Episode 72 – Jamie Migdal

72 Jamie Migdal_FB

72 Jamie Migdal_FB

FetchFind was selected as one of the top five most innovative pet care companies via the Purina Pet Care Innovation Prize, completed a successful crowdfunding campaign on Republic, and increased their market share with the acquisition of PawedIn. With nearly 25 years in the pet industry, Jamie shares with us her passion for animals and what started her down this path of helping those without a voice.

Welcome to the Professionals in Animal Rescue podcast, where our goal is to introduce you to amazing people helping animals and share how you can get involved with animal rescue. This podcast is proudly sponsored by doobert.com. Doobert is a free website designed to connect volunteers with rescues and shelters and the only site that automates rescue relay transport. Now, on with our show.

Jamie Migdal has been working with dogs and their people and innovating within the pet industry for nearly 25 years. Having successfully built three national pet service companies, Jamie is an expert across all aspects of the pet industry, including education, technology, business development, sales, marketing and management. Her fourth and current company, Fetch Find, provide staff training and other business solutions to pet care service companies around the globe. Jamie is an industry expert and public speaker and presents on a variety of business and pet care topics at conferences throughout the year.

Hey, Jamie, Thanks for coming out today.

Thanks, Chris. I’m happy to be here.

Yes, I’m excited to have you, so I mean, you’ve got such a great set of experience and things you’ve done over the years. Why don’t you tell our listeners just going to walk them through you and how you get started in all these?

I will walk them through me. I love that phrase. Well, thanks for having me. We just touch base before that. I have accepted this wonderful invitation to be on your show because I so much believe in who you are. What you’re doing, what you’re looking to accomplish. I love your perspective, your innovative thinking. I’m deeply honored to be a guest on your show. I’ll say that I want to make sure I say that. Yes, of course. I work with pets. I like animals. I’ve always liked animals. Although those requisite comments that people are, it’s funny, right. I’m sure you hear this a lot, people are like, “So you must really love animals” after you tell them what you do and you’re like, “I do like to breathe” because that’s not even a question you have to ask, “You really like air, huh?” It feels like that’s actually what, it’s like so it’s such a silly question. I get that. That’s where people need to go.

So I started working with animals when I was 18. I’m doing some just typical 18 year-old shelter work. As a paid employee, but also as a volunteer. I live here in Chicago, so everyone know Chicago is anti-cruelty. That’s where I did work when I was in college. I worked in the euthanasia room, which was a really hard place to get your first taste of animal rescue, and from there I actually worked at Lincoln Park Zoo, which is also here in Chicago. I got done with college and I had the intention to be a social worker, and I did. I started working in a group home, a group home, for they call it dually diagnosed women. It’s a residential home. About 16 residents and folks that live there are in transition for maybe they’ve been in-patient situation for schizophrenia, for an eating disorder. This group home is a stabilizer environment where we get their meds stabilized, get them in group therapy, get jobs, on-going day programs, and then ideally, transition them into or back into their family’s home or into their own home. Just to give that structure and it’s important for a story. Obviously these women are deeply, lot of them are really sick and the relationships between 15, 16 women in a group home who are all trying to get through and manage a lot of intense emotions and mental illnesses. There’s not a lot of good relationships. In a day, it was very chaotic, right, and emotionally chaotic and charged, and my job was being a case manager.

So I was early in my career. I was just out of school. I was 21 years old, 22 years old something, and I got like, drew the stick for the overnight shift. I would go there at 11 p.m., you take over from the folks from the person that was doing the evening shift. I sleep there and you’re on site to make sure that everything moves slow nicely throughout the evening. Then in the morning, my primary responsibility was to get everyone up and get everyone up and running and go further a day and go to their programs, also do medication. Morning medication delivery. We kept all the medication in our little office. All right, so I had been working there for, I don’t know, maybe six months a year or something, I can’t recall.

Of course, there’s a no-pet policy, but this was 19, I’m going to tell you, this was 1990 to 1991.I’m there one night, I hear a meow in the back and then. By the way, I have dog at home at this point and the first thing I did when I got to college was get a dog who I found in a little dumpster, and who was with me for 16 years, by the way. Anyhow, so I hear a meow in the back, we’re in Chicago, there’s an alley and I go back out there three in the morning. I was fully freaked out, and there’s this cute little kitten. It was on August 9th, which is also the day Jerry Garcia died. It was a little on the day the Jerry Garcia from the Grateful Dead. I was very sad. I picked up this little black and white kitty who is just so sweet and not shy and not feral. Not just very just, “Hi, can I come in?” So I thought “Huh, you know what? I’m doing this. I don’t care. I’ll bring him into the office.” I closed the door. I’m out of here at 7 a.m. It’s not going to be a big deal. No one’s going to know. Give their meds outside of the office. Not a big deal.

