Renaldo Webb of ‘Gertrude Allen Pet Plate’: “Know your metrics ”

Lesson 1: Know your metrics — It’s important to know your business inside and out. Especially during a pitch to investors. I think I did a good job here, but as you’ll see in my next few lessons, it’s important not to just know your metrics, but to understand how they are all related and what metrics […]

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Lesson 1: Know your metrics — It’s important to know your business inside and out. Especially during a pitch to investors. I think I did a good job here, but as you’ll see in my next few lessons, it’s important not to just know your metrics, but to understand how they are all related and what metrics drive the business most.

As a part of my series about the ‘5 Important Business Lessons I Learned While Being On The Shark Tank’ I had the pleasure of interviewing Renaldo Webb of Gertrude Allen Pet Plate.

Pet Plate is the thriving startup delivering over 15 million meals to dogs since founding in 2017. They made their TV debut on Shark Tank and catapulted his direct-to-consumer delivery service nationwide, delivering K9’s in all 50 states freshly cooked, high-quality, human-grade ingredients. Pet Plate’s dog meals are made at a USDA-inspected facility following the same food safety protocols used by Whole Foods. The meals are flash frozen to preserve the nutrients, then shipped directly to the customer’s door. Pup’s meals are personally tailored for each dog, and arrive in a frozen, insulated box similar to Blue Apron.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit of the backstory about how you grew up?

I grew up in New Orleans with my mom and two sisters. I also developed a love of science (and animals) at a young age. That eventually led me to boarding school for high school and MIT for college, where I earned a degree in Physics.

Can you share with us the story of the “aha moment” that gave you the idea to start your company?

After graduating from MIT, I began my career as a consultant and wound up focusing on the pet food industry. I spent a lot of time on the factory floor where I saw the substandard ingredients and processes used to make traditional dog food. Suffice to say, I was pretty grossed out and wondered why we weren’t feeding our dogs a human-grade diet. This question nagged me for a while, and when I got my first dog Winston I decided to cook for him under the guidance of a veterinary nutritionist. Seeing him love the food that I made for him was an “aha moment” that eventually led me to start PetPlate.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?

One of the most interesting things that happened to me while leading PetPlate was my second appearance on Shark Tank. One day, while leaving one of our distribution centers, I received a call from a Shark Tank producer. We had a great chat about how much PetPlate had grown since the initial airing, and they offered me the opportunity to provide an update on my business on the show! This was especially exciting because companies that don’t get a deal aren’t usually brought back to give an update. I was also able to share this entire experience with my growing team, which was a great morale booster.

Can you share a story about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?

One funny mistake I made in the early days of PetPlate was when I used to hand-deliver the food by bike. I launched my business in the winter of 2016 when there were quite a few major snow storms. A few times, I found myself trying to ride my bike through the snow in Manhattan only to completely destroy my bike and almost get hit by cabs (don’t worry! I made it out alive). While it would have been funny to watch me struggle through snow to deliver fresh-cooked dog food, what wasn’t funny was being late with our deliveries or not being able to make a delivery. That taught me that consistency and reliability in the supply chain is key to the customer experience. We pivoted the business in 2017 to solve this problem by shipping via last-mile carriers like FedEx and UPS..

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

We’re continuously working on new initiatives at PetPlate, which often involve developing new products and features for our customers. Our overarching goal is to deliver a complete and convenient experience for our customers. Currently, we’re working on products that address specific health issues. As a digitally native brand, we’re laser-focused on ensuring that our website has all the functionality our customers need for a smooth journey.

Ok, thank you for all that. Let’s now move to the main part of our interview. Many of us have no idea about the backend process of how to apply and get accepted to be on the Shark Tank. Can you tell us the story about how you applied and got accepted. What “hoops” did you have to go through to get there? How did it feel to be accepted?

My experience was somewhat unique. Most people go to their website, download an application, and send it in. However, I stumbled upon an opportunity to attend a live “pitch competition” held at a NYC TechDay event. At the event, I delivered a 1-minute pitch to one of the Shark Tank producers alongside hundreds of other entrepreneurs. Two weeks later, I got a call from the producers in LA telling me I’d made it to the next round! I then had to make a few more pitch videos to submit with my application and information on my business and revenues. Shortly after that, my application was selected, and I was on my way to LA to pitch the sharks. It was honestly a shock to be selected. As an introvert, I never saw myself as someone who would be on TV or in front of the camera. So I felt more shocked and nervous than anything else.

