Being an entrepreneur is addicting; just remember to spend time with your family and add personal time to your life.
As a part of our series about entrepreneurs who transformed something they did for fun into a full-time career, I had the pleasure of interviewing California native and Boise, Idaho resident Andrea Carlson. Andrea walked away from a career as a bail-bondsman to follow her dream, passion and hobby of being around animals to become a full-time pet-sitter through the online platform Rover.com. With the help of Rover, she launched Andy’s Animals in December of 2016 and hasn’t looked back since. According to its website, Rover bills itself as the world’s largest network of 5-star pet sitters and dog walkers offering 5-star reviews at a level of 95% among its network of more than 200,000 sitters in over 14,000 cities worldwide. They offer dog boarding, pet sitting, dog walking, doggy daycare, drop-in visits and house sitting. Carlson initially started with Rover as a side-gig to make a little extra money before deciding to walk away from the bail bonds business to do it full time. She is also a cancer survivor and when she’s not busy spending time with her furry friends, Carlson oversees the nonprofit Buy2Beat, which helps provide resources for people suffering from debilitating diseases. Learn more about Andrea and her career with Rover here:
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?
To sum it up and how I sort of got the passion for animals was my father was killed in an airplane crash when I was seven and my mother had to go back to work. At that time, she decided to get a roommate, who could help with some of the bills around the house while she was raising her two children as a single-parent. Paula (our roommate) worked for animal control and she frequently brought home cats and dogs and found homes for them. At one time, we had five dogs and three cats in the house, a condo in Laguna. It was two adults and three kids, and sometimes it would get a little tight, but then she’d find a great home for this dog and that dog so I was thinking this was a big love and passion of mine too. She later opened a dog-grooming business and I started working for her after school when I was about nine years old and I did that for quite a few years.
What was the catalyst from transforming your hobby or something you love into a business? Can you share the story of your “ah ha” moment with us?
I knew that I wanted to go back into business for myself and being a bail-bondsman was really close to it. I only saw my boss maybe once or twice a week so it fed into my desire to sort of be on my own and doing my own thing but it was hard dealing every day with people who were constantly getting in and out of jail. I also saw that the business was declining and I knew I wanted a change. I really did. I wanted a change and I wanted a more positive job and be around more positive people so I decided to go for it. I saved up. I saved every penny I could to make sure that I had enough money to pay my bills for a year, for an entire year, and I quit the bail bonds job and I started Andy’s Animals in December of 2016.
And I should mention too that I would have never tried to start a dog-sitting business if it weren’t for Rover. They gave me the tools that I needed, the website, the advertising and the built-in clientele to start my own company. I couldn’t have done it without them.
There are no shortage of good ideas out there, but people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?
Again, I saved up. I saved every penny I could so I could make sure that I had enough money to pay my bills while I worked to get my new business up and running.
What advice would you give someone who has a hobby or pastime that they absolutely love but is reluctant to do it for a living?
I understand where they’re coming from. I actually have done that. I love fishing and I started working on fishing boats, and then I bought a fishing boat and I started taking people on long charters, but here’s the problem with that though, I worked so hard, that I never got to actually fish, so it didn’t incorporate my love of my hobby whereas this job it incorporates my love of animals and I never get tired of having a new animal. And here’s the great thing. If you don’t like the dog that’s staying at your house, they’re leaving soon (laughter) and another dog’s coming in. There’s gonna be good days and bad days in any company that you start and it’s up to you to maintain a positive attitude toward it.
It’s said that the quickest way to take the fun out of doing something is to do it for a living. How do you keep from changing something you love into something you dread? How do you keep it fresh and enjoyable?
Make sure you schedule time for yourself and your family. When you’re constantly answering your phone and responding to messages or emails off company hours and when you’re constantly taking time away from your personal life and making your business your personal life, you’re going to lose focus and sight of what you have a business for.
What is it that you enjoy most about running your own business? What are the downsides of running your own business? Can you share what you did to overcome these drawbacks?
Particularly with Rover, when you care about your animals it’s a 24/7 job. That’s why it is important to schedule time for yourself. If I allowed it, I would be booked 24/7 every single day, 365 days a year. I block out time for myself and I make sure that there is time for me to breathe. One of the biggest downfalls of having this business is it’s very hard on my carpet, it’s hard on my furniture, it’s hard on the house so I make sure that there’s a break in-between dogs and animals to clean my house and take care of my home, and make sure that I don’t go crazy. I do have some dogs where it’s necessary to be with them 24/7. I’ve watched some senior animals and I’ve watched some animals that can’t be trusted and I don’t like putting an animal in a cage, I won’t do it, so when you have dogs who maybe aren’t potty-trained, you have to stay with those dogs all the time. A lot of people start this business and think ‘I’ll just have the dog in the house and I’ll continue my 8-to-5 job’ but it just doesn’t work that way. You need to be with those animals and you need to show the owners that you genuinely care about them.
