How We Started a
CBD Dog Treats Company
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Erin Mastopietro and I am the co-founder of Dope Dog. We create CBD products designed specifically for dogs.
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
Since a young age I was always experimenting with small businesses, some more embarrassing than others. To be completely honest, it wasn’t until the corporate company I worked for closed its doors and left me jobless that I was actually able to seize the opportunity to go all in on starting my own business full time.
My partner (and now fiance) Michael and I created Dope Dog because of the issues his dog James’ faced. He was suffering from joint pain after 2 ACL surgeries and we were looking for alternatives to having him on prescription pills for the rest of his life. With no holistic products on the market to help James’ post-surgery pain, we saw a need to bring a quality wellness product line for dogs to life. Between this realization and discovering the benefits of CBD in our own personal use, Dope Dog was born!
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
Many of the challenges we face are related to the nature of our product. The active ingredient in all Dope Dog products is CBD which is regulated in many states, similar to cannabis. With the laws and regulations always changing, it is tough to navigate the red tape that is common in the cannabis industry.
One common issue that cannabis companies run into is securing a payment processor that accepts payment from cannabis-related sales. Just a few months into launching, the company who was running our credit cards completely shut down, leaving our website without a payment option. That was a stressful time, to say the least!
Who is your target market?
Dog owners and dog lovers! I am lucky in the sense that all Dope Dog customers are dog people and those are the best kind of people, in my opinion. Our customers range from new pet parents who just adopted a rescue dog, to owners with multiple furry family members. One thing all our customers have in common is a desire to provide a better life for their dog. Whether they are promoting longevity or preventing pain during end of life care, they see results with the benefits of CBD.
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
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 customer, mentor, or investor.
Since our product launch almost 3 years ago, we have learned a lot. Attracting customers and driving traffic to an ecommerce store is not easy. We rely heavily on word of mouth and referrals from existing customers. We have been lucky enough to obtain organic PR placements like our mention on the O-list in Oprah Magazine in November 2019. A major feature like this spikes both sales and street cred. We’ve also had success at events in the pet industry where we can connect with potential customers in real life and educate on CBD as an alternative solution to many common issues dogs’ face.
With the regulations around CBD products, paid digital ads have never been in our marketing strategy. Instead, we successfully utilized social media, SEO, email marketing to gain new customers and, equally importantly, retain our existing customers. We experimented with different online strategies including a subscription program which helps manage monthly recurring revenue and keep our Dope Dogs stocked up with CBD so they never worry about running out!
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
We love to have fun and create community for our “Dope Dogs”. We host giveaways and contests on social media and are always looking to try something new. In September 2020, we celebrated our 3 year anniversary and surprised our customers with a free gift! They loved it so much we have committed to partnering with a new brand every month to include a gift with purchase for all Dope Dog subscribers each month.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
We’re a lean team which makes it easier to maintain company culture. I am grateful for a team that works hard and values down time and personal growth. My partner and I are always reading new books, trying new life hacks, and always make sure to take the time to unplug from the day.
As an employee founder, I think it is even more important to create space away from work to recharge and refresh. This helps me bring the best version of myself to work each day.
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
As an online company we lean on plenty of tech to get the job done. I must credit my co-founder Michael here, as he is always scoping out the latest software and tweaking our tech stack as needed. Here is the latest from our tool box:
- Sales Platform: Shopify
- Email Marketing: Klaviyo
- Team Management: Basecamp
- Documentation: Notion
- Email Capture: Wheel.io
- Ambassador Program: Referralcandy
- Sales Tax: TaxJar
- Fulfilment: ShipBob
- Inventory Management + wholesale portal: Tradegecko
- Customer Service: ManyChat Facebook Messenger
- CRM/Sales: Close.io
- Social Media Management: Buffer
- Reviews: Yopoto
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
One of the most important lessons I have learned on my business journey is that one size doesn’t fit all. As a business owner, I’m constantly consuming information. Whether reading a new business book or connecting with fellow entrepreneurs, it can be valuable to hear others’ trials and tribulations. Do keep in mind however that each business is unique and even the best advice might not apply to exactly where your business is at that moment!
I have had no shortage of learning curves, and sometimes what you need to know you will only learn by doing. I am grateful to have a partner that excels at my weaknesses and visa versa, so we make a good team.
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
My favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur is having the opportunity to share what I’ve created to help and inspire others. I am lucky that I get to connect with so many pet owners daily – not to mention the major bonus of meeting endless adorable dogs. =)
I am also very grateful for the partnerships I have been able to form through starting Dope Dog. We work with local rescues to help give back where we can, particularly to organizations who we know are doing amazing work daily to help dogs in need.
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
It has been a challenge to transition from the more traditional, corporate work environment to the more unpredictable self-employed lifestyle. I think a lot of people go into entrepreneurship to finally get that flexible lifestyle but that is not what attracted me to this work. I thrive in a more structured environment and working as a co-founder at a startup is quite the opposite.
Being an entrepreneur has brought me out of my comfort zone in the best way possible. It has become clear that being uncomfortable is a precursor to great growth and personal development.
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
This is always my favorite question. I love starting my day reading a business book and ending the day reading on a subject of interest not related to business. (My library is 98% non-fiction.) Here’s a sampling of some of my favorite titles.
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.
Principles by Ray Dialo: Don’t be put off by the size of this book – it’s worth it!
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
I look forward to the day when all dogs are Dope Dogs. I see such an exciting future for the pet industry and the CBD space. There is still so much to learn about CBD and I don’t think we have scratched the surface as far as introducing dogs to this holistic solution and Dope Dog is just getting started!