Here's the summary of fireside chat with Rana Atheya, Founder, DogSpot.in
Rana Atheya is the CEO and founder of DogSpot.in, India’s most visited dog portal and e-store. A product and customer management professional, Rana founded DogSpot.in with an aim to ease pet parenting woes and bring knowledge and insight to the larger community.
Today, DogSpot.in is the largest pet community site in the Asia-Pacific region and has registered organic growth year on year. In 2016, the company received funding from Ratan Tata amongst others and has since then has grown to further strengths, adding new products to their line up and furthering their goal of helping people be better pet parents and caregivers.
You can check out the live recording of our conversation or read the transcript below.
Rana Atheya: Thank you Jatin for having me here. And it is my second time interacting with you. And for the first time also loved the session and loved the initiative.
This time I got to know more about each and we'll be doing more active participation on offline events as well as online. So great. Congratulations for building this.
And about my introduction, I am a pet lover from art, like from my childhood, I wanted to do something related with pets, happened to be an engineer by education.
Then did my MBA to get more confused. And then I got a job and some internet companies started my career with Indiatimes, then went to ibibo.com. And then from Ivy, go into yourself. All digital experience started one dark spot as a hobby project. And the idea was that people who are keeping pipes, they can share information about how they manage their beds, which will help the pet owners.
And so we created something which was a two way website in 2007, it was a web two window new thing. Veteran, all other websites were just one big communication website. And then on a dock spot, it was easy for people to come and ask questions and comment and stuff like that.
So UDC was a big thing that and then we never thought it will become a business. In 2011, a lot of my friends asked me that you should start e-commerce on it, and then e-commerce has started and then less up. So that's been my journey till now. Yeah.
Jatin Chaudhary: So you briefly mentioned this thing, but what was that key trigger to get started with docs were like you could have started anything else also.
Rana Atheya: Yeah. As I said, right from my childhood, I was born in bird with big, so I used to pick up street puppies, bringing them home. I was fortunate enough to have parents who supported my love for animals. And then what happened is that I started learning about animals and my father was a professor in bacteria, science So he parked in a lot of things.
And when I was working with these companies, I mentioned a lot of people, they will get to know somehow that they're having to pay and they will come and talk to me, ask me questions and I will answer them. And sometimes they will say what to get, how to get, this kind of a food, this kind of medicine, et cetera, et cetera.
I used to help them in many ways. And then they started motivating me that I should start writing. All the things which I keep telling them I should have started writing. And in those days Blogspot was very famous, blogspot.google.com. And I thought that I would start writing on Blogspot and there was a friend of mine.
He said, my blocks for two extra dots.
Jatin Chaudhary: That's why the name
Rana Atheya: gateway. And then, I was BI professionally, I was a product manager by then internet product manager. So I knew how to get the, how to define it. Okay. And then we would look for somebody who can actually make that rocket.
And then it happened. So that is how it started. Yeah.
Jatin Chaudhary: Brilliant. So what was that first thing you did like you? So you went to blogger, you created a blog or you created a website.
Rana Atheya: I created a blog blogger website on blogs and blogs. I was not getting, too much motivated to write again and again.
And then the core DNA was to have more tools and engage more people blogger was, more. Or if you don't one day lighting, one thing and and very difficult to get people to write on blogger, to get more active access and upload photos, et cetera. So what I did is that I started looking at the minimal viable product that can we have one page for blog, one page where people can showcase their dogs or dogs, do they have and then one a place where people can ask questions.
And so those were, three, four areas where we said that this can be an MVP and that is how United made a document on this and then contacted. Technology guys and then, ask somebody to make it for us.
Jatin Chaudhary: So you being a product manager and being part of internet companies really helped you get jump started because a lot of people have these ideas and they ended up struggled to figure out how to get started with that initial MVP.
Rana Atheya: Yeah. And you asked me this question that, why did you do this only, so I gave you a very long lens. But in short, when I have to really make it very short, I said, I usually say that
Jatin Chaudhary: And then you mentioned that around 2011, 12, you seriously started purchasing these.
Rana Atheya: I actually left my corporate place in 2009. I was looking at different types of businesses, like grooming band business for pets and diagnostics center for birds and dogs. Part was still like a hobby thing, helping the community nothing to make money out of it.
