In this episode of Innovators Can Laugh, I sat down with Claudia Goga, co-founder of CaretoPets. We discussed what it’s like growing a business on a shoestring budget, how she beat the competition, and why it’s important to find a mentor.
I had so much fun talking with Romanian entrepreneur Claudia Goga (@LinkedIn). Claudia is the co-founder of CareToPets -Romania’s #1 pet sitting platform, and we covered a lot of topics in this episode.
When Claudia was younger, she enrolled in two different Universities (Math & Accounting) and while attending, learned how to code. She also made the decision that upon graduating, she would not work for anyone else.
During our conversation she shared what it’s like growing a business with a shoestring budget, how she beat the competition, and why it’s important to find a mentor.
Hope you enjoy!
Do you own a pet or know someone who does. If, so how can you ensure that your beloved dog or cat is receiving the best care and attention? While you are away on holiday or at work. I sat down with co-founder Claudia Guga from care to pets and discussed her entrepreneurial journey. As she created the country's number one pet sitting platform.
Here in Romania and how she expanded into other markets.
Without further ado, let's jump right into the conversation.
Yeah. Yeah. It's so crazy because I was looking at your background. I think you went into accounting for one of your degrees. And so obviously you like math, but you've, you're like a jack of all trades when it comes to entrepreneurship, having started so many different startups. , did you think when you were in college that you would be starting companies and being an entrepreneur?
Yeah. Yeah. So I knew before I started college, I knew I wanted to be an entrepreneur and having my own business. And maybe even earlier than when I started college and when I started college, I actually enrolled in two universities. So one was informatics and the other one was the accountant.
Yeah. At the time, I didn't know how it will all turned out and how it would fit. Yeah. Okay. So after university, what was one of the big decisions that you made in terms of your career? So I'll tell you the university I enrolled in the master's degree and when I finished the master's degree, I decided I wouldn't get a job.
So I would just start my own business. And at the time I had my dissertation thesis was something about sentiment analysis. So basically we analyze the product reviews and made some sentiment analysis based on the product experts. So not on the general review, but on aspects and features of the product.
And I figured, okay, if I have that, then it's a dual business around it. Yeah, there's a lot of software development that sounds like that goes into such a product. A SAS product is, do you know how to code? How are you with software? Oh yeah. Yeah. I do all the coding myself. So that's remarkable when you told your parents that, Hey, I'm not going to look for a job.
I'm going to start my own business. What was their reaction? Were they supportive or were they getting. Yeah, they just let me do whatever I wanted to try out. So my father was actually an entrepreneur, so maybe, yeah, it didn't sound very crazy to be an entrepreneur having your own company. But for them, it was, for them, it was difficult to understand what I was doing because they were used to the regular businesses, not the startups and technical startups.
So yeah, it was a bit too weird and it took quite some time for them because I was working from home and when you're home, they. People don't know and don't act like you are at work. So they think like you're just at home sitting around. So yeah, it took a while for them to get accommodated with that and to see that okay, I'm actually working.
Yeah, no, my wife is totally like that. I could be working on a project for a client or doing something really important. And then she'll just come in and start talking to me and expect me to drop everything I'm doing right. And then we go into I'll answer her, but then she has more questions or when it talks more.
So if I don't have the door shut, it's almost like 99% of the time I'm going to be interrupted. So I totally get, yeah. It's oh you're working from home. You're not really working. So you can do this. You can do that. Yeah. It's pretty difficult. I completely agree. Okay, so
did you have a name for this startup? The one with the software that was showing the the different emotions and reviews. The same TVO. Okay. Yeah, but I said earlier, when I look back on all my, my, my first start ups, they don't seem like businesses because I wasn't even incorporated. I didn't make any money.
So yeah, now they seem like just, okay. I like, I tested some ideas, like it was playing around, but it doesn't sound so serious. Now that I have more experience in addition to creating the product. Were you ever trying to get users, getting people to experiment or test the product like companies or other things?
Yeah. So at some point I thought, okay, maybe the best way to monetize that is to sell, to like large companies for doing customer insights and customer research. Maybe they will be interested in such a solution. So what I did, I just reach out on LinkedIn to managers, own those companies to ask for their feedback.
As I said it, I started this from a solution, not the problem that I had and I didn't to work in, especially in a, such a large company. So I have no idea how they're processes look like. So I didn't, if you don't know, it don't understand yourself. So it is very difficult.
So to create a business. Yeah. Yeah. I'm guessing, but probably from their perspective, exactly. Like you said, This is a solution looking for a problem, which makes it so much harder to get in the door, get a meeting, do a presentation. I completely understand. After this startup, what was the next the next venture that you worked on?
