This week we’re launching the Petfinder Seal of Approval. The Seal has been a dream of mine for years. At Petfinder, we not only have a knack for identifying good corporate partners, our partnerships are engineered to solve problems and save pets.
Sometimes, an older company — like HomeAgain, has been quietly growing its commitment to animal welfare over many years and then partners with us to surprise the entire industry with a gift, like the first-ever free microchip program for shelter pets.
Or a pet-health insurance partner that understands the power of providing wellness coverage for shelter pets develops tailored programs designed for the lifetime of the pet and the health of the shelter system. PetFirst Insurance was founded by a former shelter president, and his life-saving mission seeps through every part of the company.
Sometimes, a new product pops on the market, like Thundershirt did a few years ago, and we know we have to do everything we can to make it a success because it’s found a secret to savings lives. (Find out how Thundershirt is helping adoptable pets.)
The advent of these three partnerships got us off our duff last year and caused the Seal to finally happen at Petfinder. These guys were just too awesome not to spotlight. And so, welcome, HomeAgain, PetFirst and Thundershirt to the Petfinder Seal of Approval family.
If a product has the Petfinder Seal of Approval, you can bet it is somehow increasing the likelihood that all pets are members of the family. It’s also materially supporting adoption, whether through donations directly to the shelter community, it’s advertising and marketing, or donations to the Petfinder.com Foundation. We’ve also made sure these products aren’t in conflict with general animal welfare, so you can feel confident buying them.
Setting up the Petfinder Seal of Approval and approving new products for it is a pretty rigorous process, spurring lots of debate amongst our passionate staff. For these three products, it was unanimously decided that they pretty much define what we are looking for. Read: The world would be a better place if there were more of them.
So, supporting all of Petfinder’s partners’ products is really important. All of our sponsors and advertisers are helping us with over two million adoptions this year alone. All of our sponsors are good guys that deserve your support (we choose them all carefully). But our Seal of Approval partner products are doing so at a corporate/mission level to the extent that you should go the extra mile for them. Our Seal of Approval products, especially, deserve your “like” on Facebook, your consideration for your holiday gift ideas and for you to spread the word.
Continue reading to find out how Petfinder’s past partnerships have helped spread the word about pet adoption!
In 1999, the founder of one of the first famous dot coms glared at me from the driver’s side of his BMW at the departure drop-off line at the San Francisco airport because I had just turned his offer down. “This is the worst decision you’ve ever made and you’ll regret it for the rest of your life” were the last words he said to me. I shut the door and marched resolutely in to board my flight back to Jersey, wondering if he was right.
Petfinder was just a few years old and we’d launched on to the national stage in adoptions over a year before — but come October of that year, Petfinder’s growth would outstrip our ability to fund it. This was the drop-dead date to get a sponsor or I’d have to go back to my real job. This was also the first dot com boom in full throttle. Angel investors were suggesting they would give us millions for just a piece of Petfinder, Harvard MBAs and silicon valley lawyers were being snide and bullying to us and it was becoming clear that nobody had a clue what was going on.
Petopia.com and another pet dot com were in a bidding war to sponsor Petfinder, one of only a few sites in the pet space with any traffic. They were throwing out numbers that, at the time, I had no way to conceptualize. I was still getting used to the idea that Petfinder might need staff!
Petfinder, my baby, was doubling adoptions for about every shelter that joined. There was no doubt about its potential national impact, but when faced with this bidding war, I was unimpressed. What I sensed was that Petfinder’s success wouldn’t turn out to be about the money. Instead, it would be much more closely tied to media and awareness — and leveraged partnerships.
You might say, “with enough money, you can buy those things.” But you’d be wrong. Eventually, the money dries up and the media memory is short. Partnerships, word-of-mouth and those things that a few years later would come to be called “viral,” on the other hand, can endure.
