Instead of leashing your dog to a tree while you nervously jet inside the bodega for an errand, board her safely in a house.
But in order to get to that point and beyond, Dog Parker needed to work with a handful of specialized New York City businesses. The company turned to Boyce Technologies for engineering and manufacturing, Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator for business mentorship and designer Jillian Kornsweig to rethink the Dog Parker image.
I caught up with CEO Chelsea Brownridge to get an inside look at how she and her cofounder Todd Schechter worked with these partners and ended up raising a pre-seed round of more than $400,000. (I, full disclosure, helped run NYCEDC’s Next Top Makers incubator and Dog Parker was part of the 2015-2016 cohort.)
Choosing a manufacturer that’s stateside
Chelsea and her cofounder piloted Dog Parker with businesses near their neighborhood of Park Slope like Cafe Dada, BYKlyn Indoor Cycling and Jill Lindsey. At the same time, they built houses.
“We prototyped ten dog houses ourselves in Bed-Stuy,” Chelsea said, “but that was expensive, time-consuming and not scalable.”
So the duo looked for a solution. In January, they met with Boyce Technologies and immediately found a match to build the first 100 houses. The Long Island City-based company specializes in connected industrial design and creates New York City’s sleek subway Help Points. Last year, they were ranked the 166th fastest growing private company in the country by Inc.
Boyce’s factory solved Dog Parker’s design, engineering and manufacturing needs all from one location. From prototyping to powder coating, custom extrusion to indicator lights and vinyl prints, Boyce could do it all. Plus, Boyce is right around the corner for Dog Parker compared with traditional manufacturing resources.
“I know a lot of people who camp out in Shenzhen or Taiwan for a month,” Chelsea said. “Boyce is just a subway ride away.”
Boyce worked with Dog Parker to evolve their doghouse from a flat roof to a taller, sloped roof with Apple-esque rounded edges. The new design lets rain and snow slide off and is less inviting to passersby looking for a seat. Inside, Boyce started developing an internet-connected webcam, temperature monitoring and regulation. New editions will have audio as well so that users can say a quick hello to their pups even when they’re out of earshot.
With 100 houses lined up for production and a proven manufacturer on their side, Brownridge and Schechter could approach investors with confidence. Investors ended up backing Dog Parker to the tune of $430,000.
Thinking beyond the membership model
As Boyce refined the house in Long Island City, Chelsea and Todd turned to the Garment District, where they participated in the Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator (ERA). The accelerator invests $40,000 in each company in exchange for 8 percent common stock. Born out of monthly roundtables, the program is heavy on advisors and a local network, both paramount to Dog Parker’s NYC-based business. Small cohorts of 10 to 12 businesses ensured that Dog Parker, one of ERA’s few hardware investments, received personal attention.
ERA’s intense four-month program is refining Dog Parker’s business habits. Each week, they practice pitching and meet with five to ten advisors who specialize in marketing, branding, growth hacking and analytics. The accelerator, the founders said, is pushing Dog Parker to think beyond its membership model to approach retail chains like Duane Reade or Starbucks who can lease the houses and offer them free of charge to customers. (This reminds us of the model of cell phone charging station companies like Philadelphia-based ChargeItSpot.)
Evoking freedom, not utility
Expanding business prospects meant rethinking Dog Parker’s identity. Chelsea and Todd wanted to evolve out of the parking lot-inspired “P” logo, as well as the “dog parking by the minute” messaging. They turned to Jillian Kornsweig, a Brooklyn-based designer and Parsons grad who works with NYC brands like Union Market and media platform StyleLikeU. Together, the trio turned Dog Parker into a brand that aims to suggest freedom and peace of mind rather than utility. The new logo aims to transfers value over to the dog rather than the utility of parking — after all, it’s all about the pooch.