If there is one question that can get Patti Maciesz, a somewhat reserved artist-turned founder, to reveal her hungry, competitive side, I think I asked it.
She’s working on an adorable new website called Puppystream. It’s a social networking site for dogs, which, in an enterprise-happy environment that’s big on revenue and bearish on the consumer internet, draws some kneejerk skepticism at first mention. Even when social media was the hot thing, startups focused on social networks for pets, like Dogbook, never quite exploded for some reason. Given that I’d just met Maciesz, and that she didn’t strike me as particularly naive, I asked as politely as I could. “What about DogBook, or MyDogSpace, or Pawsley, or all the other similar sites that never really took off?”
It was not the first time she’d heard that question, and considering she’s beginning to raise money from venture capitalists, it won’t be the last. But she nailed the answer, convincing me at the very least that she has the raw determination to see her site through.
She explained: most of the past attempts to lure dog owners onto separate social networks have either been weak in design and functionality, or too early in the development of photo sharing. Plenty of startups go after dog owners because even a tiny slice of the market is an attractive play. “I have to believe we’re going to crack it because somebody will,” she says. The number of people trying to reach dog lovers is really intense. There will be a huge community of dog lovers around photos.”
“The fact that it hasn’t been done super successfully given our current state of the world means its an opportunity, and a big one,” she said. “I want it.”
She’s off to a strong start: Having launched quietly last month, Puppystream has seen 2500 photos uploaded for every 100 dog owners that join, Maciesz says.
Vertical social networks have been a hot trend over the last year — we’ve watched them pop up and thrive for categories like neighbors, coders, fashionistas and Lady Gaga fans, to varying degrees of success. The issue is whether there is a real need and value add that a separate social network can bring.
“It’s not necessarily, ‘Why wouldn’t I just do this on Facebook or Instagram?’” Maciesz says. “You could, but here’s a place where everyone is more accepting of that behavior.” The behavior she means is total looney tunes-insane levels of dog obsession. You know these people because you are friends with them on Facebook and Instagram.
“Puppystream is a place where you can go a little nuts with it,” she says.
Maciesz, who previously did marketing and community management for Craft Coffee, launched the site with her partner Elliott Golden and some angel money last month. The site in its current form is a Pinterest-like feed of images, but plans for a “corkboard,” or an editable profile page that users can tweak — a la Rebelmouse — are in the works (users can sign up to be let in first here). The decision came when the team noticed users spent the most time looking at and editing their own dog’s profile than anything else. “We realized people are trying to share dog photos, but they really want to share the dog,” she says. A static profile page is boring, as is a stream of disposable photos that disappear into the feed. But a dynamic page that tells the dog’s life story is what they want.
Of particular interest to the pet industry is a section for owners to list the products they use. This is not a tool for dog owners to share tips or get coupons with each other — it’s for validation. “It feels sad to admit, but I actually want a pat on the back for the decisions I make as a dog mom,” Maciesz says. “Other pet people can relate to that — like ‘You did a good job, you used DogVacay.’”
And really, that’s what social networking is all about: validation. We go online to be loved, to tell stories about ourselves, and to tally the little hearts and thumbs ups of approval we receive as a result of it. When our normal friends don’t get why we’d spend so much money on a leather leash, or expensive lotion for our dog’s paws, or organic grain-free dog food that costs more than our own meals, we find dog friends that do.
Puppystream’s first goal will be to be to sell physical mementos of the dog’s digital life story a la scrapbooks or other products. And if it can drive sales to dog products, it will optimize for that.
Other New York startups have angled for a piece of the pet industry pie. The pet world’s transition to digital has been slower than it should have been, thanks in part to a stigma leftover from the dotcom era and the spectacular failure of Pets.com. But food delivery sites like Petflow and Wag.com argue that major upgrades in shipping and inventory have made the business viable since the ate 90s. Barkbox, a subscription site for fancy dog items, has lured in capital from a long list of prominent investors.
[Image via Threecorgis]