How I Created And Launched A Fitbit For Dogs

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Chelsea Rhoads and I am the CEO/Co-Founder of pup-eeze, the smartest device on four legs. pup-eeze is a wellness tracker for dogs that tracks activity, monitors location and automates our dog’s lives by connecting them with hundreds of smart home devices giving ourselves and our dogs the ability to monitor, maintain and change the environment of the home if we’re concerned about separation anxiety or well-being.

We’ve built out a consumer-facing application for dog owners to monitor their pets’ data, visualize trends and send alerts when necessary. We’re focusing on the happy dog by creating an adjustable ecosystem for the dog’s environment.

We’ve had great success speaking with and testing the wellness tracker among those who love their dogs and love technology. We thought, “we bring our dogs on every other journey with us, why not include them in the technology journey as well?” With the overwhelming support from the technology community we were able to strategically partner with an emerging leader in the IoT enterprise solution field; Fathym. how-i-created-and-launched-a-fitbit-for-dogs

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

Elizabeth Hess and myself have been friends now for over a decade. We came up with the initial concept of pup-eeze years before without even noticing.

In 2008 we took a 2 month road/camping trip around the southwestern US. From that trip we realized how difficult it was to travel with our dogs.

We couldn’t leave them in the car or the tent and there are more places we couldn’t take them into than places that we could. We wished there was something that could help ensure their safety.

Minimum viable product means MINIMAL! If you aren’t embarrassed by it, you have waited too long. Keep your day job as long as you can, then keep it longer.

A previously failed business venture

In 2016 we developed Pup Alert. A mobile temperature monitor for dogs, specifically designed for people who regularly travel with their pets (RV adventurers, award winning competitors, active hunters,etc). (Here are all 3 designs from concept, to prototype to final design)

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The response was fantastic, with numerous pre-orders coming in. However, our hardware solution was not, missing multiple certification criteria. Lots of money down, tails between our legs, we hung our heads and went back to the drawing board.

A new idea

Before too long, our spirits were rejuvenated. Heads held high and tails a-waggin’, we’d come up with the idea for pup-eeze.

We adjusted the concept to be more inline with what our followers were asking for; a wearable device, peace of mind at home as well as on the road, cost effective, and a happier dog…

Over the years since we started this adventure, Elizabeth and myself have worked multiple jobs to keep the business afloat. We focused our efforts on learning how to run a business vs learning how to code.

We managed an overseas engineering team for our minimal viable product. We networked like crazy people. We remained genuine to our mission and goals by always pursuing the dream that we believe pup-eeze is able to become.

To say we bootstrapped to get to this point is either a massive understatement, or the picture perfect definition of the struggle.

Describe the process of creating the product and launching the business.

This process is still going! Creating a new product, especially in the technology space is not an easy feat. But with any new product, there’s a fine line to balance of how much is enough to go test the market. This is a very important line that is a necessity to focus on to ensure they save themselves, time, money, stress and minimizing redoing things because the world is constantly changing, ideas are changing and you are always growing and changing.

I never thought I would feel so fulfilled on this adventure. I’ve learned so much about myself, my strength, what I truly care about and how to continue growing and improving as a person, within the business and outside of it.

Launching with a minimal viable product is first “launch” when you actually have something more than and idea. And honestly, it’s more difficult than one would think. It’s hard going out with a huge amount of confidence in the product, when it’s not where you want it to be long run. It’s difficult to stop and say, this is enough. We challenge ourselves every week to reevaluate where we are, is it enough and if we can find another angle to look at it, for example; targeting the tech people with dogs vs dog people with tech.

From there, it’s about being open with your users and making them feel like they are part of the improvements moving forward. Try to keep priorities in line and to not stray too far from those priorities. This will help make sure the right things are getting done and not lost in the numerous amount of other, less important things that need to get done, because there is an endless amount of things to get done!

A big lesson we learned (the hard way) was to to take care of ourselves to minimize burn out. There isn’t a point when there is less to grind out or less work, and there will be weeks with no wins. We’ve learned that each “next step” just gives next problems to get solved and more work to get done. So it’s ok to take time off, there will always be more to do, so if you take a weekend for yourself is ok, it’s actually good! Most of my biggest improvements to the company came after taking some time off which allowed me to step back, and see other things in the world vs being so nose deep in my own stuff.

