Terri Rockovich Launches Jinx Pet Food during the Pandemic
Today at Hennessey Studios, we get down to business with CEO and savvy entrepreneur, Terri Rockovich. At just 36 years old, this die-hard Steelers fan is a fundraising genius who gives us the inside scoop on how she turned thousands into millions.
Terri is a true jack of all trades when it comes to business and marketing, and her impressive range of high level experience makes for a jam-packed episode, filled with unique knowledge, entertaining anecdotes, and a few rounds of advanced dog trivia.
Tune in as we delve deep and extract what it takes to build a successful brand from the ground up with the co-founder of Jinx, a pet wellness brand that sells and delivers premium nutritional food for dogs. We also uncover some of the strategies that Terri and her team at Jinx use to expand their brand and grow as leaders.
If we’ve got any aspiring entrepreneurs or dog lovers listening today, curl up and get comfy, because you’re in for a real treat. Thank you for listening to today’s informative episode.
In this Episode with Terri Rockovich
[02:23] Jason wants to know what Terri was like as a kid. Terri remembers wanting to be everything from an athlete, a vet, and a ballet dancer. She states that she let her instincts determine her path since she was very young.
[03:44] Jason is interested to know about Terri’s parent’s careers. Terri shares that her mother was a journalist and her father was a civil engineer in the US Army Corps. She also observes how their contrasting personalities have influenced her personality and career choices.
[04:46] Jason inquires if there were yellow towels around her house. Terri reveals she’s a big Steelers fan and supports all the other sports teams in Pittsburgh. She is also proud of the cultural progress Pittsburgh has made over the years.
[06:21] Jason asks Terri if she’s had the entrepreneurial spark even as a kid. Terri recalls always having the attraction to monetize things. One of the first things she remembers selling is her brother’s Legos.
[07:45] Jason is curious if Terri had dogs growing up. Terri reveals that her family had as many as 13 pets in the house at one point ranging from dogs, snakes, and ferrets.
[09:10] Jason asks Terri if a dog has ever bitten her. Terri recounts a time in her childhood when a dog drew blood, while reacting to an action she made. It taught her a valuable lesson, but the incident never swayed her love of animals.
[10:08] Jason invites Terri to play a game of “Dog Trivia.” Terri starts and finishes strong answering questions about dog’s noseprints, their sense of smell, the most popular breed in America, and more. Terri likes that she learns something new, too.
[16:34] Jason is interested in Terri’s journey before she started her current company, Jinx. Terri recounts her entry level position at a digital marketing agency which led her to join ModCloth, and helping the startup grow by developing their social marketing strategies.
[21:24] Jason wonders how Terri started at Casper. Terri looks back on the remote recruiting process and flying to New York to meet the founders. She details the uncertainty of joining a company that hadn’t yet launched, and growing and building great marketing teams there.
[25:40] Jason wants to know more about how Terri and her two founding partners, also from Casper, created Jinx. Terri explains her dog Blitz’s declining health greatly contributed to the company’s formation by wanting to feed him healthy, nutritional food that was easily accessible.
[30:52] Jason is curious to know Michael and Sameer’s roles at Casper before they teamed up with Terri. She explains Michael’s skills in analytics and customer experience, and Sameer’s talent at building business partnerships.
[32:37] Jason asks Terri about the development of Jinx while being employed at Casper. She tells us they “ripped the bandaid off,” and rallied around their idea of providing safe and nutritional food for canines. Their first challenge was raising capital.
[34:15] Jason is further drawn into the initial stages of Jinx, the process of their valuation, and coming up with a name. Terri details the research that went into entering the pet food market, their branding, and getting a website address.
[36:59] Jason is curious about the founding team’s next step after finding funding and getting their website: thinkjinx.com. Terri tells us about the team they hired first, and then hiring personnel a year later. She describes why she regrets not hiring sooner.
[38:23] Terri expresses the challenges and thought-processes that arise while launching during a pandemic, like choosing to do a soft-launch with no PR announcement. Terri feels the pandemic was a silver lining, given their convenient business model and the exponential rise in pet adoptions.
[44:42] Jason asks Terri about having a celebrity be the face of the company to attract more customers. Terri mentions they have some high-profile investors that help with their brand’s exposure, and their partnership with Odell Beckham Jr.
[45:54] After 2.5 years after their launch, Jason is interested in Jinx’s development stage. Terri updates us that they are fundraising for their Series A to form more retail partnerships, and are focusing on reaching their target audience: millennials.
[47:56] Jason asks Terri what she spends most of her time doing nowadays. Terri tells us that she is trying to be a better leader by letting go of some control, and enabling her employees to challenge the founding team’s ideas to gain diverse perspectives.
[53:06] Jason wants his dogs to try Jinx, and asks Terri what the best way to transition would be. Terri educates us about implementing different styles of food gradually, depending on your specific dog’s needs, and how she recommends integrating new food over a 2-week period.
[55:28] Jason invites Terri to give us the scoop on where we can get Jinx products. Terri catalogs the medley of products and services offered through thinkjinx.com. She also lists online retailers like Petco and Rover, as well as your local Target stores.
[56:26] Jason thanks Terri for spending an hour talking with him, and Terri thanks Jason for the lovely conversation, bringing the episode to an end.
Jason Hennessey: Thank you so much for being here.
Terri Rockovich: Thank you for having me.
I appreciate that.
So where did you come in from? Where do you live?
I’m in West Hollywood. Yeah, so not too far.
And you’re not from California though, right?
