About this episode

My guest this week is Matt Meeker, Co-founder of Bark, and while the Bark’s name itself might not cause your ears to perk up in excitement for what's to come in this episode.

Bark’s various product lines are household names. Their flagship product being BarkBox, with over 1.7 million active BarkBox subscribers, BarkBox is the Premier subscription dog toy and treat service. In addition to BarkBox, Bark has various product lines that can be found in over 23,000 retail outlets. Matts entire episode is chock full of value because his journey and his experiences are so extensive.

To start with Matt was one of the digital advertising pioneers, and we discuss what digital advertising was like long before the days of Facebook ads. Matt was also a Co-founder of Meetup, which eventually sold the WeWork for $156 million in 2017. And now in 2021, Matt and the Bark leadership team are navigating the SPAC landscape to bring Bark to the public markets. As I said, Matts episode covers quite a bit of ground and I'm super pumped to bring it to you. But with that said while I know, you're excited to hear his insights into SPAC’s and all things subscription-related we need to start at the very beginning.

In this episode, you'll hear:

  • How he grew up in a small town in Iowa with his parents who were very different. His father was a conservative accountant and his mother a rebel who encouraged him to form his path.
  • How he was entrepreneurial from a young age, at school he had many side hustles like running the schools poker games and selling red cups to buy beer.
  • How he played Racquetball competitively and went on to play at the National Tournament.
  • Matt went to the University of Minnesota but only lasted one quarter as he only went because everyone expected him to go.
  • How Matt dropped out of college and joined the Navy and became a weather observer.
  • Matt went back to university and paid his way through in cash.
  • After college he joined a Digital Ad Agency in March 1997, the company focused on getting traffic from the website to the store. They had big companies like Disney, Capital One and Discover.
  • Matt explains what digital advertising was like in 2000.
  • He shares that the Ad company was very successful but he did sell it, with this he joined forces with one of the companies investors to start a new company.
  • Matt explains that his next company wasn’t successful and it was all down to the execution of the business. The company had more money they knew what to do with and hired big names in the business world but never made a real product or spoke to a customer.
  • Matt shares how the founder of the Ad agency Scott started talking about the next business venture.
  • Matt shares how Scott and himself started Meetup, a company trying to encourage people to get out of their house and meet people online. They also wanted to change the negative narrative of meeting people online.
  • How Matt and Scott hired their CTO for Meetup from a listing they put on Craigslist.
  • Matt shares that he left Meetup because it was getting too big with 45 employees and he didn’t want the stress of it.
  • Matt founded Barkbox in September 2011 and never thought it would grow to over 735 employees.
  • Matt shares that he started Barkbox as he was living in New York with his Great Dane Hugo, when they went into a pet shop there was nothing for big dogs.
  • He shares that Groupon brought in half of their customers in the first year.
  • Matt shares how BarkBox has further developed into different sections like SuperHuman, Bark Bright, Bark Eats and Bark Home.
  • How BarkBox developed its own dog food as they wanted dogs to be fed as an individual.

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Bark HQ: https://bark.co/
BarkBox: https://www.barkbox.com

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Episode transcript

Matt Meeker: Hi, I'm Matt Meeker. I'm the cofounder of BARK, and this is MY startup story.

  • Every wildfire began with a spark. Every superhero has an origin story. And every single startup has a moment that they point to as their beginning. And every founder has a purpose that drove them in the midst of all obstacles. THAT is The Startup Story. *

[00:28]

James McKinney: Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of The Startup Story. Before we jump into this week's episode, I want to thank our episode sponsor Movo On-Demand. If you've been a listener of The Startup Story from episode number one, then you might remember Movo because they were our very first sponsor and helped to launch The Startup Story. Eric Solis is the founder of Movo and has always been a great supporter of entrepreneurs and startups. He's equally passionate about simplifying our current day banking experience and exceeding existing security measures that, to be frank, have gotten a bit lacks in the United States.

Before I go on, I mean look fintech is super finicky about compliance and marketing so let me give you the boiler plate first. Movo On-Demand Mobile Banking with end to end contactless payments provides real-time settlement, instant issue, unparalleled safety and security, convenience, transportability, low fees, interoperability, and inclusiveness, all contactless and in a single app. Now let me translate that for you. All that means is that you can send and receive peer to peer payments in seconds, not days. This also means once you've received those funds directly to your Movo account, you can go the same day and buy a cup of coffee, fund a new Facebook ad campaign for your startup, or rent a Lamborghini to create those ridiculous Instagram photos that so many people actually believe are real.

The Movo Cash Card also helps prevent fraud by using a patented tokenization that enables you to create and fund a new digital debit card. Use it as your default card on file. For example let's say you finally decide you want to get your own Netflix and stop freeloading off of your friend or your parent's account. Now with the Movo cashcard, you'll never be double charged, over charged, or unknowingly charged again. Think about how helpful that is. When you sign up for the Netflix account or any other streaming service, you can create a new digital debit card specifically for that service and then when you want to cancel that service, you can do so easily because you manage that specific card. The new Movo On-Demand Mobile Banking app is available on iTunes or Google Play today. Once you download and sign up, you'll receive a ready to go activated digital Movo debit card for use everywhere MasterCard is accepted, so go download the Movo On-Demand Mobile Banking app today, or visit movo.cash/app to learn more.

One last bit of lame legal disclaimer stuff that all fintech startups have to deal with. Banking services provided by Coastal Community Bank, member FDIC. The Movo Debit MasterCard is issued by Coastal Community Bank, member FDIC, pursuant to license by MasterCard International. All right, make sure to visit movo.cash/app to learn more, and of course we will include a link in the show notes for easy access. Now let's jump in to this week's episode.

My guest this week is Matt Meeker, cofounder of Bark. And while the BARK name itself might not cause your ears to perk up in excitement for what's to come in this episode, BARK's various product lines are definitely household names, their flagship product being BarkBox. With over 1.7 million active BarkBox subscribers, BarkBox is the premier subscription dog toy and treat service. In addition to BarkBox, BARK has various product lines that can be found in over 23,000 retail outlets. Matt's entire episode is chockfull of value because his journey and his experiences are so extensive. To start with, Matt was one of the digital advertising pioneers and we discuss what digital advertising was like long before the days of Facebook ads. Matt was also a cofounder of Meetup which eventually sold to WeWork for $156 million in 2017. And now in 2021, Matt and the BARK leadership team are navigating the SPAC landscape to bring BARK to the public markets. Like I said, Matt's episode covers quite a bit of ground and I'm super pumped to bring it to you. But with that said, while I know you're excited to hear his insights into SPACs and all things subscription related, we need to start at the very beginning.

[04:38]

Matt Meeker: I think there are some component parts from both of my parents who are very different people. It's a miracle that I'm alive, first off, with those two. But in that way, my dad is a very conservative, straight guy where I was supposed to follow in his footstep which is accounting. I'm from a small town in Iowa. I'm supposed to be an accountant. He was a CFO of a newspaper company and then an architecture firm. That's just what you do is you're the accountant. I was supposed to follow that path. It's my mom who's a bit of the rebel who said, and there's a lot more behind this that I'm happy to get into if you want, but really encouraged me to go out in the world, open your eyes, look around, think for yourself, don't accept things as they are. But look around. Realize there's a big world around you. So there's a combination there. But on my dad's side, he was always seemingly starting ventures. He bought and ran a health club for a number of years. This is a fun one. He started an auctioneering college, so if you want to be an auctioneer you came and spent a week with him at a hotel, and he had people who instructed you.