I feel like of the many things I’ve learn on this adventure is, to never expect it to magically get easier which showed me how strong, creative and slightly insane I am to keep pushing through all of this madness and LOVE IT! :)

The launch

As far as the launch, It will take 10x longer than you would expect!

We started by ensuring the business side was setup properly. Including researching name availability (domain, Trademark, Trade Name), than started our legal entity (LLC, C-corp, S-corp), opened a business bank account, setup a Google number, purchased a PO Box, setup a landing page, setup social media accounts, pitched our idea out to everyone we met and evaluated responses, where we could sell and who was most interested. Lots of networking and learning how to run a business.

We mainly used income from our jobs and credit cards to finance. Depending on the industry you are going in, I strongly recommend evaluating the timeline for when you will have income coming in before using credit cards. Say if you are buying inventory or even better, presales inventory, than credit cards can be great! If you have a long time until launch (remember 10x longer than you’ll expect), credit cards can be a dangerous option.

These steps really allowed us to grow, learn and prototype. In the end we are still grinding it out and developing a fundraising campaign. We both work at another local startup who’s helping us get pup-eeze off the ground. Networking has been great, it’s amazing how much people want to help. Overall, it’s all working out and we are going to keep fighting forward!

Biggest lesson...it will take 10x times longer than you expect! ha

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

We’ve gotten the best response from word of mouth. We’ve gone to many dog specific events, technology events and also startup week events to help get the word out. We decided to focus on the flip of what most would expect, we focus on tech interested people who have dogs vs dog owners who like technology.

Retaining customers for us has really revolved around transparency and good customer service. It’s not always easy to respond to grumpy emails but it’s much better than ignoring them. We also try to respond within a couple hours of any message.

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

Today we are planning for our test devices to go out. All of our current alpha testing has been in-house, so we’re very excited to get the device out to our very supporting test group.

From there we’re going to listen and improve the product. After that soft launch. From there, listen and improve. From there full launch ideally with very happy supporters! Always listening to continually improve the product.

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

This adventure isn’t for everyone. You have to be mentally strong, diligent in breaking down and organizing problems or ideas into tangible tasks and goals. You’ll learn to appreciate everything, because every little win feels like a million bucks!

I never thought I would feel so fulfilled on this adventure. I’ve learned so much about myself, my strength, what I truly care about and how to continue growing and improving as a person, within the business and outside of it.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We’re building the pup-eeze ecosystem on the Fathym Framework platform. Our website is built using Shopify. Our data is collected and stored in the Microsoft cloud Azure. We use Mailchimpto communicate with our customers, along with the many social media platforms; Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. Our blogis built using Wordpress.

Without these tools we would not be able to provide the product that we wish to. From communication, to machine learning. These tools capture it all.

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

The support group and common language that we’ve been able to grasp onto in books we’ve read that have helped shape and influence our journey are many. Let alone the number of conferences and meetups we’ve attended.

And let’s be honest, the degree in entrepreneurship that Google has given us by being able to search the world for the answers to the questions that we seek, has been priceless.

The books that most stick out to us in helping to navigate this world of pets and the technology that supports them are:

...and so many more.

These books have not only captured the importance of animals in all of our lives, but they’ve also helped to pave the way for how to continue to bring our animal friends on life's journey with us.

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

Minimum viable product means MINIMAL! If you aren’t embarrassed by it, you have waited too long. Keep your day job as long as you can, then keep it longer. Learn how to break down big ideas into step-by-step achievable goals, then achieve each one of those goals.

Don’t expect anything to make this easier. Money won’t solve all your problems. Paying someone won’t help solve all your problems. Having the perfect solution won’t solve all your problems. Only YOU can solve all your problems. It’s important to remember that every step of the way. Don’t get discouraged, be proud of what you achieve each and every day. Accept that some days are better than others, and equally as important accept the help people want to give you. Always keep moving forward!!!

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We are extremely fortunate to have all the necessary positions fulfilled right now and have people waiting for the positions we will be hiring for in the next couple months. Sales would be the only position we haven’t built a pipeline for yet and might be hiring for by the end of year. If you love selling technology that has anything to do with helping out dogs and other animals, drop us a line.

Where can we go to learn more?

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-  
Chelsea Rhoads,   Founder of pup•eeze

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