From Software to Kibble: Sol Lipman Opens Up About His Latest Startup, YaDoggieFrom Software to Kibble: Sol Lipman Opens Up About His Latest Startup, YaDoggie
From the outside, YaDoggie appears to be on a fast track to dog food domination. Customers are fierce brand ambassadors of the dog food subscription company, donning YaDoggie hats and wielding YaDoggie poop bags stamped with humorous text like “Ewww! It’s Warm!” or my personal favorite, “Nickelback songs.” They’re a darling of the press, landing a mention on the Today Show, a feature in TechCrunch, and an ABC News segment on their pen full of puppies at TechCrunch Disrupt. And perhaps most impressive, YaDoggie is “Skyler the Surfing Dog’s” kibble of choice.
The young company, however, is facing the same challenges that any young startup has to face: How to land additional funding, how to ramp up their subscription numbers and meet their customers’ needs, and how to differentiate themselves from their competitors. The startup’s “Top Doggie” and tech startup veteran, Sol Lipman, recently opened up about how YaDoggie is overcoming these challenges and why he pivoted from software to grain-free kibble.
Why Dog Food?
Lipman will readily admit he likes dogs better than people. His two favorite companions are Ernie, a 17-year-old husky-lab mix—“He’s a badass. He took a deer down the very first day we moved to our 12 acres in Scotts Valley”—and Ottis, a 135-pound Anatolian-pyrenees lap dog.
“There’s a purity of intention to dogs,” explains Lipman. “They want to play, they want to eat, and they want to love. People are so complicated and we’re always trying to find peace. Dogs already have that nailed.”
Lipman’s love of dogs and their innate authenticity comes through in YaDoggie’s branding. It’s clear that Lipman and his team believe strongly in the value they can bring to people’s lives and this is a big part of what differentiates them from their competitors.
“The difference between startups in Santa Cruz and startups outside of Santa Cruz is that there’s an authenticity to the work,” says Lipman. “A lot of startups over the hill just want to be billionaires. For us, we love dogs, and we wanted to do something with a physical component to it, not just build software. And we want to be here [in Santa Cruz]. Money’s really important but there comes a point where money has diminishing returns and you start seeking things that are more meaningful. That authenticity has to flow through our whole company from the customer service to the bag that the food comes in.”
The word ‘authenticity’ gets thrown around a lot when describing what sets a brand apart, but for YaDoggie, the term fits. As a customer, you experience their authenticity throughout the buyer’s journey. YaDoggie provides radical transparency when it comes to ingredients (they list each ingredient in their dog food along with a detailed description of why it’s included) and the team treats customer service more like the start of a long friendship rather than a financial transaction.
For instance, how many CEOs invite anyone who visits their website to come talk about their product over a local craft beer—their treat? Lipman confirmed, the beer offer is genuine: “Just give me some advance warning and bring your dog!”
This is how Lipman does business: He takes the time to understand his customers on a deeper level than anyone else in the industry. Startup hopefuls take note. With two successful companies under his belt (he sold RallyUp to AOL and Tomfoolery to Yahoo), Lipman knows a thing or two about launching a startup and sticking the landing.
Put Your Customers (Canines Included) First
When Lipman first set out to sell dog food, the primary motivation wasn’t to create a get-rich-quick scheme—it was to help dog parents (Lipman doesn’t like the term ‘owner) keep their canine companions active and healthy.
“When we built the platform we wanted to be different from every other dog food company,” says Lipman. “Every other company goes through a distributor and because of that, they don’t know their customers. How is it possible that 30 billion dollars is spent every year on dog food but none of these people know their customers?”
Lipman goes on to explain that most feeding guidelines are double what you should be feeding your dog because traditional dog food companies simply don’t know their canine customers. This is a big deal as those extra pounds could cut precious years off your furry friend’s life. To bridge this knowledge gap, YaDoggie gets to know every dog it feeds from its breed and weight to its feeding and exercise habits.
This is a smart strategy not only for a dog food company but for any business. Lipman advises all new startups to first and foremost foster good relationships with their customers and focus on building a strong community of people who care about your product and who can help you succeed.
“Don’t think that if you have the idea you’ve done 90% of the job,” warns Lipman. “Building a community around what you’re doing is as important as the thing you’re doing. You have to find collaborators. Otherwise, your idea doesn’t matter.”
Now in its second year, YaDoggie is looking at where they can innovate and how they can add more value. “What’s gonna be the thing that takes us from 1,000 dogs to 10,000 dogs over the next year? That’s what we’re going to be rolling out starting in June.”
While Lipman can’t share any details on upcoming releases, he’s clearly excited for the next phase of his business. “We have a lot of things that we’re working on right now that are going to be f**kin rad.” Lipman isn’t giving any hints but says they will be rolling out new food products and new technology in the next year that dog parents and their pups will be scrambling to get their paws on.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Molly Ressler is a writer and content strategist based in Santa Cruz. Find more of her work at mollyressler.com.