And then. Whenever I will go out for reading farmers, talking to people, everybody will tell me that, your paradox part, you should focus more on they're trying to create something else. And then, I was not getting very convinced that this can become business, but then I picked up some consulting projects here and there just to survive.
And then in 2011, I thought, let me do some e-commerce on it. And some advertising revenue. So revenue was not big at that point in time, then e-commerce we could think of one was from the revenue point of view, and then it was from the salt problem solving point of view as well. So it was double down convincing.
Reason that when we started looking at the data, we did the qualitative analysis and then we found out that a lot of people were looking for products and it was very fragmented. If you're looking for something like a list of four or five things, you may have to visit, five, six different shops to get.
Five different products because it . So it was very fragmented. So we bought those that insight and we thought that, why not help the community for that? And that is how e-commerce actually started. And we were actually experimenting in the orders and started putting. Because people figured out that there's a link somewhere.
Jatin Chaudhary: Yeah. In terms of the community. Initially, I already have friends who are looking at, so you already had those, initial 5,000 people. When did you realize that, it started going outside of your first degree of circle. When did you started seeing those.
Rana Atheya: You have to be very honest.
There are trends and all, but not first hundred or 50 10, 15. And it is very difficult to, motivate them to eat the stuff on the website. And they're not getting anything out of it. So what I guess doctor looking into, more than the networks, which we can activate.
And then, one of the networks was would have been that pet owners, how do you get hold of all the pet owners? Because there is no construct around them and you do not have money to pull that construct together. And it was a part-time thing anyways. There was then I started looking at, there are then there are Canadians and then we saw that there, a lot of people were advanced a bit back into the ass who are going to the events which were like dog shows, funny bands, competitions, et cetera.
And then we were taught that in these events are very good, just latch onto these offline events. And then we started creating value for people who were coming to the event. And then we created, started creating some value for organizing those events. So we gave a lot to the community and then and then we started going to these events, like photos per pound of spark every Sunday.
This is one, sorry, we'll go on a Sunday.
Jatin Chaudhary: When you go to those events, what was your pitch then? What would you tell them that, this is what I do, or what do you do?
Rana Atheya: So it was I'll tell you about the first even. There are some, there is there's a big Canadian who used to do doc in Delhi.
So I went to him and I said that, you know what I want to do with that? I will come in your show and I would look for those and publish them on on my website. So he said that and how much do we pay for that? I said nothing. So then he said that, why are you asking me? Because I will come there for those.
And I need your permission. He said, that's what I do. You're not chatting us. Then there is no no need of the permission, but if you want, we can help you. If you can bring some poster, we can ban that, et cetera, because this is what you're going to be doing for free for us. So I said, okay, we'll think about it.
Then, few days after that conversation, they called me up and then they said that are you sure you to becoming ? Do you have a good camera? I said, yes, I have a good camera. And they said that, we have also hired a photographer and videographer. And do you think we can do away with them?
And be able to save some money. And if you want, we will give you more marketing and whatever you need, blah blah. So I was like, invited. It was, those were the days when there were no cameras in mobile phones. People used to forget their real cameras at home and DSLRs are quite a new thing.
Facebook was not there as prolific as it is now. Was a very different era and we were welcomed everywhere that, the, a thing you are doing clicking photos, the next people who are not able to visit those events can go and check it out next day. That's what happened during that event.
So that was one big thing, which now we realize is that we were actually influencing the influencers. Let's say, you ought to pack into the, as you're taking your back to a very nice show and I click your clip, the photo and put it on a website and it's a big deal, right? Because there's no Facebook, there's no Instagram and there is no good cameras around.
What will you do? You will tell everybody, let you know, Hey, my dog is on the website. You'll see that photo.
Jatin Chaudhary:Generally did answer, don't get featured somewhere that pets are getting featured.
Rana Atheya: Yeah. Becomes very important and then they will, tell everybody else
we in those days we used to get about, I think in the peak of it, we used to get about 14 page views per session, that wasn't average. Oh, sorry. Pete and average yearly was about 8.5. So that was, you're not to [00:14:00] get those kinds of pages per session is very healthy. And we were actually influencing the influencers and then they were telling other pet owners that my photos.
