I don’t know if it’s a lot of times, but sometimes there’ll be a factory but then they might contract. They’re selling out. Like it actually doesn’t even get done in the factory. Like they’ll send it out. That’s to me, one that’s added cost and then you’re like losing that. I want to know exactly where it’s being made and I want to know who’s making it. Um, and not that I think someone’s not being treated well or something, that’s a whole other story, especially overseas, but I just, I want to, again, I want to work with a business that thinks like we do and appreciate some things we do.

35:54 — John:  So I’m just trying to imagine this. So literally in northeast Minneapolis, do you have a space there with sewing machines? With people cranking out product?

Ken:  Yeah. So great. It’s cool and it’s not a huge space, but I mean we have for sewing machines to webbing cutters, a dye, sub printer, heat press. And it also allows us, we don’t have to sit on a ton of inventory. Um, I mean obviously we’re going to build up inventory that we know is going to be moving in and out, but we can, I mean, and it’s full of raw materials to like webbing, which the funniest side, the first place we looked at the manufacturer was um, the prison system because someone said, hey, that’s like good labor and that you can do it right here in Minnesota. And we went to a maximum security prison, which if you haven’t been as exactly what it seems like on TV, I’m super scared and then we’re still, we’re talking to these people and they’re asking about our raw materials and they said so that webbing, like how does that come? And I said, well comes in hundred yard in spools, and they’re like, yeah, you can’t bring a hundred yard spools of climbing webbing into prison. Anyway, I digress. So it’s all here, all the machinery, all the raw materials. It’s, it’s pretty cool.

37:14 — John:  Let’s shift a little bit and talk about selling the product to retailers. Early on, how did you learn to do that and what were those first approaches like?

Ken:  I went with, sometimes I went with reps, uh, like some people wanted to rep us, which hasn’t been very effective. Like overall, I mean we had a few that have worked well but so they, you know, they, that kind of made it a little softer, cause they knew the retailer or put me in front of the retailer. I’m honestly still to this day, every one of those experiences is different. I never know exactly what I’m going to run into. Um, at a trade show it’s a little easier because I feel like the playing field is leveled. Um, it’s, you know, as opposed to walking into an office and like bringing, you know, showing her wares, which carrying a bunch of leashes and collars and harnesses. It’s really hard not to make that look like a mess for whatever that’s worth to. So it’s, it’s hard, but it’s like selling anything. I mean, you’re reading people, you’re trying to develop a relationship. In a perfect world, I’ll have a dog with me. It doesn’t always get to work that way, but that helps a lot.

38:35 — John:  Let’s talk about pricing. A lot of entrepreneurs in the early days make some mistakes in pricing and find out that they don’t make their margins or the customer thinks it’s too much money or something like that. How did you go about setting the price for the Stunt Puppy product and how would you go about recommending that to other aspiring entrepreneurs?

Ken:  Well, I think there’s, I mean there’s two main levers for us, which is what does the competition cost and, there’s maybe three, and then two, what is, what’s our cost of goods? So you got to deal with those two things and then maybe the third is just a perception like are we what are, what do we want the customer to perceive us. We have a client that was in the hair salon business and there’s, I don’t know if this is an old adage, but they said to me a barbershop or a hair salon and the way they can tell if their prices are right or if you know, not a big percentage, but a percentage of the people won’t go there because they think it costs too much. So just trying to find that line. But for us the most important thing obviously is that, OK we can make money but we just wanted to be in line with the competition. Sometimes a little lower, sometimes a little higher depending on what the product is. And that was to like send a message. It’s like yeah, this costs a little more than theirs. But it’s better and here’s why. Or there’s these.

40:05 — John:  Let’s talk about creating awareness and demand for the product in your company. Most startups, as you know, have such small marketing budgets. How are you creating consumer awareness and demand for the product and how has that changed over time, if at all?

Ken:  Oh, it’s changed a ton. I mean, it’s 2018 right now. The thing about 11 years ago, and if somebody said social media 11 years ago, I mean it’s mind boggling how different it is. Um, so in the beginning though, you’re right, there was like no money, so a lot of it was word of mouth. And so we’re, we’re based in the center of Minneapolis in a long time ago. Some really smart people made an amazing decision to preserve these lakes in Minneapolis and not put houses right on them. And so they’re essentially available for all of us to use and it’s like ground zero for Stump Puppy, like people running with their dogs and urban environment, with relatively short leashes. A lot of our design just comes from this environment in general. Uh, so people just seeing our product and we they’re like, Hey, what’s that? I mean, in the beginning my family was just horrified because I’d stop everybody who had one of our questions are like, hey, that’s a little stretched out, like let me fix that for you. Um, so it’s very word of mouth and now on social media. And then social media has changed a bunch since it started, but it’s such a visual medium. Um, Instagram is really important for us. Uh, obviously Facebook is too in which is really kind of all catering around our direct business obviously, but our stores are, you know, we’re in the mix of our stores in terms of their Instagram stories and, and it’s, it’s super ripe content for them because it’s fresh. I mean, think if you’re a running store and you’re trying to get people in and you can talk about something unique like products for your dogs. It’s pretty cool.

42:12 — John:  Finally, Ken, did I miss any questions that you feel like you’d like to provide answers to, or do you have any closing pieces of advice for our aspiring entrepreneur listeners?

Ken:  Whether you’re an entrepreneur or, and I honestly always have a hard time with that word because it feel like it’s a little bit loaded. Um, just do what you love and yeah, you need to make a living, but work with people you want to work with, right? Enjoy your day. Uh, it’s, it’s, I’ve been on both sides of that equation. This is, you know, and it’s way better when you’re, you believe in what you’re doing.

John:  Ken, you’ve been a fantastic guest, offering great stories and advice to our aspiring entrepreneurial listeners. Congratulations on your success, for your entrepreneurial courage, for sharing your experiences with us today.

Ken:  And thanks so much for having me on.

 

About the author, John

John Benzick is an entrepreneurship coach and the founder of Venture Superfly. He is a Tech Partner at the venture-capital fund of Matchstick Ventures, a Mentor with Techstars Retail accelerator, an Entrepreneur-In-Residence and (former CEO-in-Residence) at the University of Minnesota, and founder and owner in two consumer product businesses. Click the button below to learn more.

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