So after this I attended the startup weekend event and I joined. And we actually won the startup weekend then, and then we continued working on that idea. So the initial idea that was pitched, that the weekend was my idea to have a platform where families can match families so they can have a play dates and to go in vacations together, something like that.
But then in time we we pivoted to to a platform for people that moved abroad so they can have, so they can meet other people from their country. So people who move abroad like me, what would I use the platform for them to meet locals or just meet other expats and meet other.
Okay. And so what happened with moved abroad with this platform? To be honest, when I, the bed, so it was, so I just joined because it was, seemed like a interesting idea, but in the end I don't think that I I understood so the problem, because it wasn't the problem that I dealt with.
So yeah, it was difficult. And to be honest, I'm not sure that I believe so much in their ideas and the, and these can have an impact. And also the team was formed. So I was working with the other people there. I didn't knew very well before. And yeah, we didn't work together before, so yeah, that was a big challenging yeah, but it was, like a learning experience and so on.
Yeah. This startup weekend. Was it in ? Yeah. Yeah. Was it a big turnout we had around 15 offenders make the knees. Yeah. And alone, like 10 minutes. Great guy. But it was a smaller event comparing to like the other same larger cities, but it was like a great atmosphere and yeah, we, the community and everything.
So yeah, it was, oh, it was a great, yeah. So from this turnout did you meet anybody that could be that you thought maybe this could be a future co-partner this is somebody that I would like to. With it and maybe a future company or initiative? No, not necessarily. So I knew a lot of people there.
But for me, what I know is that what works for me is to be a single founder and yeah, that, that has worked for me. And also to have some advisor and mentor, which was very important for me and Okay. Now at this time, did you find such a mentor that, Hey, there's this, somebody here that's got a lot of experience.
Somebody I can learn from to that? Any kind of relationship with a mentor develop from this a weekend, a startup weekend? No, but when I started care to pets I also did some freelancing in that time. So there was a guy I used to work with to start up and he Stop to his startup. And then he was looking to, okay, what this do, doing new opportunities.
And since he worked with me and he knew me, he was, I think, okay, what are you doing? And after I told him, then he wanted to join as a partner in care to pets. And yeah, that was like a great impact because I think that it helped me to grow and to expand my mind. To grow the business. And there was lots of opportunities.
For example, the expansion to other countries. He was the one that made that happen. So if I was alone, I don't think I would contact those sponsors. So yeah, that there's turnout the grades. Okay. We're going to jump to care to pets in just a second. So prior to care to pets, you're doing some freelancing work.
What are some of the services that you were offering? I'm doing mostly like landing page designs. This is something that I like to do. Yeah. And some point I did some conversion rate optimization consultancy, but to be honest, it didn't work out so bad because the clients that I had I didn't get to actually test, so I made suggestions and so on and we had some client even, implemented the AB test and yeah.
But then when it came to okay, push the button and okay. Run the experiment, then they just, wow. I don't think we will do it. So it wasn't very motivating for me because I couldn't see the results of my work. Yeah, that does happen sometimes where a client really believes that landing page a is the one that's going to work.
And there's no reason to test landing page B or the messaging or landing page B. I once actually offended a boss of mine because I wanted to experiment and run a test. And he was on one side where he thought the messaging was the one to go with and put all the work there. And I thought, no, the other messaging was the one that I created.
I thought it was a lot better. And I offended him by actually making a wager and saying, Hey, why don't we test this? And I'll put dollars out of my own pocket. If you're, if your messaging wins, you win the money, but he found that offensive and it was a downhill relationship from that point on.
But yeah, unfortunately there are some people who do not believe in experimentation. Which if you're going to be a great marketer, you should always be testing. Okay. So what are some courses that you found were very valuable to learn new skills and develop your toolkit when it came to not just advising other clients, but also help you with your companies?
Yeah. So regarding skills, not sure if there were specific courses, but. All the projects I was involved. For example, of course I learned about lean startup and customer development or the own. But for example, I had a four month job at the company and they teach me how to do growth marketing.
And that is where I learned about conversion rate optimization and landing page optimization. So that helped me then to be a freelancer and about marketing and social media. I wasn't even on social media. I wasn't, I think, but when I worked at organizing startup weekend event, then I saw how these can be leveraged and how to do marketing and social media.
So it's something yeah. That I learned by seeing and to experience. Okay. Okay. So let's you're doing some freelancing. What happened during this time that sparked an idea of creating care to pets. And if you could share with that spark was, and then also briefly describe what care to pets is.
