Thursday, September 14, 2006

Bow Wow

Barked Dogster Inc., as they formally announced the completion of a $1 million Series A round on Thursday. The firm, which has grown to 10 employees, had been raising money for the past few months and finally reached their goal of $1 million.

The occasion holds special significance to me - my boss over the summer, Scott Rafer, is an adviser for the company, and I was lucky enough to meet the men and women behind Dogster and spend a few days at the office. Jeff Clavier, who I was fortunate enough to meet this summer and is one of few VCs who is a truly great guy, wrote a great piece on the company on Thursday when the news broke.

But the biggest reason the news is so joyful is what it represents. At its outset, Dogster was a few guys with a dream - to unite dog owners and give them a place to express and share their love. But their story isn't just a feel good one - they followed a winning strategy: "thinking small." It seems counterintuitive, but it just may be the recipe for success in the Web 2.0 world.

Conventional entrepreneurial thought tells us the individual shouldn't be afraid of going all out, of thinking big. One guy can change the world, right?

Maybe, but that isn't always the healthiest attitude for a start up to take. The founders of Dogster identified a problem, built the solution, and concentrated on getting it out fast, rather than adding a lot of features. They weren't trying to take over the world, and thus they didn't try to build a product to do so. Rather, they focused on a niche they intimately understood and immersed themselves in a labor of love.

And, in many cases, that is what being an entrepreneur is about. We shouldn't be starting our companies to flip to Google or Yahoo, we should be doing it to make our own little dent in the world. As Web 2.0 continues to revolutionize our life, many of the companies that succeed will be the ones born out of passion.

As Clavier points out in the article, Dogster's numbers look great, and their future is bright, but, for me at least, it all starts with love. And they really love dogs. Their "office" is a room big enough for 10 desks and a couple couches with no less than 4 dogs running around. Forgive me for sounding like Steve Jobs, but Dogster's employees don't just work for a company, they work for a cause.

So what does it all boil down to? Of course, start ups need a sound business plan and product. But though it may sound cliche, at the end of the day, success starts with passion, and that passion can be harnessed by "thinking small," by not worrying about the big picture and focusing on your niche.

Godspeed, Dogster.

("Thinking Small" was a presentation at Comdex a few months back, one that my boss preached to me as a strategy for approaching a project of my own. A video of the presentation and the slides can be found here.)

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