So morning comes the first resident comes down to the office to get her meds and check in. Off course, what does she see? She sees who? She sees Jerry, who I’ve aptly named and about 15 minutes, I had a room full of residents sitting on the floor. Truly it sounds idyllic, but it truly was. They were sitting on the floor in a circle on the floor and just playing with the kitten petting, talking about their childhood experiences with pets relating to each other in a way that, this was pre-cell phones, of course, pre-smartphone. I had no way to capture this moment where it was a moment that truly took my breath away. And I went home and I said, to my then boyfriend, I said, Listen, I think I want to go to veterinary school. He was, like, “You think you wanted to do what?” I’m like, “I think I want to be a vet. I think, like with social work, my love of animals, and I think that’s what I want to do.” I got a part time job working a veterinary clinic like the next week and started saving money and making plans.

Oh, you move fast.

Oh, I remember I told you before. I mean, I do. I don’t mess around. Let’s just let’s do it. I got a job, and so this is my second job. I have the daytime three. I started saving money and realized that my gosh, I think I just want to work in the animal industry. What is there for a young 22 year-old college graduate to do in the animal industry right now?

And so I started a company. I was like, I walked on. That’s what people do right? I work in the veterinary office and I walked dogs. I did that. I started a company in 1994. At this point, it was sent in before and grew that company over five years to 2,500 customers. That’s amazing. And 25 dog walkers and pet sitters. We did a whole bunch of other innovative things. Then I decided not to go to veterinary school. I decided that I wanted to be in pet services and then from there I sold that company, and I went back to school for a little while and studied animal behavior under some great people. I came back to Chicago and started a dog training company with my then mentor, who’s a veterinarian and, grew my dog training company over 11 years to 11 locations and 25 trainers. In there that I had a small interim window where I was between Kent, somewhere in the early stages of my dog training company. I was asked to run the shelter of the local shelter in my community in Chicago in Oak Park. I went in and I was the shelter manager, three fourths of the time shelter manager.

And so from there I was able to do a lot of things and learn a lot of things and made a lot of changes and a lot of enemies, a lot of friends and just and decided that, animal welfare was definitely a part of without mentioning. I’ve done a ton of fostering over the year. There’s all this other stuff. When I had my dog walking company, we did a ton of work in local shelter, a ton of fostering, a ton of rescue. It felt really comfortable for me to be in that animal welfare bowl. Especially now it’s my dog training career was coming on strong. I was learning all about behavior and able to make some positive changes that way.

Fast forward, I sold my dog training company and started an education company because that was really where I enjoyed my time. I enjoyed helping people, whether it be clients, whether be people that I was hiring to work for me pet sitting or dog walking our dog training. I put together a program a solid program and started teaching this class is in person in Chicago, so we would have, like all these amazing people, everyone from like, literally doctors and lawyers and stay at home moms, folks that just got their GED. I mean, like hundreds of people that would come and take our six-month course they would graduate and then they would go work with animals, whether it be as a trainer or animal welfare or veterinary clinics, whatever.

And then in 2015 I was like, all right, we’re going to totally digitize this and make this so more people can learn how to work with animals. That’s how my current company was born. Fetch Find, which is the company that I’m the CEO and founder of, we’re now in our third year of delivering and selling this content in the subscription basis. We sell a monthly subscription to pet care businesses where they can consume our content, their employees can consume our online content to become safer, more responsible, better quality, better quality pet care providers and that’s really what we do. We’re an online education company specifically for the pet industry for anyone who works in that

Yes, sure, that’s really cool. You really focus on business to business. We’re totally b2b. Yes, we’re b2b. I mean, certainly there are some cs there and all cs, the funny thing about the pet industry is that every b is still a c right, because everyone owns a pet. Any information they’re learning from us in our online ecosystem, they’re able to still translate that in their own four walls and in their own personal communities, which is really nice.

Yes, and one of things that I found really cool just in looking at the courses and things that you offer is it’s not just about pet behavior. Tell us about like, the whole vast array, of courses that you guys offer.

