Video Length: 22:04
In our video with dogIDs we talk with Clint Howitz.


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Codelation is a leading-edge technical development partner serving the upper midwest since 2008. We work with startups and small businesses to harness the opportunities available in the digital age and use them to promote long-term growth and success.

Interview Transcription:

Brian:                      I’m here today with Clint from DogIDs. Thank you for having us here. Basically, we’re here today to ask you what has been your grind, what has been your hustle and now, what impact you’re trying to make with your company. So I’m going to start off by asking you, what is your company? What is DogIDs?

Clint:                        DogIDs is a online business and we also manufacture. We produce high quality dog products with a strong emphasis on personalization.

Brian:                      And who do you offer this to?

Clint:                        Well, dog owners in general. But not just any dog lover. It’s the dog lover that loves to have the best quality products for their dogs.

Brian:                      How did you prove or validate that this could even be a business?

Clint:                        Well, this business actually started in 2005 when I was running another business. Kind of a side hustle or a side business, whatever you want to call it. And, then after a few years, I finally started realizing that this thing really had some legs.

Brian:                      Now, did you go and find 150 people and say, “Hey, you have a dog. Would you want this product?” I mean, how’d you ask them?

Clint:                        No, actually, I had an e-commerce business running and was just trying to manage it on my own for a while. Then after a while, it was just too much for me to handle.

Brian:                      So it grew.

Clint:                       And I had a day job at the same time. So I started hiring some people and then in about 2010, I decided I’d jump in with both feet myself, too.

Brian:                     And here we are today, right?

Clint:                       Yeah.

Brian:                      So, there’s been dog lovers around forever. Why is now the time for your business to exist?

Clint:                        Well, getting a personalized product is difficult in traditional retail channels, right?

Brian:                      Right.

Clint:                        If you go online it’s much easier. If you have a keyboard in front of you, you can check exactly what you want and customize things. That aspect is a big draw for business. And we’re also a made-to-order model. So as these orders come in, we’re building products and shipping them out. So it’s not like we have a bunch of products sitting on the shelf ready to go. We get custom orders coming in, and then we’re making them and shipping them out as quickly as we can.

Brian:                      Do you guys do one-offs too? If I have just one dog, can I just order one thing?

Clint:                        Of course. You can order individual products or multiple products. But each individual product is made by the customer.

Brian:                      Tell us about your first paying customer.

Clint:                        That would have been my web developer way back when. She had a dog, so she made the first order. That would have been like 2005. And, then, relatives and family. Then we started getting an order here and there for a pet tag. That’s what we started out with. It was just a really limited selection of pet tags orders that we were offering at first. So the orders started off very sporadic. And, then, within about a year, then they started becoming more regular. That was when I first realized that there is an aspect of e-commerce that is very predictable.

Brian:                      Yes, definitely.

Clint:                        It’s still retail, so there are certain things that cause inflections, but for the most part, it’s pretty predictable.

Brian:                     So if you weren’t building this, what would you be doing?

Clint:                        I’m pretty positive I would still be in the dog industry. It’s definitely a passion-driven business and that’s why I’m here. I’ve had lots of shiny objects to distract me, but I keep coming back to the dog industry. It’s a fun industry. And the people we deal with have common interests and we just love them.

Brian:                      You have to love what you do. If you love what you do, you show up to work every day and you’re happy. For me, I love Mondays. I show up at work and I’m just jacked because I love what I do and going to work is just another day for me to do my thing. So, you obviously had some traction. I mean, what is that excited you about that traction? And what has been nerve-wracking about that traction?

Clint:                        What’s been exciting is just seeing the business evolve. Part of the business that I love is that messy startup phase. The creative phase when you don’t know what’s going to happen in the next hour, let alone are the lights going to be on tomorrow? Trying things and seeing which ones work. And chasing after what works. And then once things get up and running, structure has to come in to play. And then things change quite a bit. So the exciting part is seeing the business grow and seeing the individuals at the business grow, too. Not just in their little roles and worlds at DogIDs, but as people. The most nerve-wracking thing is just trying to find balance once you’ve gotten out of that entrepreneurial, crazy, creative stage.