Yeah. Yeah. I was looking to for new startup ideas and for me, I figured that It's best to start from something that I actually liked. So I think I thought about, oh, okay. So lots of do I like, and of course there was pets because I always liked pets. For me, if you asked me what superpower do I want to have?
So the first answer that comes to mind is to talk to be able to talk to animals. And it would be like the best superpower. I don't know. This is just what comes to mind. That's hard to talk to them and get a response back, right? Yeah, sure. Yeah, because yeah, you're right, because we can talk to them, but yeah, the little son talks to them all the time.
He's four. He talks to goats, chickens and dogs. Yeah.
Okay. So you're thinking, I love talking. I love it. I love being around pets. And then the, did the ideas spark one day when you were out walking or when you were in the shower when you were having a glass of wine? Yeah, I did some, so this is my process that, okay. I do some more brainstorming again, to think about.
Okay. All the ideas that could be without judgment. Yeah. And the Fitzy thing idea was one of them. And it was something that interests me because I remember previously I saw like a friend of mine posted that he needed the pet sitter and it was something that I found, oh, it's great. It's something that I would want to do to take care of other people's pets.
Yeah, there was some interested. And there's also another thing interesting because at the time I was thinking, okay, whether it would be the pet-sitting business or idea and a friend of mine just send me like a meme or an article, something regarding pet. So I thought, no, you know what, that's a sign.
So this is what I should do. Yeah. Okay. And so I obviously, I know you know how to code, but when you decided to launch it, did you decide that you needed any type of investment to get the portal up and running first? What was the the first steps? So I started a business without investment and I didn't even have a lot of money put aside as well.
Yeah, I just bought a domain. That was it. I did the web development myself and I didn't actually budgeted for marketing, things just started to happen without me planning then. So one thing was that I bought the advisor and the, for marketing, we, I made a deal with him that he will pour extra equity.
He will give me some money for marketing, but it was like, yeah, a very low amount, but it was sufficient for us to get things going and to actually have customers and paying customers. And after that. So our first business model was like the regular commission based model. So pet owners actually pay the pet seater directly through our platform.
And that means meant that the money was first in our account and it was like the delay between. Between the time we received the money and the time we had to pay out the pets data and this, yeah. So this is how we got cashflow. So even though at the time we didn't, we weren't making a lot of money.
So the business wasn't making a lot of money, but we always said like a lot of money in the bank account so we can pay for expenses and so on. Yeah. What were some of the initial marketing strategies and tactics you were doing to grow awareness for care to pets? Like how were you spending that initial marketing investment?
Yeah. So the first thing that we do, because we didn't have money, so I just joined a lot of Facebook groups related to pets and pet parents and vet, and I just posted on that groups. And And yeah, the other marketing was to actually run Google ad words, which turned out to be I really a patient for us in Romania.
Because people are also are already looking for this solution and yeah, we got for Romania, we did get like a very good two clinical cost per clicks and so on. And yeah. Okay. Okay. Now the platform, obviously it can match a dog. With a family that's looking for a dog sitter. What else can the platform do or is that just the main essential function of the place?
Yeah, this is the main essential. So there are two ways. It's is either you can contact your equity, the pet sitter, or there is a feature where a pet owners can create a public request. This is what we call it. So basically they fill out their need. And that goes to all the pet sitters who meet that criteria.
And the ones that are interested and available, they send the price offers to the pet owners and then the pet owner can choose a pet sitter which he's named. So the pet owner can see the profile of the pet sitter. Are there also any sort of testimonials or any ratings about the pet center? Yes. Yes.
Yes. They have ratings and reviews. And we also what we do. Our pet sitters or pre vetted, and we have we verified their, our data papers and we have interview interviews with them before they, they can have a profile on our platform. Yeah. These interviews are actually a interviews like through a zoom through phone.
And you verify their identification. So you asked for the Romanian ID. Yeah. Yeah. Interesting. Interesting. So since COVID happened, lots and lots of people are working from home and in the states, there's been a rise in pet ownership and pet adoption is the same thing here happening here in Romania.
So I also know this, but I don't have the data to support this, but it's something that I know is that more people have more beds and yeah. During this time. Yeah. It's like something that I noticed that. Yeah. For somebody who does it for time, can they make a good living doing it?
Yes, there were some who are doing this full-time and they did have they did earn like quite well. But those are mostly like rare cases. Most of them, they just do this on, besides the job or maybe some of them are working for a home and they have more time. Okay. You mentioned earlier, you had a partner who was really motivated to expand care to pets.
