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Steve Ryan of Fetch the Sun: ​​5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A Founder

An Interview With Ben Ari

As part of our interview series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A Founder”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Steve Ryan.

Steve is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Fetch the Sun, a lifestyle brand dedicated to providing high quality, fashionable clothing for dogs and dog lovers. He’s a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan and spent 23-years in the military performing various roles from logistics to strategic planning. A proponent for veteran care, Steve volunteers as an adaptive surfing coach taking fellow veterans surfing to aid healing physical and mental wounds through surf therapy.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

For me, the biggest draw of entrepreneurship was being able to control my own destiny. After spending the last two plus decades in the military, I wanted to be 100% in control of my success. I was no stranger to hard work and long hours, and I wanted to direct that energy into my own ideas. Additionally, as I saw it, entrepreneurship was really the only way to be able to share my idea with the world.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

We established in October 2019 and as a relatively unknown brand, one of our biggest sales venues was going to local San Diego dog events. Not only were these great for sales, but they also let us get our brand out there into the world; it’s so much easier letting people know about your mission face-to-face than it is online. However, the pandemic had different plans. In March 2020, all these events quickly disappeared, and we were forced to operate solely through ecommerce.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

I think it’s important to note that we are a bootstrapped company, which means that we don’t have any outside investors. A lot of our retirement was invested in this venture, so failure was not an option. Besides that, our kids were watching, and we wanted to demonstrate perseverance to them firsthand. While we did learn a few costly lessons, we really focused on making every dollar count. We started out being scrappy and I think the pandemic made us even more resourceful.

So, how are things going today? How did grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

Today, we are proud to say that not only has our business survived the pandemic, but we are growing! We’ve sent out thousands of our products to date and have a community of many happy customers. We attribute a lot of our success to our ability to change and adapt quickly as well as our tenacity in the face of adversity. If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us, it’s that anything is possible if you set your mind to it and never give up.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When they’re happening, mistakes in business are not really funny. However, there are a few things that I can reflect on that’ll give me a good laugh at myself and my past naivety. San Diego is a great place to market, but like I said, with the pandemic, our organic marketing went away, and we were forced solely to operate online. I thought it’d be as easy as sending some product to Amazon and then watching the sales roll in. We quickly learned that people won’t buy what they don’t know exists! We had to make a shift in our thinking and start getting creative with how we got our name out there. This included getting smart on social media, online advertisements, and public relations.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Shortly after adopting our dog Snoopy and learning about the growing surf dog community in San Diego, I wanted to find some shirts related to my passion of surfing and my love of dogs. I looked and looked and couldn’t find anything in that category that fit my style of what I normally wear. There are tons of clothing brands on the market today and not many cater to dog lovers. Then there’s the hiking, surfing, and running brands that I love like Patagonia, The North Face, and Billabong. But there wasn’t really one company that focused on accommodating both markets; that’s where Fetch the Sun comes in. We’re offering apparel for dogs and dog lovers who love outdoor adventures. We love to dress for the adventures we’re embarking on, and it makes sense that our furry friends have a wardrobe just as cool. That’s why for every article of clothing we make, we also offer that same design in dog clothing. This lets you and your pup be stylish besties!

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Build a strategic plan with your goals clearly stated and a list of objectives that’ll help you reach those goals. When you feel burnout approaching, look at your goals not only for motivation but also to ask yourself if your objectives are still relevant. Is what’s causing you burnout pertinent to you meeting your goals? Do you need to adjust those objectives? These questions will help you get refocused and back on track.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

My wife Jennifer has not only been my rock throughout this whole journey, but she’s also Fetch the Sun’s co-founder. She’s helped me out with everything from coming up with product ideas to being a sounding board for marketing strategies. She has even stepped into the role of COO. I couldn’t have done any of this without her love, help, and support!