Jatin Chaudhary: So that's how you got started in. You've got so AOL getting businesses was one thing. And what are the things you did so that, you. Kept users be on the platform continuously.
Rana Atheya: Yes. United that interesting that you need to understand the motivation of your community, that, what is that one thing which you would like to probably do?
Two what did that one thing which you would like to activate your community? What is that value creation you are doing? So very interestingly in our domain and any niche driven domain, one of the very interesting things which I have observed over a period of time is that people want to influence their fellow.
Experts. You give them tools to show their knowledge, show that what they have learned over a period of time. It helps them be more confident, gather more [00:15:00] knowledge. It. Sure. And and that is how I think it gets paid off. So when people are coming to see the photos, they actually started writing blogs.
They started sharing their information. others, you know what happening? So that is what was keeping them engaged on the platform. We were building a lot of tools a Q and a section. And then For those units started getting the name of their dogs, their pedigrees of their dog. There wasn't clicked.
All those information started coming in and then we had comments section and then people will talk about controversies. People will discuss things and whatnot.
Jatin Chaudhary: Correct. And at that you have your own platform also, and there are various social media platforms. Are people in your community in doc sport or you are also a Facebook group?
What's that group?
Rana Atheya: At that point in time it was only dot Murdock spotlight website. We started with Facebook pay later on Facebook. Now I have about our Facebook page [00:16:00] is followed by about five black people more than I liked people. And now we have a community on Facebook has been as.
During the lockdown period, we started doing live sessions on our Facebook page. And till now we have done like you are doing we have done, I think 108 like sessions to live since March. We are, we happy to be the largest live session platform for this community globally. And now we have started attracting lot of experts from outside India, also who are we're coming in and speaking to our audiences and answering questions, quite easy, giving different perspective.
Some lot of people from different types of schools of parts, they come and share their knowledge and Awesome
Jatin Chaudhary: Also you [00:17:00] raise immediately or autism time, or what was that story?
Rana Atheya: Yes. So we were doing business, right? So the idea was to create value.
And I used to hear about funding, et cetera was really keen to learn about it. But then what happened? There was one of my bosses and Ivy BL, and then later on any of the sellers. So he contacted me and said that he would like to invest. And then, was quite biased for me.
Jatin Chaudhary: the customers.
Rana Atheya: So you know, that is how it happened. And then, some other students also said that, okay, if he's investing, I will also invest in some ex-colleagues see me working, building something, people who believed in the idea. I believed in me, they invested some money. And then, so I think three, four rounds in the big thing that happened like that.
Very small. My friends and their friends. And then Indiana Goshen did mistake and then Ronnie investor, Mr. Tracker and Mr. We have been very lucky to get investment from a lot of entrepreneurs. We have seen a lot of cycles of ups and downs. Now it's been a violent access model industry.
So a lot investors usually shy away of investing in this domain just because of large industry size checkbox picnic. So the video is that maybe the VCs may not invest, but we can actually build their business. So
Jatin Chaudhary: in terms of community, what are those challenges you face in the first two, three years?
Rana Atheya: Because you are learning by you are building it. So there's a lot of, there's a lot of confusion. And, I now interact with a lot of startups. And I find that one thing is that, own ownership of the community, so better at it. It is run by the community, who sets the rules?
Who is the owner of the community, right? There has to be a boss. So in the beginning, you lack that confidence and then you will let it happen. And then you will realize
Because, you are thinking that it is UDC and people who are earning your techs, cetera, but you need to own it and say, no this is not a bit debatable. It has to have a personality. It cannot, cannot keep happening. It cannot keep changing the personality of. We cannot just let it happen.
So I feel that is one thing that it takes a while to get that confidence level and say that this is my garden and this is how I'm going to run it. So that is one second is of course, funding . Look, I think entrepreneur that's like a lotto. What does so much the younger [00:20:00] fundraising is very challenging and in particularly in niche categories and each setups and niche businesses, it's a niche industry.
We were very conscious that we should not become niche of niche, which is even more small. So you know, that is that, that has been a big challenge. So I think that is the run last year, which I think is very generic too. I think all the startups is to get the right people. Very challenging.
So come to the other side of the table. So these are some of the genetic things which we have faced. Luckily we did not face any issue with technology. A lot of startups face that. Just because, I had that background of understanding of internet technology and. Upper management. So that is white.
