Names: Bryan Reisberg (pictured, above) and Scott Dunn, co-founders
Our business: Little Chonk
Product: “The Maxine,” a backpack for carrying dogs
Year founded: 2021
Based in: New York City
Why I became an entrepreneur:
Bryan: My wife and I were living on the Upper West Side. We had just gotten married. It was 2015, and we had just gotten Maxine. We had always wanted a corgi. I was lucky enough to work in an office downtown that allowed me to bring my dog. But you couldn’t bring your dog on the subway without it being in a carrier.
At the time I put her on Instagram, this was about 2015, 2016, it was just a fun thing to do. She was a cute dog. And as Instagram grew, and as her profile grew, she amassed over six million followers on social media. She’s known all over the world.
Over the next six years, I tried every dog carrier known to man, and I never liked any of the carriers that we used. They were all very poorly made, they broke down very easily, and they just weren’t thoughtfully designed for the health and safety of my dog, or, to be honest, me. I’m carrying this dog two times a day. And so my partner and I came up with the idea for Little Chonk, because we wanted to give back to this community, we wanted to create something we were proud of, that we could recommend to people, and that could comfortably and safely carry their pet wherever they wanted to go.
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How we got started:
Bryan: When we designed the bag, I knew exactly what needed to go into it. I knew what was missing. Not only because I was missing those elements for years, but I’ve been talking to thousands of other pet parents over the years and they had the same issues I did. So we did all this testing. We tested with people in the wild. We did product testing with certain bodies overseas to make sure that it was safe and it was comfortable. And we got feedback and we asked people’s opinions. It was just resounding: This is incredible, people need this.
We spent two years designing the Maxine 1 and building this brand and teasing it on social media. And we launched December 15, 2021, which is Maxine’s sixth birthday. We sold out in four minutes, and nine months later we’re eclipsing seven figures in revenue, and we can’t keep the product in stock. It’s been named the best dog backpack by Wired, Good Housekeeping, the Dodo. And it’s truly been a wild reception.
The advantage of launching a product as a creator:
Scott: When you have a community and you have organic distribution channels at your disposal and you have zero party data, you have all of this information directly from your community and fans who tell you directly what they want. It’s sort of like the reverse direct-to-consumer model. We knew exactly what people wanted, we knew we could reach them en masse, all we had to do was give them the product and watch the business take off.
Customer acquisition, mind share, it’s the name of the game. It’s becoming increasingly crowded. How do you break through the noise? People care about people. And Bryan is really serving them and representing this community to do something that no one’s really quite done before. So honestly, it’s so invaluable to have that backing by a robust community, and having the distribution channels across social to reach consumers and convert them into customers for cheap or, honestly, for free.
The challenge of launching a product as a creator:
Scott: We always believed in the early goings of a business, direct interaction with customers should come from the founders. It was important for us to demonstrate our involvement and interest in wanting to service our early adopters and solve problems together. But, with a million things to do, it wasn’t sustainable. It’s customer service [demand] of a company that’s been around for six years, because we have the audience. So we recently hired an incredible CX [customer experience] person to drive the demands of our customers.
The biggest hurdle early on:
Scott: When we launched, we decided we were gonna ship around the world. We had no idea about the nuances of tariffs, duties, etc. It not only became expensive, but very time-consuming. The pet industry is global, and we knew we had fans and interested customers all around the world, so we initially bit off a bit more than we could chew. We’ve learned from it by onboarding a third-party company who specifically specializes in international fulfillment and shipping—while offering customers very competitive rates. Since implementing them into our 3PL [third party logistics], our international conversion rate has jumped by 15%.
Best customer response:
Bryan: When we launched, I always thought there is no better feeling than telling a good joke and getting a good laugh—I thought that was the ultimate feeling. We got a message from a woman out west whose dog was dying, she had bought our backpack, and she went on a hike with her dog, they went to Red Rocks, they brought a family photographer, they took photos, and she sent me this message saying she had never been able to bring her dog to have these kinds of experiences, and several days later the dog died.
To be able to give people those kinds of experiences where not only are they able to have those, but they are writing walls of text to us thanking us, being able to make a memory like that, that’s better than a good joke.
The advice I’d give to other entrepreneurs:
Bryan: When it comes to people who want to learn how to do it, the most honest thing is that you have to build something from a place of love. You have to really love what you are doing, because, to be honest, it’s a 24-hour-a-day job. I do this every minute of every day. I don’t stop at 6 p.m. I go into the DMs and talk to people. These people are all like our family because it’s just what I have been doing. When the time came to build something, it wasn’t for money. The desire to do this was borne out of the need for this.
Our business runs on Shopify, but we run on:
Scott: [The video game] FIFA. It’s our favorite vice to remove ourselves from the biz for a bit and relax.
Our most-used tool:
Scott: Does the red video record button count? Everything we do to keep Little Chonk running ultimately comes down to content.
Our most-used Shopify app:
Scott: Klaviyo is a big one for us. We want to build a loyal community off of social and create more of a direct dialogue with customers.