How We Started A $16K/Month CBD Dog Treats Company

Published: May 15th, 2020
Michael Benatar and Erin Mastopietro
Founder, Dope Dog
Dope Dog
from Los Angeles, California, USA
started September 2017
market size
avg revenue (monthly)
starting costs
gross margin
time to build
210 days
growth channels
Email marketing
business model
best tools
Instagram, Airtable, Klaviyo
time investment
Full time
pros & cons
35 Pros & Cons
8 Tips
Discover what tools Michael recommends to grow your business!
social media
Discover what books Michael recommends to grow your business!
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Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hi Guys! Michael and Erin here. We are the co-founders of Dope Dog and we’re on a mission to make dogs happy.

We started Dope Dog in 2017 to bring the benefits of CBD to the pet world. We designed a product we wished we had for our dog James during his recovery from 2 ACL surgeries. The medicine he was prescribed had negative side effects and we were looking for a natural alternative. We started supplementing with CBD and the results were undeniable. We wished there was a dog product on the market for us to continually use on him, and that's how Dope Dog was born!

The first product we created was a human-grade dog biscuit called the Calming Crunchie. Dogs went crazy for it and pet parents were happy to find a quality CBD product that was designed specifically for dogs by dog lovers.

Within the first year, we went from 1 flavor of the Calming Crunchies treat to a full line of 9 products including CBD oils and even a dog shampoo! We’ve been bootstrapped and growing organically since we started and are currently generating 18k in monthly revenue.


What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

We have always been dog-lovers, but we never imagined being lucky enough to be able to help dogs for a living. Michael had multiple dogs while growing up and they were always part of the family. Erin even started a dog-sitting business when she was 13 and filled her home with her neighbors’ dogs.

When Michael moved to Los Angeles in 2012, he quickly got his own dog, James. He’s an 80lb pit bull mix with the sweetest demeanor. In 2016 James was struggling with joint pain and ended up needing ACL surgery on both knees. After his surgery, he was prescribed multiple medicines, one of which he was supposed to take indefinitely. The side effects were not great and could harm his liver in the long run.

Michael was looking for natural alternatives for James around the same time he and Erin discovered CBD while traveling in Colorado. After experiencing the benefits of CBD personally and doing extensive research on how cannabinoids work naturally in the endocannabinoid system of both humans and dogs, we decided to begin treating James.

Within weeks we saw a difference in his mobility, and within months we were able to completely wean him off his liver-damaging meds. At the time, we were administering human-grade CBD oil onto James’ dog treats twice a day which became time-consuming. He’s a clever pup, so we had to hide the fact that we were giving him “medicine” by dropping the oil on in another room and then bringing him the treat. We thought “wouldn’t it be great if we have a dog treat already infused with CBD?” Not long after this realization, Dope Dog was created!

We attended pet events and went door-to-door in Los Angeles to speak with pet store owners who had years of experience. Many of these pet stores became our very first customers who are still with us today.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

We knew the first product was going to be a CBD dog treat because that is what we were wishing we had for James. But that’s the easy part! Creating a human-grade CBD product that was safe and healthy for dogs was going to be a bit more challenging. We needed to source appropriate CBD and create a healthy and delicious treat. If the dogs didn’t like it - we knew it wouldn’t work!

In the midst of all this, we adopted a second pitbull puppy at 6 weeks old. Zoey was the ying to James’ yang. They officially became the earliest test subjects of Dope Dog. Zoey had issues of her own and was in and out of the vet for back pain and neurological issues. They must have tried dozens of different treats with different doses of CBD. It didn’t take long for us to figure out the dosage that worked for each of them. Since James is 80lbs and Zoey was only 20lb at the time, their doses varied. This is about the time we realized we would need to create options for large and small breeds. They are now happily snacking on 1 treat with breakfast and 1 treat with dinner. James gets the large bone for large breeds and Zoey gets our bite-sized treat for smaller breeds. (She never got past 45lbs!)

After testing so many treats from multiple manufacturers, bakers, and other brands, we knew the direction we wanted to take. We decided to work with a small-batch baker and design a custom CBD recipe. Our first recipe was peanut butter, and it continues to be our top selling flavor. The treats are made with limited human-grade ingredients, including human-grade CBD. They are airy, crunchy, and 100% dog-approved. The hardest part here was getting the CBD content accurate. We had to go through many test batches with different amounts of CBD in order to get the dosage exactly right. We tested the batches post-baking for CBD content in each individual treatment, and finally got the recipe perfected.

