Clint Howitz is the proud founder and CEO of dogIDs, a company that provides high-quality personalized Pet tags and accessories. Inspired by Clint’s family dog, River, and their other office pets, they aim at offering only the best for your best friend! He agreed to share his experience as an entrepreneur with the Beeleev community, along with precious tips on a crucial aspect of the start-up phase of any business.
Hello Clint! Thank you very much for sharing your experience with the Beeleev Community! Can you tell us about your background, what brought you to becoming an entrepreneur and creating DogIDs ?
I started working at Ford Motor Co. in 1992 up till the moment when, in 1998, I built a wholesale dog products company called “C&C Outfitters”. After it got acquired in 2002, I went back to corporate life and worked at Bobcat Co. until 2010, the year I created DogIDs.
I realized I was never good at working for other people and that working for myself is the only way to find fulfillment in my career. 7 Years later, we grew to become a team of 17 humans – and quite a few dogs.
Can you think of obstacles you encountered along your path and tell us how you overcame them ?
First, choosing the moment to leave my full-time job to create DogIDs was a big hurdle. It required a great deal of sacrifice in terms of lifestyle because of the major reduction in my personal income, which was also a stressful adjustment for my family.
A second aspect is that I bootstrapped DogIDs for the first couple of years but, once the business began growing at a more rapid rate, we felt the need to secure financing. Finding capital to finance DogIDs has always been difficult since traditional banks are constrained by regulations and e-Commerce Start-Ups like ours are considered high-risk. Luckily, with the Bank of North Dakota, Innovate ND, ND Development Fund and Dakota Venture Fund backing us, we were able to set up financing with Bell Banks for initial working capital. In 2015, I brought in our first and only investor to further help finance our growth.
Last but not least, finding the right technology to build your e-Commerce platform is crucial and was quite a challenge to us. Because the majority of our products are custom and made to order, the common solutions available within our budget do not provide what we need. There also seems to be plenty of platform options for small and large e-Commerce businesses, but not for those like DogIDs, who are “too big to be small and too small to be big”. Hence, there has been a lot of experimenting, researching and development done in effort to come up with the most affordable while efficient and seamless system for us to grow with. This will remain a hurdle until we reach revenue levels that make the premier platforms affordable to us.
Did you implement an innovation to help your business?
Growing requires transitioning from a messy, creative startup to a more structured, accountable adolescent business and this can be very uncomfortable at times. To help us get through this phase, we implemented an Entrepreneurial Operating System, Traction, which we molded to fit our culture. It helped us tremendously in all areas of business.
Any tips or good ideas to share with the Beeleev Community?
Hire good people who match your culture and will grow with your business rather than focusing on skills and experience. Finding the right people to build your team – or “pack” in our case – is tricky when starting out if you have a limited budget and can be very expensive and non-progressive if the wrong hires are made. It took us a while to figure out, but we have put a lot of efforts into developing our culture and processes to ensure hiring the right persons instead of people with the right skills and experience.
If you managed to assemble the right team, get out of their way! The saying goes: “Hire people who are smarter than you” and it’s true. As an entrepreneur, be self-aware and ready to relinquish responsibilities, empower your team and stop holding them back. Awareness, acceptance and trust are key and might be the most difficult steps entrepreneurs have to take once their business grows beyond the start-up phase.