[06:07]

James McKinney: That's fascinating.

[06:08]

Matt Meeker: Yeah.

[06:09]

James McKinney: What… was he an auctioneer? How do you teach it if you're not doing it?

[06:13]

Matt Meeker: No. He would hire the teachers, bring everyone together. So you had a lot of truck drivers coming in. Great environment for like an 8 year old to be hanging out I suppose. So he had a little bit of that streak in him, but I'd say a combination of the two.

[06:29]

James McKinney: Excellent. Now what was it about your mom that she really wanted you to just explore and see what was out there?

[06:36]

Matt Meeker: I think it's a rebellious thing that's in her. It started with my birth. I was supposed to be William James III, and that went out the window with her. From then on, I was supposed to go to the University of Iowa, study accounting, stay in Iowa, do the job. And it was just always encouragement from her of look further out in the world, there's more out there, and you're allowed to think for yourself. So I didn't go to the University of Iowa. I moved to New York, which from where I came from that was like moving to the moon.

[07:24]

James McKinney: Yeah, I bet.

[07:25]

Matt Meeker: Always sort of had not only her nudging but her encouragement.

[07:31]

James McKinney: I love that. So when you finished high school, for yourself, your dad had a lot of ventures taking place, but for yourself were there any side hustles, anything within your youth that would lead you to believe that you one day were going to have your own venture?

[07:47]

Matt Meeker: Yeah, yeah. I like how you call them side hustles. It was a little bit all over the place. I was the one who, before and after school, was running the poker game or the Black Jack game in the cafeteria, getting in trouble. I was the one selling $5 red cups to come out to the field and drink kegs of beer because I could get my hands on one. So those side hustles and ventures, but also I grew up I played racquetball pretty competitively at like national tournament level.

[08:26]

James McKinney: Oh wow, okay.

[08:28]

Matt Meeker: And so another side hustle was running off to regional tournaments and trying to win $150 on a weekend. And going to the pool hall. A lot of these are gambling oriented I'm realizing.

[08:40]

James McKinney: That's entrepreneurship. If you break it all day, it all comes down to gambling.

[08:44]

Matt Meeker: But even the gambling, it wasn't just going into the pool hall and trying to be the best player. It was running scams and hustles against people, and then trying not to get beat up for that.

[08:55]

James McKinney: You were a real life Color Of Money, that's what I'm hearing.

[08:58]

Matt Meeker: Right. Well, you get inspired by big movies when you live in Iowa. That's your only frame of reference.

[09:05]

James McKinney: I love it. So coming to the end of high school though, you end up going to New York. Did you go to New York for school? Was that what got you there, or what was that next chapter for you?

[09:18]

Matt Meeker: The next chapter was moving to the big city, which was Minneapolis to Minnesota, and it was to go to school there at the University of Minnesota. That lasted one quarter. So I was a terrible student pretty much all the way through, but especially that first start into college. I came to a point where I was saying to myself why am I here? What is going on? This is just it's a waste of money, it's a waste of time, I don't know what I'm trying to accomplish here. So my next step was dropping out and I joined the Navy.

[10:01]

James McKinney: Oh, okay.

[10:02]

Matt Meeker: Yeah, so that was… wow, that was a while ago but it was somewhat out of boredom, and somewhat from this place of I just I don't know why I'm going through this college thing other than that's what everyone expects of me. And I need to do something. So that pulled me in, and I'm pretty grateful for that step. It was a really good step.

[10:30]

James McKinney: I'm going to assume you were in the Navy probably early nineties, early to mid nineties?

[10:36]

Matt Meeker: 1994.

[10:37]

James McKinney: 1994, okay. You went in a year before I did. There you go.

[10:41]

Matt Meeker: Oh really? I didn't know you were in.

[10:43]

James McKinney: I'm Marine Corps though so I appreciate the ride. But let's talk about the military years real quick. Here you are, not wanting to do college. I don't know where you were at from a discipline level, but I know for me military was just, it changed me from a discipline and a trajectory. What was that journey for you?

[11:05]

Matt Meeker: Similar. I had discipline in the parts of my life that I cared about, and at that time what I cared about was racquetball. That was my life. Humbly, I was really good. I was in the conversation to be my age group national champion every year for like 10 years.

[11:28]

James McKinney: Wow.

[11:29]

Matt Meeker: So then you come to 18 and you realize there's not a career there. That was a fun thing to grow up with, but it's not like I was Roger Federer. There's no circuit or anything. So you sort of have to reset your life. The military gave me, like you said, sort of directed discipline, motivation, finding it in your gut to get up every day, and move forward in life, work with a team. Like wow, that it's not just all about you but the team. So a lot of really important lessons there.

[12:07]

James McKinney: What was your job in the military?

[12:09]

Matt Meeker: I was a weather observer.

[12:12]

James McKinney: A weather observer?

[12:14]

Matt Meeker: Yeah.

[12:15]

James McKinney: I have heard of a lot of jobs in the military, but that is one I have not heard.

[12:19]

Matt Meeker: Yep, weather observer. So my-

[12:23]

James McKinney: Was that with an artillery unit or something? I mean-

[12:25]

Matt Meeker: No, no, on a carrier. So I was on the Theodore Roosevelt, C171, on the Roosevelt. We were actually… I spent time in the Adriatic Sea when we were doing the Bosnia operations. The weather observer job is, as funny as it sounds, you go out and observe the weather and your instruments, and you come back and you report the weather. But it's pretty important because all that information is making it off to the planes, to the pilots. So you can really screw it up. If you don't tap the glass on the barometer then the needle won't move, and you get the barometric pressure wrong, and planes start crashing into the sea. I learned that one. The plane didn't crash, someone called really fast and said, "Is this pressure right?"

[13:18]

James McKinney: Oh, love it.

[13:19]

Matt Meeker: But observer, yes.

[13:21]

James McKinney: So when you come back from the military what did you want to do? I assume not a weatherman.

[13:27]

Matt Meeker: No, no, I didn't want to be a weatherman. And I really wasn't, when I was on board the ship, either. That was what I was trained to do and I was in the weather office, and then I made my barometric pressure mistake. What they figured out was maybe I'm a better guy to walk around and tell people about the weather. I'm a better communicator than an observer. Then through that I ended up getting attached to an admiral's hip because I laughed at him when he ordered me to move a hurricane because it was in his way. I laughed, and that was endearing to him I suppose.

Anyway, when I got back, yeah the mindset both during that time and coming back was you've got to get back on the horse with this college thing. I didn't really know why, but the world was sort of always told you that you have to do it. That's required for some reason. So I did, and I did a lot while in the Navy as well. Then came back, my first quarter back I had a 4.0 and that's really all I needed. That was like I know I can do it now. Now I just want to get done with it and my other mission there was get done without any debt. So I worked really hard. I worked as a bartender, I paid my tuition in cash every quarter.

[15:00]

James McKinney: Outstanding.

[15:01]

Matt Meeker: They probably thought I was a drug dealer. And got through it. Luckily, I had one influential class in the fall of 1995. Great professor who was visiting University of Minnesota. I took a marketing communications class and on the first day he said, "Who knows what the internet is?" And we had like two hands. One wasn't mine. And he said, "Okay, this is internet 101. If you don't want to be here, leave now, but that's what we're doing." Really fantastic class. Like wow did that open your eyes and make you think about the future. Every job that the rest of the school was training you for just didn't matter anymore. It was very lucky. Right place, right time.