Lucky, I would say.
Jatin Chaudhary: And when you're building a community, sometimes you come up with a lot of new ideas so that, the old guys don't feel that, it's the same thing. So you continuously come up with something interesting. So in your journey, what are those top two, three ideas or initiative that worked out really well?
Rana Atheya: So see, we never started with the photo graphic thing. So that was, one thing, it came to my mind because you went to an event and I ask people that who clicks the photos, et cetera. And I found out that there's a huge gap. I clicked some photos and just, told them by what, but I just told them that there is one website environment, and then we saw a little blip.
So what I feel is that you need to keep it all right, tap on your customer analytics. You need to know your community that already bet. So that photo thing, cute job for us then e-commerce or the big change, right? And then we start looking at those products, which people are not getting and what are the gap areas in specific categories and [00:22:00] then introduced the right products.
Those are some of the two, three things, which we we learned from the community only, too.
Jatin Chaudhary: And sometimes when you start a community, your overlay of your, do you have those ideas, that ideas are very clearly defined. Sometimes when you raise a problem and you find your niche and then you follow on that, what was that?
Your journey like, like what was your message in 2014? What are you saying in 2020? Anything is the word.
Rana Atheya: From the from the belief point of view, nothing has to be right. So we are a very clear, so that is how we see our community there. We are here to help people celebrate their pets.
And this is what we have been seeing from day one that we will help you have more fun videos. Okay. Just because we'll be able to provide you everything right. Whether there is information, whether that is health information related health discussions products et cetera, et cetera.
Is has always been the same. We have been working on lot of different types of products physical products, as well as digital products. And we have all the always have to be on our toes. So for example, with the times changing we have to latch onto Facebook and create the whole community experience on Facebook because we understand that, you know what we were in 2007 and into tattoo 2020.
The thing things have really changed. We need to understand that their mobile phones video is the next big thing. You just cannot keep writing, blocking that is more secondary video live sessions real-time information real questions, real answers. All those things are pretty two 20 and unique to keep pests.
With time I was I'm also been We will be able to build that community experience on Facebook and WhatsApp and other tools. So what you were asking is that in 2007, there were no students. We had to build everything from the scratch, but now we have Facebook and we need to be one. Yep.
Jatin Chaudhary: And this February pandemic happen. So what can you never
Rana Atheya: [00:23:59] know? [00:24:00] Yeah, he would change. I think what we taught that video is a new thing. So we started, putting a studio together, asking people to come interview offline, going there to their places featuring. Q and a interviews some interesting videos, et cetera, but from COVID time, it is only life.
We are doing a lot of Facebook lives and stuff. But I'm like and the whole model of e-commerce has evolved from a warehouse model to a drop ship model because we can not have post-ops of the products to come in and then we'll. And so I think, what all that has changed.
Another thing is that we also started market consulting business on digital transformation because we found that. In our industry, there will be a huge need of people to go digital. And we thought that we are the best guys to tell our fellow partners that, how can they do digital transformation for the product services, et [00:25:00] cetera.
So that is another thing which we started giving the board.
Jatin Chaudhary: you are building a community which are the other community based businesses that you like, that you get inspired by.
Rana Atheya: Yeah. Very good question. From the product management point of view I have seen LinkedIn in those days, I used to follow . Bringing the, future's asking you to add more information on your profile.
All those things, that is very interesting. Then I have seen a lot of startup community. They have done very well and I have see [00:26:00] in. That changing face of niches happening, the startups are they have their list to be distracted up Sunday and nothing else.
And now you'll see that if you want to do to see you have a different community, if you are grading FinTech, then you have a different community. And that has shown that we have seen from the startup. Sundays or Saturday, it used to be start-ups Saturday, something like that, right. One event. And once in awhile, everybody will come and speak about everything.
Now we have those niches that the big evolution which we have seen. So those are some of the things which I have seen, I think one community, which I think came later, I have been admiring it as bogalay they're doing a great job. Then parent tune. Amazing community stuff.
They are doing one community. I've been very big fan of is from my engineering days as I Tripoli, which is an office. Plant community is huge. And yeah, massive. And I think one of the most money-making community that I understand, yeah. Prime
Jatin Chaudhary: minister has this question. Did [00:27:00] you got funding just because of e-commerce features? Was that the revenue streams attracted investors?
