The tables have turned! Join us in this Pet Lover Geek episode where independent journalist Dominick Bonny interviews Lorien Clemens on his show, 'Common Sense,' as she shares how she became the CEO of PetHub, some BIG news happening with the company recently, and her advice for girls and women who aspire to shake things up in the working world -- as they should.
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00:00 Dominick Bonny
Lorien, how did PetHub get started?
00:06 Lorien Clemens
It's funny, so I am a co-founder of PetHub, Tom Arnold my husband is the founder of PetHub, but we weren't married at the beginning. In fact, we had just started dating and I remember we were driving over to Wenatchee to go skiing and he says, "hey I am thinking about leaving Microsoft." I was like, oh okay, I mean literally we have only been dating for a couple of months. I was like oh tell me about that. He told me that this idea that he had started when he was on a trip in India and he was having to manage his two cats. He had a cat sitter and he was always supposed to be in India for one month. It turned into a three-month gig with Microsoft and all of a sudden he was having to scramble because the cat sitter had not been able to stay, and here he is in India trying to manage everything back in Issaquah and it was just craziness going on for like having to get all this stuff together and this should be easier. I literally am working for Microsoft which is a company that makes everything work so easily for people. This should be easier so that was his first taste of there needs to be something to help pet parents and then we got home just a couple of months later. One of his cats, while he was leaving the garage -- their kitty litter was in the garage have never had a cat leave the house before get out -- got spooked, ran out was gone and he all of a sudden he was like oh my God, I don't know who her microchip is with. The tag that she's got on has my old cell phone number because I moved since then and I have a whole new address and everything. There's like literally no way that I can get her home. What am I going to do? And he was again scrambling. And this has to be easier. So he had this idea of creating a centralized database for pets where it would all be together, and then you could do all sorts of things, you could manage your pet sitter. You could manage a pet getting lost and send out lost pet posters and things like that. All these sorts of things, and so that's what the idea of PetHub came to be, and so he was telling me all about this and he hadn't used the name yet and I said oh, so it's kind of like a hub for your pet. He's like, oh my God, that's like literally one of the three names I am considering right now. So that's kind of how PetHub was born. That's also how I got brought into it. So yeah.
02:08 Dominick Bonny
So you kind of came up with the name?
02:10 Lorien Clemens
He already had the name and the funny thing is that we were just dating at the time. He's left Microsoft. He started PetHub. Soon thereafter I moved in with him. The help I was giving him was really like hey what do you think about this idea? Hey, interns that I'm working with at UW thought about this. What do you think about this? And so I was really just more of a sounding board at first, but as he progressed and he filed his first patent with a QR-coded pet ID tag, you know first to do that, and then he got an interview and he told the reporter I'm going to give away 300 of these. Well, she reported it on CNET the next day, he was going to give away 3000, and then overnight like in three days he had over 3000 orders come into this little quick website that he put up for these tags and that's when he officially tapped me on the shoulder says can you help me with this? I was stuffing tags and I was answering emails and it just kind of grew into basically my side gig. I wasn't getting paid or anything and I was looking to leave education. I was a monastery educator and curriculum developer at the time and I said, you know, I'm looking to leave education it. What's happening right now with No Child Left Behind and Core and everything -- not my thing -- and you could pay me to help you with this and so that's kind of how that all started. He didn't pay me much, minimum wage, but that's how I got on the board.
03:23 Dominick Bonny
I see and this was circa year..?
03:26 Lorien Clemens
So 2009, when he and I met, and then 2010 he officially started PetHub and then I came officially on board in 2011, but I'd been doing stuff, you know, like I said in my living room for the first year.
03:38 Dominick Bonny
That's funny, very cool, and you said a little bit about your background, that was one of my questions. Since then, how has it grown and what are some new developments? I know that there's some big ones.