[15:54]

James McKinney: So did that shape what you wanted to do when you were finishing your degree? And I ask that question because I think back to some past interviews like Dave Bolotsky, the founder of Uncommon Goods. He was right there in the early days of Amazon, and he was on the consulting side with Guitar Center going online. He was so early and it changed him forever, obviously Uncommon Goods being a $500 million company at this point in the ecommerce space. But for you, mid nineties, when you finished college was your next step to be in the internet space?

[16:30]

Matt Meeker: It was, it was. University of Minnesota business school trains you very well if you want to go work at General Mills. It's sort of all the blocking and tackling that goes into stepping into a business that's at that scale and is packaged goods. That wasn't for me. And they also did a great job, seriously, of lining up interviews with every consumer company or packaged goods company that's out there. So Ford Motor Company coming in, you take your interview. You have a long, long list of interviews and they just weren't interesting to me. So my first job was joining, when I found them, an eight person digital ad agency in New York. I found them in March of '97 and I joined in July. Between March and July they went from eight people to I was number 64.

[17:33]

James McKinney: Wow.

[17:34]

Matt Meeker: So we represented companies like Disney, Staples, Capital One, Discover, many others who had built their websites and then no one was showing up. We were there to figure out how do you get traffic to your door.

[17:48]

James McKinney: Just out of curiosity, probably doesn't have long-term application to the story but I'm just really curious from a time and place perspective. What was digital advertising like then? When we think of what '97, I think Amazon was '96 or '98, I forget when they started. What was digital advertising then?

[18:16]

Matt Meeker: It was crazy-

[18:17]

James McKinney: SEO was it right?

[18:18]

Matt Meeker: No, it was really fascinating.


[18:22]

James McKinney: Okay, hold on. Before Matt answers that question, let's think about that for a minute. Things are always changing, even the way we market our businesses has changed so much in just the last few years. For that reason, wouldn't it be helpful to learn proven tactics directly from founders that have built a successful business or brand for themselves? Even more so, would having their tactics delivered to you every quarter be helpful to you as you build your business? Well that is the experience and knowledge sharing that is delivered to you each quarter when you become a Grindology member. Grindology is an entrepreneurial subscription box that ships every quarter full of resources to help fuel your grind and your hustle.

What's included in your Grindology shipment you might be asking? Well first and foremost, every single Grindology shipment will include a copy of the Grindology tactical manual. Every single issue of Grindology will be chock full of real tactics from real business builders, not journalists. Within the pages of the Grindology tactical manual we will be delivering to you tactics and strategies that you can integrate into your business immediately. How great would it be to receive specific user acquisition strategies from a SAS company that has used those strategies to acquire their first 1,000 customers? Or hearing directly from a founder of how they increased sales and lead conversion by 120% when they leveraged a simple video tool? Or even better yet, how they took old marketing content, revamped it, and drove over half a million dollars in new revenue? Tell me those tactics wouldn't be helpful? Well those are the exact types of tactics that will be found in each issue of Grindology. Like I said, real tactics from real business builders.

Grindology was created specifically for you, the founder, hustler, entrepreneur, maker, and creator. And in addition to the tactical manual, each shipment includes uniquely roasted coffee and an exclusive mug that speaks to the unique nature that is you, the entrepreneur. Everything about Grindology is about helping to fuel your grind and your entrepreneurial journey. So visit gridnology.com to learn more, and we'll include a link to grindology.com within our show notes for easy access. Now let's jump back into our episode with Matt Meeker, the cofounder of BarkBox.


[20:36]

James McKinney: What was digital advertising like then? When we think of what '97, I think Amazon was '96 or '98, I forget when they started. What was digital advertising then?

[20:51]

Matt Meeker: It was crazy-

[20:52]

James McKinney: SEO was it right? I mean-

[20:55]

Matt Meeker: No, it was really fascinating and such a great place to be at that time because we, first of all we represented all those big brands that I talk about. That meant we had publishers or whoever was selling ads in our space on a daily basis pitching, just telling you about what their site is or how they're going to get traffic to you. So you saw everything new as soon as it was ready to go, people wanting you to spend with them. It was like that industry changed week, to week, to week. The banner ad was invented, and then like oh my God could you imagine if you took a banner and it wasn't 468x60, but it shrunk into a square and sat on the side of the page? And the first time did like a takeover, these were like huge innovations and then there were model innovations. I remember GoTo with their really ugly green and yellow site coming in and saying you can buy this search listing for a nickel, listing it right there on the page and everyone saying no one's going to pay like that, that's crazy, no one will pay for clicks and this auction thing, that's crazy. I got very interested in the affiliate and performance based models because of Amazon and their success with it. Seeing us paying $400-500 per order for some of our clients on $25 orders, it's like this doesn't make sense but that stuff makes sense. So I created a division within our agency all around performance based marketing.

[22:44]

James McKinney: Interesting. How long were you there?

[22:47]

Matt Meeker: I was there for three years.

[22:50]

James McKinney: Three years. Can you help… one, that is it's fascinating to think through the digital advertising space then to now, because all the native ads that you spoke of. Still think it's more within the network space, and it sounds like it was very much direct. If I'm the publisher of a site, I'm reaching out to you saying I have ad space for this much traffic, whereas now it's massive ad network buys and stuff.

[23:14]

Matt Meeker: Getting the results up and then us pulling them down, putting them into an Excel, doing some pivot tables. It was a real mess, but we got it done.

[23:24]

James McKinney: I love it. So what is the journey from the digital ad agency to where we get to Meetup?

[23:32]

Matt Meeker: Pretty direct in fact. There was a two year-ish gap in between. So what happened was that agency had started, I joined in '97. We ran it really well. We sold the agency in December of '99 and then in March of 2000 I left and I joined one of the investors in the agency to start something new. Start something big and new, and man we screwed it up. We had every opportunity in the world to do something cool, and we made every mistake that you can make in starting a company. So we did that over a period of 18 months and we came to 9/11.

[24:31]

James McKinney: Well you had the dotcom bust right before, which again I don't know what your startup was. Actually, before we get to 9/11, that startup you said where you made all the mistakes, was it truly execution mistakes or was it time?

[24:47]

Matt Meeker: No, no.

[24:48]

James McKinney: Because 2000 was a horrible year for internet.

[24:51]

Matt Meeker: No, no, I wish it were timing. It was execution. And it wasn't a lack of money. My partners in that had gobs and gobs of money, and so we over that period burned tens of millions of dollars.

[25;11]

James McKinney: Wow, wow.

[25:14]

Matt Meeker: The biggest execution issues were, as they often are, around people. Because we had access to everyone and we had more money than we knew what to do with we went out and got people with big names and big titles. So we recruited a COO who had a COO title at Citi, and recruited a CMO who was a former CMO of AT&T and Prudential.

[25:45]

James McKinney: Wow.

[25:46]

Matt Meeker: You get the idea.

[25:48]

James McKinney: You swung for the fences with staffing.