I’m not. I’m from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Pittsburgh. So do you want to leave the cold or? I want to hear that story. So how did you end up from Pittsburgh to Hollywood?
Yeah. So I was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. So, I spent the first 25 years of my life there. I went to school at a small Catholic college called Saint Francis University and then immediately went back to Pittsburgh and got my first gig at an agency.
Moved in with my best friend and just lived my best life for the first 2 and 1/2 years post-college, but then started to get the itch to not only leave the agency life, which was a hard and intense one, and potentially moved to the brand side, but then also just spread my wings and try a different environment. So I looked for an opportunity that kind of provided both of those things, which led me to San Francisco and then I’ve just hopped around ever since.
Interesting. So let’s digest that a little bit. So what were you like as a kid?
Oh, man. I was a child that liked everything. And I think that is demonstrated through a bunch of things, but it was like I wanted to play every sport and I also wanted to do ballet and be a cheerleader. I loved animals. And so, I was most inspired to become a vet and then that kind of professional desire changed to delivering babies and then it changed to being a lawyer.
And so, it was just kind of like everything felt interesting to me. And so, I think as a kid that kind of shows up as just generally blooming where you’re planted and leaning into things. And some things didn’t feel right either by way of not being instinctually appropriate or just certain crowds didn’t feel right for me.
But I think generally speaking, I like a lot of things. And so, I just ended up being engaged in a lot of different activities and teams and friend circles, and so forth.
So you had some busy parents taking you all over the place.
This practice, that practice.
Here. Huh. What did your parents do for a living?
My mom was in journalism. And she ended up being a speech writer for executives at Westinghouse, which was a big company, one of the bigger companies based in Pittsburgh. And then my dad was a civil engineer and worked for the US Army Corps for his entire career.
Is that right?
Was he military too? Part of the military?
He was not. His father was. But no, he held the same type of role and then moved up the ladder at the same company for over 35 years, and had a beautiful retirement and swan song. But it’s funny because he was always so structured and pragmatic as engineers are.
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And then my mom was kind of the dreamer and the one that was very encouraging in terms of trying new things and taking big risks. So it was nice to have that dynamic, someone to keep you grounded, and then someone to kind of push you into the deep end and lead you to believe that she was there to jump in if you start to drown.
That’s a rite of passage, right? When you lived there?
You’re not. No. Right?
No. It’s black and gold all the way. So yeah, lots of Terrible Towels. And of course, you have to have education on the three primary sports teams. So Penguins, Pirates, Steelers, but I still rep them whether they’re having great seasons or not so great seasons.
Oh, diehard. That’s just-
You have to. I think now being more resolved in my mid-thirties, I’m so proud of growing up there and it really is a charming town, and it’s made a lot of progress, I would say, in the past decade, in terms of the art scene and the food culture and all of that good stuff. So it’s really nice to go back.
And you said you grew up in a big Italian family, is that right?
Italian and Polish. But as you can imagine, the Italian overrides all. So it felt very Italian. That’s the only type of food I can cook, it’s the only type of food I can qualify. So yeah, I identify more as Italian than anything else.
Oh, and big Italian families. I come from it myself. There’s always drama and this and that and food, and I can’t believe they got you this for your birthday, I got them that. Right? There’s all of that. The drama, right? Yeah.
They live hard and love hard.
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They sure do.
And fight hard.
They sure do. So now, as a kid, did you ever have any type of entrepreneurial spark?
Yeah. I mean, I was definitely that kid who was trying to rally the neighborhood kids to kind of get together and monetize something, whether it was selling the stuff that we didn’t want anymore. I sold my brother’s Legos at some point.
Okay. Hopefully he knew about it.
Yeah, he didn’t.
Of course, he didn’t.
But I was the lemonade stand attendee. And I would bake with my mom and then try to sell that stuff. And so, there was this really weird attraction to just monetizing things. And I really value cash in a way where I hoarded it, but I felt very entitled to then do with it what I wanted to do instead of having to rely on somebody else to grant me the money or tell me how I could spend it.
And I think, honestly, I still have that same mentality today. Having my own wealth kind of enables a sense of power and authority, and unlocks confidence in a way where I value it in a way that I think is balanced and even, but allows me to really kind of drive my own decisions instead of-
Yeah, instead of having to ask for permission.
Yeah. Having more control. Now, did you have dogs growing up?
Were you a big pet family or what?
Big pet family.
Yeah. I think the most animals we had in our household at any one time was 13.
Oh my God.
Yeah. And I mean, we lived in a suburb and my parents had a nice big lot with some property, but I mean, these were all domesticated, under-one-roof animals. And so, we had dogs, cats, hamsters, snakes, fish, ferrets, and-
All at the same time.
And gerbils. Yeah, all at the same time. And so, I was a huge animal lover. And even through college, I adopted or rescued one animal per year. So, I had a cat my freshman year, a cat my sophomore year, a dog my junior year, and another dog my senior year. And my dad at one point was like, “Okay, it’s the animals or me. I’m moving out if you bring one more animal.”
Your dad was a saint if he allowed that many animals in his house at one time.
Yeah. And I would hide them and I’d be like, “It’s my responsibility. They’ll live in my room.”
Sure they will.
And my parents ended up really eating the burden of…
As we all do.
I’m living that right now. My son wanted a hamster, so we got two hamsters. We’ve got two dogs, we’ve got fish.
A farm. A little farm.
Yeah, a little farm. Right? But, “I’ll take care of them.” Sure, you will. Right? The water’s empty, I’m walking up there to fill the hamster water. Right? Yeah. Now, being an animal lover, did you have any incidents where you got a little too close to a dog or they bit you or anything like that or?