03:50 Lorien Clemens
Yeah, there are some big ones, so I'll give you the 30,000-foot view of what PetHub is. So we started off direct to consumer. We got some really nice traction early on because we were very first to the market with a QR-coded pet ID tag and it was a brand new thing. We're frankly a little early to market because we would hear things like you know what is that thing and oh, QR is going to die. It's just a fad and we were literally told by investors early on. I don't think everybody's going to have a smartphone. I don't think this has really got any legs, 'cause you know, I think that smartphones are just a fad. Fast forward, but we started off at direct to consumer. We went into retail. We joke that it was death by 1000 paper cuts. We were getting traction, but not very quickly, but we found and we really refined our system about getting lost pets home. We found that we're really good at that and several years in a row when we would go dig into our statistics, we found 96% or higher of the pets that we were getting home. We're getting home in 24 hours or less and like 35% we're getting home in 4 hours or less. The national average was something around 10 days for return to home. So we were getting pets home faster than other systems out there. We thought this is working, but our customer acquisition wasn't working and in the very beginning we thought we really want to work with shelters because we knew that that is the place you want to meet the pet parent when they're brand new pet parent. They're just understanding what they need to do to keep their pet safe and protected, but shelters wouldn't talk to us. They basically said you're a startup. We've been burned by startups before. Come back to us in five years, when you've proven that you can do what you say you can do. So it's funny around the five and a half year mark shelters actually started coming to us because we had given out a lot of free tags in the community and we had about 40,000 people that had bought tags from us and they were starting to see pets come into their shelters with the tag on and they would immediately be able to get them home. So shelters called us and said wow, your tags work so great, how do we work to get them in our shelter? And so that's when we pivoted and we started working directly with municipalities, cities, and counties, and even states in some cases. Helping them bring their pet licensing into the 21st century. Ditching those old fashioned metal ID tags were invented before the Civil War and bring, you know, 21st century digital ID tag. That was beautiful. It was branded for the community and it linked to this free online profile and a 24/7 call center. So that was around 2016 that we pivoted took us about a year, year and a half to fully get everything working for the municipal licensing system. Build our reputation. But since then we are now the pet license or rabies tag in hundreds of communities it's almost 900 communities across the United States. We get 600 to 800 new pets on the website every day, and we're at 860 something thousand pets on the site now. We'll be at a million pets in the next couple of months, so we're really just taking off, and then if we could talk about our most exciting new news, I mean, this is why I'm getting interviewed today. So we just found out late last year, but we were able to announce last week, early February that we are part of the LEAP Venture Studio Cohort 5. And leap is a group put together by Mars, Michelson Found Animals Foundation, and RGA adventures to help startups in the pet space really go to that next level, and so we are beyond thrilled. It is such a tremendous opportunity and right now we're only a week into what we're doing with LEAP, and it has just been thrilling what we are learning and the introductions that we're getting and the value that we're getting is just super exciting for us.
07:20 Dominick Bonny
Right and Mars. This is like Mars bars?
07:22 Lorien Clemens
This is like the candy company. This is like MNM's. Yeah, and they are one of the largest pet care companies in the world. I mean in terms of food, it's either Mars or, you know, Nestle Parina that have the bulk of the market share.
07:38 Dominick Bonny
That's really exciting. That's really interesting.
07:40 Lorien Clemens
It's really exciting.
07:41 Dominick Bonny
Yeah, I mean for a Wenatchee-based startup. I mean you're working with, like you said, one of the big two companies in this industry.
07:50 Lorien Clemens
Well and it's exciting because we've actually -- we started having a relationship with Purina a couple of years ago -- we were part of their Purina Pet Care Innovation prize. We didn't win. We didn't even get into the final five, but we became part of their network, and they've been tremendous too. I mean both companies have been really, really great supporting startups in the industry. The LEAP opportunity though is definitely a step above of what we've had in the past, but it is, it's very exciting. We've already had some opportunities that we know are going to bring new opportunities to Wenatche which are really exciting.
08:21 Dominick Bonny
That's really cool too.
08:22 Lorien Clemens
Yeah, it is.
08:23 Dominick Bonny
The whole trickle down..
08:24 Lorien Clemens
Part of the pivot was moving from Seattle to Wenatchee. Tom's had a home here in Wenatchee for the last 20 something years. He's on ski patrol. I was a ski instructor actually at Mission Ridge for a while, and so we love Wenatchee, but we decided when we were doing the pivot, you know, we had to tighten our belt, you know, cut down on staff and cut down on costs 'cause we knew, okay, we got a lot of changes we need to make and we've got to cut down our costs and we realized trying to have an office in Seattle and having two homes was really not working for us in terms of being able to stretch our dollar and make our runway go as long as possible. So we moved the entire company over to Wenatchee. Part of that move was also moving our 24/7 found pet call center to Wenatchee and we now use GTC. When folks around the world call in to get help with their last pet, they're calling just down the street from us.
09:14 Dominick Bonny
Wow, I did not know that's GTC. That's really interesting, huh, another female..
09:20 Lorien Clemens
Jacey has been tremendous in supporting us in the community. In fact, when we moved to Wenatchee, it was profound the support that we got here. It's just been wonderful. It's really helped PetHub.
09:32 Dominick Bonny
Yeah, wow, and quick segue this isn't actually on my questions list, but you know, I actually first saw you speak at the tech alliances Flywheel presentation conference, which was the last one, and very few people in the room because of covid and I thought, wow, this is really interesting -- I saw you and Tom present -- I thought this is an interesting idea and an interesting concept. I was aware of the company and then also speak about this in my monologue, but full disclosure, my wife now has taken a job with your company as you're expanding and she's really excited about that.
10:07 Lorien Clemens
We love her too.
10:08 Dominick Bonny
Yeah, that's kind of why also, I was like boy, this would be a good interview because it's newsworthy at this time for your new developments, but also you as a female CEO in the tech sector, I think is a really interesting angle because there aren't a ton of female CEO's in tech.
