Case Studies

Posted on October 28, 2014

SitStay

SitStay was among the first e-commerce pet supply companies when it was founded in 1995 and provides pet supplies and service/therapy dog necessities that are unique, high-end, and quality assured. Every product is individually vetted and tested by SitStay staff members and their fur kids. Our staff daily strives to do their part in improving pet lifestyles and to focus on relationships with customers who expect only the very best for their pets.

SitStay may not seem like your typical start-up story, however SitStay recently joined an accelerator at the “company age” of 18. CEO Jill Liliedahl explains why they choice to join an accelerator and give SitStay a new outlook.

The Big Plate: What’s on your plate?

Jill Liliedahl: We just wrapped up 90+ days in the Straight Shot accelerator. It’s definitely unusual for a 19 year old company to go through an accelerator. It fit with us because we needed a new business model, one that is scalable, repeatable and a fit for where dog lovers are today. That experience gave us access to experienced mentors and subject matter experts. By being publicly accountable over a very short amount of time, our team really dug in to see what’s working, what’s not and most importantly, what are customers’ needs. Having Demo Day as a deadline helped us really focus on our core work and to move the company forward.

Today we’re focusing on assistance dogs like service dogs and therapy dogs, including their trainers and the families who depend on these dogs. By providing custom products and valuable content for people with service dogs, we’re uniquely positioned in this industry to meet the needs of people who’s dogs are their lifeline.

SitStay_Mockup_Home_ServiceDogs (320x643)TBP: What is the back story of SitStay?

Jill: SitStay started in 1995 (a lifetime ago in internet years!) as an informational site for dog lovers to register their dog names and breeds. The popularity of the site eventually drew people looking to sell dog supplies on consignment, and then later SitStay evolved into one of the first pet supply ecommerce sites. Fast forward almost 20 years and SitStay was in need of an update to reach its full potential. Our new business model connecting with assistance dog trainers and the families who depend on these dogs builds on past relationships in this community and brings a new focus on how to best serve them throughout the life of the dog.

TBP: First off, congrats on becoming the CEO of SitStay! Why did you decide to put SitStay into an accelerator program?

Jill: Thanks! Working at SitStay barely feels like work. It really combines my person passion, dogs, with a great professional opportunity and passion in a great business that has a startup mindset. When I interviewed for the job, I strongly recommended to SitStay owner Monte Fraehlich that whoever he hired for the position shoudl apply to Straight Shot. Having worked as a the program manager at NMotion the prior summer, I knew the value of an accelerator for startups. With SitStay in transition and needing new direction, it seemed like a perfect fit to take advantage of an accelerator only an hour away that specializes in ecommerce business. Our experience in Straight Shot surpassed by expectations and was immensely valuable for the business and for our team.

TBP: What has being in an accelerator program done for the company in terms of growth and development?

Jill: Joining Straight Shot meant gaining access to world-class experts and seasoned, honest entrepreneurs. At a certain point you’ve read all the business books and ‘top ten ways to this and that’ articles you can handle – it’s just time for diving in to challenges and opportunities of this particular business. By working with smart, seasoned people who provided candid feedback, we could move forward much more quickly than if we tried to tackle things by ourselves.

An accelerator is also a pressure cooker, in a way that was great for our business. There are a lot of people constantly asking really tough questions. Mentors and advisors asked hard questions as a way to help us improve, and they also provided coaching and candid feedback to help us grow.

TBP: What are the major challenges you face against other pet supply competitors and how is SitStay competing? 

Jill: The pet supply industry is a crowded one, to put it mildly. If we tried to compete by being everything to everyone, we would get squashed in a second. Dozens of companies spend more on Diet Coke than we could on ad words for ‘dog treats’. There’s just no way. By building on our existing relationships with the service dog community, we’re reaching a group of people largely ignored by the rest of the industry. Most importantly, we’re meeting a need. As a business, working with a unique niche means we have lower customer acquisition costs. Then by building trust and continuing to meet the needs of service dogs and their families, we have solid customer lifetime value too. This is a ‘niche’ with one million dogs and their families just in the United States, and more money is spent per service dog compared to non-working dogs due to additional training and gear needed. We’re working to be the go-to place for service dog advice and gear.

TBP: As the CEO of SitStay has been the most valuable thing you have learned since the company has been in an accelerator? 
Jill: Every startup has the same basic struggles. How can we best inspire and motivate our teams and then how do we get out of their way so that they can do their best work? What’s the best way forward for our company, even where there are a lot of seemingly good strategies available? Being part of a cohort in Straight Shot and getting to know the startup community in Omaha provides a safe space to connect with entrepreneurs. Even though it’s easy to think we’re alone with our struggles, being in the accelerator showed that all startups at one time or another are struggling with similar issues.