And one of our Retrievers was in the front yard and he was chewing on a bone. And I stuck my hand in his mouth. And he had bit down pretty hard, which also punctured skin and required stitches.
So, there were two incidents, but I knew that it was not because of the dog. And so, it really just helped to inform the way that I reacted to animals reacting to things. And so, it was never a deterrent, I don’t think, in terms of just my relationship and my love for animals.
Sure. Yeah. And here, I’m going to talk about Jinx, your company. So, before we get into Jinx, and I want to learn a lot more about that, but Whitney, our producer, put together a little game here. And so, let’s see here, this is a game that we’re going to play and it’s a dog trivia game, right? And there’s no winning or losing, if anything, it’ll be education for both of us, but we’ll just kind of see how much you know about these random questions.
Let’s do it.
And so, his questions were really tough. Whitney gave him some tough ones. Yeah. All right. So we’re going to ask 10 questions here and they are all multiple choice. So it should be pretty easy. All right. A dog’s sense of smell is 10 times better than a human? 100 times better than a human, or 40 times better than a human?
Wow. Starting on the right foot. Nice job. Dogs are about as intelligent at what human age? So dogs are about as intelligent as what human age? 6 months old, 2 years old, or 1 year old?
I think it depends on the dog, because I have a Shepherd right now who’s brilliant. I would say 2.
And you are right. Good job. Two for two. True or false: a dog’s noseprints is unique and very similar to a human’s fingerprints.
Good job. The sound of yawning, this is a true or false question, by a human is also contagious for dogs.
It’s true here, but it might be an isolated kind of a thing, right? Maybe it’s not, but it’s true on this one. But so far you’re doing pretty good. And we should test that out later with our dogs. They’ll yawn and we’ll see what they do.
Yeah. Well, I’m reflecting and I’m trying to think, I know it’s contagious with humans, for sure, but-
Oh, totally. I don’t even know how that even happens. Right? It’s weird. Yeah.
Yeah. I don’t know what it triggers, but now I’m definitely going to test it with my pups.
How many pet dogs are there roughly in the United States? 75 million, 100 million, 125 million?
Ooh. So the last stat I heard was 90. And I’m actually unsure if that’s domesticated or total population.
True. It’s a loaded question.
I’ll go with the middle number. I think it was 100.
Yeah. It’s 75 here, but who knows when this was taken, and it might be a little bit more, especially with COVID, a lot more dog owners happened in COVID. So a person who hunts with a Beagle is known as a Brace, a Beagler or a Check Cord.
Where did you get these questions?
She’s looking at Whitney, not me.
Okay. What were the options, again?
So this is the person that goes hunting with a Beagle. And they refer to themselves as a Brace, a Beagler or a check cord?
I have never heard any of those words.
Go with the more obvious one.
Yes. There we go. I’ll throw you a bone there.
Pun intended. See?
I grew up in Pennsylvania. I feel like I should know this. I’ve got relatives that hunt, but not with animals.
It’s actually a Bloodhound.
And I do a lot of work with lawyers and I had no clue about that. See?
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But my Shepherd on the other hand, it’s like, if we’re eating dinner outside and he’s two rooms away, he will awake from a dead sleep and come and find the food.
Is that right?
Yeah. It’s more anecdotal than anything. But I mean, it makes sense that it’s a hound because they’re used so often for sport.
This is a fun one. I’ll go with “Twist and Shout.”
You’re right. Want to take a guess at what is the most popular breed?
It’s a Retriever or a Lab.
You’re right. Good job. Labrador Retriever is the most popular. And the last question, you did pretty well so far. I’m impressed.
I started strong.
No, you did good.
I don’t know what happened, I fell apart halfway through.
Some of those were statistical questions. Right? Where do dogs sweat? On the back of their coat, through their saliva or through the pads of their feet?
Oh, that’s a good one. I’ll say the pads of their feet.
And you would be right.
All right. Started strong, finished strong.
So there you go. You did finish strong.
All right. Let’s delete what happened in the middle there.
Hey, you go buy our editor a Starbucks or something. Awesome. Well, thank you for playing along.
Yeah, that was fun.
That was fun.
I learned something new.
Which I can’t say happens every podcast interview.
That’s right. Yes. All right. So before we kind of get into Jinx and learning a little bit more about your business now, I want to learn how you kind of even got to where you are. So you graduated college, you said you were working at a digital marketing agency, is that right?
And what was your role at the agency? What were you doing?
So I mean, I started entry level, and I was an account associate. And so, I’m sure you’re familiar with the leveling that happens at agencies, and so I was just pounded with all of the shit work. And so, it was a lot of late nights and research and preparation and editing of client deliverables, and just the stuff that the account managers didn’t want to do. And so, I had graduated in 2007. 2008 hit, and there was-
The worst time.
…the financial crisis. And so, in addition to kind of being the lowest ring on the totem pole, we had laid off half of the staff. And so, it was half of the resources-
But still having to fulfill the services that you were selling to the client.
Completely. Yeah. And so, it provided an opportunity for me to take on more client-facing work, which I really loved and just generally leaned into. And I think net-net, it was almost like having worked with Fortune 500 clients and then really small businesses, I was attracted to the earlier stage companies.
And so, really early on in my career, I was like, “Of course, it’s great to have millions of dollars to spend in terms of advertising, but I’m trying to get creative with much smaller assets.” And just generally, a scrappier team and a flexible strategy was so much more interesting to me.
