It is a tale of success that began from something unexpected. “It was never a planned journey. It just happened,” describes WAG’s Founder and Director Jeremy Goldman on how his business started. His entrepreneurial journey stemmed from his love for dogs and the desire for a little bit of extra money on the side. Seeing a need and an opportunity in the natural dog treats space, he came up with a passion project that grew to something huge. Henceforth, there is no turning back for Jeremy as he wags his entrepreneurial tail towards success.
The scenario is still fresh from his memory. Ten years ago, Jeremy was yet at university when he thought of selling natural dog treats at a local farmers market. Every single week, he would set up his goods at five in the morning and sell them out from the back of his car. By 10 o’clock, everything he brought to the market would be sold out. “One day, after doing it for about two months, someone came along and said, 'I own 22 pet stores in Melbourne. I’d like to put your range in our pet stores.' And like overnight, the business was born,” Jeremy narrated.
But why get into a business of dog treats? “I've always been a dog lover. My passion has always been for dogs. I grew up my whole life with large dogs. I’ve always taken a keen interest in what we feed them and how they react,” explains the entrepreneur-pet owner. At present, he has a dog, named Levi, who is also his test pilot.
Dogs have qualities that make them man’s best friend. In fact, men can learn from dogs and apply some of its qualities to running a business. Jeremy names loyalty, honesty and patience as key attributes of a dog that can make a businessman a successful one. “I think dogs are fiercely loyal. Loyalty is a very good attribute of a successful entrepreneur. I think dogs are very honest as well, which I believe you can look into a dog's eyes and you could straightaway tell their level of honesty. Patience is a good one in business. If you want to put that at the start, there's patience. Everyone's very impatient in this day and age. Everyone thinks success will come overnight. But it's a tough, long journey.”
That goes the same for him. He may have struck gold when his passion project suddenly became a business. But the succeeding steps were never easy for him. At such a young age, the tasks seemed daunting. Still, he persisted and kept on in spite of the hurdles. “Being inexperienced has always been my biggest challenge. A lot of my progress has been learning by doing. So, it was just dealing with the issues that arise in the way that I know, that I thought was logical,” he revealed. When he said “learning by doing”, it included performing various tasks in the business, such as preparing the goods, promoting the products, selling them, and looking after the financial side – all by himself.
Like in most businesses, cash flow is an issue for Jeremy. His biggest heartache was the times when he was not making enough money. “The lowest of lows is when you think the world is going to end because you have cash flow issues,” he intimated. He illustrated how having an unsteady earning could affect him. “I see everyone around me go to their nine-to-five jobs and have a secure income, whereas I chose to live the entrepreneurial life. It’s living a low-means lifestyle for now, in the hope that in the future I’d live like all the rest would be envious of me.”
However, money is not the only consideration in running a business. There are sacrifices that business owners have to face, along with the responsibilities they have to carry throughout their journey. Since he’s on top of everything, Jeremy had to be accountable for the success or failure of his venture. “Also, when you take the business to bed and never switch off, that's the lowest of lows. When business is always on your mind, you live it, and you breathe it, and you consume it,” he added.
There were times when he poured so much effort into introducing some of his products to the public. He used to think he needed to launch everything perfectly. In hindsight, he realised it would have been better to get something out to market and then keep redoing it, rather than wasting time perfecting it and ending up with nothing.
Contrary to the difficulties that come with owning a business, it is a way of life that Jeremy embraces. Being on his own has its perks that he finds enjoyable. “Running your own business, you have a lot of flexibility and options. Lifestyle flexibility would be the highest of highs,” he countered. Ever since he was young, he had always seen himself becoming an entrepreneur. Jeremy felt it is the right fit for him. “From an early age, I’ve been running businesses. I always had the drive to make money. I loved the concept of creativity, the cash flow. Having an idea and bringing it to market, that was the most exciting thing to me. So, I’d always try little businesses here and there. I sold my first business at 21 years old. We had a valet car parking business. So, yeah, I’ve always been entrepreneurial.”
His hardships bore fruit. Doing what he was most passionate about, despite the obstacles, brought a lot of wins to Jeremy. “The business has grown from me wearing all the hats – from sales to marketing to packing to every aspect of the business – to fast forward eight years at 24 staff members now. We started selling at one farmer's market stall. Now, we're selling in 800 retail stores in Australia. And we also sell in Hong Kong, Singapore, and the USA,” the dog lover businessman proudly remarked. “Going back to the creativity and cash flow elements of my business, I like taking an idea and nurturing it and bringing it to market and then seeing it on a shelf. It's a great joy of mine being able to see my product and my idea come to life.”