Brian:                      The startup phase?

Clint:                        Yeah. Getting more structure and becoming a business that is sustainable. It’s hard to keep that entrepreneurial energy and that edge. And also to have some stability of structure and not go one extreme or another. Neither one works if you’re trying to grow something.

Brian:                      That is true. So, I kind of asked this question a little bit, but, what do you love about your team? You know, your partners, the people who helped you grow this business. What do you love about them?

Clint:                        Their dedication. Their love of the business. It’s fun sitting back and listening to them talk at meetings and then thinking back to how hard it was trying to find those people in the beginning stages to jump in and join you.

Brian:                      Someone to follow your vision?

Clint:                        Yeah. Then after some time goes by, you look around and you see the team that you have and the things that they’re talking about and the shared values.

Brian:                      You grew a company. You took an idea and created a company. Now, why are you guys to solve this problem? Why are you guys the ones to say, “Hey, look. We’re going to make the best custom dog products possible”?

Clint:                        Well, that’s part of our core values, for sure. Settling or mediocracy is definitely not part of the energy. We like to believe that we’re always out to make sure that the dog-human relationship is improving and we have a hand in it. Our purpose is to improve the lives of dogs. That’s what drives us every day. We all have that kind of belief here, so that is definitely what resonates every day.

Brian:                      That’s awesome to be able to improve dogs’ lives with your products. So, how do you measure success? What metrics do you use to measure success?

Clint:                        Well, there’s definitely the numbers, the sales, the traffic, all those metrics that we get out of our analytics. We watch those like a hawk. But it kind of goes back to what we were talking about earlier. When I start seeing the people on the team growing and then look back to where they were a year or two ago to where they are and what they’re doing now, and what they’ve contributed to all the changes that are happening here constantly. That’s definitely the most rewarding part for me. I wish we could put numbers on that.

Brian:                      That’s a great measurement to gauge success. Another question: did you find any funding in North Dakota?

Clint:                        Yes. We worked with the North Dakota Development Fund. And we also found a local entrepreneur who is investing some capital into our business as well.

Brian:                      Nice. This is one of the things we like to ask people because there are a lot of opportunities for funding in North Dakota. You just have to know where to find them at. Are there any programs that you know about that could be opportunities?

Clint:                        Yes, there’s several. Bank of North Dakota and North Dakota Development Fund are just a couple. And if I remember right, just over the last few months, Bank of North Dakota’s promised some more new programs. Especially if you’re in the e-commerce space and you don’t have a lot of assets to work with, most of your capital is IP and online, it’s really good to have groups like that that can take a little bit more risk on you. They have a little bit more latitude. They don’t have such stringent regulations that hold them back.

Brian:                      Now, you talked about your team a little bit. How has it been hiring those people and finding the right fit for your company? You know, if someone says, “I hate dogs,” you might not want that person working for you, right, even if they’re a great worker?

Clint:                        Well, it’s been a learning curve for us since the beginning. I think we’re in a place now where we’re a lot better at it. We have a process that we really stick to when we’re interviewing and meeting people and reaching out. It seems like we’ve gotten to that point now where we’re attracting the right people rather than actually looking.

Brian:                      Yes, that’s always a tough part. When you’re looking, you can never find them. And then once you stop, it seems like they come to you. But it really seems like finding the right person is a long process… You have to get to know a person to make sure they’re a right fit for the company.

Clint:                        Definitely. Everybody that starts here, even part-time interns, go through three to four interviews and have homework to do. We really take our time. We do a much better job at hiring than we used to.

Brian:                      It’s the startup idea phase to company phase, right? You learn a lot. So, what do you think your goals will be next year?

Clint:                        It’s funny you ask that because we’re going through some discussions about that right now. Next year’s going to be a little bit more aggressive on the marketing side, and we’re hoping to see a 30 percent range next year. The last couple of years we’ve been pulling back on the reigns quite a bit to really dive in and fix some things… Getting to know our business better underneath rather than just charging forward.