The initial prototype looks nothing like our current product. We opted for inexpensive packaging with super low minimums. This allowed us to launch very quickly and start getting feedback from real customers, real pet store owners, and real dogs! Within a few months, we knew the product was solid and then reinvested into better packaging. Below is a photo of the original product (top) vs. what it looks like today (bottom).



Describe the process of launching the business.

We didn’t let the details hold us back from launching the business. We started with one product and a simple website. We had a friend design the first round of packaging and knew we could reiterate later if we wanted. The important thing was getting real feedback from real customers, so we started sending products to our friends and family, and getting it in the hands of “dog-people” so to speak.

We attended pet events and went door-to-door in Los Angeles to speak with pet store owners who had years of experience. Many of these pet stores became our very first customers who are still with us today.

While we did have a heavy focus on product development at the beginning, we knew there was more work to be done when starting a business. We used LegalZoom to get our LLC set up officially, and hit the ground running. We started our eCommerce store on Shopify and started building our email list, which we now optimize with Klayvio.

Ultimately the “launch” was just a day we decided to go live. Looking back, it means nothing. We didn’t know about press releases and fancy launch timelines. We just turned it on, posted on Instagram, and shared it with our network. Because of this soft launch, we were able to grow at a normal pace and have the flexibility to evolve as needed.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

Since our soft launch almost 3 years ago, we have learned a lot. Attracting customers and driving traffic to an eCommerce store is not easy. With the regulations around cannabis products, paid ads have never been in our marketing strategy. We quickly utilized social media and email marketing to gain new customers and, equally importantly, retain our existing customers.

We rely heavily on word of mouth and referrals from existing customers. While “word of mouth” can be a tough KPI to measure, we do so through post-purchase email surveys.

We’ve also had success at industry events where we capture customers' emails and retarget. We experimented with different online strategies including a subscription program that helps manage monthly recurring revenue, which we still use today.

Another game-changer in growing our organic search traffic on Google is investing in SEO (search engine optimization). Adding relevant blogs to our website helps us attract dog owners to our website. Lastly, we have been lucky enough to get some organic PR placements like our mention on the O-list in Oprah Magazine. A major feature like this spikes both sales and street cred.


Ultimately it has been the human connections that we have made over the years that have helped Dope Dog grow successfully. You never know where you will meet your next client, or mentor, or investor.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

Currently, we are working to grow our online business. We have seen our traffic increase by almost 100% over the last 6 months due to efforts in SEO marketing. Our customer retention rate is 55% thanks to thoughtful email marketing and flows which we create with Klaviyo.

With the growth in traffic to the website, we have also been working hard on UX and site experience. Working with the developer of our Shopify theme to optimize the site functionality has been a game-changer.

Our other sales channels include wholesale to retailers across the US. This includes independent pet stores, CBD specialty shops, and natural grocers. In the next 6 months, our goal is to partner with a few regional grocery or drugstore chains who can help us reach a larger audience who might not be familiar with CBD.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

One of the best things about running a start-up is the crazy amount of new things you learn constantly. If you asked us where we’d be today when we first started, we could not have answered. You don’t know what you don’t know.

In our personal journey, we’ve noticed a few themes. Most of the game-changing relationships and partnerships we now were made when we were out in the field. For example, our current advisor/mentor we ran into while working a farmers market in our local beach town. He happened to be in town that weekend and the experience was a total coincidence. His experience selling his previous company to Airbnb and investing in companies like Halo Top and Third Love has been valuable to us at this stage. We never would have met if we hadn’t put ourselves and our brand out there!

Ultimately it has been the human connections that we have made over the years that have helped Dope Dog grow successfully. You never know where you will meet your next client, or mentor, or investor. We love meeting new business owners so much that we even started a business podcast on which we speak regularly with start-up founders about what it’s like starting your own venture. Our advice to anyone in any type of business is to get out of your comfort zone and remain open to new possibilities because you never know where the next opportunity will present itself.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

Making Money is Killing Your Business by Chuck Blakeman

Read this and don’t let the little stuff pull you away from pushing the business forward.

Indistractible by Nir Eyal

A must-read for any type of work. How to stay focused in today’s distracting world.

Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss

Learn negotiation skills from a former FBI agent and never do business the same again.

Profit First by Mike Michalowicz

The profit-first system laid out in this book helps us manage our finances, scale appropriately as revenue increases, and always put profit first.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Just start! As you can see from our journey - we had an idea and acted on it. We didn’t know a thing. We like to remember the saying “you don’t know what you don’t know”. This resonates with us as entrepreneurs. Oftentimes not knowing can be an advantage because you truly have a fresh perspective, and that’s what disrupts industries and allows us to create brands that truly make a difference.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

Stay tuned for open positions at Dope Dog!

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

Want to start a dog treat business? Learn more ➜