And so, when the opportunity presented itself to move to an early stage company, a startup that was headquartered in Pittsburgh, but had raised some capital and was opening offices on the West Coast. Part of me was really eager to step into a role with a little bit more authority. And then also just the power to drive strategy and see results and not have to kind of work through the client as a filter.
Sure. Or multiple clients. Yeah.
Or multiple clients. Yeah. And so, being so much closer to the work was really interesting to me. And then also part of that was taking a role with the understanding that I would be relocating to San Francisco.
And where were you at the time?
I was in Pittsburgh.
So you were back home in Pittsburgh? Okay.
Yeah. I was back home, post-college, kind of trying to figure out if my parents would even support that type of decision because I’m very close with my family and they were definitely supportive. They encouraged me, they were like, “It’s a plane ride away.” And so, I stepped into that next thing and immediately just assimilated and felt so right about the decision.
Relocated to San Francisco and then just really started to get a knack for being able to build agile strategies and teams to execute that weren’t necessarily interested in having really defined or streamlined responsibility sets, but instead kind of became this jack-of-all-trades that could “pinch hit” in any one direction if needed.
And so, that was really where I started to think about carving out a track in startup culture and then eventually became inspired to be an entrepreneur myself.
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And what was the startup that you were working for?
I was working for ModCloth.
Yeah. So it’s a vintage-inspired apparel company for women. They started the business in her dorm room and she was really just trying to exit some of the vintage items that she accumulated through her hobby, which was vintage shopping.
And so, it started off kind of selling one-of-a-kind pieces and then grew into kind of just a hosting point for a bunch of indie apparel brands. But it was great. I mean, I think this was when social media really started to take off in 2007, 2008, 2009.
And so, we were really early adopters of using social to drive engagement and favorability and awareness and customer acquisition. And so, being close to the marketplace at such an early and nuanced stage was really special. And I think it was definitely a moment in time and now it’s a completely different ballgame.
Sure. And so, how long were you there for?
I was there for 4 years.
Four. So you were at the agency first for how many years?
About 2 and 1/2.
So you got a lot of agency experience and then you went over and got the startup experience and then you ended up at Casper, is that right?
I was at Casper, yeah. So I was in San Francisco working for ModCloth, I just kind of felt my time there had expired in the sense that I was brushing up against the ceiling and it really didn’t seem like there was much more upward movement or opportunity for me.
So I started to host conversations, knew I wanted to go work for another really early stage company, had an introduction made from a friend of a friend to a seed investor in Casper’s business.
And then I spoke with the guys there and they had offered me a job. And I felt really unsure about relocating to New York and accepting a role at a company that hadn’t launched yet.
So coming back from San Francisco, all the way back to the East Coast again.
All the way back to the East Coast. And then I was like, “I will never make that move again.” And here we are in LA where I don’t think I’m going to leave.
But I was hesitant to make the move, I was hesitant to work for a company that hadn’t launched yet. I was definitely unsure about working with people that I’ve never shared a beer with and I had never shaken their hand. Everything was done remotely in terms of getting to know each other and going through the interview process.
And so, I was like, “Let me come and meet you guys and let’s start a working relationship and if it feels great, then let’s go.” And that just so happened to be a couple of weeks leading up to their launch. And it was almost, I knew immediately it was something special. I loved the founding team.
And I think to be honest, that has been very much so a part of my experience that has led me to where I am today. It’s just meeting people and kind of waiting for your orbits to kind of pass and connect. And certain things feel more right than other things. And so, it really is just using a bit of your gut to figure out what you want to be a part of.
So what was your specific role at Casper? What were you doing there?
So I was the second employee. The first marketing hire.
Is that right?
I joined them pre-launch and I started managing their advertising strategy and portfolio. So they were like, “We’ve got $30,000 a month, go triple it.” And that was truly the mandate.
And so, I was really tactically setting up digital campaigns, performance-minded campaigns to make sure that that money was invested in working media and turned-
Getting the best ROI from-
Of course. You know the deal.
And so, my goals were pretty straightforward, but because of the immediate success and ultimate trajectory of the business, it changed really fast. And I think in those four years, not only was I able to build out teams of complete, rockstar performance marketers or integrated marketers, but we eventually scaled that budget to $7 million a month.
And so, it was having kind of in-the-trenches experience about starting a media portfolio, building that foundation into something that felt very significant. And then I had hired probably 60 people, I think by the time I left, I was managing 62 people. And I had inherited a couple of different marketing functions. And so, again, it feels like such a ride and a fast one at that. And I don’t think I even appreciated my growth in the moment until after I was past it.
Sure, sure. Yeah. Well, the thing about Casper is they had such a cool story too. Right? It reminds me of Zappos. When Zappos first started, they were like, “How do you disrupt selling shoes online?” Right? And what they did, which was so brilliant was, they made their customer experience their story. Right? And that is how they got all the media and the attention. It was more about the customer experience and not so much about the shoes anymore. Right?
So while you were at Casper, you met a lot of interesting people and some of which are… Is it one or two partners?
My co-founders today were former coworkers at Casper and also part of the founding team.
You guys all love dogs and you guys socialized together and you had this wild idea or? Tell me a little bit more about how this kind of even… The genesis of this.
Yeah. So we were first coworkers and then just eventually, as you can imagine, became really great friends. So we worked together pretty intimately cross-functionally, especially while we were still a really small team.
And Michael, one of my co-founders, was the only person I would leave my dog, Blitz, with when I traveled.