I’m sure the actual presentation was pretty nerve wracking. What did you do to calm and steel yourself to do such a great job on the show?

The actual presentation still seems like a blur, but once I arrived at the set, I was assigned a coach who helped me practice my pitch. The one piece of advice they gave that was super helpful was to know your pitch and business metrics cold. I had about four days in LA to practice, and took every chance I could get to do dry runs in front of producers to solicit feedback. My goal was to make sure I was only nervous about being on screen, and not the content. I also think I had a bit of an advantage having my first dog Winston there. He was my partner in crime, and, at the end of the day, having him there with me made the pitch more fun than intimidating.

So what was the outcome of your Shark Tank pitch. Were you pleased with the outcome?

Unfortunately, I walked away from Shark Tank without a deal. Initially, getting funded was my primary goal, so naturally I was disappointed with the outcome. However, four years later, and two years after my second appearance, I’ve learned that the most important outcome of being on the show was gaining brand exposure. Looking at the experience through that lens, I’m thrilled with how Shark Tank continues to help support the growth of my business.

What are your “5 Important Business Lessons I Learned While Being On The Shark Tank”? (Please share a story or example for each.)

Lesson 1: Know your metrics — It’s important to know your business inside and out. Especially during a pitch to investors. I think I did a good job here, but as you’ll see in my next few lessons, it’s important not to just know your metrics, but to understand how they are all related and what metrics drive the business most.

Lesson 2: Be prepared to scale — There sharks asked multiple questions about how I planned to get my product into the hands of many more consumers, because it wasn’t immediately obvious how the business would scale. We didn’t have a scalable manufacturing system or distribution network in place, nor was it in our roadmap yet. If that had been in place, or if I could have articulated a plan, maybe the sharks would have felt more comfortable investing in my business.

Lesson 3: Demonstrate traction — One of the hardest questions I had to answer was: “why don’t you have more sales?”. At the time, I wasn’t able to clearly communicate my initial proof of concept and that the lack of sales was a function of limited time in the market (6 months!) and limited marketing spend (barely anything!). My pitch would have been more convincing if I could have highlighted stats such as organic growth, referrals, and reorder rates as a proxy for future growth.

Lesson 4: Practice your pitch — For the few days I was in LA, all I did was practice delivering my Shark Tank pitch. I wanted to make sure that the pitch would come across as natural, and that I wouldn’t be nervous once the bright lights and cameras were shining on me. This was an important lesson learned that I now use before important meetings to help me feel more confident.

Lesson 5: Eat your own dog food — We actually fed our dog food to the sharks, which was a great moment of the pitch. I generally believe that it is important for founders and executives to use their own products and services so they can speak firsthand about them and make necessary adjustments to improve customer experience and retain valuable customers.

What advice would you give to other leaders to help their team to thrive and avoid burnout?

One of the most important things I’ve learned through my experience at PetPlate is to not let other people add additional stress or anxiety to your life. Oftentimes, worrying about issues, meetings, and deliverables is more exhausting than the work itself. It’s critical to share the burden with the rest of your team. Don’t try to go it alone! And, most importantly, take care of yourself. Sleep, diet, exercise, even meditation, may be hard to schedule, but it will give you the energy you need to make it through another day.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would want to inspire a movement around understanding and empathy. In today’s world, it can be difficult to walk in another person’s shoes and understand the challenges they face. However, if we can make this discussion a larger part of society, there would be more compassion and a renewed focus on solutions that can help those most in need.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite Life Lesson Quote is from “The Man in the Arena” by Theodore Roosevelt. It is a long quote, so I won’t write it here, but it is important and relevant to my life as a founder. The quote basically says that the person who tries something new or subjects themself to criticism by challenging the status-quo is the one worthy of praise, given they challenged themselves to be better. As a founder, this is important because we’re constantly subjecting ourselves to criticism and failure, and this helps remind me to keep pushing forward.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

I would love to meet with Barack Obama. His life story has been an inspiration to me and so many people around the world. I’d love the opportunity to talk to him about the challenges facing the world, how he thinks about solutions, and to see if his dogs love PetPlate!

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