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

All Fetch the Sun designs have incorporated elements of outdoor adventures that can be easily shared with our four-legged best buddies. Our apparel is designed to inspire dog owners to take their pups into the nature that surrounds us all. Our philosophy is that by promoting outdoor adventures through our products, we’re making dogs happier and improving the world for them. Additionally, we’ve donated a portion of every single sale we’ve ever made to animal rescue organizations throughout the U.S. and Mexico. We’re extremely proud of this program and we are excited to see our monthly donations grow as our business grows.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my company” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

GET BUSY. There’s a lot of advice saying do what you’re good at and delegate the rest; I wish I had never heard this. If you’re bootstrapping your business, the idea that you can just delegate everything you’re not good at is a myth. You must find your strengths and weaknesses, then figure out how best to use them for the tasks at hand — whether it’s managing people, doing finances, inventory, marketing, etc… I’m great at finances, but I had a really difficult time figuring out social media marketing. I ended up finding some online courses and a bunch of tutorials. I’m still not great at it, but I know enough to get the job done.

ACCEPT FEEDBACK. You need to have a thick skin. When you’re putting yourself out there, you’ll get criticism. It’s important to learn from critiques but don’t take it personally. I got a few bad reviews on Amazon for sizing issues. I was crushed at first because I thought I was providing all the important information to the customer. I asked myself what I could do in the future to provide a better experience and asked friends for their criticism of my listings. Come to find out, I did have all the pertinent info there, I just needed to make it a bit clearer. I did and not only did my rating improve, but I also increased sales!

LEAP. When you’re starting something new, it’s natural to feel uncertain. After all, there’s no roadmap to follow and no guarantee of success. Starting a business requires a leap of faith into the unknown. However, uncertainty is okay. In fact, it’s an essential part of the journey. When we set out to create our brand, we had a clear vision of what we wanted to achieve. We knew that there was a gap in the market for high-quality dog-themed apparel, and we set out to fill that void. I knew that I wasn’t the only one who felt this way, but I wasn’t sure if there was enough demand to support a whole new brand of this kind. Turns out we were right and we’ve been able to tap into this market and provide our customers with the apparel they want. We’re proud to have created a brand that reflects the values and lifestyle of so many dog lovers around the world.

FLEXIBLY PLAN. As an entrepreneur, I’ve learned that it’s important to be flexible but also have a plan that you can fall back on. Your objectives you lay out to achieve your goals will most likely need to be tweaked along the way. The economy may take a turn for the worse, or a new competitor may enter the market and change the playing field. At the same time, consumer tastes and trends are constantly evolving, and what was popular yesterday may be outdated tomorrow. Having a flexible mindset is important, but so is having a roadmap that will guide you along the way. You will more-than-likely have to make changes along the way, but it’s faster to adapt when you already have a framework in place.

TRUST YOURSELF. It’s such simple advice, yet it’s often the hardest thing to do. If you’re trying to tap into a brand-new market, chances are you’ll hear a lot of “warnings” from those around you. They’ll tell you that you’re crazy, that you’re going to fail, and that you should just give up now. But here’s the thing: they’re wrong. The only way to achieve success is to trust yourself, to believe in your vision, and to have the courage to pursue your dreams. So, ignore the naysayers, follow your heart, and never give up on your dreams. After all, if you don’t believe in yourself, who will?

Can you share a few ideas or stories from your experience about how to successfully ride the emotional highs & lows of being a founder”?

It’s normal to feel a range of emotions when you’re running your own business. One minute you could be on top of the world, and the next you could be doubting everything you’ve ever done. It’s important to recognize and acknowledge the highs and lows to stay sane and keep your business afloat. Here are a few tips:

  • Celebrate your wins, no matter how small
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help
  • Take some time for yourself

If you’re feeling tempted to give up, it’s important to take a step back and assess the situation. Are you feeling overwhelmed by the day-to-day grind? Are you doubting your ability to achieve your goals? Are you struggling with self-doubt? These are all normal feelings that every entrepreneur experiences at some point. But it’s so important to push through these tough times and remember why you started your business in the first place. remind yourself of your goals, and visualize what success looks like. This will help you stay focused and motivated, and it will eventually lead to real results.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

I would continue building upon our animal shelter donation program. We have partnered with numerous animal shelters across the country to help them with their donation needs. We would continue to grow this program and expand it to even more shelters. This would help reduce the number of animals euthanized in shelters each year, and it would also help ease the financial burden that many of these shelters face. Additionally, I would love to see more loving families having the ability to adopt shelter pets. I believe that every animal deserves a loving home, and I am doing everything in my power to make this a reality.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

You can follow my team’s work online by visiting our website at www.fetchthesun.com or by following us on social media https://www.instagram.com/fetch_the_sun/. We are constantly sharing new blog posts and product updates! Adventures await!

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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