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Voices: A Route Interview Series feat. Terri Rockovich

Dec 21, 2020

Terri Rockovich, Everybody!

Terri is a startup junkie, spending the bulk of her career to date in entrepreneurial environments at high-growth companies. Over the past 12 years, she’s acquired advanced experience driving the vision, strategy, and execution of performance media portfolios and lifecycle marketing.

As serendipity would have it, she’s been given the opportunity to start her own business in a space that’s always been a personal passion point: DOGS. She is embarking on a journey to build a pet wellness company, operating with the belief that pet food needs to get simpler to get healthier.

Her and her team are building a highly immersive, experiential brand geared towards the savvy, wellness-oriented millennial dog parent.

Q: What’s one thing you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago? 

A: I wish I knew more about fundraising. I came up through a track of working at startups that were institutionally funded, but the depth of knowledge around fundraising and equity was light. I knew very high-level concepts around rounds like the difference between preferred and common stock and equity management and burn and runway investing schedules, but that was it.

When we documented our brand model and pitch deck for Jinx and went to host these conversations to better understand the appetite around funding a pre-product business, I had never really seen a cap table or even knew how to negotiate one. So, there was a hunger and appetite, but I wish I would have educated myself earlier as an employee and as a co-founder because I didn’t know important things like the difference between raising money from private equity or venture capitalists vs. family offices vs. angels.

I literally learned in a trial by fire and intuitively started to adjust the conversation and model based on conversation, feedback, and advisor guidance from former founders. 

It wasn’t until we started getting really sizable check commitments that we began to design a real cap table and hired legal counsel to advise on how to structure those investments and partners. That felt really late in the process to be doing that.

But if you’re working at an early stage of business, it’s important to understand fundraising, equity, and how to negotiate that part of your package, because that’s one of the biggest upsides to working in a startup environment. 

Now when I advise former colleagues, friends, or any businesses that I’m formally advising, I tell them, “Put all of the least important conversations up front when you’re pitching, because it takes a couple conversations to get into a flow and a rhythm.”

If you have co-founders and you’re tackling those conversations together, you have to pre plan and go in with real intention and structure around the conversation. If not, it’s awkward and you look like you don’t know what you’re doing. There are so many pieces of advice I wish I would have proactively chased from people who’ve done it before. There are little nuances that are so helpful in framing the conversation and being successful raising money.

”Put all of the least important conversations up front when you’re pitching, because it takes a couple conversations to get into a flow and a rhythm.

Q: What does the future of ecommerce look like in your mind?

A: I think ecommerce will continue to grow and flourish. We’re involved in one of these primary buying and selling environments for most people and—especially in times where we’re quite literally scared to leave our homes—the only option for some of us is to buy our staples online.

There are tons of everyday needs that make so much more sense to have set up on a digital recurring subscription. That’s why we chose the category and model that we did. But there’s cooking, coffee, vitamins, toothbrushes and toothpaste, razors, wine, deodorant, gym memberships—the list just goes on and on—and of course there’s dog food.

It’s all already got so much tremendous momentum, I think it’ll continue to grow. It’s just going to continue to be the digital storefront that we’re all looking for as we try to optimize our lifestyles. 

In the end, new tech will only help us improve. For example, we’re building a private Shopify app that allows for subscription management via SMS. Now you don’t have to go look up a password and log into an account just to pause, change, or add to your subscription. The new frontier is making sure that you can buy and modify from not even a mobile browser or app, but even text messages. 

Furthermore, having some of this automation in place where you understand how you’re depleting your product—whether it’s food or a service—and then auto-stocking or pushing a notification with something like, “Hey, you’re not getting your dog food for two weeks. Do you want to pull this forward, because it looks like you’re about to hit your last scoop?”

That’s the technology that’s moving in the right direction in terms of evolution and enhancement.

Q: What is your best failure? 

A: This is another one where I had a lot to choose from, but I will say that launching a business into the height of the pandemic was something that was a total failure at the onset.

We spent the entirety of 2019 incubating the brand and bringing it to life, which included building this pretty robust go-to-market strategy with a solid launch plan. Then, in January 2020, we were marching toward our launch day with the understanding that we would soft launch and make an official announcement after four to six weeks of organic data. That would be this big moment where we felt this step change in our business. 

That brought us into March of 2020, where absolutely no one was talking about anything but politics and COVID-19. That just dominated the news cycle. It definitely instilled fear in people and paralyzed us all. But we decided to push forward and began modifying our launch playbook to accommodate this digital-only environment and some digital-forward partnerships.

However, we didn’t get any of the press that we wanted. We had to cancel all of our experiential marketing events. We had a wholesale partner lined up with product already. Staff was trained, retail installations were built, but because they closed their doors, that was completely dissolved.

So, we had a very uneventful official launch, which felt like such a disappointment based on all the thoughtful planning that went into it. Then, as people started to shift their purchase behavior and buy their staples online, our business had the fortune of capitalizing on that heightened demand since we are an essential category and offering premium dog food delivery in a fast and convenient model. 

What felt like horrible launch timing ended up having this huge opportunity for our business. While there was a disappointing start, I think that we pivoted and tried to be as agile as possible with the resources and timing that we had, which was not ideal. We accommodated the disappointing launch, but then re-architected the business to focus on leaning into some of the demand and being able to build a pretty nicely compounding business from there.

We had a really small team that put a lot of work into building this plan. I think to spend a year assembling that strategy and then having to quite literally scrap it and just say “This is the state of affairs. We have to pivot and we can’t count on these things to create momentum for us.” So we just had to listen to the news, modify and adjust strategy, and be smart about the bets that we took, because it was such a high-risk environment. 

Q: How have you pivoted strategy during the pandemic?

A: We launched our first national wholesale partner, Petco.com, much sooner than we planned on introducing online retailers at scale into our business.

So, in addition to having shared values and high standards, they made sense from a partnership perspective because they were also experiencing a boom with their ecommerce business and gave us access to their community of millions of dog parents.

It made all of the sense in the world to dial up inventory and accommodate their digital store, then lean into the momentum a lot of the retailers were experiencing. But the plan—back when we had more control of the timing and the environment—was to introduce wholesale a year and a half into our business and build a base with this DTC model. 

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