This article is one in a multi-part interview series with small business owners and experts to discuss their insights and recommendations on productivity, collaboration and business growth. The interviewer, Allen Gannett, is the author of the book The Creative Curve and is the Founder and former CEO of TrackMaven, a marketing analytics company.
Brendan Rogers is the co-founder of Wag!, an on-demand dog walking platform that has seen rapid growth across the United States since its inception in 2015. They manage part-time dog walkers all over the country, pairing them with customers seeking reliable, experienced caretakers.
In our interview, Brendan and I discuss his experience in growing his business, the rise of distributed offices and remote employees, and the role that technology has played in driving productivity within Wag!. I will admit I am not a cat person. I’m a profoundly dog-centric dog person, so this discussion was particularly fun.
What do you think about the rise of remote work today? Do you feel it impedes productivity?
I think that having a transparent culture where you know, and you trust your employees that are remote to get the work done will only set you up for success. I definitely think remote work is on the rise and you’re seeing more folks having distributed teams. You’re seeing people hire from all over the country.
Some people are even filling spots from all over the world. Remote work is something that we’ll see [grow] in the future in small businesses, just given the fact that technology can connect us. There are so many great tools that really create that amazing remote culture.
It can also help from an employee’s mindset, as well. If each employee has to commute an hour each way, that’s really going to wear down on the employee. And then you’re probably going to get less output, less productivity.
Whereas, if this employee could work out of their house, and save two hours a day, and have that freedom where if they do want to go workout for an hour in the middle of the day, whatever it is, they can do that. And I’m almost confident that employee productivity will go up.
Remote work can [also] save you from an office perspective, from having to lease [office spaces] and [provide] snacks and lunches.
What steps did you take at Wag! to successfully manage remote employees? And what advice would you have for other small business owners when it comes to managing those employees?
At Wag! specifically, we implemented video conferencing, and it really enabled us to feel like we were in the same room. I can’t stress enough, that video conferencing in multiple offices is key. Using project management tools so everybody can see where specific things are in the funnel and what people are working on [also helped]. We [also] have other forms of communication that I think has made us really embrace a remote culture to some degree, and that’s audio conferencing and screen sharing.
As the company grows, how do you maintain efficiencies across teams?
As you grow, especially in these hyper-growth startups, things can get really, really crazy. But having good project management, scrum masters, and people that can really help delegate and organize specific tasks will help people be aligned, on the same page and help scale the business.
What are some products you use to manage your growing customer base and support those customer relationships?
Automated e-mail is huge here. I’ll give you an example from Wag!: if a user hasn’t booked, say a walk or a service in X amount of time, we have the ability to send them e-mails on an automated basis, to really get their attention. [They’re] a great way to consistently have that voice with your customers. And also integrating within their calendar, where they can book walks and essentially sync that with their calendar [app] so they never miss a beat on when their Wag! walk is.
A big part of that growth is understanding what is and isn’t working for your customers. What have you found to be some of the easiest and quickest ways to gather that insight? And also, what impact has that actually had on your business?
Customer feedback from polls, surveys and forms really had a massive impact on our core product offerings and growing our overall business in an organic way.
One example after creating customer feedback surveys, we gathered customers really wanted daycare for their dog. From that, we knew it would be super easy to launch as we already had the resources. Having that direct line of communication with our customers developed real trust over time, which led to more growth and higher retention.
What is one thing that you wish you had known when you were scaling the business?
I would say [to] implement tools a lot earlier on. I think that there’s great tools out there, automation tools, [and] different software that can really help scale and essentially reduce robotic, manual work. And I think every startup when they first start, there is going to be some manual work.
But if you can start implementing ways to scale and automate some of these manual processes, I think [it] will only allow you to move faster. And in startups, in small businesses, moving fast is almost everything.
What is your go-to productivity hack?
Using notes [and] scheduling apps to make sure that nothing is falling through the cracks.
What is one piece of technology that you could not do your job without?
I would say my mobile phone. I have all the collaboration apps on there to help me stay up to date and connected.
It’s cliché to say, but we live in a world where technology is reshaping every industry. Even old-school services (like dog walking) are being reinvented by becoming digital businesses. Brendan’s story spotlights the array of opportunities technology presents today, from speeding up tasks and optimizing processes, to bringing remote teams closer together and increasing employee satisfaction.
But modern technology won’t make up for mediocre customer experience. By using these new tools to enhance instead of replacing a well-run offline service, Wag! shows us a recipe for success.