Andrea Huspeni started her blog This Dog's Life in 2016 as a creative outlet and place to share her love for dogs. Today, it’s a a resource for information, a curated marketplace featuring high-quality products for pups, and her full-time job. Huspeni spoke with me about her career path, learning from failures—her own and others—and her love for dogs that motivates her work.
Tell us about what you do.
I am the founder and CEO of This Dog’s Life, a lifestyle brand for quality-minded dog parents helping them make superior decisions for their best friend. We do this by providing a curated marketplace that features both in-house wellness supplements and boutique brands whose offerings—think: dog beds, bowls, and leashes—don’t fit into mass-retailers’ product mix. We’re also the go-to resource for information. You could think of it as the Goop or the William Sonoma of the dog world. We’re driven by the belief that dog parents deserve a better experience, better products, and better education.
When you founded This Dog’s Life, you were working in media as an editor and content director for Entrepreneur Media. What led you to make the move from media to founding your own company—and specifically this company?
I was. I started This Dog’s Life as a blog in 2016 while I was an editor at Entrepreneur. I missed writing, so I used it as a creative outlet to write about one of my favorite topics: dogs!
I built This Dog’s Life to help dog parents provide the best for their best friend. As someone who has grown up with dogs my entire life and loves them like crazy, I felt like we can do more for them; they are by our sides through thick and thin, helping us in our darkest hours. I guess I wanted to, in a way, pay homage to them and their loyalty.
In the beginning, while working a full-time job, it was a bit insane. I’d report on dog stories and write in the morning before work and start again right after work, but I enjoyed it because it was my very own. After the blog developed a loyal following, I decided to take the leap and do this full-time in 2018 and officially launched the e-commerce store in early 2019.
Can you tell us a little bit about your career path?
I received my undergraduate degree in marketing, with a minor in psychology. After graduating, I moved to Los Angeles and worked in a fashion showroom downtown, representing various contemporary women’s lines to different retailers. One day I realized that I wanted to be on the other side of the table; I wanted to be the buyer for my own store. So, I opened up a women’s e-commerce store (long before the days of Shopify), moved back to Minnesota (where I am from), and ran it for about five years. I decided to close up shop when the economy took a downturn.
After working in the corporate world at Häagen-Dazs for some time (while also holding down a serving job there to pay off my business debt), I decided to get my master’s degree. I chose NYU’s journalism program, thinking I wanted to go into public relations (marrying my interest in writing with my marketing background). But I just fell in love with journalism and eventually got a job at Entrepreneur Magazine, which at the time, was a dream job for me. I love entrepreneurs and startups; I have such respect for people willing to question the status quo and take a chance on starting their own business. After covering so many founders, I got the itch again to start something new.
How do you think the different stages of your career have shaped your work now at This Dog’s life?
There are so many lessons I have learned at every stage of my career!
My first startup, after I had to shut it down, really taught me to embrace the maxim that “this too shall pass.” It was really awful shutting it down, having a lot of debt, and feeling like I didn’t “succeed.” It was hard on my ego, and I wasn’t in a great place. But as time went by, I got through it. It really taught me that everything will turn out and be okay. While working at Entrepreneur, I heard from countless entrepreneurs about failures and realized that if you are going to go down this road, it is risky, and there is a high chance you could fail, and that is okay (and in places like Silicon Valley, it is often applauded). So, the experience along with learning from others’ experiences really helped me get out of my own mind and understand that you just keep moving forward.
I have also learned the power of storytelling. I love, love content and its power—be it an article, a social media post, or video. This is what connects people and builds communities. At Entrepreneur, I was always fascinated with the “why” and “how” and learning the story behind a business (I still religiously read business profiles.) At This Dog’s Life, I use storytelling in the content site, and while it is in its early days, it will be a powerful platform to bring dog parents together. I use it on the marketplace, too, so people can understand more about why we choose the products we do and the stories behind the brands, as I never wanted to just be a store that works off just transactions; I want to connect.
