BarkBox’s Matt Meeker Has Big Plans for Pet Projects (Q&A)

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When you talk to Matt Meeker, it’s obvious that he likes dogs. Actually, “like” is too weak a word: Meeker loves dogs. That’s why, almost two years ago, he took that passion and turned it into his first pet startup, BarkBox, a Birchbox for dogs that sends goodies to dog owners for $19 a month or more.

Today, he runs two other dog-centric companies: BarkPost, a BuzzFeed for dog owners, and BarkCare, a $199-a-year service that gives dog owners constant access to vets, online and by phone.

These companies are a small but growing part of what is a $50 billion pet supply industry in the U.S. alone, according to the American Pet Product Association.

In April, BarkBox announced that RRE Ventures would be putting a fresh $5 million into its canine goodies service. There are currently just over 55,000 customers, and plans for owners with multiple dogs are in the works.

AllThingsD recently spoke with the Meetup creator and BarkBox CEO Meeker to talk about startups, future business plans and where he sees pet technology headed.

Here are the highlights of the interview:

AllThingsD: Tell me about how you got into startups.

Matt Meeker: I came to New York in the summer of 1997, after finishing school, and joined a small digital agency that helped get more traffic to websites. Then, in 2002, Meetup.com became my “9/11 baby.” It launched nine months and a day after 9/11, and one part of it was a feeling that New York was different after. People weren’t moving past each other, not taking notice anymore; they were taking care and concern for their neighbors. Meetup was about connecting strangers, and it was positive for communities.

How did you get into pet-specific startups?

BarkBox was largely inspired by my dog, Hugo. He’s a Great Dane, which is an outlier for New York, and I had a desire to find products tailored for him. I’m obsessed with him, am absolutely in love, and want him to be as happy and healthy as ever. I initially thought this would be a side business, but I was overwhelmed by the response. I knew there were crazy, passionate dog parents, but didn’t expect the number and how fast they came at us.

What other businesses do you hope to start?

I have plans over the next five years for 20 to 25 different businesses, including the three we have today. One would be dog-shaped paper clips, which would be more for marketing. Another idea would be a dog-friendly airline. If you have a family member on the West Coast and are coming from the East, it’s a four-day drive with your dog. Some people are willing to pay a premium for flying their dog across the country.

In your opinion, what makes a good entrepreneur?

Certainly, comfort with a roller-coaster ride, and hard work and focus. I don’t believe that you need to follow the alpha story of working 18-hour days, though. There’s also an intuitive feel of following your vision, but knowing when it needs to change. Timing is important, too. BarkBox wouldn’t make sense back when there wasn’t much trust in online commerce and the Internet was slower. Customers don’t always know what they want until you create it for them.

What’s the next big thing in pet technology?

Digital innovation in the human world that hasn’t made it yet to our pets. Households have twice the number of dogs to kids, but the kid world is still ahead in innovation, with things like kid cams. There’s a lot of innovation open.


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