Okay. A lot of trust.
It was a very short list. Yeah. And sometimes my mom would drive in from Pittsburgh and stay in my place in Dumbo, Brooklyn and watch my dog. And if she was not available to make that trip or stay for a week, then Michael was the designated dog babysitter.
And so, we were all pretty dog-obsessed. Casper had moved around in terms of offices, but was generally dog-friendly. And so, I’d bring my pups in and everyone was just kind of ultimately really inspired to be entrepreneurs, but also disrupt another industry that felt outdated and antiquated.
And I think that buying dog food can be such a monotonous task, where you try to be thoughtful, but ultimately, there’s a million other things to be concerned with. And if you’ve got children, there’s definitely a level of priority, right? And so, I had had definitely my own drama with my dog and all of his health issues, and his picky palate and feeding him something that he enjoyed, but was also good for him.
And what’s your dog’s name?
His name’s Blitz.
Yeah. And then I’ve got another dog and a cat, but he’s just been my homie and my best friend for the past decade. So I actually adopted him when we moved to San Francisco. I think I moved to San Francisco in what would’ve been the summer of 2010. And then, I adopted him about 6 months later, because we had a dog-friendly office at ModCloth, and I just wanted a companion.
And I was meeting a lot of really new people, but it was, he was such a great conversation starter because one, he looks like the most bizarre kind of stunted-in-growth Dalmatian, but he’s just this mystery mutt of a bunch of different breeds. But he became really like family to me, and I felt very responsible for taking care of him. And he just had a host of health issues.
And so, when we moved to New York and those complications got more serious, our food journey together was just a tough one. You think about the category, and of course, everything’s consolidated at the top because it’s owned by big CPG, but there’s so many options which creates a lot of noise and a lot of congestion. And when you go through trying 10 and then 15 and then 20 options and nothing works for your animal, it’s confusing. And it’s really frustrating.
I think we hit a point where he had a pretty severe back injury. He went through surgery and then had this kind of corresponding rehabilitation that was really dependent on a clean diet because his nerves were regenerating in the back half of his body. And so, he just couldn’t put on weight or else that would be a huge obstacle for him-
For his back? Sure. Yeah.
…recovering and regaining ultimately his mobility. And so, I was cooking for him, I was ordering fresh food. I was trying to mix that with some type of dry food, because if I fed him wet or fresh, it was not great stool quality. And so, it was just, nothing presented itself as an easy solution for us.
And Michael and Sameer, my co-founders, were kind of along for the ride because it was such a traumatic experience for Blitz to go through this kind of life-altering event that left him partially paralyzed in his back legs. And they saw how it affected me and they were incredibly supportive through that journey.
And then also when we came together and we were kind of kicking the tires on a business model, this just felt so right in terms of introducing a new brand, that was not only compelling and easy and convenient for the dog parent, but then also just better for the dog in terms of superior quality and as measured through digestibility, which is the animal’s ability to retain essential nutrients, measured through stool quality.
So if you’re picking up your dog’s poop every day, you can tell if it’s good or if it’s bad or if it’s easy or if it’s hard. And so, in that sense, we were just kind of so hungry for a brand that resonated with us as consumers, and was just generally better for our dogs.
Yeah. It’s interesting how most businesses start with a need and it seems like that’s the case. So Michael, and you said Sameer?
Sameer, Sameer. So what’s their background? What were they doing at Casper? Right? You were doing marketing, what were they doing?
So Michael is one of those guys who’s truly a jack of all trades. He started in finance, he came from MakerBot. So he was working for another early stage company, really supporting the executive team.
And then he came to Casper to start the customer experience team, which he grew to be the largest team at the company in a mere 2 years. And then he pivoted to the ops side of the business, where he really supported, kind of, planning, logistics and supply chain. And so, he had exposure to almost every single area of the business.
All his friends were a lot of marketing people’s weaknesses. Right? I know how that is. Yeah.
Totally. Yeah. And he had just mastered, kind of, all of these back of house areas. And he’s just so technical and so analytical. And so, it’s really nice to have that filter, especially when you’re building a business and details matter, especially as you’re kind of solidifying the foundation.
And so, he moved from customer experience to ops, and just generally has financial acumen. And so, that’s kind of his skillset in a nutshell.
And then Sameer was more of a Biz Dev partnerships guy. And so, he supported partnerships of all shapes and sizes. So we did a partnership with Target, with a corresponding investment, where we popped in their stores and we sold the entire assortment plus some SKUs. And he managed that deal in addition to how it was launched and how we partnered post-launch.
How did you move from turning it from an idea into, okay, let’s… Were you working part-time at night on it for a little bit, and eventually you guys left the job or? How did that work?
No, we kind of just ripped the bandaid off.
Yeah. And took a hard pivot and then really rallied around the idea and the business model and building a pitch deck. And I think the more that we learned, the more that we realized that we needed venture capital to fund the idea, because the minimum order quantities in this category are so high that it’s hundreds of thousands of dollars to do a small production run. Because to your point, big CPG is running tons upon tons upon tons every time they go to manufacture.
And so, we realized that we needed to be capitalized to really do this right. And do this right being like, hiring the right people to run product strategy. And then also working with the right manufacturing partners to make sure that we were kind of at the best of the best facilities in terms of all of the food that we were producing, because at the end of the day it’s-
That’s your product.
…food. Yeah. And it not only has to be superior, but it has to be safe for the animal. And so, those aspects were most important. They were also really expensive to fund entirely and fund well, and the right way. And so, we really pivoted and started focusing on fundraising and just capitalizing the business.
