What’s the inspiration behind Dope Dog?
EM & MB: It all started with Michael's dog, James. James is an 80-pund pit bull mix with the sweetest demeanor. After James turned 3, he tore his ACL/MCL in one of his legs. After he recovered from that, his other leg had the same issue. For years, James was on medications to help with his early-onset arthritis. The side effects were not great, and could harm his liver in the long run. We were super disappointed with this and knew there had to be a better way.
We were looking for natural alternatives for James around the same time we discovered CBD while traveling in Colorado. After experiencing the benefits of CBD personally, and doing extensive research on how cannabinoids work naturally in the endocannabinoid system of both humans and dogs, we decided to begin treating James.
Within weeks we saw a difference in his mobility. Within months we were able to completely wean him off his liver-damaging meds. This is when we knew we had to share this with the world.
Michael, your background is in design and technology. What was the learning process like for your work with Dope Dog?
MB: My background is all over the place. I started doing morning radio during high school and throughout college. Most of my time in college I was learning how to create films and learning about all the tech inside of that. Then after college, I became a commercial photographer. So, at first I thought nothing I did even qualified me to create Dope Dog. But I had a drive to always create things and I always dabbled in anything new - from creating websites, to launching a podcast before 2010. I am basically just a huge tech nerd.
The learning process for me was understanding and learning how to scale a business. The biggest challenge was learning how to delegate tasks and work. Even though I knew I could do it, I knew that if someone took over I could continue to push forward on the growth of the company.
It's still a learning process but since I love to dabble and test things, I really enjoy learning from the mistakes I've made along the way.
Erin – the world of CBD has never been hotter. How did the idea of CBD treats for dogs first come around?
EM: I must credit Michael with this one. During James' recovery back in 2017, we were administering human-grade CBD oil onto James’ dog treats twice a day. This became very time-consuming. He’s a clever pup, so we had to hide the fact that we were giving him “medicine” by dropping the oil on in another room and then bringing him the treat. We thought, “wouldn’t it be great if we have a dog treat already infused with CBD?” Not long after this realization, Dope Dog was created!
Were there any challenges you faced transitioning from the retail space into the CBD industry?
EM: My background laid a great foundation for running a consumer product company, but I don't think anything could have prepared me for the CBD industry, aside from actually experiencing it. We started Dope Dog to bring a really great product to market that we knew pet parents needed. With our mission front of mind, we were not thinking of the challenges we'd face being in a regulated industry – and there is no shortage of challenges! I'll never forget the day we woke up to find our payment processor had shut us down and customers could no longer shop on our website. In addition, we had lost all our subscriber information and had to reach out to everyone individually to get their accounts active again. Those few weeks were really tough!
Walk us through your invention process! Any fun stories you’d like to share?
EM & MB: We knew the first product was going to be a CBD dog treat because that is what we were wishing we had for James. But that’s the easy part! Creating a human-grade CBD product that was safe and healthy for dogs was going to be a bit more challenging. We needed to source appropriate CBD and create a healthy and delicious treat. If the dogs didn’t like it, we knew it wouldn’t work!
After testing so many treats from multiple manufacturers, bakers, and other brands, we knew the direction we wanted to take. We decided to work with a small-batch baker and design a custom CBD recipe. Our first recipe was peanut butter, and it continues to be our top selling flavor. They are airy, crunchy, and 100% dog-approved. The hardest part was getting the CBD content accurate. We had to go through many test batches with different amounts of CBD in order to get the dosage exactly right. We tested the batches post-baking for CBD content in each individual treatment, and finally got the recipe perfected.
After the product was finalized, next up was the packaging. Our initial prototype looks nothing like our current product. We opted for inexpensive packaging with super low minimums. This allowed us to launch very quickly and we started getting feedback from real customers, real pet store owners, and real dogs! Within a few months, we knew the product was solid and then we reinvested into better packaging.
How did you two meet each other?
EM & MB: We met on a dating app back in 2017! Little did we know we'd soon be business partners. We dated for just about a year before founding Dope Dog in the summer of 2018. We didn't think too much about going into business together. Dope Dog felt more like an exciting project we were both passionate about. Naturally, both our personal relationship and our business relationship evolved quickly. We discovered our strengths and weaknesses. We really lucked out when we realized we compliment each other quite well. Michael is a charismatic creator, innovator, and risk-taker. He has no trouble seeing the big picture. Erin is an outgoing connector, manager, and takes on a more detail-oriented approach. Our opposite skill sets have allowed Dope Dog to become what it is today.
How do you handle risk and competition?
EM: Taking risks and failing forward is crucial in growing a startup, especially in a new space. The CBD industry is still in early stages and we believe competition is moving us all in the right direction.
