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A Healthy Pet-Treat Business Worth Barking About What brings this entrepreneur success is letting consumers sample his pet food product for free.

By Nichole L. Torres

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A Healthy Pet-Treat Business Worth Barking About

Marco Giannini, 32

Dogswell, Los Angeles, California
Projected 2008 sales: $21 million
Description: Manufacturer of natural pet treats that have functional properties

Natural order: Fresh out of business school and with a brief stint producing functional beverages under his belt, Marco Giannini came up with the idea of creating dog treats infused with nutrients to help pets maintain healthy bodies. Giannini invested $30,000 of his own money to manufacture and package his first truckload of the product. "I went around to about 100 [independent] pet stores in Northern California and 100 in Southern California," he says. "I got about $35,000 in revenue in our first month."

Growing strong: Customers loved the idea of functional pet snacks, and Dogswell has seen more than 100 percent growth each year since its launch in 2004. Thanks to earning sales of $500,000 his first full year in business, Giannini never had to seek venture funding. "That was a big key to me--managing my own destiny," he says.

People mover: Building a staff that can handle quick growth was a priority for Giannini, who now has 25 employees. From closing the office early on Fridays during the summer to planning trips to Cancun when the company meets its goals, Giannini is determined to create a healthy, happy working environment.

Future focus: Giving out more than 160,000 full-size samples to pet stores each month helps get the Dogswell--and now Catswell--line of treats noticed by pet lovers. In the works: a plan to launch a line of organic pet food.

Follow his lead: Widen your reach and customer base by letting people try your product for free.

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What is your secret to success?
The secret to the first sale was getting it made and getting it sold. We've been able to put products out there that stick. Not all of our products have been successful, but the ones that have been, we quickly push those, and we take the bottom ones out of the market. It's been important for our success to get products quickly to market.

What advice would you give other entrepreneurs?
It depends on how much pain you want to go through. How much sacrifice. If you don't want to go through a lot of pain and sacrifice, start a business where you can sell something in the first month. If you feel it's worth it to go through a lot of pain and there's a huge reward at the end of the day, then you can take a year or two to develop the best product. But no matter what you develop, there's always going to be a way to improve your own product.

When did you know you'd "made it"?
I honestly don't [know that] yet. When do you make it? Is it when you can finally step away and it's a sustainable business? I haven't felt [that] "Wow, we've really made it; we've done well." At the same time, did I ever think we'd get to this level of revenue and this much growth? If you asked me four years ago, probably not. But we've definitely built the infrastructure to be able to do so; we just didn't realize it.

What was the first toy or reward you bought for yourself when you became successful?
Nothing too crazy--I leased a nice car, a BMW.

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