Startup Lockdown — Day 2 — Waggr

Day 2 of startup lockdown was “Ethical Puppy Marketplace”

Let me stop right there.

My first big learning was:

People really like to tell you about ethics and puppies.

I had not yet found a topic that people would so willfully share their opinion on (or not). This is HUGELY charged in a way I hadn’t realized.

Some people were personally offended that I’d tackle this topic for a day. One of my friends refused to discuss how he purchased a puppy because I might judge him. Any posts on Facebook walls resulted in a long stream of comments pontificating on their perfect purebred dog, or on the horrors of why people shouldn’t buy dogs.

Everyone has their own definition of what an “ethical” puppy means. Also, for the rest of this, when I say “puppy” assume I mean a purebred puppy.

So what is ethical?

I’m still struggling with this. Gutenberg, my cat, is adopted. I adopted her from an acquaintance when she was a kitten (their cat accidentally got pregnant). I’m pro-adopting of animals.

I also learned a lot more about why people don’t necessarily adopt dogs from the shelter. Sometimes they want a dog that has certain qualities. More often, they’re nervous about being able to properly care for a rescue dog. Particularly when someone is getting a first-pet, they want to set the relationship up for success. Buying a puppy feels less risky. We also learned that first-time buyers are more open to adoption the second time around: when they’re more comfortable.

Maybe those people need another way to buy puppies?

”Good” Puppies are hard to buy

That’s the other thing I didn’t realize. It’s very hard to buy a puppy from a breeder now — most breeders have few (think: 2–10) puppies available per year. They do extensive interviews to find the right home. They aren’t super tech savvy.

It’s important to go to a qualified breeder if you want to get a healthy dog. Even breeding clubs don’t think that all of their members meet the ideal standard (the AKC “Breeder of Merit” distinction is one metric people go off of).

Some people have even had assistants go through and call lots of different breeders to get through the process — but everyone agrees that it’s a lot of paperwork.

One thing I’m wondering is if this dynamic makes people more likely to buy from a puppy mill/pet store.

Can we help people get puppies, without encouraging puppy mills?

So that brings me to: how should this work? If someone decides they definitely wasn’t a purebred puppy — is there any way to talk them out of it? Does a clear system make it more likely for people to get good dogs? Or does it increase demand/access, and thus also increase puppy mills? I’m not sure.

In class last week we discussed a case on HR Block and if they should adopt a product that was similar to Payday loans. From a business side, their competitors were and they needed to remain competitive. If you need to do something unethical to stay in business, should you do it? In my mind, no. Another student raised the perspective of “if all the good people avoid ethically challenging businesses, how do we force them to get better?” It really resonated with me. A significant number of people are going to use payday loans — particularly unbanked people. If this is a system that’s going to happen — do we want to avoid it at all costs, or do we want to figure out a way to build it without gouging people?

(I’m still not sure).

I feel a similar way about the puppy situation. Lots of things aren’t perfectly ethical. I think rescuing dogs is probably better, but I can also see why people are nervous. Is it better to let people have a puppy the first time along?

I’m still not sure.


That qualm aside, we came to the idea of Waggr.

Waggr is a broker system for people who are looking for puppies. Rather than having to call and build relationships with each breeder, we have a staff of “experts” who are familiar with each breed. They build relationships with breeders, and also with buyers, to make sure each puppy is placed in the right place. The top priority is always making sure the puppy ends up in the right place.

Personal Learnings:

  1. One of the problems with building a business in a day is you can’t properly sort out the ethics and long term consequences of a lot of businesses within a day. Puppies is more obvious, but people also pointed out that Pickld won’t solve the underlying problem of helping people focus on who matters.
  2. Having a day limit makes me more likely to do things I wouldn’t normally. With Pickld its as making the SquareSpace page (normally I’d want to build from scratch). With Waggr I had to get comfortable with quickly sketching a logo. It’s not ideal, but I’m glad I did it once.

Here’s my logo!