So you raised seed money initially?
And that was more to kind of engineer the product first. So you weren’t selling anything yet?
It was just-
It was all R&D in pre-launch.
And that’s really complicated. I want to kind of tune in here. Right? Because now you’re trying to determine the pre-money valuation of a company. Right? And talk to me a little bit more about how did you determine that? Did you get consultants to come in?
We licked our fingers and stuck them in the wind.
Is that right?
Yeah. No, listen, we had done so much industry research, and we really started to get our hands around the landscape and the potential of this business if it were to start chipping at the market share that’s available within the category, specifically for the type of food format that we wanted to design and offer.
And so, we understand the multiples, we understand where the potential is with the capital that would get us through 18 months. And so, that’s how we kind of arrived at a ballpark valuation that felt fair. I will say I think that being pre-product and raising money only happened because of the reputations that we built at Casper.
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So now you’re raising money and you’re like, “What are we going to call this thing?” And it’s probably, we were talking about naming your child in another episode. So how did the name Jinx come up?
So Jinx was my co-founder’s first dog. And all of us liked the name. I think he threw it on one of the mock-ups that we had in our deck just as a placeholder and it truly resonated with all of us. And I think the branding exercise can be a challenging one, because people usually just have different preferences.
And so, there often is debate in terms of how you bring something to life. And the strategic positioning piece is a little bit more objective, whereas the color system and the language and the visual aesthetics are definitely driven by preference, and what you assume will resonate with your target audience. The name from the start, even though it was added as this placeholder, it just felt right.
It was just the placeholder for a little bit.
It was the placeholder and then we were like, “It resonates, it feels great from a design perspective.” It was really fun to play with in terms of logo and tagline. And so, we just ran with it.
Hmm. I’m sure you had to consult with attorneys and trademarks and all of that fun stuff. Were you able to get the domain, jinx.com?
No, we were not.
Yeah, that’s complicated.
It’s a gamer brand and a big one at that. And they’ve got a very tight hold on it, so we’re thinkjinx.com.
Oh, okay. I like it. Yeah. So now you’ve got the name of the company, you’ve got some initial funding, now you’re looking to start hiring people or what?
Yeah. So we were a team of three with the biggest gap in terms of skill set, really living in the product department. So we hired a consulting team that served as product strategist. So they really advised on everything from R&D and testing, through manufacturing and food safety.
So they filled that plug, which really rounded out the team from a skillset perspective for the first 12 months. And so, we were really off to the races for about a year before we started to think about hiring.
I will say just generally speaking, if I could go back and do it over again, I would hire sooner just because we waited until we were ready to launch. And then as you know, hiring can take a really long time.
From sourcing and recruiting, through the interview process.
And you didn’t have an HR person to help you, you guys were doing it, right?
No. Yeah, we were doing all of the LinkedIn stalking ourselves. And just networking really aggressively. So I think we waited a little too late to start to build out the non-founding team, but we did secure some really good talent, I think just by way of decent timing. And then we could have never prepared for what we stepped into, which was the height of the pandemic.
That’s when you launched, right?
We launched in January of 2020. We soft-launched the brand and we just wanted to make sure the website was working and product was getting where it was supposed to go, and customer reception for that first 1,000 customers was favorable and everything was kind of manageable from a customer experience standpoint, but then we were getting ready to announce. And that brought us to March and April. And I would say that’s when stay-at-home orders started to go into place. And that’s when the world really felt like it stopped.
And so, we didn’t do a formal announcement. We were just like, “It’s not appropriate to announce the launch of a dog food company.” And furthermore, there was this crisis happening in the world, the political arena was hot. And so, we just didn’t feel like it was the right time to talk about what we were doing. And so, we just started to map in some marketing spend and grow the brand through digital means only.
So some media, some partnerships, but really postured ourselves as opportunistic in the sense that we knew that on-demand delivery had become a thing for people that were used to buying their staples in stores. And so, we just tried to start to become accommodating and create multiple access points besides our own digital storefront to have food available for people who couldn’t leave their homes, were afraid to leave their homes, didn’t want to go in stores or they couldn’t go in stores because doors were closed indefinitely.
And some of the smaller pet stores don’t have the capacity or the logistics, frankly, to do curbside pickup. And so, what we heard from that first tranche of customers was, “This was the only thing that was available to me in an on-demand capacity.” So we partnered with Postmates, we did on-demand deliveries in LA and San Francisco.
But I mean, that had added so much incrementality to our business just by way of being a convenient, healthy option, that it really kind of gave us a lot of momentum to then kind of have a tailwind in the midst of this pandemic and really give us, I think some awareness that maybe we wouldn’t have been able to get even through a formal PR announcement just because it was well-timed and I think just generally accommodating people’s needs.
Hmm. Yeah. Well, it’s interesting because during that time, while it is a pandemic and people are kind of staying at home, but like I said, a lot of people are adopting dogs and it could be the perfect time to launch a new disrupting product.
There is some silver lining, I think, in the sense that, I would imagine that some of you have heard the news, there was this Clear the Shelters campaign. And so, historically, you’d go in and there wouldn’t be enough room to house the homeless animals. And it was, you’d go into shelters and maybe there’d be one dog in some instances. The stuff that made the news, the shelters were entirely empty, which is great, because people opened their doors to animals, not just dogs, but really expanded their families.
And then that obviously had an impact on the category. And so, we saw some really nice trends develop just specific to our industry, which ultimately benefited us. But I think also just leaves us feeling good that… But actually part of our ethos is to give back and I’ve got two rescue dogs. Both of my partners have rescue dogs.