Rana Atheya: It was e-commerce I'm in 2011 is when we got the funding or 2011. Yeah, 11, 12. It was high time for e-commerce niche. E-commerce was rising. Flipkart was just there. So I think e-commerce is what attracted the investors.
Jatin Chaudhary: [00:27:22] Has already answered, which I, in case if you have any questions, I'll run through it.
The question that I have for runner. When you started you're building content plus commerce was, people are talking about in the, probably this could be the future in 2020 community content commerce. They are the red hot innocence to be part of any different thing. They experienced, like people not responding to move to your business now, or.
Anything that you observed?
Rana Atheya: Yeah, commerce. I feel that Amazon is going to dominate in the commerce elephant in the room. We cannot ignore it. So we were when we got funded, we were [00:28:00] leading the market. But then Amazon started as striving. And then. I think it was one came in 13, 14 with the full this thing.
And then we realized that the better we cannot fight with deep pockets and one of the best talents and they can attract whatever they want. So we decided that we are not playing that game. And so we went into private label and I started selling on Amazon. And track seeing them as a partner.
But what continuing community give us is that edge to understand do you mind about that and customer better? So one of the most important and the most difficult things about this category is that the consumer never speaks and the customer is actually influenced by a lot of other people.
Friends, veterinarians, groomers, trainers, et cetera. Being connected to community gives you the edge to understand that, what is happening around how is the relationship between consumer and customer. What is that relationship? How did it work and gives us an edge to explore new production, new services doing the content right.
Promoting the right product to the right customer. So those are some of the them.
Jatin Chaudhary: Yep. This has this question for you. Do you think it is important to have rules in corporate
Rana Atheya: [00:29:14] life?
Jatin Chaudhary: [00:29:18] Can you give me more context about it, or do you follow any rules for, in your startup or you, have you been part of corporates also or anything you can answer to this question?
[00:29:27] Rana Atheya: [00:29:27] So discipline, I can say discipline maintain some kind of decoration, like one-on-one so that kind of tools we have to follow ongoing, like one-on-one session and something like that.
[00:29:41] On day two device, like we have to maintain Decker and we have to maintain discipline something like this. Donna what kind of it is important to have those kinds of rules or we just have to follow our own instance.
[00:29:57] Let me finish. I feel that [00:30:00] I have seen lot of startups who will start and then, stop working in a few months out of maybe a yeah. Or, ask them a few questions about the old business. They will be clueless, there what's happening. So what I've seen is that.
[00:30:17] A lot of people say that I want my freedom and that's why I would like to do something of my own veteran United feel it, it is even more you need to have huge self discipline to run a startup. You need to check on the costs and revenues and how team is doing, what are we doing next almost on a day-to-day basis?
[00:30:40]People do not don't know how to say it, a lot of people do not value these very basic things. Sincerity responsibility, discipline, self discipline, making an MIS daily sales report, daily cost report. Those kinds of things I think are very important.
[00:30:56]These are the very basics and have they should be [00:31:00] taken care of another thing which a lot of entrepreneurs, they completely ignore. Is health aside, the, they will not do an insurance on time and they will not take care of themselves. So I think those are the very basic things which we all know.
[00:31:19]But we failed to follow. I am not sure why maybe there is too much. So maybe there is A lack of self discipline, maybe, there's an accurate that I'll do it later. And maybe it just because of the freedom, there is no boss on top of your head. So you need to do a lot of self discipline. I think that is something which is very important.
[00:31:40] Yes. Thank you so much, Hannah. Yes,
Jatin Chaudhary: There are a lot of startups who are trying to build community with businesses. And at the same time, a lot of businesses are trying to get into the community side of their products or businesses. So what would be your advice to those people?
What should they do so that they can be community leaders?
Rana Atheya: Yeah, I think what I've seen is that people who understand community, they build community anywhere and everywhere. They do not need a proper website or, a lot of money. I'm sure. Jonathan with your experience, you can, if you want to build a startup community in a city, you can just do it.
So you know, a lot of people think that community needs a lot of money, that it needs a lot of people to create content, get the right people, et cetera, et cetera. But I think it has to grow very naturally. And you just need to, you don't just keep paddling on the right things, which is value creation for every stakeholder in the community.
