Since floating the idea of Gone Dogs to friends in 2015, every person I’ve spoken with has responded favorably. Every one. Mostly, it was because they thought a coffee-table style book filled with stories about man’s best friend was surely something people would want to own.
The idea was born out of love for my dogs and my motivation was simply to create something people would want to be a part of. Since then, I’ve had plenty of time to think through this thing, and the more I think about it, the more it makes good business sense.
In fact, it’s the best business idea I’ve ever had.
People love their dogs. Deeply. The loss of a pet you spend your days with over many years is one of the most traumatic events in a person’s life. And yet, we keep going back and doing it again and again. Why? Because of the love. There’s nothing like it.
A book about our old dogs is going to be emotional. Definitely. And so that love is the heart of the concept. I know that when my own dogs died, it was a gut-wrenching experience and writing was cathartic. The more research I did, the more I could tell that writing about dogs after they passed was cathartic for a lot of people. Why? Because readers identify—and that feedback from sharing helps us cope with the loss.
Beyond its emotional core, there are other factors that make Gone Dogs a strong business idea.
It’s huge. In fact, the pet market is a $69 billion dollar a year industry. Think about that. Furthermore, 60% of US households have a dog, which means that there are about 90 million (registered) dogs in America. Or one dog for every four people. Dogs are like family.
Consider the number of books (and movies) about dogs: Old Yeller, Because of Winn Dixie, The Art of Racing in the Rain, Marley and Me, the list goes on and on. Why? Because they’re profitable. I once heard Maureen Corrigan (NPR book reviewer) say that she is constantly inundated with books about dogs. Sure, cats may rule the Internet, but dogs own the books (and movies). Only we’re not publishing a book about one dog’s story—our book is about many dogs, authored by the people who loved them.
The most important reason Gone Dogs makes good business sense is because we live in the golden age of the internet. And one of the best things about the internet is the rise of social media where we share our lives and experiences. Because the people we share with are (mostly) people we care about (and vice versa), we give what they say precedence. As a result, the internet has expedited word-of-mouth about, well, everything. The internet is beautiful. It connects us. And we share our experiences there in ways that simply weren’t available to us even a decade ago.
Good ideas have a way of getting picked up and shared in social media. That’s why our primary marketing plan is to spread the news of Gone Dogs via Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram and leaning on our personal networks to get the word out. From 2009-2012 I grew a brand from a raw concept to the #120 fastest growing company in the US (Inc. Magazine) using only storytelling and word-of-mouth. I understand how digital marketing works and am confident that a crowd-sourced book about such an emotional topic that so many people identify with is a perfect vehicle.
- Since launching our site this summer, we’ve received strong traction and traffic. We expect this interest to continue as we promote the call for entries via social media.
- Because Facebook has intimate data on roughly a billion people (including dog lovers), we intend to advertise there and are currently taking donations in exchange for rewards. But that effort is supplemental to word-of-mouth. Between them both, we expect to glean the kinds of stories that will make this book a must-own for dog lovers.
- Both me and my partner in this endeavor are veterans in social media and marketing and have built strong and loyal networks filled with people who are far more influential than we are. Understanding that the love of dogs is universal, every time someone in our network shares links to Gone Dogs, it expands the book’s reach exponentially.
- One of the ways we will generate engagement in social media is to ask fans to help us select certain stories for the book. The idea here is twofold. First, it gives fans a way to help take ownership of our final product. Second, the authors of these stories will ask their networks to chime in. By doing so we expand the book’s reach.
- Once the book is complete we will have 40 or so amazing stories of dogs. Each of these dogs have owners. Each of these people are now published authors. And authors like when other people read their work. As a result, our authors will help us sell the book. This built-in marketing engine will be in full-effect once the book is complete and our focus is on sales.
- We will include bios of authors and their dogs on our website with links back to their blogs or social media channels. This cross promotion will only go to strengthen our rank in Google, to say nothing of further expanding our reach to new audiences.
- This idea has legs. In fact, once our call for entries for this first book expires, we’ll immediately begin taking submissions for future volumes. This is a concept that will never become irrelevant.
A Strong Foundation
A great idea isn’t worth much without a lot of thinking and hard work. The first person I contacted about partnering on Gone Dogs was Laurie Smithwick, an amazing designer here in Charlotte who is as professional as she is talented. Over the past two years we’ve busted our butts to ensure that Gone Dogs is a success. This work included building backroom functionality on the Gone Dogs website that automates the submission process, purchasing, and donations; squaring up all the legal so that we have the ability to publish content in compliance with copyright law; creating social channels for marketing; and developing the framework for the finished product, including creating the book’s template, finding a publisher, and securing distribution channels, among other things.
So let’s review:
1) We have an emotional product
2) We have an active and engaged audience
3) We have a strong market
4) We have the internet
5) We have a built-in marketing engine
5) We have amazing personal networks
6) We have a strong foundation for the brand to grow online
Of course there are a couple of variables that our out of our hands such as the time it takes for people to write and submit stories, and how far our concept will spread in social media through our networks (especially in the beginning.) We can ask, but we can’t make anyone share anything. For those of you who have, thank you. We hope you continue to help us keep this thing moving.
For those of you who haven’t, please do. If you have questions about our concept, by all means drop us a line. I’d rather answer a thousand emails about things that might actually strengthen our appeal than miss out on the opportunity for you to share Gone Dogs because you weren’t sure of something.
We are also looking for a title sponsor to help us with the advertising necessary to spread our call for entries far and wide. So if you know of a company that might be willing to partner with us on this project, please contact me.
Thanks for reading.