And so, we partner with local shelters to give a percent of proceeds back to those shelters, or if we’ve got excess product, we give them product. And so, there’s this donation component or charitable aspect built into the model, but it’s something that is very close to us in terms of us being able to relate to it because we’ve pulled homeless animals into our homes. And then also I think it’s just the right thing to do. And so, it means a lot that certain things that were great came out of a pretty unfortunate situation.
Sure. Yeah, that’s a good way to look at it. So one of the things is that, so now you’re starting a new company, but now you’re into this new world called e-commerce. Right? So that’s a whole ‘nother world, right? Now you are in supply chain and logistics, warehousing and stuff like that. Where’s your warehouse at?
So it’s in Indianapolis. Okay, and you ship just domestically, or what?
Domestic US. For now.
Domestic US. Okay. Got it. That’s a big investment.
It is a big investment. Yeah. I mean the logistics for this industry are complex, more complex than you would think for pet food. But yeah, we manufacture domestically. And so, we try to keep everything within arms reach, so to speak, so we can be on site during production runs and make sure we’re running our own food safety and testing. And I think it gives us a little bit of assurance in terms of having confidence in what we’re putting in bags. That’s the same stuff we’re feeding our own animals. And so, I think it should be really high-touch in terms of being able to oversee and have some control of the production process.
And what were the marketing channels that you were using initially to acquire your first 1,000 clients?
Is that right?
Yeah. I mean, I had built so many different media strategies and portfolios that we started with performance marketing as the foundation of our efforts for customer acquisition. And so, we were fishing in the same body of water everybody else was, but I think ultimately, we felt different than a lot of the legacy, dry format brands that we were competing against. And so, we saw a lot of just really great engagement and activity from what we were doing, specifically in paid social.
Hmm. I can see it. I mean, I see a lot of businesses that just only operate that way. And they do very well. Did you ever think about, this had to come across your mind or at least one of the partners, of finding a celebrity to be the face of the company?
Or did you guys ever… Of course you did, right? Yeah.
Yeah. I mean, I think endorsement partnerships are definitely something we had success with at Casper. And so, as we were thinking about what we wanted to pull from that playbook as an application for Jinx, we knew that high-profile investors would be a really great activation tool to have in our back pocket.
And so, we had some high profiles invested in the business and then when we launched or when we had new products or when we sent them something, they would kind of post on our behalf without that transactional relationship, a pay-to-play type of thing. And so, that was pretty organic. And then we also structured an agreement with Odell Beckham Jr. and he’s got-
Is that right?
…three massive dogs.
So now you are, what, about a year and a half into this? Is that right?
Two and a half.
Two and half years.
Yeah. We went through the formation process and building our brand identity and formulating and testing product for a little over a year.
And so, are you looking to raise more capital now? Where are you guys at?
Yes, we are. You caught us in the middle of a fundraise. So we’re raising our Series A. And it’s a pretty big round of financing. And it really is intended to support retail partnerships. So every retailer is looking to grow their category because there’s more pets in homes and they’re really looking for premium postured brands. And so, instead of us having to kind of go out and chase some of those wholesale relationships, we’ve actually received a lot of inbounds.
And so, whether it’s mass retail or pet specialty or grocery, they’re all really looking for brands that kind of attract a more youthful pet parent. And so, we really kind of target millennials, which is the biggest segment or archetype within the pet category. And then also just frankly, have a great product so that retention and re-buy and replenishment is something that they don’t have to worry about. So yeah, we’re just really thinking about how to be most thoughtful about protection, and carving out a lane to really scale a business and do it in a meaningful way, but also a fast way.
Well, I think the good news is that once you actually start to make money, the investment gets a little bit cheaper, right? For you guys. And in some cases, it could get easier or harder, but it sounds like you guys are on the same path as The Honest Company. It seems like you guys are doing big things.
Yeah. You know what? We’re close. We are ready to sign a term sheet. Which, Once that is firmed up, I think we’re all ready for a vacation.
Good. You deserve it. So where do you spend most of your time? What are you specifically doing these days?
I would say, in my position specifically, I oversee and touch every single aspect of the business. I’m definitely like a control freak, and so I’m really trying to work on that.
I was a control freak too, but you have to learn that there’s people way more capable at every-
…specific skill set that you think you are-
Oh my gosh.
…decent at. Right? That was my-
Yeah, no. And I’m learning that, I think as an entrepreneur, as a founder, as a CEO, relinquishing control to someone with the expertise to build out a team and map talent into the organization and, to your point, do things better than I could ever do them myself, is something that I’m slowly becoming more comfortable with.
But I think being part of a startup and startup culture is being in the trenches. And so, I really like being in war rooms and white boarding with the team and mining through ideas, and challenging people, and giving them an opportunity to debate the founding team, and really helping them build some muscles about how they express themselves and offer opinions and have perspectives.
And so, I hope that part doesn’t change because I think that’s what I’ve always enjoyed about a smaller, early stage company. And that very much so I think just generally energizes the team.
Yeah. So for me another little tip that helped me that I’ll share with you was finding a coach, right? So I realized that I was really good at this thing called SEO, which you know, right? And I’ve spent 20 years doing it, but now I’m a CEO and I don’t know if I’m really good at that.
And so, I recognized it. And so, I found a coach. And the coaches kind of helped me. In life, we have coaches for everything. You’ve played sports, you had a baseball coach, a softball coach, football coach. Right?
