If I could inspire a movement, it would focus on giving civil liberties and rights to all of the animals of the world. Allow animals to be entitled to live freely without fear of being killed, captured or tortured by humans. If animals were given basic rights, we could put an end to animal cruelty, laboratory testing, and animal entertainment and captivity and provide ways for animals that are raised for food to have a higher standard of living and care.
I had the pleasure to interview Andrea Servadio, co-founder and CEO of Fitdog Sports Club, a fast-growing pet industry start-up that aims to make it easy for busy pet owners to create a healthy and active lifestyle for their dogs by providing high quality, innovative services.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I actually started my career in structured finance and capital markets — working for eight years in Boston and New York City. However, the banking crisis in 2008 marked a turning point for me personally and professionally, so I decided to leave that world behind and venture out to California to find a different career to pursue.
I moved to Los Angeles from New York City in 2009 with my Jack Russell terrier, Brecken. As a seven-month-old puppy, Brecken was true to his breed and age: high-energy, smart, and devious. I immediately began looking for daycare for him and was surprised by the lack of options in the pet service industry at that time. I’ve always loved animals, so I decided to create a pet service company that would offer a higher level of care and engagement for the dogs. We opened Fitdog a year later.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Fitdog is passionate about maintaining a high standard for dog care and meeting the needs of dogs in an ever-changing, modern world. Many dogs are now left at home for long periods of time resulting in extreme boredom which manifests into separation anxiety, depression, and obsessive behaviors (like excessive barking). Dog walking services, and even daycare to an extent, don’t meet the mental and physical needs for many dogs. We understand that every dog has its own unique physical, behavioral, and mental needs, and we strive to ensure each dog has the opportunity to thrive.
There are a lot of stories about how this plays out day-to-day, but I’ll highlight a story with our sports team. We have a German Shepherd who hikes with us every Monday. One day, the hiking team noticed he was eating a lot of grass and his stomach looked a bit bloated. Having taken the time to know the dog, they immediately recognized the grass eating as unusual behavior and a red flag. Without hesitation, they notified the owner at drop-off of his behavior and recommended the dog be taken to the veterinarian immediately. The owner thankfully listened to their advice. They found out that the dog had bloat (which is life-threatening), and the owner credits our sports team for saving her dog’s life.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
After eight years of working with dogs, we continue to redefine dog care. One of my original business goals was to make it easy for dogs to engage in dog sports. For dogs to participate in dog sports today, owners have to seek out specific trainers and sign up for competitive-based programs. People live busy lifestyles and don’t have time to invest in training their dog on a competitive level.
That’s why we recently launched an online app platform that allows owners in the Los Angeles area to quickly and easily book adventure- sports- and training-based classes for their dogs. The most popular classes include Canyon Hikes, Fun & Fit Agility, and Beach Excursions. What makes the service unique is that Fitdog handles all transportation logistics and picks up dogs from home, the office, the pet sitters or even other daycare and boarding facilities. Fitdog is the only company that offers gym classes for dogs in an on-demand format where dogs attend the class without their owner.
We see our recreational classes as the next phase in dog care. Owners with dogs attending our classes have noticed a huge difference in their dog’s behavior and mental health. Our ultimate goal is to give busy owners a quick and easy solution that allows their dogs to engage in stimulating and fun activities and be happy. And when dogs are happy, owners are happy.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
Leading a team of employees is probably one of the most challenging components of running a business. The biggest drivers of success are providing the proper training and tools and motivating your people to want to do well. We invest the time and money to develop an effective on-boarding program and training as well as recognition and incentive-based programs. It can be as simple as a peer-to-peer recognition board or a well-structured bonus program or a combination of things. The only way to truly know what programs will work best in your company is to talk to your employees and develop programs around their feedback.
What advice would you give to other CEOs about the best way to manage a large team?
Since you can’t directly oversee everyone at all times, your leaders need to be well trained, understand the company’s vision and culture, have clear expectations, and hold their teams accountable. Then, it’s your job to make sure you are holding your leaders accountable for their team’s failures and rewarding them for their team’s successes.
But managing a large team goes beyond the basic management framework. One thing I’ve learned is that employee morale is directly correlated to your company’s success and can decline rapidly and seemingly out of the blue. We work with dogs, so you would assume it is always a fun and engaging job, but often times, like many jobs, it can be frustrating, tiring, and defeating. So there maintains a need to touch base with your employees at all levels, listen to their concerns, and make changes accordingly. This helps to keep morale from waning and prevents turnover (which is expensive).
