Hiking Business For Dogs

September 22, 2020

One in three Americans’ employment has been affected by the pandemic and all of us are questioning our purpose as we face these unsettled times. Stories of professionals who have encountered an unexpected career pivot and landed in a better place can be a great source of inspiration. Recently I met the the talented and exuberant Lindsey Decker, founder of DogMa and learned about her journey from corporate marketing to entrepreneurship.

DogMa is a home boarding and hiking business for dogs, serving the pups in the greater Madison, Wisconsin area. Her story points to the fact that your side hustle can become your life’s work. One of the many amazing things I learned about her (and envy) is that she has run a successful business for years, without ever being on Zoom before our interview. Instead, she and her team spend their days running around Madison, WI in their decked out vans transporting and playing with dogs.

Lindsey graduated from the University of Wisconsin Whitewater with a degree in Communications and Journalism and worked in marketing across various industries, including pharmacology, hospitality and artisan cheese. Although there were some benefits to this chapter in her career, ultimately, she found herself dissatisfied because her passion was dogs, not corporate marketing.

Animals always had her heart and she grew up with dogs. Her father owned a golf course and she shared fond memories of a loyal companion chasing geese off the fairways. She was also the kid in the neighborhood who would pick up every lost dog and return them to her neighbors.

While Lindsey worked as a marketing professional, she was fostering dogs and offered a friend who frequently traveled to board her dog as well, in her home.  This friend encouraged her to take this passion for dogs and turn it into a livelihood, and her side hustle grew as she continued to work her day job.

Lindsey started her new business by getting an account with Rover, a dog walking service app, where she established connections in the local Madison area with dog owners who were potentially looking for pet care. Combined with the relationships she had made through her corporate marketing career and the rescue organizations, Lindsey’s network was established for her future business.

It occurred to Lindsey that she could build a better business for herself and didn’t need an app that took a percentage of her wages. Lindsey was then let go from her job in marketing, which served as a catalyst and a “wonderful” kick in the pants to get serious about her path. DogMa was born in 2012, thus transforming her side hustle into a full-time career.

Of course, the transition from the security of a corporate career to the uncertainty that often comes up with entrepreneurialism doesn’t come without its trepidations. Lindsey would have to replace her corporate salary with income dependent one the ebbs and flows of when people travel, while supporting herself and her daughter who was eight at the time.

It takes a tremendous amount of trust for someone to leave their dog in the hands of another. Lindsey’s process at DogMa is crafted with care and a genuine desire to ensure that every dog who comes through DogMa is treated as an extension of her own family. There’s an in-depth pre-screening process that correctly matches each dog with the right environment. They also provide “pupdates,” photos and videos sent to dog owners while they’re away.

Four years ago, Lindsey met, Craig Michaels her business and life partner, who had his own dog business called Doggy by Nature, he began in LA, providing a unique dog hiking experience. They merged hearts and businesses and now, DogMa provides group hiking for dogs that serves as a more nurturing alternative to dog daycare. The dogs explore, socialize and are trained on their 12-acre farm rather than spending the day inside.

Lindsey’s and Craig’s newest venture is to start a rescue service through DogMa’s 501C3, traveling throughout the country, creating relationships with shelters., and offering workshops on dog handling.

Like nearly every business, things changed when the pandemic hit. DogMa relies on families traveling for a good portion of her boarding business. And by April (an ordinarily busy season), all boarding bookings evaporated into thin air. Now that some of the lockdown restrictions have lifted, people are starting to travel a bit, but the length of stays are significantly shorter as most are doing shorter, more local trips for a few nights versus a two-week vacation. Fortunately, the dog hiking part of the business was steady during this time, a great reminder that even small companies should diversify their revenue streams to ensure against downturns.

For Lindsey, being an entrepreneur certainly comes with its challenges. There aren’t any actual days off. Even when she is “off,” she’s still checking emails, always responding to phone calls, and ensuring that everything at DogMa is running smoothly. But to her, it’s worth it since she was able to turn her passion into paid work.

I hope her story gives you the inspiration to spend time on creating a dream for work you love, and perhaps, putting some time into your own side hustle to get you started. If you are considering a career change, this pivot with purpose type assessment may be useful.

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