So yes, now it’s a good, good observation. Yes, we do, we think about pet businesses. Here’s the deal. I think of our industry, which is now about a 70-something billion dollar industry. That this pet services sector, which I always think of as I defined pet services any one-to-one environment. Any time that there’s a one person and one animal touching, having contact, that’s pet service. That, of course, stands into walking, sitting, daycare and boarding, grooming, veterinary rescue, and to some degree retail because people bring their pets. And so that’s a – we’re a funny place so far as the industry is concerned as it relates to service verticals and one to one care with the gig economy, with unemployment being very low and also a lot of delusion in the service space. There’s in every corner, depending on where you live, there’s a doggy day care.

Everyone can become a dog walker because of platforms like web.com or over.com. What’s happening is I’m worried. I’m really worried that we’re not thinking about our labor force, and when I say labor force, I’m talking about anyone, whether it be an executive director of an animal shelter or a volunteer of an animal and an animal shelter dog or a dog walker, who’s doing dog walks in between getting there, they’re undergrad. Whatever it is, you’ve got this labor force that feels compelled to work with pets and wants to do it. Then they get into it and they’re not. They’re not being romanced right now. They’re not being supported. They’re not being and this is by and large. Of course, there are lots of folks that do a great job, at this but they’re not being engaged. So they get in, they go, “This sucks, I’m walking a dog, it’s really cold out.” or “I’m in a shelter, I just got bit for the fourth time” or I’m working in a veterinary office and he’s got anal glands sprayed all over me.”

So, like I’m making $14 an hour, maybe. I’m going to go work at Starbucks and drive in Uber. I really and it was I’ll just love my dog at home, maybe occasionally all going all volunteer. It’s something you lose great people by not engaging and by not showing them what a career path could look like and you lose them by not showing them like that. Working with pets is really one of the most dynamic things you can do because you’re acquiring so many skills, you’re acquiring adaptability. You’re acquiring learning ability or acquiring all of these things. Unless there’s some structured way of being able to present those things to the labor force, we’re going to our industry, is going to suffer. I guarantee you the 10-year – as I look 10 years on the line down the road, I’m really worried.

Fetch Finds courses aren’t just about here’s how you pet a dog is that important. Well, of course it’s important. That’s a no-brainer. We get into things like customer service. We get into things like team building. We get into things like burnout and what that feels like. We get into all of these other aspects of what it means to work in the animal industry. To your point, I’ve rambled on here for a bit about this, like, clearly I like this topic. Yes, so Fetch Find is, we embody this whole idea of supporting a labor force so the industry can stabilize and grow and stabilize and grow.

Okay. It’s all content on demand. Right? So you guys, I’m curious about all this great stuff. What does a typical customer look like for you? I mean, what do they consume? How do they go about this?

Yes, good question.  A typical customer’s anyone that owns a pet care business that could be a shelter that could be a veterinary clinic, a dog walking company and daycare facility, typical customer. Well, let’s just say that they are a boarding in daycare facility. They’ve got 15 employees. They’ve got some turnover. They use the subscription, they log into the courses they take the courses their employees do, rather. And then the managers of these businesses are able to look at the analytics to make sure that their employees are taking the course is what they’re scoring on the quizzes, whether they’re actually fast forwarding through those courses and taking the quizzes at the end. Because our analytics show that does that. The user road map is everything from when you onboard a new employee. We put them and we suggest that our subscribers put them directly into the learning management system. Let them get on board it through a specific course or a specific collection of courses. Then as their career develops within the organization, other courses will be available to them.

Okay, that’s really cool. What do you find? I’m just curious now, I mean, I’ll put you on the spot, like, what are one of the most popular courses? What are the ones that your customers go, “I’m so glad you guys have this?”

Aggression and customer service. They love the aggression subject. Yes, because aggression is a funny thing, right? Everyone thinks they know what it is. Everyone want to talk about it. Dog bites are on the rise. Unfortunately, I mean, there’s so much stuff going on. The aggression content is very clarifying. Very clarifying. Some people have told us that it becomes – what’s the term they use, that they feel like they have magic superpowers, that they understand how to read a dog who’s in crisis or in conflict. It’s that stuff. It’s that juicy stuff. Then the customer service stuff is great and most of the managers of the businesses love the customer service up because they want their employees or volunteers to represent the business well or the organization well. So those are the two, I’d say the two categories that people dig.

That’s really interesting. So I guess what I’m wondering is, if I’m in the business, right, so I’m running a doggy day care, so I can track all the analytics then on my employees and my – is there anything else I’m able to do? Like, well, what else can I do with your platform?

So we have downloadable handbooks and operation manuals. We support the businesses. We have a first aid course. We have a first aid course where your folks get certified and then we do lots and lots of ongoing support. For example, for our subscribers, we do a Facebook live every week around a topic that is incredibly relevant, usually around hiring and retention. We do, we just did a study and we’re about to release a white paper around hiring practices in the pet industry. What you’re getting is, you’re getting this cutting-edge understanding of what these trends, are as far as employment and a nutrition in the pet space.

