These Entrepreneurs Recognized a Gap in the Wonderful World of Dogs -- and Filled It
Entrepreneur's New Year’s Guide
Recently, entrepreneurs Josh Wais and Lauren McDevitt watched one of those little urban comedies New York is famous for unfold on a bench outside a restaurant in Manhattan: A Great Dane, apparently wanting to get closer to his favorite human -- a (much smaller) female -- jumped up beside her, but didn't stop there.
"The owner was sitting on the bench outside a restaurant, and the Great Dane" -- a male can weigh up to 200 pounds -- "was trying to sit on her lap," Wais reported, laughing. "He just parked himself on her lap, like it was the most normal thing in the world."
Notably, the woman didn't shriek, didn't shove, didn't squeal; she actually seemed content with the enormous chunk of canine weighing her down.
Metaphorically, it was the kind of ideal canine-human match McDevitt and Wais envisioned when they founded their company Good Dog, and proceeded to attract $6.7 million in investments. The young startup, whose website launched this week, helps people find the right four-footed addition for their family, by connecting them with reputable breeders, shelters and rescue groups. Call it Match.com for canines.
"The idea came from our own search for a dog," McDevitt, 29, told Entrepreneur, describing both a personal and professional relationship with Wais, 30. "Both of us -- it's our first dog -- were shocked by how difficult the process is. What kind of dog was right for us?" Especially difficult, McDevitt added, was the "quality" aspect. How do you know you're dealing with a provider who's trustworthy, honest and humane?
How not to get a dog
Typically, Wais said, the dog-acquisition scenario involves a wannabee owner seeking information from someone on the street holding a cute puppy, or asking a friend for breeder references. Those routes, however, are dicey. In 2017 there were 89.9 million dogs in the United States, according to Statista; that number has spiked from 68 million, in 2000.
And there's no telling how many of those dogs came from disreputable, even cruel sources, including puppy mills, so-called "backyard breeders" and commercial breeding farms, infamous for producing sickly, overbred and emotionally stressed puppies.
"Unfortunately, it's the Wild West," Wais said of the market gap he and McDevitt were determined to fill. "It's been, frankly, a very broken process, and it shouldn't be this way." Just last week, he said, friends asked about two breeders the couple hadn't heard of. But because Wais and McDevitt already had experts lined up, and a vetting process ready to go, they quickly steered those friends away from those breeders.
"They were scams, and we were able to tell them that," Wais said.
An entrepreneurial background
Good Dog's founders didn't decide on the fly to start a pet business; they plotted and planned it, based on a solid financial base and corporate backgrounds. Both had worked as customer experience execs at Jet, the ecommerce site. Wais reported to the chief revenue officer; McDevitt led the product management team building the company's website and mobile apps.
Both joined relatively early after Jet's 2014 founding, when there were only 30 employees (the company grew to 2,500). But, then, surprise! The company sold to Walmart, in 2016,for $3.3 billion. So, not even two years in, Wais and McDevitt each walked away with "a nice outcome in a very short period of time," as Wais put it.
In other words: He's not divulging their good fortune.
What Wais-McDevitt did next.
The Walmart acquisition left Wais-McDevitt sitting pretty. So they put their experience in entrepreneurship, and especially scaling, to good use for the market need they'd identified: the lack of a central resource for the dog-acquiring market.
"We're tech people; we come from that world," Wais said. "And what we found was, there is no answer." Not even major groups such as the American Kennel Club were active in any major way in that sector. "Health and temperament are ultimately what companion animal owners care about, and what folks care about, who are bringing dogs into their homes," Wais said. "And nobody was doing that."
Others agreed there was a need, notably venture capitalist David Tisch, of the Loews Corp. family. Tisch injected angel capital and became chairman of the board. Two dozen other investors jumped in as well, allowing Wais and McDevitt not to have to exhaust that Jet.com pot of gold. "We're not financiers," Wais explained.
How they and their team 'vet.'
"Vet" here, of course, means screening and appraising good sources of dogs. ("Our name is 'Good Dog' because we deliver a really good product," Wais quipped.)
Notably, the website vets all sources of dogs, from low-cost shelters and rescue groups to pricey breeders -- in order to accommodate multiple preferences and budgets. "The criteria," Wais noted, "is different not only for every type of source ... but also for every breed. So, we've worked with a group of advisors."
Those advisors offer expertise in puppy care, dog temperament (fact: Shiba Inus tend to be stand-offish), dog environments, the health of breeding dogs and shelter/breeder policies (e.g., can dogs be brought back?).
Particularly important, on the shelter side, is transparency (does the shelter release its recidivism rate?)
Good Dog's advisors include:
- Dr. Brian Greenfield, DVM: a veterinarian and national expert in canine reproduction, breeding management and pediatric care; he developed Good Dog's standards and screening procedures for veterinary care, health testing and breeder policies.
- Candace Croney, Ph.D.: director of the Center for Animal Welfare Science at Purdue University and a professor of animal behavior and well-being. She's an academic expert on the welfare of breeding dogs and their puppies.
- James A. Serpell, Ph.D.: a professor of ethics and animal welfare at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine and director of the Center for the Interaction of Animals and Society. His book, The Domestic Dog, is a primary resource for understanding dogs’ behavior and humans' interactions with them
Of course, three experts can't handle the tsunami of contacts that Good Dog will eventually draw, so Wais-McDevitt set up a screening team in Salt Lake City, headed by Cat Matloub; the entire team has about 20 people. Patrons who actually get a dog from a breeder through the platform will pay about $100 but otherwise information about breeds and breeders is free, as are its many photos of adorable dogs needing forever homes.
So, you're getting a dog. What should you know?
1. Are you ready for a dog? Is a dog right for you? "People tend to think about the aesthetic elements: 'What is my dog going to look like?'" McDevitt pointed out. "And at the end of the day, there are temperament and energy level and things you might not even think about." Like coat care: "How often you'll be brushing and taking the dog to the groomer are things that might make a big difference in the match between a person and a dog, beyond the superficial things."
2. Are shelters a bad place to get a dog? "Oftentimes, people think dogs are in shelters mostly due to behavioral issues," McDevitt said. "A lot of time, they're there through no fault of their own: An owner passed away. Someone had an allergy. Financial issues came up where they couldn't afford care. Or they might be moving to a smaller apartment." In fact, Wais-McDevitt urge people to consider shelters and rescue groups first. "We ask that people look there first," Wais said, noting that even kill shelters are on their referrals list. "Shelters and rescues are a symptom of the system," he said. "We want to solve for the problem that's causing the need for shelters and rescues, by helping people only get a dog if they should be getting a dog -- and get the right dog."
3. Is it best to get a puppy? "There are a lot of advantages to getting an adult dog," McDevitt said, listing, for example, their lower level of rambunctiousness and previous house-training.
4. What's important to know about a purebred? "The first thing to consider," McDevitt said, is to think about the health issues that come with your chosen breed. "A lot of times, people see French bulldogs on the street and think they're so cute. But [Frenchies] do tend to have some breathing issues."
Above, all, the two entrepreneurs said, to attain the perfect match with a dog, you need to manage your expectations. "A dog is a living, breathing creature, and it's going tp grow, and you're going to love it," Wais pointed out. "But it's not going to be perfect. They have their own temperaments. So, know what your own is."
As for the dog he and McDevitt are going to get: They've decided: A Havanese. Really, really cute. Woof.