Small Business Spotlight of the Week: NinjaDog Concepts Amanda | December 21st, 2011

I knew that this week, right before the holidays, our small business spotlight had to feature something warm and fuzzy and completely heartwarming. I was going for It’s A Wonderful Life meets The Miracle on 34th Street meets a batch of chocolate chip cookies fresh from the oven.  And I think I almost got it.

A missing pet can be as gut-wrenching as it is time consuming, and it’s not quite socially accepted for people to take large chunks of time off from work to search for a lost pet. That’s where NinjaDog Concepts comes in. Sarah and her team work 24/7 and launch full-scale search operations to recover a missing pet.  She takes care of posting pictures, responding to leads, and would probably even take on a mountain lion barehanded if it meant returning a pet to its owner. NinjaDog Concepts’ big heart is only matched by their willingness to go through any hoops to return missing pets. That’s definitely a great sentiment to get behind this holiday season.

NinjaDog Concepts is based in Los Angeles, they also provide a list of resources for those with missing pets.

Sarah had some more to say about her amazing lost-dog-sniffing abilities:

How would you explain what you do to somebody’s grandmother?

NinjaDog Concepts works 24/7 to help people find their lost pets by creating and managing full-scale search operations.  Many people work or have other obligations that prevent them from being able to drop everything and look for their lost pet, as much as they would like to.  NinjaDog Concepts exists to take care of flyering, networking, using social media, responding to sightings, and everything in between!

 What are some industry specific challenges you faced?  

Some of NinjaDog Concepts’ challenges are dealing with the sprawling geography of Los Angeles, battling wildlife like coyotes, bears, and mountain lions that can go after loose pets, and educating people on the important of prevention (like keeping pets indoors/in secure yards, keeping current ID tags on them at all times, and microchipping them).

What’s the craziest story you have from starting your own business?  

The craziest story?  They’re all crazy when you chase missing dogs for a living.  And by “chase,” I mean, “crouch in a calm way and throw hamburgers at them until them come to you.”  I’ve (literally) crawled through drainage ditches, hopped fences, hung out with homeless folks, and traipsed through bramble in the hills to track dogs.  We always find dogs because of a confluence of all sorts of seemingly random happenings, which makes every recovery seems like a crazy miracle to me, no matter how many we do.

What made you use crowdSPRING?

I used crowdSPRING because it’s a well-designed system that gave me access to a lot of talent and has both the talent’s and client’s interests balanced and protected.  As a freelancer/entrepreneur myself, it’s important to me to support the very best creative talent AND the companies that respect their work.  Plus, crowdSPRING is awesomely easy and fun to use.

What was your biggest learning curve/experience?

One of the biggest learning curves has been my service and pricing structure.  The most effective way for me to run a campaign is to coordinate everything needed.  NinjaDog Concepts has the most success when our clients give us the freedom to “do whatever is needed.”  However, the cost for that type of service can be cost-prohibitive to some people, so we do offer our services a la carte, as well as have an email/phone coaching option.  It took awhile to figure that all out and we’re still tweaking it to make sure we meet the needs of our clients as well as covering our operational costs.  The tendency with a service like this is to want to give it out for free because we are so passionate about helping people and their pets.  But we have realized that it’s important to be realistic about cost and budget so we can do the very best, most effective job possible.  And it’s okay to accept fair payment for a job well done.

If you could go back, would you do anything differently? If so, what and why?

Originally, I got started in lost dog recovery as a volunteer and got to the point where I was ready to set up my own operation.  I debated about making NinjaDog Concepts non-profit or for-profit, and I chose to monetize it because I have a nonprofit background and know how difficult it can be to set up and maintain.  It seemed easier to go for the sole proprietorship, even though I had a suspicion it would take some of the joy out of it for me.  I chose to make it a sole proprietorship, but I still go back and forth about it.  I would love to be able to give this service away if I could also make a living.

How do you see your company growing in the future?

The great thing about NinjaDog Concepts is that it can really be done anywhere.  My hope is that my model for logistics and media management can be taught to others so they can have their own local branch of NinjaDog Concepts and lost pets everywhere can benefit from the strategies we use.  I could also see NinjaDog Concepts getting out of the direct recovery business eventually and sliding into full-time teaching of other organizations that do this work.  I also have really big dreams for the good NinjaDog Concepts can do using technology and working with different partners to promote prevention.

Six words of advice to those looking to start their own company.  

Learn, then do it your way.

NinjaDog Concepts’ super sweet logo received 146 designs.

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