[25:50]

Matt Meeker: But while those are fantastic, brilliant people if we had $1 billion in revenue going, we would have turned it into $10 billion no problem. Not one of them could have gone down to the sidewalk and sold somebody a hotdog. They couldn't go from zero to the first dollar, couldn't figure it out. So we spent a lot of time in a room with PowerPoint and hundreds of pages of PowerPoint and talking, and talking, and talking, and talking. Never talking to a customer. We never put a product in the world. That's just… it was the wrong people for the wrong stage, and you learn a lot from that.

[26:32]

James McKinney: That's an interesting point that you bring up there, and I think it's something that all the listeners need to process. It reminds me back to my interview with Brian Carrico of The Guild where he acknowledged his cofounder was a great zero to one guy, and that wasn't his skill set. His skill set was on the scale side. His business partner, his cofounder, was the zero to one guy and it sounds like exactly what you're talking about. You brought in these heavy weights but to your point, they couldn't sell anything on the streets because they just weren't zero to one team.

[27:07]

Matt Meeker: Nope, no. the execution just wasn't there. The timing would have been probably perfect, or would have been very good. But yeah, the market was melting down around us as well. It didn't really mess with us too much. It was like yeah, that's fine, that'll be okay.

[27:30]

James McKinney: Yeah, the market was melting down, then to piggyback it again 9/11 the year after, that throws things in all kinds of disarray for some time. And so that brings us to late 2001, maybe early 2002 where are we at?

[27:46]

Matt Meeker: Yeah, and 9/11 was an important event I guess for me living in New York, and then on all kinds of vectors here. I think after 18 months we knew as a team this thing wasn't working for whatever reason. That sort of gave I'll say like an excuse to say let's pack it in, let's call it a day, and move on from that. It also made people think a lot about themselves and the world, and what's my place, how do I think about this, what's going on around me. The other thing that happened was the founder of the agency where I worked, he was also at a similar place and this is Scott Heiferman. He was at a similar place of like thinking about 9/11, what am I going to do in the future. So Scott and I just started spending days together, hanging out, talking about all kinds of ideas, and Meetup was one of those ideas.

It wasn't the only one, but it was the one we kept coming back to. Just over and over, we kept coming back to it. 9/11 was really influential in that, in that we spent a lot of time walking around the streets of New York and at that point people are looking at you and talking to you, and saying, "How are you?" and it wasn't… they meant how are you, I want an answer to that question. That really started to push us in the direction of what happens when you start to connect to your neighbors, when you care about each other and you start to talk to people it becomes a better place. And so that was really the nudge that the city gave to us all along.

[29:43]

James McKinney: So when you think back to, again now we're talking 2002.

[29:48]

Matt Meeker: Yeah, early 2002.

[29:51]

James McKinney: So when you think back to early 2002 from a frame of reference, we don't have the iPhone yet. I mean, it's Blackberry or a Palm Pilot is what we're carrying around so we're not talking location based technologies yet. Web search is still I mean Google was there, I don't know where they were at in the grand scheme of things. Yahoo was relevant at the time. Geocities was where people were building websites. It's fascinating to do the archive of where the internet was at the time. So when you think to 2002 and one, the problem you were trying to solve with Meetup, and then two how did you go about it given the time and space?

[30;41]

Matt Meeker: Well, you got all those right. We leveraged a lot of that plumbing that was there. For me, great time to start a company. Scott and I didn't have technical capability and so we went out right away and looked for our cofounder CTO, and I remember doing a Craigslist post for that role.

[31:12]

James McKinney: Can you imagine doing a Craigslist post now for some high level developer?

[31:16]

Matt Meeker: For a CTO.

[31:18]

James McKinney: I can't even imagine.

[31:20]

Matt Meeker: But here's how crazy it was. It was a really obnoxious post basically saying we're doing interviews 8 am to 8 pm Monday through Friday, this week only, in person in New York. If you can't make it, forget it you're out, we won't even speak to you. It's this week. And we did that. We met 60 people in the course of a week, but we put that post out and we had 450 people respond in the first 24 hours for a CTO of like a nothing. Through that we found our cofounder, Peter Kamali, to be our CTO. I remember the question we asked everyone how long will it take to build, and how many people will you need, and what's your budget. I remember Peter asking a few questions and saying, "Yeah, I could launch that on June 14th." So specific and Scott just asked him, Scott said, "Can you launch it on June 13th because it's my birthday?" And he's like, "We could do that." And so we did. Hit it right on the nose.

[32:39]

James McKinney: That's hilarious. Now what was the problem you were trying to solve with Meetup, your version 1.0?

[32:46]

Matt Meeker: Get people out of their homes, meeting each other. Meet strangers who have a similar interest to you locally, like meet them in real life. That was it.

[32:58]

James McKinney: And from a time and space perspective, what else was out there that people were leveraging from a social? You go back to Craigslist and there's the casual encounters section. Like besides that what?

[33:12]

Matt Meeker: I don't even know if casual encounters existed. But we, you know, we piggybacked on Yahoo groups a lot. We created the concept of International Meetup Day. We would go to the knitting Yahoo groups and Geocities sites, and you name it, anyone that was talking about knitting on the internet, and we would say, "Tell your people that next Tuesday at 7 pm everywhere in the world is International Knitting Meetup Day and they need to show up." So they would put it out, knitting.meetup.com, that's the URL, you've got to show up at 7 pm wherever you are.

We sort of leveraged those online groups and social sites if you will. But that was also a bit of the problem was we were worried that people were not getting out to meet each other. At the time, online dating was having a tough time. Craigslist was a seedy place and online dating was like don't do that, you're going to get murdered. That guy who you're going to meet is crazy and he might kill you. What was that Dateline NBC and I forget the guy, but he would come on every week and talk about how the internet would attract-

[34:45]

James McKinney: Oh, the catch a predator thing?

[34:46]

Matt Meeker: Yeah. Kid snatchers, your kids are going to get taken. So there was a lot of fear mongering around bad people using the internet to do bad things. And we had a fundamentally different take which was the internet is full of really good people, and we wanted to put a construct around you should meet them. That made it feel safe and real, and it was tough to do for a while.

[35:13]

James McKinney: Yeah. I mean because you were so far ahead of the social element to the internet, the social media side of things. Now it is amazing to me how low our bar is in discernment. Like Airbnb, we'll sleep in a stranger's bed. Like Uber, some rando can pick us up. The things that we will accept now it's so different than almost 20 years ago when you guys started working on Meetup.

[35:37]

Matt Meeker: Yeah.

[35:40]

James McKinney: Let me just ask as we move on from the Meetup chapter, you not being a technical person, you having a technical cofounder, your other counterpart, your cofounder Jason I think you said was he the capital side of the business?

[35:57]

Matt Meeker: Scott. Scott was yeah there was a capital side to it, but not much. So yes, he did. The way I would think about it is Scott was outward facing and I was more inward facing. So when you think about that mix of product management, growth, data, customer support, I just want to serve people so I hear from them and then feed that back into the product, use data to not fool myself. Try to just get that mix just right, so Scott was more out, I'm more in.

[36:35]

James McKinney: When you think back to that period, what were some key learnings that you definitely took and leveraged to help you succeed with BarkBox?

[36:45]

Matt Meeker: I learned a lot from Scott. That was his third venture, the first being our agency, and then this one. I learned a lot from him about being a CEO, being a leader, raising investment capital, managing a board, running a professional organization. Definitely taking chances, taking big swings, that your product has to matter. I like the Amazon thought of write the press release before you start to build it. A lot of people just start going through the motions, doing the normal stuff that's expected and it won't break through. Scott talked to me frequently about showmanship. He's P.T. Barnum. Bringing the P.T. Barnum side to get the basics right, really have a solid product and measure the results, and so learned a lot from that journey.

