Natalie Youn, Bark Potty: “Flexible Leadership”

by Jerome Knyszewski
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Natalie Youn Bark Potty

Founder of Bark Potty Natalie Youn is a leading entrepreneur in the pet and pet care industry.

Aside from Bark Potty, Natalie Youn also started pet care companies like DoggieLawn and Greenwell Pet. She began these companies after receiving her MBA.

The common thread in all of Natalie Youn’s ventures is her “commitment to pets and sustainability,” which she channeled into their growth and made them the leading companies in their industry.

Another common thread in Natalie Youn’s companies is her “belief that there is always room for a different business or service.”

For example, Natalie Youn began Bark Potty out of her “desire to take an idea and make it more sustainable and innovative.”

The company also sought to be an improvement over the last one “with a similar offering.” Its product was successful, but Natalie Youn knew it had “some market limitations.”

Likewise, Natalie Youn started Bark Potty because she wanted to “make a product for the same market positioning but fixes the issues that held the previous product back.”

Natalie Youn also saw Bark Potty as a chance to “focus on moving the product towards more environmental responsibility,” which was an important part of business to her.

Check out more interviews with pet industry leaders here.

All of my companies are founded out of the belief that there is always room for a different business or service.

Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Natalie Youn: All of my companies are founded out of the belief that there is always room for a different business or service.

Bark Potty was an idea that stemmed from the desire to take an idea and make it more sustainable and innovative. I previously founded a company with a similar offering.

The product was successful but had some market limitations.

Bark Potty was born out of a desire to make a product for the same market positioning but fixes the issues that held the previous product back.

It was also a chance to focus on moving the product towards more environmental responsibility, which is important to me.

Jerome Knyszewski: Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

Natalie Youn: One of the most important things I’ve learned as an entrepreneur is that things don’t get to decide whether they are “easy” or “hard.”

You get to decide whether things are easy or hard. If you decide they’re hard, then they will be.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s easy to get caught up in the moment and forget this fact.

Let me give you an example: When I first started one of my companies, we operated out of a residential garage that rented the attached house out to some questionable people.

It’s all we could afford. Everyday, we ran into some kind of issue with our neighbors, like theft, drug usage, etc and it was challenging to say the least.

In the stressful moments I would remind myself that the product I was selling had achieved market fit and therefore growing market share would just be a matter of time.

In short order, we were able to afford a bigger space. We’re now in our fourth space!

Jerome Knyszewski: Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

Natalie Youn: I don’t have funny mistakes, but I’ve definitely made mistakes along the way. My biggest mistakes have generally been in the realm of management.

You don’t learn very much about actual management realities when you’re getting an MBA and with so many different personalities on a team it’s been quite challenging.

Being the boss generally means you have to be a people person to some extent.

I think it’s easy for driven self-staring people to assume that the people they hire are the same way.

Employees may be so-called self-starters or organized workers to some extent, but their manager (me) needs to be comfortable to a degree that they may or may not be.

I used to find this incredibly frustrating, but now I’ve learned to listen more and multiply the strengths of individuals by learning what they do best and moving past their weaknesses.

You can’t take your company to the next level without the right people on your team.

Jerome Knyszewski: Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.

Natalie Youn:

  1. The importance of a solid team: You can’t take your company to the next level without the right people on your team.
  2. Knowing when a relationship has run its course: It’s one of the more difficult aspects of running a business, but you need to know when to let people go.The late Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos, was onto something with incentivizing unhappy employees to leave.It doesn’t benefit either of you to remain in an incompatible relationship.

    On the other hand, the incentive demonstrates that you understand that sometimes it’s just a matter of fit; it shows that leaving a company doesn’t have to be personal, and despite the circumstances, you do have their best interests at heart.

  3. Having a purpose: Bark Potty came from not only learning about how the product could be improved.It also stemmed from trying to build a company that integrated sustainability more thoroughly into the manufacturing process.A genuine commitment to a purpose is readable to consumers as well.
  4. Flexible leadership: Learning to pivot both as an entrepreneur and a team leader is essential. It’s one of the benefits of running a small business.Having a small business has its challenges, but it does allow you to respond to problems more efficiently.Large corporations are like oil tankers — it take a lot more moving parts to turn things around. Embrace your nimbleness when small.
  5. Excellent customer service: There is a reason why people say “the customer is always right.”Of course, this doesn’t mean they are actually always right. What it does mean is that you should take your customers’ concerns seriously.

Jerome Knyszewski: Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?

Natalie Youn: Businesses need to reprioritize their commitments to make space for doing good instead of just thinking about the bottom line.

This doesn’t mean that generating a profit shouldn’t be a concern.

Instead, companies should actively problem solve in order to figure out how to maximize profit while utilizing their platform to effect change.

Both are possible! All our brands have a component of giving back, and as you mention, it does have a financial upside.

There’s no reason to not consider having a purpose driven business given that it’s been shown to boost, rather than harm, profitability.

All our brands have a component of giving back, and as you mention, it does have a financial upside.

Jerome Knyszewski: As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?

Natalie Youn: I’m always touting the importance of the sales funnel. At the top of the funnel is garnering enough interest for people to visit your website.

Of that group, some will drop off because they’re not interested for one reason or another.

But of those that are interested, you’ll want to segment those and work on targeting them.

That’s where ad retargeting and getting them in your email/sms funnel is key. That is where you’ll be able to hone in individual needs.

Then it becomes a matter of convincing them to click that purchase button. So, really make sure you have a robust email/sms strategy in place.

SMS is relatively new for our team but we’ve been finding it to be really effective in fighting through the email clutter and getting their attention.

Jerome Knyszewski: Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?

Natalie Youn: 10–15 years ago, it was all about brand advocates touting your product. Then it became all about influencers.

Of all the trends, the one that has stuck has been consumer reviews.

Nowadays, consumers have the Amazon experience ingrained in their minds and one of the ways that has affected a brand’s reputation is in the way of reviews — how many reviews does your product have, what are people saying about it, etc.

Reviews have become the standard for how people research a product to see if it’s trusted, because it’s more relatable than the word of an influencer.

The cat’s been let out of the bag, and customers now know those are sponsored.

A genuine commitment to a purpose is readable to consumers as well.

Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?

Natalie Youn: We can be found at barkpotty.com as well as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Youtube.

Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

Natalie Youn: You’re very welcome!

 

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