Lastly, I take all advice with a grain of salt. I have had a lot of business ideas, and when I was younger, I would run them by people. If someone told me “no,” that wasn’t possible, I believed them and stopped pursuing it. I definitely don’t do that anymore. No one knows your business, your intentions, or your North Star. No one. So, while I definitely am always open to learning, I don’t change my road map based on someone’s suggestions. If I hear something enough, perhaps, but I really need to sit with the advice before I make a move.
How do you curate the brands you sell at This Dog’s Life?
My goal with the marketplace store is to raise the bar for dog brands and showcase the best of the best. Dog parents are expecting more from brands, including transparency, quality, and credibility. They also are seeking out products that will stand the test of time (similar to the human trend of saying “no” to fast fashion). So, I look for brands that may not have the platform yet (just starting out) but are obsessed with providing the best for our best friends. I ask a lot of questions and research their background, along with information about their materials. In the end, I hope we bring joy to dogs and their humans.
In addition to curating other brands, This Dog’s Life has its own oral hygiene line for dogs. Can you tell us a little bit about the process of product development? You worked closely with a veterinarian on it; what is it like to oversee the work of others whose skill set you may not have?
Yes, I love dog breath. My previous dog Bentley (who inspired me to launch the Bye, Bye Dog Breath line) had horrible dental disease when he was older, and there was very little I could do about it—he was too fragile to get his teeth cleaned and hated the toothbrush. Watching him suffer while eating and chewing really inspired me to launch a dental line focused on natural ingredients that are vet formulated.
In terms of working with others in areas I am not an expert in, I embrace it. I don’t try to know it all. I definitely do my research, ask a lot of questions, and have input, but I let the expert be the expert. (I take the exact same approach when it comes to other areas too, like Facebook ads.) I think it’s important to be okay with not being the smartest person in the room and having trust in others.
What have been some of the most rewarding parts of running This Dog’s Life and what have been some of the most challenging?
The most rewarding part is definitely hearing from customers. I really love hearing how we have changed their dog’s life. It makes my day, week, month. Without customer feedback, it would not be as fulfilling of a career path, that is for sure.
The most challenging is having patience. I tend to want things to happen right now—more sales, more customers, more products. I feel like we get into this “more” cycle where we can’t wait for the next step, which can make the journey super stressful. I try to celebrate small wins; I even have taken to a journal app to write three positive things that happen each day so I can remember how far I have come.
The coronavirus pandemic is taking an enormous economic toll, including on small businesses. How has the pandemic and the concomitant quarantines affected your business?
It has taken a huge toll on businesses—both big and small—and I have read and seen a lot of startups shut down. It is disheartening, and I feel for these founders.
For me, I have been fortunate that the pandemic has actually helped my business. More people are staying at home, spending time with their dogs, and looking for convenient solutions (e.g. subscription services), so we have been doing really well. I don’t know where This Dog’s Life will be in a few months based on consumer behavior changes, but in the meantime, I am grateful for the growth in business.
What are some of your goals for This Dog’s Life’s growth?
To create an online destination for dog parents, providing them not only the resources and information they need but all the products to improve their dogs’ life. My next steps include expanding the in-house wellness line—keeping with the same high standards as the Bye, Bye Dog Breath line—while also giving more boutique brands a place to showcase their exceptional offerings. We plan to continue to develop educational and inspirational content to live alongside the store.
Overall, my goal is to help dog parents build a better bond with their best friend.
What sort of interests or passions might lead a woman to this kind of career?
Well, I think you must love dogs to do anything in the pet space. You really need to see the holes in the current marketplace (there are many) and turn those into opportunities.
As for the entrepreneur role, I think you really need to have a desire to build, not do it for the money, and be insanely curious. You also need to be patient; things take time . . . a lot of time. You are building something from the ground up, which, from the outside may seem easy, but it is anything but. You have to love what you are creating as there are no guarantees in terms of the outcome.
At Verily, we love our “Daily Doses”—quotes or phrases that motivate or inspire us. Do you have a mantra or phrase that you love or live by?
I have a few:
“This too shall pass”
“Onward and upwards”
“Celebrate the small wins”
I saw this somewhere, too: “There will be haters, there will be doubters, there will be non-believers, and then there will be you, proving them wrong.”