It cannot be just one way. So there has to be some kind of evaluation that even if I'm answering the question, somebody is asking them, you don't, it. I think get out of it. So maybe more learning, maybe better questions more intelligent stuff. Maybe, [00:33:00] in form of some money and credit.
No. How a PR probably I've seen that. A lot of people just do the community stuff just for the sake of PR. And unless you put money onto the community, then it does not really work. That's what I have. You don't seem if you will ask me that Ron, I will give you 2000 bucks to come in and speak or, 10,000 bucks to come and speak to startup community.
It does not really work back there. So a lot of business people, they think that the money which is going to drive people, but I think it is it is that that that kick you get out of it. When you help somebody, when that, you have accomplished something by helping someone, by telling something, by sharing knowledge that is the main ingredient of it.
And the thing is that for business, for know, communities who are trying to build a business, I would say to not hurry up. You need to give it time for it to become strong. Then your community, your itself will tell you that how to build a business. If you will [00:34:00] ask them that, this is this something which you think we can do.
And would you like to pay for this, et cetera, et cetera. All you can just read about. Do some qualitative research at some point, if you're able to search, what are people doing? Be very good at some analytical tools, then you would get to know that what's happening and then you can bring some kind of a business.
Jatin Chaudhary: yep. And w what is the book you're reading recent, or you read that you would like to recommend to other founders?
Rana Atheya: I have been again and again, reading one same book, which is by Ben Horowitz. I think I have read it by two, three times, which is for hard thing about hard things. And I now remember each page number of is on Mark.
It's like a Bible for entrepreneurs. Very nice book, hard thing about hard things. Awesome.
Jatin Chaudhary: And you mentioned about the team. So as a community, you're passionate about Batson or since your childhood. So you have that empathy towards everybody. How do you make sure that in the, your team also has the same set of values that you have for building this business or a community?
Rana Atheya: We we see it very differently. Some of the team members are very passionate and they are in the team just because they're passionate about the subject. We hired them without even thinking of that, what they will do in the company only criteria was that they knew about bits of anybody, right?
So we call them subject matter specialists and pet experts and they. They are actually involved in almost every business process from customer care operations product catalog community. You're talking about a particular product with customers introduction of new things content generation.
Editorials, all those things, these guys are so there's a separate team or together. And then we have experts. When we're talking about somebody who's a digital marketer or somebody who is an operations expert, then if, even if it's not his naughty passionate person [00:37:00] then we don't mind getting them on board.
So that is, how we have built. Yeah.
Jatin Chaudhary: Yep. You started it as a hobby. Then you got a lot of prominent investors, some of the most well-known entrepreneurs from India. So what's your long short with dark spots.
Rana Atheya: It is very simple that then this industry is growing by 25% CGI writer's words.
One of the fostered words is one of the fastest growing pet industry, Indian pet industry. Us, I think is about right. Sub 5% and you get around the same percentage growth. That means that this industry actually doubles every year. Three four years. And he will see different numbers in different reports.
And when we see outside in the market there are signs of industry growing are very evident number of pet shops and what our dogs that aren't, you picked out around you everything is increasing. So it is simple. Tombola is that if, even if you do not do anything and you survive you will be doubled every four years.
But it's not very right. So having said that, I feel that in next 10 years we've been working on some products which are not out in the market yet which are like massive product. They will, they should be able to give us some good revenues and those products are such that we can go global with those products.
And I feel. We will put India at a, at an international stage part of this industry in the next five years, I think. Yeah, that's what it is.
Jatin Chaudhary: Thank you so much. And this is the last part. So typically ending zoom call is very tricky. So what we do is think of this as a university class, and this now is the time for the convocation at this location.
You have to deliver your co-location with in just one line. So when do you finish on one night and then this call?
Rana Atheya: Okay. You are you're not thinking of being an entrepreneur then decades inside you, you just need to think how an entrepreneur things to solve the problems and start solving the problems. And your [00:39:00] entrepreneur's shift starts from predict.
Jatin Chaudhary: Awesome. Thank you so much. Thank you so much, everyone for joining in, see you on the other girls from tomorrow, we are starting our physical meetups in Estonia.
So that is hopefully we'll be able to start in every city that we have a chapter on.