That’s really cool, because I’m thinking about that as a business owner. That’s what I need, right? It’s one thing to say. I’ve got some new employee training. Here’s a handbook. Here’s this, but it’s that ongoing commitment to this stuff. It’s that on ongoing engagement with you guys.

Yes, and that’s really what we focus on we want to be. We want to be innovative, but we also want to just stick to solving problems for our customers. And that really comes down to, really attracting talent, hiring talent, on-boarding talent and then, of course, engaging in retaining talent.  This industry again. It’s growing fast, and there’s a lot of options out there. For you really to be competitive for a business or a shelter, anyone to be competitive, it’s really important that you have some of that stuff understood and you have some operations behind it.

Yes. Now, are you guys primarily US-based? How big are you?

Yes, we have customers in New Zealand, London, England, and Israel. They’re everywhere. Canada, of course. A lot of Canadian customers. So, yes, we’re everywhere. We’re growing. I think we’re approaching 500 subscribers, 500 businesses, which translates to like, 30,000 or 40,000 users on a monthly basis.

That’s really awesome. Very cool. Now, one of the things I want to make sure we bring up is you’re launching, actually today a new program.

Yes we’re announcing. We’re announcing. We’ll launch at the end of this month, or this December. So we have had, because all of my team and me we all have rescue dogs. It’s just, I don’t even know what the world will look like for me with the dog I actually purchased. No shade or judgment on anyone that does. You do what you do. You were a big rescue community of our team. Our Fetch Find team is small but mighty, every one of us. This is just what we do. And so about a couple of years ago we’re like we need to put together a program that’s just for shelters. Because they’re a big program there’s just too many things that have nothing to do with shelters or it has nothing to do with supporting. It’s also too much content for a volunteer course, especially. So we put together, so excited we put together something called Fetchy to the Rescue, which is a collection of 25 of our best course is that we’ve repurposed and reproduced specifically for the animal welfare and animal advocacy world. So we’ll be where, in the middle of doing all of the finishing touches and hope to have that launched, and selling into shelters by the end of December before the beginning of the year. We want to help them get ready for the New Year and adoptions and returns. That happened then.

Yes, that’ll be really cool, so specifically designed for them, and so shelter operations, which is something I would say you’ve got experience with, and I’m sure your staff is as well.

Yes, we have shelter operations, how to handle adopters, how to handle typical conversations, how to engage with dogs that are showing fear or aggression or, just frankly, how to read a friendly dog and how to do it right? So everything, all of that content and information that really just need to have it, your hands at your fingertips to be able to make it through the day.

That’s neat now you’ve got a lot of stuff going on that. I’m just curious. What’s the future plan look like for Fetch Find?

And it’s a really good question. It just our future planning is really just keeping more of what we’re doing. Just continue to grow our subscription based on the b2b side and making sure that we can get our content in our platform into this many hands as possible. So we can continue again to support and grow the labor force, to sustain our industry and then, of course, our Fetchy to the Rescue. We’re so excited about being able to do that at a large-scale and work with great partners. We’ve already had some conversations with some of the bigger players and their interest in helping us to distribute the platform and get it in front of people and just growing the company and doing it with fun and, hard work and helping a lot of people and a lot of animals.

Yes, that’s got to feel so rewarding to know that that’s what this has really turned into.

Yes, it’s really good. Yes, it’s really good. It’s really good but it is still work. Well, my gosh, still a lot of work, but its good work and it’s with a good team. It’s all about the team.

Well, Jamie, this has been fun. I’ve really enjoyed talking to you. Is there anything else you wanted to share to our listeners before we wrap things up?

Well, no. I mean, listen, the thing that I think is needed most in this industry is open lines of communication, whether that’s on the for-profit or nonprofit side. My suggestion and my wish for the future for all of us, is to be kind, to be thoughtful. Ask questions, do without judgment. Here at Fetch Find, if you ever need to do any of that with us, we’re here to help if you need anything. If you want to run something by us if you just – anything you need around your business or your employees we’re here to work, here to help, and answer any questions. Frankly, so is everybody. Everybody I know in the space at a certain professional level, we just want to help. My biggest advice would be you’re never alone and be nice to people.

Nice. I like that. That’s a nice, simple thing to remember. Yes, right. You’re never alone. Just be nice. Yes. Jamie, Thanks for coming on today. It was really great to talk to you.

My pleasure. You’re awesome. Keep it up.

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