As the CEO, take the time to give personal recognition to your high performers. Regardless of how many employees you have, you can send out a few emails or make a couple phone calls every week to let your top people know that you appreciate them and their contributions. It also allows you to hear their concerns and get more information about your business at the lower levels. Everyone has a role that is vital to the success of the business. And if the role isn’t vital, then that position shouldn’t exist in the first place.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I grew up in a small town in Maine. It was a recession-plagued area due to the closure of manufacturing plants in the 1980s. From the time I was 10 years old, I knew I wanted a different life. My grandmother was a big inspiration for me. She was a smart and tough woman who worked in D.C. as a decoder during World War II and in New York City as a secretary in the 1960s (think Mad Men). In order to get out of my circumstance, I worked hard to find financial aid for college.
However, during my junior year in college, I got a C in accounting because I was skipping class. I called my grandmother to tell her my GPA had declined that semester because I was working two jobs, juggling an internship, and trying to keep up with my school work.
She waited impatiently for me to stop talking, and said sharply, “Did you call me to complain? You know you can do it. You know you could have gotten an A, but you chose not to. Don’t call me with your excuses.” I was so taken aback by her response because I was overworked, overloaded, and poor, but she was right. I was allowing excuses to interfere with my success.
She died shortly after that conversation, and my GPA never fully recovered from that C. But because of this experience, I never let excuses keep me from succeeding. Although my path was going to be difficult due to lack of money, resources, and connections, I couldn’t let those be excuses to fail.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I like to think that we bring goodness to world through our services by helping dogs live a healthy and active lifestyle. Dogs who spend more than four hours at home are more likely to suffer mental health issues such as depression and anxiety. Owners are more likely to return dogs to shelters or rescue groups if they are exhibiting behavioral problems. We want to keep dogs out of shelters and in people’s homes by making it easy for owners to give their dogs the mental and physical stimulation they need.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became CEO” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Don’t underestimate the importance of hiring and retaining great people. Employee turnover is expensive, reduces the quality of services and lowers morale. Spending money on retention is much cheaper and more beneficial to the company than hiring and training new people.
- Be proactive when things get bad. Everyone told me that being an entrepreneur has a lot of ups and downs. However, I didn’t fully appreciate how down you can get when you’re the person solely responsible for everything that’s happening in your business. The responsibility can weigh heavily on you. My advice is when your business is going sideways or facing what feels like insurmountable challenges, don’t hesitate. Get deep into your business and seek out the root cause and quickly devise and implement a plan of action. The sooner you take on the problem; the sooner you will be free of it.
- Be willing to change your mind. Being a CEO is a position that requires a lot of foresight and navigation. We generate ideas, create plans and execute. But you can never be so committed to your plan or your idea that you can’t see when it’s failing. Making changes at the right time can create the biggest opportunities.
- Ask for what you want (and most of the time you’ll get it). When you’re starting out, you may be reluctant to ask for face time or heavily negotiate with the bigger players. You know what you need for your business to succeed, so ask for it. The worse that can happen is that they say no. But in my experience, if you ask for it, you will probably get it.
- Be friendly but not friends. “It’s lonely at the top” is a phrase I didn’t understand until I started my business. Unfortunately, it’s a real thing. As the head of it all, you can’t be friends with your people. You can be friendly and have fun at work, but you can’t actually be friends. There is a limit to the types of relationships you can have when you are a CEO.
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. 🙂
Animals can’t advocate for themselves and this presents a problem across all the areas of the pet industry, as well as farming, medicine, entertainment and hunting. If I could inspire a movement, it would focus on giving civil liberties and rights to all of the animals of the world. Allow animals to be entitled to live freely without fear of being killed, captured or tortured by humans. If animals were given basic rights, we could put an end to animal cruelty, laboratory testing, and animal entertainment and captivity and provide ways for animals that are raised for food to have a higher standard of living and care.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You may not be responsible for being down, but you are responsible for picking yourself back up.” This quote was posted on my biology teacher’s wall in high school. I just remember connecting with it and appreciating that you are on life’s journey alone. It really is a statement about perseverance, responsibility, and decisions.
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 🙂
It has to be Oprah. She has overcome so many challenges to create an amazing empire. Plus, she seems like she would be a fun brunch date.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Instagram: @fitdogsports; @fitdogclubs
Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.
Originally published at medium.com