But when you get into business for whatever reason, people stop that. And so, that was a big thing for me, was finding a coach. I’ve got a lot of coaches, but my main coach is this guy by the name Cameron Herold, he wrote a book called Vivid Vision, which you should probably… I wish I had a copy, I’d give it to you, but you should check it out.
Because you should go into the future 3 years and document the vivid vision of: what does Jinx look like in three years? Who works? Where are you at? Everything. What does the color of the walls look like then? Right? So do you have a coach or?
Yeah. But similarly, I was introduced to Jeanie during my time at Casper. And so, as I was kind of making some upwards movement through management and eventually onto the executive team, I really just needed a leadership presence capability.
And so, she was brought into the organization to help a handful of director-level people to kind of just up-level into that next kind of VP type of seat, from posture to presence, and just generally how you show up and where you spend your time. And I would say of all of the professional experiences or exposures I’ve had, that has by far been the best investment.
And where I’ve had the most value.
They give you the shortcuts, the “Cliff notes.”
Yeah. Well, and I think similar to what you were saying, it’s, they make you pause and breathe and take a step back. And I think when you’re an entrepreneur and you’re moving so fast, you don’t take enough time to really think about the 5-year plan or the 10-year plan or if you do, it’s fragmented because you’re just thinking about where you want to be and how to kind of make decisions today to get there.
But I think creating that space was really helpful for me. And I think even at Casper, I was just kind of like, “I could continue to keep my head down and I could be here for another 6 years,” because I loved the founding team and I loved my team that I built and I loved my coworkers and my peers, but I was like, “Is that really what I want?”
And then it starts to trigger another stream of questions about why you’re doing what you’re doing and if you’re passionate about that thing and how to qualify it. And so, I think it kind of initiated a little bit of inspiration about doing my own thing, and what that timeline could look like, in addition to just generally giving me some tools, I think, to manage that experience, and then also just give me some perspective.
Awesome. I love to hear about that. It’s so important to have a sounding board. Do you have a board yet or anything? Or do you have-
We’re forming one through this fundraise. Yeah.
Okay. Yeah. That’s another big key to successful businesses growing is getting a good board too. So one thing, so whenever I’ve ever swapped out my dog food, right? It’s a little scary, right? Because what happens is you swap it out and if you don’t do it correctly, you come home to a mess. Right? But if I want to switch, how do you recommend that to somebody that’s listening right now that wants to try out Jinx to get dog food?
Yeah. So we recommend a 14-day transition, and it’s essentially introducing the new diet in quarter increments. And so, you take 2 to 3 days to introduce the first 25%, relative to the total amount that you’re serving, and then the next and then the next and then the next, until you’re fully transitioned. But it totally depends on the dog. I mean, my dogs can switch from our salmon protein to our chicken protein, from breakfast to dinner without any disruption to their digestive system or their stool quality. Other dogs take longer.
@jinx @target can we get an owa owa #thinkjinx #target #kibbletoppers #dentalchew #dogtreat #dogfood #targetfinds ♬ BEE GEES VS 50 cent – EZ
Just a little different.
Yeah. It depends on what they’ve been eating from a protein standpoint and how long they’ve been eating it. If they’ve got sensitive tummies, it just depends on your dog. And I think to your point, especially if you’ve had your dog for a few years, you typically know what the triggers are in terms of nutrition. And so, we recommend two weeks, but it can take shorter, it can take longer. And you should really just kind of use your judgment based on knowing your dog.
Yeah. And there’s a lot that goes into it. I’m sure they could find a lot of information on your website. Just the educational aspect of it, right? Because when you have dogs, I got a 15-year-old dog and I’ve got a 3-year-old dog and sometimes they eat the same food and they probably shouldn’t be doing that. Right? I mean, so I’ll be interested to kind of learn. I’m interested now about this. I want to go check this out and learn-
Yeah. I would’ve brought you some product if I knew you had dogs.
See? Yeah. Well, I will go and be one of your customers, like your sister-in-law and get some dog food.
The friends and fam support.
For sure. So for those that are listening and they want to check this out, the dog food, because this is a company that’s going to the moon and-
Knock on wood.
Yes. So where do they go and how do they buy it?
Sure. So our website is thinkjinx.com. You can either purchase a-la-cart or through our subscription program. So because it’s a highly replenishable item, you can set it up on a frequency anywhere from three to eight weeks, just depending on what the churn for your household looks like, depending on how many dogs you’ve got.
And it’s really nice because dog food is heavy. And if you’ve got a dog over 40 or 50 pounds, you’re typically buying a 25-pound, 30-pound, in some cases, a 50-pound bag. I’ve had to constantly make trade-offs about if I’m going to carry home milk or dog food. And so, this is nice in the sense that it’s delivered to your door.
We offer a base diet, but we also offer healthy treats, toppers and dental chews. And so, really we’re trying to own the pantry, so you can buy with a single brand, through a single destination, and get all of the things that your dog needs from a consumable standpoint. And so, that’s kind of the offering in terms of our digital storefront. We’re also on petco.com, bloomingdales.com, rover.com, target.com, and in Target stores.
See? There it is.
…to get that one. But yeah, that’s where you can find us.
Awesome. Well, I’m really looking forward to following the journey and maybe doing a followup interviewing to kind of see the growth here. And I really appreciate you coming. I know you’re very busy in this startup. I still think it’s a startup.
Oh, it’s totally a startup.
Yeah. And coming down and spending an hour with me. So, thank you.
Yeah. Thank you. It was really lovely.