[37:56]

James McKinney: Were you there for the exit, the sale to WeWork?

[38:00]

Matt Meeker: Oh no.

[38:01]

James McKinney: You were gone long before then?

[38:03]

Matt Meeker: Yeah. I left in 2008.

[38:07]

James McKinney: Was the catalyst for that to start your own thing? What was the reason for leaving at that time?

[38:13]

Matt Meeker: No, the catalyst was twofold. The funny answer to that is the company was too big because it was 45 people. I was feeling uneasy with all these people around. You know, just felt a tremendous amount of pressure. I still do to this day where at BARK we have crazy holiday parties, but they just weigh on me so much because it's that opportunity to look around the room and say you could really screw this up for all these people.

[38:51]

James McKinney: Wow, yeah.

[38:52]

Matt Meeker: They weigh on me and stress me out. I was feeling that every day at Meetup. Then the other part of it was when I left we were about 10 million active monthly members, showing up to at least one meetup every month. Growing organically, growing really fast. Revenue model just kicking in, doing really well. We were a profitable company. And if you look back you say wow, if I could have written that story this was great. We've got a profitable growing business that's got meaningful scale around the world. It's accomplished everything we'd hoped for. That's what I came here to do. So it felt like the right moment.

[39:40]

James McKinney: I love that. It's hard for a cofounder to get there, too. I mean sometimes we go into our startup forgetting that it's not a "til death do us part." It's not, we go in thinking that we have to ride it until the end, whatever that end may be. And for you to have self awareness to know now was the time to move on from it, that's outstanding. But I want to kind of peel a little bit on that idea that the 45 people was a bit much. Now you're at BARK and I don't know how big BARK is. That is something that a lot of people will keep a business a certain size because of that exact reason. They don't want the headcount to get too large. They don't want the burden of organization management. Knowing that it weighs on you, why did you grow BARK? Well one, how many employees does BARK have right now?

[40:38]

Matt Meeker: The last count I heard was 725.

[40:43]

James McKinney: Slightly different than 45. That's so funny.

[40:53]

Matt Meeker: You can imagine the stress I'm going through.

[40:55]

James McKinney: So what was it then? I want to, again we haven't fully gotten to the BARK chapter yet but I want to ask specifically about this burden of entrepreneurship, this burden of being a CEO, the mouths of the families that you feed. What was it about BARK that you were willing to continue to layer that on in staffing up to 700? Why not keep it small?

[41:20]

Matt Meeker: Well, we initially thought it was small and intended for it to be small. So leading into BARK I was working for a venture capital firm. I was running an incubator for them in New York. Fantastic job. I mean, how much better can life be than you get to handpick 20 startups to sit in your space, and no strings attached, they don't have to pay rent, they don't have to give equity, nothing, they sit there for six months at the beginning of their company and my job is to find them and help them however they want.

[41:59]

James McKinney: I love it.

[42:00]

Matt Meeker: And then I get to go home at 5:00 and sleep. I get paid really well. My firm had almost no expectation of me. They were gone for the month of August like all great venture capitalists are. What a dream, right? I didn't want to leave that. BARK was a side project. It was like I love my dog, I'm obsessed with him. He's not served well. I have this friend Henrik, he and I cooked it up really fast, and cool maybe we'll get 100 customers, that'll be fun. So there wasn't a thought of it becoming what it is today. It just never entered our mind. The whole idea was keep your job. Everyone keep their jobs.

[42:55]

James McKinney: Yeah. But again, as it grew though you did have a moment where you could have decided I don't care what demand is, we are keeping this as a lifestyle business at 10 or 20 employees or whatever.

[43:10]

Matt Meeker: Yeah. So we ran the first eight months not raising capital, and it just kept going. It just grew, grew, grew, grew, grew. Even though I was spending not much time on it, and same with Henrik. My cofounder Carly, we brought her in and Carly was the 13th person ever at Uber, and they hired her in New York and said, "Start New York." We pulled her away from that. She hates us for it every single day, but we kind of tossed her this ball and said, "BarkBox, it's this kind of, go." And she's a machine. She just willed this thing to success, early success. It just kept growing and growing and growing.

We got to a place where it made sense to raise the capital and take that journey. I raised that round with the lead investor was Mike Hirshland of Resolute VC. I knew Mike, I'd worked with him. He was the one who came up the concept for the incubator where I was working. So he invested and when he did, I was reluctant in taking the money. It was like, "Okay, I'm telling you this right now man, I will do it, I will do it for five years, and then I'm gone. So you better start thinking about five years from now, but then I'm gone." That was 10 years ago, so here we are. But I was trying to hold to that. I was a very reluctant founder once again.

[45:05]

James McKinney: Yeah, so you said 10 years ago, so would you say 2011 was the founding date for BarkBox?

[45:11]

Matt Meeker: Yeah, we started working on that September or October of 2011.

[45:19]

James McKinney: Do you remember where the… was the initial of BARK, was it the box, the subscription box?

[45:26]

Matt Meeker: It was, yep.

[45:28]

James McKinney: So where was the subscription space at that time if you can remember? Because I mean Dollar Shave Club kind of, again there was… If now for all those listening, if we go back to the subscription model we can go back decades and decades. Wine of the month club, fruit of the month club, it wasn't as though Dollar Shave Club was the first, but it really, our current iteration of the subscription box they were kind of the first of it.

[45:53]

Matt Meeker: They were early, for sure. And I'm with you, I love it when people say the subscription industry is so new. I learned this from one of our investors, Bertelsmann, who will remind me that the subscription model started with them back in Germany in the 30s when they created a book club.

[46:11]

James McKinney: There you go. Columbia House DVDs or CDs, right? We could go back to all the things that were subscription before.

[46:17]

Matt Meeker: Yeah, yeah. So at that time, Birchbox existed and they were in New York. Haley and Katia had started that. That thing was on fire, and so we were lucky enough to chat with them a few times. They were incredibly kind and gracious to us. We got to ask the question, "If you turn back the clock 12 months and start this over, what would you do different?" And they just laid it out for us. So that was very, very kind of them. They were so supportive. And then I remember we got started and Dollar Shave Club started not long after, maybe weeks after, because they started out of that startup factor or incubator in LA, I think it was called Science. I was talking to another founder in there, and I remember him saying to me, "So many subs. So many subs." That video, they just nailed that video. But right there.

[47:32]

James McKinney: Right in that time span. So again you were, in the modern iteration of subscriptions you were one of the pioneers. I have to ask this question, and this is going to set off a lot of my listeners. Let me rephrase that, I'm going to make a claim and you can tell me if you agree or not or you can play it political or not. But I don't think Purr Box would have been nearly as successful. I think dogs, to me BarkBox proves dogs are better than cats.

[48:04]

Matt Meeker: Yeah. I didn't know there was a question.

[48:10]

James McKinney: I love it. Now again, you did this because you were fascinated with your dog, right, but did you think through the virality of dog owners when it came to the subscription model growth? Because one of the things that makes subscription models so hard is user acquisition because one, I think there's a saturation point today, not that you had it back then. The viral side of it is really where the growth comes. Did you think that the dog space was going to bring that?