Can you share what was the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I did not expect the 24/7. I honestly expected the animals to be able to maybe take care of themselves a little bit more or maybe be a little more independent, but I found that when I really put my heart into something, I do it 100 percent and that means you’re with those animals all the time. I know a lot of people go out and do other jobs and have their own company so this is a side gig. I don’t do that. I’m always with my dogs. I care a lot. And it has its downsides too because for example, I will wait for someone to come to the house to get their dog so I can do something as simple as go to the grocery store because I won’t ever leave the dog. I’m so afraid of them getting out or getting loose or getting hurt, any of those things. The 24/7 thing was really unexpected but when you own your own company, you have to expect that that 24/7 is part of your reality.
Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself “I can’t take it anymore, I’m going to get a “real” job? If so how did you overcome it?
I’ve had that thought many times, ‘I should just go back and get a regular job,’ and then I think to myself but yeah, in November, I have Belize coming up, in February, I have Cancun coming up, and in September I’m taking a cruise with my dad, and no company is going to allow me to take the time for myself to allow me to enjoy my life better than I can.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I don’t know if I’d say this was funny but I had this one wiener dog early on and sure enough, one day he got out. He managed to get underneath my fence and took off. My biggest fear actually happened, I lost a dog. Thankfully, I noticed it right away and I ran out before he could get very far and got the dog and brought it back in, but now I have a GPS on each collar and I won’t let a dog get out again. I always check my fence now and if I ever have a small dog it is with me at all times.
And the most important thing for me and the lesson from this was ‘learn from your mistakes.’
Who has inspired or continues to inspire you to be a great leader? Why?
My aunt Linda was sort of my hero in my life. When she retired, her big dream was to raise therapy dogs. Unfortunately, six months into her retirement she got breast cancer then had nine more cancers and died 12 years later, so she was never able to fulfill that dream and I know that was always one of her regrets. That always just stuck in my head of how great that would be. She was a huge dog-lover and I spent a lot of time with her when I was young so that had a profound impact on me.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I actually started a nonprofit organization to help people who are suffering from critical illnesses. The nonprofit helps them get things they need to battle their diseases. It’s called ‘Buy2Beat,’ and the way it works is, I don’t know if you know but I had cancer last year and I wasn’t sure of the things I would need while I was going through chemotherapy and radiation and all that. I couldn’t find anything that would tell me what I would need so I put the products on there that I needed while I was battling my disease. I needed a heater blanket so if you click on heater blanket on my website, it takes you over to Bed Bath and Beyond to buy it. I had mouth cancer so I needed to blend all of my food so if there’s a blender on there, the best one that I found, and if you click on that picture it’ll take you to Amazon to buy it so it leads people who are fighting illnesses to find products that they’re going to need.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- You have less time off than you think. It’s a 24/7 job owning your own company. It’s not 8-to-5 so be ready for that.
- I was amazed and surprised that most people didn’t tip me. I was honestly shocked that people who knew I was with their dogs taking care of them, their family members, all day, for $40 a day, that they didn’t actually give me a tip. I would’ve expected a little more appreciation.
- I was shocked in this day and age of how much reviews are viewed as a commodity. People would pick up their dogs and they would say ‘don’t worry, we’ll write you a great review,’ so instead of a tip they give me a review and I have 50 reviews, I don’t need a review, I need $90 to clean my carpet (jokingly) because the dog peed all over my floor after they told me their dog was house-trained (more laughter). In all seriousness though, I watch these dogs in my own home so to a degree, I expect to have dogs that behave well at home. I don’t cage the dogs and I don’t take more than one family at a time. I’m a very specialized dog sitter and I charge a little more than other people now because so few people tip you.
- Say goodbye to all of your holidays. Your best money is going to be made over the holidays so if you need the money, don’t think that you’re going to take Christmas, Thanksgiving or any of those days off.
- Being an entrepreneur is addicting and just remember to spend time with your family and add personal time to your life.
What person wouldn’t want to work doing something they absolutely love. You are an incredible inspiration to a great many people. 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 want to help as many people and ease some suffering if I can. I know the foundation is still very new but it really is my passion to help as many people as I can and if I can do that with Buy2Beat, that’ll be a great thing.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have two. One is ‘They are not long, the days of wine and roses,’ and the other is, and you’re going to laugh here but ‘take it one are you (blank) kidding me at a time.’ Just take it one at a time.
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 have to probably say Jeff Bezos. I’m fascinated with how he came up with something so extraordinary and completely revolutionized shopping. I’m fascinated by people who are evolutionary.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.
You are very welcome. Thank you for the opportunity. And again, I’m very thankful to Rover for helping me turn my love and passion into something I get to do every day of the week.