And so can you tell us more about that? Where did you guys expand to and how did that work from an execution standpoint? Was there a competition, our radio in those markets, or were you the first in those markets with such a service? So we know romania, we weren't the first, but we are.
But we managed to be the competition and yeah, I just read it and now I see that they are not longer active and in other countries, so we expanded to Hungary and there was only a platform there called Dogster and that is the one that we acquired. Yeah. So yeah, and there's also in we, last year we expanded to czech republic.
There, there is so that was the the main platform which we also, this is exciting. A minute ago you were talking about, you created this business, there was no outside investment. You had little money to put into it and now you're querying other companies. So when you say acquire I'm sure there's more to it than just the domain name.
Are you also inquiring the full business meaning. A lot of those customers that were on that platform, you're now able to communicate to them. You've got their contact information. And does that, what that means? Yeah. So we acquired their assets not the actual business, so not the legal entity, just the assets.
So that means all the social accounts or the user database, the technical platform. And I don't know. Yeah. Domain name and so on. Fantastic. How did you beat the competition here in Romania? Because you said you weren't the first to the market, but you beat the first player. How did you do that? Maybe.
Hey, I think maybe the founders are really important because from what I knew, so the other platform fan founder was someone who had a full-time job somewhere abroad. And he also used the platform with his mother. And so I don't know, came yeah, but I suspect the maybe. There wasn't such a high motivation to yet to expand the business and to do more.
This is what I think, but, I cannot know for sure. Yeah. It sounds like he wasn't putting his sweat, blood and tears into the business, especially when you had it. He had another full-time job. So let's talk about life outside of care to pets. Do you have any hobbies that you enjoy?
Yeah. I, yeah, I like to go for a walk. I also like to cook, so I like to. Oh, to work from home and to be able to cook my lunch. What's your favorite dish that you'd like to make? Yeah, it usually it changes and not right now.
I think I like the tofu stir fry, but. I don't know, but it changes. Yeah. Yeah. I'm not vegan and I don't really eat vegetarian, but a good tofu certify dish. I enjoy, I really like that. Yeah. And I don't eat tofu, but if it's good, I really enjoy that. Hey, has there been any books that have had a big impact on your life that you would recommend to them?
So regarding startups, of course, I would recommend, lean startup and the mom test, which I think there are like staples books for entrepreneurship. And one of the books that I recently read and I really enjoyed was the coat of the coats, extraordinary mind from a patient Lakhiani, who is the founder of mind valley.
So that book I really enjoyed. So it's also about Oh, happiness. And to the social norms and social conditioning and how to overcome that. Yeah. So it's something that I resonated then in lights, looking back, let's say you were to go back 10 years ago. Can you imagine what you're doing today? What you're doing right now, or do you think it'd be a total shock?
I don't know, donate. Yeah. Probably 10 years ago. Probably. I didn't have a very clear picture. Okay. How I wanted things to, to be like, I didn't have a features. Okay. I want things to be like this and that yeah. Yeah. But it, yeah. I want it to be, to have the freedom, to shadow my own time and.
Yeah to work on my business. So it's something that I'm doing now. So I'm guess I'm on the right tracks. So for those who are working for an employer or maybe they're in university, maybe they're in school, but they're thinking about starting a business. What would be your advice that you would like to share with them today on being an entree?
I would say, yeah, just start. And if it feels like too much of a challenge, then maybe just start small, start doing like small tasks, just, yeah. You don't have to do like very big things for under start. So just start. And also what I said before, what was important for me is to find an advisor or mentor who has more experience than you.
And who can keep you accountable and who can help you to prioritize tasks based on what is really important and what couldn't bring results. So basically to work smarter, not harder. Yeah, and there's also, my marketing is really important, especially for tech founders because It doesn't matter if you have a very cool and your spoke product, because yeah.
You need to bring it to the world and people will need to hear about it, yeah. Yeah. Are there one or two founders that you would like to maybe say something.
Yeah, so I would like to thank Jason, my advisor, and also stallion, who is our new investor. Yeah. For yeah. So that investment was, a, another thing that just happened without without us planning
and also happened right before. So we finalized things before the lock down. And it was, it was such a, like a helpful, because without that investment. Yeah, I dunno. Oh, okay. Okay. Where can people learn more about care to pets? They can visit our website. So we'd love your w or care to pets.com.
And we also, if they are from Hungary, then they can visit. They'll give you the author age. And if they're contact with public, they can visit. They'll give in that C
Wonderful. And for everyone listening until next week, this is Eric. Melcher saying goodbye.
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