[48:44]

Matt Meeker: Well again, we didn't start it with the aspiration of millions and millions of subscribers. I was seriously happy with 100. That would have been great. We had no concept, none, of how big the pet space was. It turned out to be a surprise for us. It was just I have a Great Dane, Hugo, and he had just come into my life. This disappointment over and over and over of walking into pet stores in New York City and everything is for small dogs. It's like he's 130 lbs, this doesn't work for him. So you take that. Henrik and I would have beers every Friday afternoon and just talk about possibilities, and take Hugo over here, the success of Birchbox over there, Friday afternoon beers, and there it was.

[49:44]

James McKinney: That's awesome.

[49:45]

Matt Meeker: There was never a thought… I think if we had done the classic thing that maybe a school might teach you of go look at the industry and size the industry, and find out what the big categories and opportunities are, and then what are the big product segments. That would have pointed us toward food and veterinary care. We never thought about it that way. We just thought hey, this is fun, let's do that. Yeah, we never approached it that way.

[50:19]

James McKinney: When you think of, back to the early days, similar question to what you had asked the team at Birchbox, but when you think to your first 1,000 subscribers, how did you acquire them? Again, you weren't trying to build something so how did you acquire those first 1,000?

[50:40]

Matt Meeker: The first 50 I know really well because… Henrik and I didn't build a site. Henrik mocked up what a homepage or a landing page could look like. He mocked it up. We had those beers on Friday, he mocked it up over the weekend, sent it to me, and for a while it became the background on my phone. So I'd turn the phone on, that's what you'd see. I would walk around, I'd go to meetings. I'm in venture capital so what you do is you meet a lot of people every day. I'd walk the streets, go to meetings, talk to people, and then I'd show them and I'd say, "Hey, what do you think about this?" And they'd look at it and they would smile, they'd laugh. You'd get the reaction. You know you've got something because everybody is like, "Oh, I love it. Oh, that's great." But that was always followed up with, "Let me know when it's live and I'll buy that." And you hear that for a couple weeks, and so what we started to do at that point was carry Squares with us, and I would take a Square out and I'd plug it in my phone, I'd say, "It's live, swipe your card."

[51:55]

James McKinney: That's awesome.

[51:56]

Matt Meeker: Then the face changes, and it's like, "Oh, um, I mean, well I don't have a dog." Or there's a good friend of mine, Evan Nisselson, who said he didn't have a dog. And that's where I tried out, "Well you must have friends who have dogs. Get them a gift." He's like, "Uh, okay." And he swiped his card. And so we got to about 50 people by just plugging the Square in and challenging them, and getting the real reaction, getting the real questions, finding out what was in their mind about it. That helped us form the product even more and build the site. Then we launched, and then you just hustle. You just hustle for that attention, that trigger. Leaning on press connections and trying to get it promoted. We had a couple good email drops, and then this will take you back. The real thing in our first year that set it off in a big, big way was Groupon.

[53:10]

James McKinney: Oh yeah.

[53:11]

Matt Meeker: yeah. We got to the point after that first year or so where we were having discussions around we've got to get off of this Groupon crack. We have to find other ways, this is crazy.

[53:22]

James McKinney: Yeah, Groupon was nuts.

[53:25]

Matt Meeker: Yeah, they probably brought half of our customers in the first year.

[53:28]

James McKinney: Wow. Do you remember year one, like after the first 12 months what your subscriber base was, maybe year two? Are there certain metrics you can remember from a milestone perspective?

[53:41]

Matt Meeker: Vaguely. Year one at the end was probably about 12,000.

[53:47]

James McKinney: Wow, that's incredible.

[53:49]

Matt Meeker: Yeah.

[53:51]

James McKinney: That is absolutely incredible. Yeah, I bet. Again, I go back to the virality of the customers you serve, the dog owners. We love our dogs. My wife's Instagram feed is more dog than it is kids. And so when BarkBox comes in, there's pictures of the box. It's everywhere. So it's just like the promotion side of it. The space you play in is so perfect. And now BARK is so much more than just BarkBox. Can you talk about some of the other brands that are under the BARK umbrella?

[54:30]

Matt Meeker: Sure. There are, we talk about product line so we have five product lines. BarkBox is one. Super Chewer which is an offshoot of BarkBox, similar format but for a different dog and a different human. A larger dog, a more rural/suburban dog, Western/Midwestern, more male. We have Bark Bright which is a health and wellness line. We have Bark Eats which is a new food service and is super cool. It's a better way to feed your dog. It's amazing. Then Bark Home. Everything you'd find for your dog in the home except it's not ugly like when other people make it.

[55:15]

James McKinney: You got really excited when you talked about the Bark Eats.

[55:20]

Matt Meeker: Yeah.

[55:21]

James McKinney: I want to ask you about that because when I think of food, I just think liability. When it comes into that space, there's so many challenges. So my tendency would be like I don't want to touch that. What is it about Bark Eats that excites you?

[55:36]

Matt Meeker: Yeah. If you talk to people in our company, they would probably tell you that legal doesn't typically enter into my thinking, including our general counsel who doesn't appreciate that. But again, we didn't really want to go into food. I don't want to say we didn't want to, we just didn't have an idea. What we don't want to ever do, and I'll use the food example for it, we didn't want to put together a 30 lb bag of kibble and slap the BARK label on it, and say, "Now feed your dog this. It's better." It's not better, it's the same stuff, it's just with our label. We've got the trust with our audience and size of an audience where we could probably get away with that, but then we would lose the authenticity and trust that we actually want to do something better.

We went into food because Carly is Carly, and she was doing some mad scientist stuff at home. Like I'm hearing about her driving a couple hours upstate New York to get fresh meat for her dogs, and then bringing it home to her basement and carving it up, and then mixing it into a stew and feeding her dogs that. That became like informed by some nutritionist she knows, and on and on. People heard about it. Henrik heard about it, other people heard, and so pretty soon out of her basement she's feeding 30 dogs around her. They're all getting fed different things. The reason why, it was like she's got a nutritionist friend who's saying Great Danes eat differently than Chihuahuas, not just in the amount but in the amount of protein they need. The different ingredients and how it comes together, obviously the portion size. 60% of us are overfeeding our dogs and therefore they're obese.

And so it was really there shouldn't be three formulas for dogs universally to eat. Every dog should be eating what's right for them based on their lifestyle and their size, and their location, their breed, and their age, their skin conditions, and so on. She just started plowing away at that personally in her basement and it was cool. So we were like there's something there. If we can make a service out of this, get everybody their own nutritionist who not only personalizes your first meal but ongoing. We continue the conversation. We want to hear, it doesn't make sense to set you on a formula for obesity, your dog loses 10 lbs, and then keep you on it. It's got to adapt. And so it's super cool. It's still pretty early, but I just love the concept of feeding dogs as individuals and not here's a big bag, that's your option.

[58:52]

James McKinney: I love that idea as well because I have a pit who, our vet has said I've never seen an allergy list so long. The amount of things that she cannot eat, it's outrageous. Who would have ever thought a Pit Bull would be so finicky, but oh my goodness she is something else.

One of the things that is exciting right now for BARK is the fact that you guys are, maybe I'm not going to use some of the language right so you can correct me if I misstate something, but you're joining a SPAC to get listed on the Exchange. Why did you guys determine that route versus just an IPO like any other startup?