These are achievements that he wears like a badge. Now that he has people in his team, Jeremy feels responsible for their lives and welfare. Creating a working environment where everyone thrives and pushes the business to greater heights has become one of his priorities. Thus, he regards the results satisfying as he shares, “My greatest accomplishment is coming to my workplace and seeing the culture I’ve created. You know, I created an office. Seeing friendships grow within a workplace. It's a result of this business.”
To get to that, Jeremy had some tools, learnings and best practices that helped him through the stumbles and missteps. The right people had to be selected properly. “We only hire people that love animals. So, straightaway, it creates a very positive and friendly work environment. We have a you-can-bring-your-pets-to-work policy, which creates a playful, light-hearted working environment. We're all young and passionate here. And I think that's a very important ingredient to the success of the business, thus far,” he iterated.
Other ingredients that Jeremy brought with him on his journey are persistence, focus, and agility, with persistence as the biggest of all. “It's very easy to lose sight of what you're doing and very easy to give up when you hit roadblocks,” Jeremy pointed out. Part of that success is the ability to alter direction and pivot when the market reacts or when patrons give feedback. For a consumer-driven brand, particularly with the fast-changing landscape of retail, it is crucial to be sensitive to customer behaviour. Consumer buying habits often shift. That is why he has remained open to changes. Owning a small business allows him to respond faster to variations in markets. “We keep our fingers on the pulse with all the trends that are coming out of all the emerging markets. We pay very close attention to what our competitors are doing and how we can do it better. And I think a lot of it comes down to listening to our customers.”
There’s no linear path in entrepreneurship, Jeremy realised. Pragmatically, he has sought out mentors and looked for answers to help him in his journey. He divulged, “I've always asked a lot of questions. Asking questions is probably the most important thing because information is free.” His number one inspiration and sounding board was his father. With 40 years of experience in business, his father was a big help in Jeremy’s entrepreneurial track. “My father was an entrepreneur. He's always run his own business. Even though he's a very old-school operator, you can't beat experience,” Jeremy stated.
Jeremy also turns to his staff members and other business owners for questions. “I think everyone has something very useful to say that you can pick, based on their experiences that you can use on your journey,” he commented. Some of these businessmen he met when he joined EO Melbourne. It was a great platform and network for him, something very useful from a social and learning perspective. He wanted to know how other entrepreneurs balance their lives. Also, there were moments when he feels alone in the business environment. “As cliché as it sounds, I needed some like-minded people that are running a small business and are suffering the same growing pains as me,” he said. It was in EO Melbourne where he came across people who were going through parallel motions in business as he does. Regardless of the size of their businesses, entrepreneurs somehow experience similar patterns.
Apart from the experiences, he also learned how other people are organising their businesses through reporting. It taught him how to be systematic and process-driven. As per Jeremy, “Reporting has been my biggest thing. It’s the biggest thing for me in EO – watching others in my forum how they conduct and read the numbers of their business. I think for a long time, I was running on intuition in my business. And it helped me identify the numbers in my business, as a scorecard to my business health.”
With his enterprise expanding and going international, Jeremy is keen towards capturing more export markets. His goal is to become the number one pet treat brand in the world, featuring its unique natural dog treats. Through their one-of-its-kind Australian offerings, such as the kangaroo dog treats, they can market their specialised products to the rest of the world.
While he watches and grows WAG, Jeremy looks forward to taking the back seat in the future and handing over the reins to those who are next in line. By then, he hopes to live a balanced lifestyle. “I see myself taking a foot off the pedal and letting the people in middle management, empowering my employees more to make decisions on the business. I would like to take a step back (from the business) in 10 years. Maybe I’d be able to spend more time with my family and less time focused on work energy and sweat equity,” he disclosed.
Notwithstanding the bigger successes he aims in the future, Jeremy does not forget to go back to the essence of why he started his business in the first place. His keen interest in dogs has brought him this far. Thus, he makes sure that he aligns his business to the animal cause and gives back to the community through his pet charities, no pun intended. “We are about to start a charity, with a percentage of our sales given to our partner charities. We want to have a little bit of a social impact,” Jeremy pronounced.
Like a dog that perseveres in digging a precious find, Jeremy’s persistence never wavers. He wants to be number one in the world, so he’s getting ahead of the pack. And he keeps on keeping on. This dog lover is not showing any sign of giving up.