MB: I think without competition we would continue to want to grow and make the company better every day. We don't think about it much, but every company has a different path to success. I think we are on the right one for us.
What’s been the #1 (or two) top challenges you’ve faced while launching your company?
EM & MB: Marketing a product in a regulated space has been the biggest challenge we have faced since launching the company. This hinders us in terms of digital marketing on channels such as Facebook, Google, and Instagram.
Have you learned anything new or surprising about yourself through this process?
MB: I've learned that I'm still learning. Sometimes when you start something, you think you fully understand it all. Then, once you start, you realize you had no idea what you were getting into. A lot of the work I've done prior to all this was very much instant feedback. Working on Dope Dog – it's definitely far from that. From the moment you create a product until it gets into customers’ hands could be 8 months or more. So, when we hear all the great things Dope Dog is doing for all the dogs out there it really helps keep us moving.
You’ve certainly got some very cute coworkers! How did Zoey and James enter your life/business?
MB on James: Back in 2010, when I had just moved to Los Angeles after college, I was living with two roommates and we all decided to get a dog. Most people assume I got him from a rescue, but the real story is we got him off Craigslist from a family down the street from us who couldn’t have him in their apartment anymore. He was 3 months old and such a little cutie.
EM on Zoey: The story behind Zoey is pure luck. I don't quite remember deciding to get a puppy, but now I know that Zoey joining our family was inevitable and I genuinely can't imagine life without her.
Back in 2017, I was following a few local rescues and would DM Michael with cute dogs. I remember when I sent the precious photo of baby Zoe to Michael, he replied, "reach out!". (Michael is surely the risk-taker in our relationship and the business!). I was nervous because we hadn't discussed the details of adopting a dog together, but I went for it!
We went to see Zoey in person at an open adoption event in Mar Vista, only to find out she had been spoken for already – by not one, but two families! It was heartbreaking to see her across the room knowing she was already taken and had someone lined up if the first family dropped out. At this point I didn't want to get my hopes up, but I told the rescue we were interested and they said I could be on the waitlist. I didn't think too much of it.
A few weeks later the rescue coordinator reached out to inform me that both families had returned Zoey (WHAT?!). We were down at the adoption center that day, and the rest is history!
In your opinion, what’s the most fulfilling part of owning a dog?
EM & MB: Waking up to puppy snuggles, morning walks to start the day off the day right, social perks, puppy dog eyes, the list goes on…
Dope Dog was one of the inaugural companies on The Oprah Magazine’s first-ever Pet-Centric O List. What was that experience like?
EM & MB: We'll never forget the way we found out we made the O List. We had sent in our products and information months earlier, per the request of an editor at Oprah Magazine. Flash forward three months later, we saw an order come through on the website with the code "Oprah" attached. Before thinking twice, we immediately drove to the closest newsstand and grabbed the magazine, and there we were! The funniest part is after Oprah published Dope Dog, our friends and family finally started taking us seriously (eye-roll).
Why did you decide to raise from the crowd?
EM & MB: The decision to fundraise was not an easy one. We had been operating profitably and were hesitant to take on too much capital at the wrong time. After consulting our advisor – who had more experience in this area than we did, having sold his prior company to Airbnb – we decided fundraising was the right next step for us. The decision to go the crowdfunding route felt natural to us. We loved the idea of building a community of Dope Dog supporters and giving everyone a chance to be involved in what we're building. After speaking with 3 crowdfunding platforms, we chose Republic for their quality network of investors.
What’s your team culture like?
MB: Our team culture is basically myself and Erin. Throughout the years of working together we've tried to balance life and work. We know as we continue to grow that will be a main focus with us because we know it important to have a well-balanced life.
What is your superpower?
MB: My superpower is probably spotting trends before trends. I just love to dig deep and find new things. When I find something, I jump all over it and sometimes that seems a little kooky.
What’s your kryptonite?
MB: Pizza. During 2020, it was to go out on weekends.
Do you have any unusual routines or habits?
MB: Our early dinner time. Since we started working together our habits and routines have been a journey of health – and occasional ice cream. Personally, I'm big into intermittent fasting, so we end up eating dinner at 3-4pm every day. Not ideal for most people, but I feel great! I usually fast for 18-20 hours every day.
Do you have any other hobbies/things you like to do in your spare time?
MB: Podcasting. I've been doing it since 2010 and I love it. I worked in morning radio and knew podcasting was a way for me to continue without actually working at the station. We started a podcast Call Me Crazy...I started a business.
Also, Call of Duty. Love some video games to hang with friends.
If you could give yourself one piece of advice 5 years ago, what would it be?
EM & MB: Think bigger. Like 1000x bigger.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?
EM & MB: Just because you receive advice, doesn't mean you have to take it.