So faced with a bidding war, I cried, “time out!” I sent a note back to each of the companies and told them that I had determined that Petfinder needed a specific amount per year for three years from our “pet retail” partner. And that the partner would be chosen based on which of them committed to the cash PLUS developed a creative three-year adoption initiative that would help pets get adopted. They had three days and I’d make my decision.
In two days, Petopia came back with an elaborate (and fun) Million Pet Mission, which would save a million pets. That introduced us to Dr. Marty Becker, who carried around a million pet mission baseball bat all the following year. Petopia offered $10 to anyone who shopped with a coupon they printed from Petfinder and $10 would go to whatever shelter the person adopted from to match it. Petopia planned to plaster adoption throughout its website and advertising — and it would not partner with breeders.
When the other dot com came back with its best, most creative offer it was an offer of more money — no plan to promote adoption. I turned it down. It was a lot of money and they were good, smart people, but partners need to be able to listen, and I didn’t think they’d heard me. I was on a mission to save pets and I had a gut feeling I needed partners. Did I regret that decision for the rest of my life? Nope. It was, incidentally, one of the best decisions I’ve ever made — and we sent out a lot of money to shelters that year.
Because it had been so scary to hear I’d just made the worst decision of my life, I gave it a lot of thought on my bazillion-hour plane ride back to the East coast. I had no business degree, our budgets were written out on napkins from a pizza joint and my co-founder (then husband) was busy in his radiology residency and hacking out code after hours for Petfinder. It was a lonely flight.
But by the end, having summed up all the reasons that I had no business succeeding at this crazy idea, I came to realize that the ONLY websites that seemed to be really thriving (and not just burning cash) were run by boneheads like me that hadn’t a clue about their supposed industry — but were, in their unlikely success, re-creating an industry.
Okay, so I belong here. Now, how do I make these “business decisions” without spending six-hour plane rides feeling as if I’m going to toss my cookies? Rules. I needed some rules.
Our one guiding rule at Petfinder was always, START EVERY DECISION PROCESS WITH THE QUESTION: WHICH OPTION WILL GET MORE PETS ADOPTED?
But we still needed to narrow our partner choices, which is an awesome problem to have. How to decide WHICH pharmaceutical, pet food or retailer to go with? I wasn’t sophisticated enough to manage multiple non-exclusive relationships.
Rule #1. Listen to your gut. Once an awesome company that I really loved had so many crazy ideas that were clearly tail-chasing that I knew we’d never get anything started. My gut told me this company was going to get stuck and that our mission was just one of many.
Rule #2. Choose partners with lots of partners. They are likely to be the good guys. When in doubt, who you hang with matters.
Rule #3. Don’t choose partners who partner with smarmy characters. I had pitched Petfinder to a guy at an agency a few months earlier to get a sponsorship and then I ran into him on a trip SELLING the idea of Petfinder as if it were his own! All of the companies who worked with this shady dude were off my sponsorship list.
We spent most of our history with about five major sponsors who were exclusive in their categories. Did we leave money on the table? There have been times that a partner’s major competitor would have gladly doubled the dollars to get a Petfinder deal.
But, we’re on the boxes of BISSELL, our adoptable pets are on a kiosk in every single Petco store, and Merial called us up during Hurricane Katrina and committed a million bucks of support to the cause. The Animal Rescue Site created the Shelter+ Challenge for us — directing hundreds of thousands of dollars to shelters through The Petfinder Foundation. Those kinds of partnerships work. And as evidenced by the length of our partnerships — at least one of which dates back to ’99 (Petco) — they provide consistency.
Simply, choosing partners for the right reasons has allowed Petfinder to keep our blinders on and be unwavering in our mission to help homeless pets.
And, now, at the end of 2012 — about 13 years after the October that all of our money was about to run out and I was told I was making the worst decision of my life — we launch our Seal of Approval to highlight these sorts of amazing efforts going forward.
Thundershirt, PetFirst and HomeAgain… you complete me!
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