Alex Willen

How To Adapt And Be Resourceful And Find Customers Online With Alex Willen

Last Updated on September 3, 2020

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Tell Us About Yourself And Your Background!

I currently live in San Diego, CA with my wife (who I married this May in a Zoom wedding from our living room after the pandemic forced us to cancel our original wedding) and two dogs, Cooper and Maple. I spent the last ten years in Silicon Valley working as a Product Manager at early-stage enterprise startups, but last year I decided it was time to move somewhere new and strike out on my own, so I moved to San Diego.

Tell Us About Your Company! How Did You Start It? Why Did You Start It?

My company is Cooper’s Treats, and we make healthy, frozen dog treat mix. Our Pupsicle Mix is made with real meat and just a handful of other high-quality ingredients, and it’s incredibly easy to use – just combine with water, freeze, and give to a very good dog in your life! I started it in May of this year after my previous business failed before ever opening its doors due to Covid.

I had moved to San Diego to open a dog boarding business and had leased a space, gotten plans and permits and found a contractor. My loan was about to close and construction was about to begin in March, when the bank decided to put all new lending on hold temporarily due to Covid. By the time they resumed in May, it was pretty clear that it wasn’t a great idea to take out a large loan to open a business that relies on people going into the office and traveling.

Since ecommerce seemed like a much better route, I decided to start selling some frozen treats that I had been making for my dog during the hot San Diego summer. I already had the recipe developed, so I hired someone to design packaging, made an initial run of product, and put up a Shopify site.

How Did You Get Your First Several Customers Or Users? How Many Users Or Customers Do You Have Now?

My first few customers were old coworkers who I told about the business because they’re dog lovers, as well as some friends they referred. I also got a couple dozen early customers from a post I made on Hacker News (a forum associated with the Silicon Valley accelerator Y Combinator – the post is https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23438930). People there are always interested to hear about new businesses, and I ended up answering a bunch of questions about mine, which drove nearly 10,000 people to the site.

How Does Your Company Grow And Acquire New Customers?

Google and Facebook ads are the most consistent way we acquire customers, and we’re very active on Instagram, which is a great marketing tool for us because our product is very visual. We have also been sponsoring a number of dog-related charity events (like the upcoming Dog Jog to raise money to help survivors of Puppy Mills: https://secure.givelively.org/event/national-mill-dog-rescue/virtual-dog-jog-2020/virtual-dog-jog-2020).

What Actionable Tips And Tricks Do You Have For New Founders Who Are Looking To Get Their First Thousand Users Or Dollars?

Right now I’m a huge proponent of looking at charity events that have gone virtual due to Covid. We’ve been able to sign up for some good-sized ones as a vendor or low-level sponsor for little money and have driven some good awareness through them. It’s a great way to help out good causes while building awareness to very targeted groups of people, and there are lots of opportunities (in fact we’ve found more than a dozen dog charity events with new ones showing up every week or two – we’ve got a list at https://coopersdogtreats.com/pages/virtual-dog-fundraisers), because what used to be local fundraisers are now accessible to anyone on the internet.

What Is Something You’ve Learned That Would Not Be Obvious To Somebody Who Hasn’t Worked In Your Space Before?

As someone who used to work in software and is new to ecommerce, I was surprised at how expensive shipping is – almost $10 to ship my product that sells for $25 is really challenging. I’m working on a few ways to get my prices up and costs down, but it’s tough!

What’s The Craziest Thing That’s Happened To You (Good Or Bad) On Your Founder Journey?

Having my prior business go under due to Covid before I ever opened my doors (but not before I spent a very substantial amount of money that I’ll never get back).

What Are Your Favorite Books?

I recently read Lifespan by David Sinclair, and it really changed my perspective on aging. On the fiction side of things, Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky is one of my absolute favorite books.

Anything You’d Like To Plug?

Our Pupsicle Starter Kit is the perfect way to make healthy, frozen treats for your dog this summer! It’s also the perfect gift for the dog lover in your life. https://coopersdogtreats.com/products/pupsicle-starter-kit

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