[59;34]

Matt Meeker: Yeah. It's a great question. We always were on a path to be a public company. Probably not this fast. If I were to guess before we went down the SPAC road, I would say late this year or early next year. But that was we were already in those preparations. I got a bunch of calls in the fall from people saying we want to talk to you about a SPAC merger. My first reaction was like that's a fad, get it out of here, I don't understand it and I don't want to be part of things I don't understand. I got pushed by our investors to dig in on it and learn a bit, and that led me to John Ledecky who has been doing SPAC since his first one in 2005. I was asking him for advice and he was very gracious in giving that advice, and helpful. Then he formed his own SPAC and he came back and said, "Why don't we do this?" He laid out the benefits which are there is certainly speed in the process.

There's some ease in the process because they've done a lot of it. There's some advantage in that you can talk about your forward looking projections with investors. Historically, I'm not the best with investors so one part that really appealed was we didn't have to file an S1 and announce we're doing a road show, and go out to investors. We could just talk to them and pitch them, and if they threw up over the whole thing we could just go home, that's it. No harm, no foul. But if they liked it we could go forward.

We went from a green on the SPAC merger with John and Joanna to meeting those pipe investors in about three weeks, and we did 26 pipe meetings in two days, and got commitments the next day. So in under a month you went from "yeah, let's try it out" to real feedback from the market as to do you have something here. Great partners, too. We get to add two fantastic independent members, Joanna Coles who is on the board of SNAP and Sonos, and a great consumer mind. And then John Ledecky who understands Wall Street and public market investors in a way that we just don't. those were the things that brought us down that road, and here we are.

[62;26]

James McKinney: Outstanding. Now again back to one of the things that you left Meetup and the burden you carry now with 700 employees at BARK, now you're talking about being on the Exchange. It all adds to the complexity of the machine and the organization. How do you manage that stress?

[62:50]

Matt Meeker: This time around, I brought in a new CEO. Kind of going back to the company prior to Meetup, I'm an early stage guy. That's where I am and I like to invest things. Luckily BARK, it's important for us to always be inventing new products and new experiences for customers. So that outlet is available within this company. But running the whole thing, there are people who have been there, done that, have operated at this scale and beyond. And so we went out and recruited that CEO who joined us in September to take it forward, take the baton and run it for the next 10 years. It allows me to go off interesting he corner and build things like Bark Eats along with Carly, and some of the newer things that we're cooking up.

[63:49]

James McKinney: Do you think that ability to constantly be innovating, do you think that is unique to a community subscriber type model that Bark is with what do you have now, 1.7 million subscribers?

[64:07]

Matt Meeker: Yeah.

[64:08]

James McKinney: When you have a subscriber base like that, I feel like that lends itself to creating, trying to create new products and new businesses because you already have a built in audience you can test it with. Is that how you view it as well?

[64:24]

Matt Meeker: Somewhat. That's fantastic. Until the last couple of years, we didn't have other products and so it's been let's call it two years of getting pretty good at cross selling those products into the subscriber base. I feel like we're really good at it, the results are really good. At the same time, our new CEO Manish says our tools and capabilities are rudimentary, which they are. This is duct tape all around this thing. The potential to do even more is fantastic. We don't, or I don't, invent product or think about new products or opportunities because we have to build and expand the business or come up with new stuff for them. It's just fun. I want to build stuff for my own dog, and bring stuff into the world that I want to use.

So that's where probably a lot of my team hates me where they bring sort of "me too" ideas, "me too" being like it already exists, it's already out there in the world. Just throwing our label on it, that's not exciting to me, that's not cool. Let's do something interesting. We've got a platform, we've got the opportunity, let's do something cool. I just came out of one of those meetings with one of my GMs who came into it with a bunch of those ideas, and I probably ruined his day. But then we got to the end. When we got to the end we came up with something so exciting and it probably won't happen for at least six months, but I'm already worked up about it. I'm ready to buy that product.

[66:21]

James McKinney: Is BARK at a size now where you are not as nimble? You said six months, I feel like okay that's pretty good turnaround from idea to retail, that seems pretty fast. Is that six month an accurate estimation or are you guys a little bit too rigid now because of how big you are?

[66:46]

Matt Meeker: We're trying not to be. It's obviously harder and you have real things where like the lawyer has to be involved. As much as I want to shove the general counsel aside and oftentimes do, there are real things like the state of New Mexico requires that for an edible thing you register with them, and you have to prove it. There are real laws. Sometimes let talk about which ones to ignore, but there's a lot of machinery around. We have this push and pull of you want to take advantage of the infrastructure and the audience, and all the scaffolding that you've already built so you don't have to rebuild it all with every new thing. But at the same time, doing that, the thing that has zero dollars in revenue isn't going to get the attention of the VP of logistics. Just won't have time for it unless I'm coming over the top and saying, "Pay attention to that." So it's a push and a pull. It's tough. Frankly, I think we do a really good job of getting the best of both worlds, but that's hard in every company.

[68:11]

James McKinney: Yeah, and it's… I almost say it's inevitable when you get to a certain size, that rigidity starts to set in where things just get a little locked up.

[68:24]

Matt Meeker: Well that creates opportunities for founders.

[68:27]

James McKinney: Yeah, absolutely, absolutely. 100% right. You know one of the things, and we have people listening to the podcast that are wanting to launch a subscription business. If there's a toolkit that you can hand off to them saying, "Here are three considerations and maybe two resources that you need to leverage if you want to build a subscription business," what would that toolkit be for you?

[68:53]

Matt Meeker: Oh boy. I don't know. I love the subscription model. I don't know if you know, Meetup was a subscription model and obviously BARK is. I just love it. I love the recurring nature and the relationship. You have both this opportunity and responsibility to talk to your customer every month and be better for them every single month, or they'll leave. I would say the important toolkit there is creating the mechanism in that feedback loop. That you know when you're sending something out that you expect and you want to hear from the customer, "How did it go?" and you want to hear that in real ways like yeah, I want to hear the qualitative stuff. Tell me what you thought on all of it, but quantitative matters a lot too. The net promoter score, the retention rate, did they stick around. And then when you hear the qualitative stuff be able to feed that right back into the product really fast so the next one that goes out looks like you actually listened.

Early days for BarkBox it would take us six, seven, eight, nine months to reflect what we were hearing back to someone, and for someone like you mention your pet has allergies. If you tell us, "My dog is allergic to poultry," and we send you chicken treats next month, you think we're a bunch of assholes. You're like, "They don't listen to a thing we say," and operationally might just be like we already had planned that box, we'd ordered things, it's all in the warehouse. And so we have to be quicker. We've got to respond to it and get it to you, serve you as an individual because we've got that capability. To me, it's about knowing the things that you're measuring. Those key metrics, those key data points, and building it so you are wanting to listen and hear the feedback, and then right away building the mechanism to respond to it. Not just with words, but like, "I've got you, no more chicken treats coming your way."

We're getting better and better at that through our first five years, but still when we got there… I'm going to mess this up, but we were maybe 300-400,000 subscribers at that point, and we were sending out every month about 40 or 50 unique assortments, and thought we were doing well. We'd get to a place where it was like okay, 10,000 people have asked for this and so now we can create a line and we'll serve that need. Until someone in our Columbus office, our Happy Team, took some initiative and they're the best, but they took initiative and created a program called No Dog Left Behind, which was like we're going to serve every dog as an individual no matter what it takes. If we have to go down to the pet store and assemble a box ourselves, we will.