Brian:                      Are you guys going to be focusing more on social media? What’s going to be your focus as far as the marketing and advertising?

Clint:                        Yes, social media, pay-per-click advertising, and video. And just putting in a lot of effort to really authentically connect with our customers… letting people know who we are rather than just sitting behind a screen and taking orders.

Brian:                      What are some of the struggles that you’ve had to go through to grow?

Clint:                        Cashflow has always been a struggle. Everybody always says that, right?

Brian:                      Everyone. I don’t think I’ve done an interview yet where someone hasn’t mentioned cash. Cash is an issue always… trying to find cash to get started, and then trying to keep the cash to stay running. What other issues or struggles have you had?

Clint:                        Finding the right people was a learning curve at first. And we put an entrepreneurial operating system in place a couple years ago too, which was a pretty big turning point for us.

Brian:                      Tell me a little bit about that.

Clint:                        Well, when you’ve got an entrepreneur that starts a business, like me, and it’s very visionary so to speak, that goes okay for a while. And then you have other people who start to come in and the  communication’s terrible. I’m not great at articulating my thoughts, but I can see clearly where we need to be and how we need to get there. Especially if you have a group of dreamers, things are going to be pretty crazy and chaotic. But then you find that mix with those people who are more disciplined and analytical and “day-to-day” thinkers. So that was probably our main issue that we had for a while…finding that right mix of people so we could really understand what direction we are going and the formula for that.

Brian:                      Have you read the book Traction?

Clint:                        Yeah.

Brian:                      I’ve read the book about four times now and it’s interesting hearing you talk because it reminds me of Traction. It’s definitely a good book, right?

Clint:                        Yeah. Depending on what phase your business is in, graduating from a startup to a structured business is a really difficult place to get to, so having something like that in place helped us a lot with just having people be able to see things the same way.

Brian:                      Yeah, kind of like having the same core values. Now, what is the biggest threat to your company?

Clint:                        Well, 99 percent of our revenue comes from online orders, so anything Internet-related can affect us. Pickups, search engines, new big competitors coming into our space, anything like that can really make us think about switching gears.

Brian:                     It’s good that you’re able to switch gears. Some companies get to the point where they’re stuck in their ways and unable to switch gears, and then suddenly doors close and they say, “God darn it. What just happened?”

Clint:                        Yeah. We’ve had situations like that too. In 2012, there were some really big changes that happened with search engines. We were very dependent on search engine traffic. And when that happened, we were like, “Now what do we do? We’ve been doing things the same way for so long. And, this is what’s gotten us to where we are right now. Now what?” So it took us a while to actually accept that we needed to re-think things.

Brian:                      Now, this is a big question. What impact would you like to make with your company? You had an idea. The idea turned into an actual business. So now, when this is all said and done, what’s the impact you want to make with DogIDs?

Clint:                        Like I said earlier, we definitely want to improve dogs’ lives. Not just have those words in front of people, but actually feel like we’re doing that. We’re already working with a lot of organizations out there that do really good things. And when we say, the “lives of dogs”, we’re actually talking about families and people, too. That relationship between people and dogs is what we’re trying to impact. We know how important having a dog in the family is to a lot of people. If we can feel like we’re improving that every day that we come to work, that’s what’s going to drive us and that’s what’s going to get us to where we need to be.

Brian:                     That’s a pretty big impact, if you can change one person, then another person, and another person through your company…impacting people and making them care. We have a dog and I see it as one of my kids. You want to protect it. You want to take care of it. You want to give it the best.

Clint:                        You got it.

Brian:                      I enjoyed hearing your story today. I think a lot of people are going to enjoy this story about where you came from and how you got to where you are now. Everything you said resonated with me as an entrepreneur. So, hopefully, it will resonate with a bunch of other entrepreneurs out there. Thank you for taking the time to talk with me today. I appreciate it very much.