10:26 Lorien Clemens
No, and I didn't start as a CEO. I've literally worn every hat at the company except writing code, although as Tom will tell you, I'm really good at breaking the code that they write. I'm a great tester, but I built our sales program. I've built our brand and a lot of our marketing stuff was stuff that I had done and I was COO for quite a while, but in the middle of the year or actually around the time we were doing flywheel here in Wenatchee. Started having discussions with a lot of our investors and our board and things like that about look Tom's time is so split and fractioned right now because he's trying to be CEO, but he's also trying to be CTO and we have a lot of really, really important tech initiatives. Tech-driven initiatives that we need to do in order to take us to that next level, and I was in a lot of ways already the face of the company. I'm out there on the road. In the industry, I'm the better known of the two of us and this was the first time I've actually done fundraising with Tom on this particular thing that we were doing with flywheel, but it was working really well. So in July, I took over as CEO and I was a little nervous about it frankly, I was like oh gosh, do I really deserve this or whatever? But funny thing is that it's felt the most natural thing for me. My background is in theater and very much part of an ensemble and helping lead an ensamble. I loved to direct things and then I was a teacher. Again that idea of directing a lot of different moving parts. I come from a Montessori background. So there's a lot of different things going on in the classroom at once and I have to have that, I'm a very much a strategic big picture person who can dive down into things if I need to, but I really am good at that stepping back and this has felt like one of the most natural things that I've done here at PetHub so it's been a lot of fun. There's definitely moments though, where I'm aware that I'm the only woman in the room when I'm talking with other CEOs and in the tech space, but that's changing, thankfully. I'm also very proud to say that 2/3 of our team is female. We've always been, it's really is important to us that we are inclusive of everybody and promoting everybody that maybe isn't very well represented into great positions
12:33 Dominick Bonny
Absolutely and if you have never worked in tech, that's pretty unusual for a tech startup company to have 2/3 female workforce. It's usually something more like the opposite of that, closer to 90% male.
12:46 Lorien Clemens
Yeah, it was important to me and Tom as well that 60 to 80% of the decision-making for pets is happening by females in the house, and I think it's changed actually with millennials I think it's actually much more even now than it perhaps was in the past, but to have an all-male lead company didn't make any sense.
13:06 Dominick Bonny
Yeah absolutely. What is some of the advice maybe you have for young women or girls thinking about, hey, I'd like to get into -- I'm really into stem or you know I would get into the tech sector or business?
13:20 Lorien Clemens
Right? I've had a lot of that worry that like do I really deserve to be here and a lot of that comes from frankly, the way when I was in school, girls that were good at math were not treated very well. I mean I was a nerd. I started off as an astrophysics major in college and I, you know didn't give many dates. I was definitely that geek. I was very much bullied and ostracized for that. For a lot of women I think that turns them off of getting involved with those things. I do believe though our world is changing and that is changing. I'm seeing it more when I go in and I work with students at the university or I work with students over at the high school, being involved with the Apple STEM Group around here. I'm definitely seeing more of a welcoming space for young women, but I would say the biggest thing is don't let anybody tell you you can't, and one of the things that I found -- I found it a lot as a CEO when I'm out there fundraising -- is I'll go into a room of a bunch of investors who, frankly, they have an MBA and they understand finance on a level that I will never understand and they start to use a lot of language deliberately to put you on your heels so that you're having to scramble and think. So what I've really had to do is hold on to those things that I know I can do better than any of those guys can. I hold on to that strength. I ask them questions. I go in knowing what I want to get across and I hold to that, and when I don't understand something or if I don't know the answer to something I say you know what? I'm not sure. Let me go find out and then I go find out and I pull people in on my team and advisors to help me learn. Tom jokes with me all the time that I might as well have an MBA for everything I've learned in the past you know, 11 years of doing this, but I was so intimidated when I was first sitting in that room years ago in Issaquah. It was like 2012 and I was the only woman in the room and there were maybe six or seven people on the team at that point and I was the only female and they were using all of these -- I called them TLA's, acronyms -- I was like, okay, knock it off with the TLA's guys, and they said, what is a TLA? And I said a three-letter abbreviation. Stop it like just please I need a decoder ring in here. But having that courage to be willing to say, stop, explain that to me. That's important, I don't know if they're deliberately trying to keep you out, or that they're just so used to their own language that they don't realize how exclusionary it is, but tell them to stop and demand to be included in that, and so you know, I guess that would be the advice. Demand to be included. You deserve a seat at the table as much as any guy does.
15:49 Dominick Bonny
Absolutely. Good advice. Last question I always ask is there anything that we didn't cover in this interview that you want the community to know?
15:58 Lorien Clemens
As far as the Wenatchee valley community to know? I really want them to know how important it is to have external ID tags on your pets and our local Humane Society, Wenatchee Valley Humane, has an amazing pet licensing program. Pet licensing is important for so many reasons. When you get your pet license, it proves that that pet belongs to you. It comes with a PetHub ID tag and our free online profile and all that comes with that, and it is the best ticket home for your pet should they get separated from you. So if I was giving anything to the community here in Wenatchee I would say, make sure that you've gotten your pet registered. Register that ID tag at PetHub.com so your pet is safe and protected. It will be the fastest ticket home should they get lost.
16:46 Dominick Bonny
Great awesome. Well, thank you for sitting down with me today.
16:49 Lorien Clemens
Thank you! absolutely it's been great.