And they did that, but it started, the example really hits home because it started with one phone call from a customer who said, "Listen, I love your product and I'm a bit of an outlier because I order BarkBox for my pet pig. The pig loves the toys, loves the treats, but this month you sent us pork treats. And I've got to ask you to not do that." And we didn't have that capability, but that person knew cannibalism is not cool, so we can't do that. So she wrote it on a post-it note, stuck it on her wall like I'm going to assemble this box myself every month and I'll send it to you from this desk every month. And that led to like nine of those, and the 90, and then 900. Today, it's 250,000 unique assortments.

[73:23]

James McKinney: Wow.

[73:24]

Matt Meeker: So just being able to hear everyone because everyone's individual feedback matters a lot to them, and them being able to respond to it, that's what like gets me… that's why I love the subscription model. You get the opportunity to be better.

[73:42]

James McKinney: That's incredible. Now given the complexity of it, would you suggest a startup launch with a monthly subscription or a quarterly? Because I feel like a quarterly is easier to adapt.

[73:56]

Matt Meeker: I like monthly. I'm biased. I like monthly just because I want to make it better. I always want to make it better. Meetup, when we launched we had monthly meetups. It wasn't organizer driven. We ran it all out of New York and scheduled it once a month for whatever your interest was. I remember that first month, first day or two of feedback coming in and it was terrible, just terrible. Awful experiences all around and I was so upset, but I couldn't wait to understand what was going on there and make it better. If I had to wait another three months it would have driven me nuts.

[74:43]

James McKinney: I do want to honor your time, Matt. I want to honor your time as well as my listener's time. There are three questions I ask every founder at the end of every episode, and I know they look forward to it because I hear feedback every single time a new episode comes out. And that first one has to do with the idea of entrepreneurship. There is this narrative out there that it's a "if you build it, they will come" type model, it's easy, you just have to kind of go out and do it and anybody can be an entrepreneur. Do you think anybody can be an entrepreneur?

[75:17]

Matt Meeker: No, no. I believe the equipment comes with the original package here. No.

[75:25]

James McKinney: Excellent.

[75:26]

Matt Meeker: There are a lot of things I can't do. I can't play second base for the Yankees, but that's just the way it is. So no.

[75:32]

James McKinney: I love it, love it. You know the other narrative that we like to break down is this idea that it's a Lone Ranger journey, right? Just us pounding away code on our buddy's couch and operating in a vacuum, in complete isolation. Part of that narrative has to do with the fact that the headlines tend to not pick anything up until it's a success story, and then it comes across like it's an overnight success story, and we just know that's not true. There's just so many false narratives built inside of that. And so in order to break that down, I love to hear about the people that have poured into your entrepreneurial journey to help you get to where you are today. So when you think back on your entire life's journey, who are the people that you look back to with such immense gratitude for their role in where you are today?

[76:17]

Matt Meeker: Oof, wow. So many. My parents, my grandparents, my family overall. My first boss at that agency who hired me, Ed Dintrone. My cofounders. I don't think it's a lone journey. That would be, oh man, I know people have done it and they're really successful. I don't know how they do it, because like with Scott and Peter, Henrik, Carly, we all have our bad days, our bad months, and then at different points we're on fire. When I fall down, Henrik and Carly pick me up and vice versa. Personally, I couldn't do it without those people. Hugo, my dog, can't do it without Hugo. New York City is it's a heartbeat man. New York gives you that energy and that drive, and a good ecosystem. Long list of support, but it's certainly not a lone journey for me.

[77:41]

James McKinney: I love it. Absolutely love it. I say it all the time if the episode had to be 20 minutes that question never gets trimmed. I absolutely love that one. And our last question for our episode, for your startup story, I would love to give my listeners a chance to have coffee with you and to just pick your brain so that they can better their own personal startup journey because of it. It's an unreasonable ask, and so this is that mentoring minute if you will. If you were having coffee with one of my listeners and they were wanting to launch a subscription business, whatever the case may be. Or maybe they have one and it's three years in the making and they have yet to top that 1,000 subscriber number yet and they're thinking about just quitting and giving up on it. What would you say to that listener?

[78:27]

Matt Meeker: Well I'd want to know a lot more about that journey. I told friends who have been on that journey, and they've been a couple years in and they're banging their head against eh wall, I've told them maybe hang it up. And that has to do with personal circumstances and their love for what they're working on. Oftentimes, those founders feel this immense pressure and responsibility to investors, like I can't. People invest, and it's like they'll understand. But others, I think the overall message to them either struggling, failed and out of that particular venture or what have you, is congratulations. You did it and where you are right now, this is the worst that it will be. This is it and you're still here. You're still alive, everything is fine. It didn't necessarily work out the way you wanted or it hasn't clicked yet. A lot of this is about just keeping it going and keeping on your feet until it gets there.

And if you've done it and it failed and it didn't work, it's okay, you're still there. Get up, try again, you did the hardest thing. If I were going into standup comedy, the first time on stage I'm going to go up there and I'm probably, I'll suck, I'll bomb, and I'll get like the polite clap going on. That's the worst it will be. If you want to be a comedian, get back up there and do it again. Keep doing it, keep going. That's the hard part. I go to Christmas dinner and I hear, "We're going to start Cat Box," or, "I have this idea." Founders hear a lot of people who have ideas and are going to start them, and my advice is always the same: start. That's it. How do I get going? You just get going, you just do it. I mean take the first step. Just do it, and that's the hardest one. Once you start, there you go, you're on your way. So if you've done it and you're in the middle of it, or bouncing back, great, good job, keep going.

[81:06]

James McKinney: Once you've had a few moments to process all the value Matt Meeker brought us in this week's episode, please hit me up on LinkedIn, Facebook, or Instagram and share with me your thoughts on this episode. If you've been around The Startup Story for any length of time then you know how much emphasis I put on the idea that entrepreneurs support other entrepreneurs. For that reason, I hope every single one of you will visit bark.co to see the various product lines that Matt and his team have brought to market. If you're a dog owner, maybe you'll consider joining BarkBox. And if you're a cat owner, then maybe you'll consider gifting a box to your dog loving friends. Either way, visit bark.co to see all that the BARK team has developed. Matt really did deliver a ton of value to us, so I hope you will find ways to return that value to others. And now for my personal ask.

The Startup Story community has been so incredible about sharing our podcast with others, but we have more stories to tell and more people to reach. We too are a startup and word of mouth is everything, so please follow us on Facebook and Instagram @TheStartupStory or on Twitter @StartupStory_. If you're on LinkedIn, please search for The Startup Story and follow our company page. LinkedIn is a really powerful way to raise awareness of the show. But the most impactful way you can help us grow our audience is to leave a review on Apple Podcast. Or if you listen to the show via Spotify, then please simply share the podcast directly from your Spotify app or wherever you listen to the show.

These simple actions can make a huge impact in getting these amazing founder stories out to the masses. And please make sure to tag or mention The Startup Story when you do share so that we can connect with you and say thank you directly. I'm so incredibly appreciative of the fact that you listen to the show each and every week, and I look forward to sharing these amazing stories with you every Tuesday with hopes of encouraging and inspiring you to start your story.

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May 18 2021
Matt Meeker, co-founder of BARK

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