Dogo’s founders built an app they needed–and the users followed
Some products are made with a market in mind–and some are created just because the founders needed it themselves. When we asked Rasa Gentvilaitė Žiemienė, co-founder of Dogo, who the product was created for, she didn’t hesitate to say that she and her co-founder were their own target users. “Definitely. It's a product for us. It's the product that we use. It's a product that we stand behind personally.”
Dogo was created when Rasa adopted and started training her dog, Ūdra. Rasa, a veterinarian specialising in behavioral problems, considers dog-training a necessary duty. “I strongly believe that dogs, as humans, need lifelong learning and mental stimulation in order to be well behaved, balanced pets.” She and her husband, a software engineer, were dissatisfied with existing solutions which they felt didn’t reflect their view of training: dog and parent learning to speak each other’s language. It was the perfect tech challenge for a dog expert and an iOS developer to tackle together.
Growth happened as organically as the app was created, thanks to hitting upon a perfect product-market fit. Rasa says, “User acquisition has not been a problem. I think a lot of people have the same problem as we have–and now we have almost 2.5 million downloads and an active global community.” Dogo’s success may be an app developer’s dream, but getting here was a process. Before Dogo, there were other ideas that didn’t make the cut–but Rasa and her co-founders demonstrated a talent for recognizing a good idea that had market potential and eliminating ideas that would crowd the market unnecessarily.
Rasa and her co-founder–aka her husband, Tadas–added a growth-focused co-founder, Elisa, who joined them from a Rocket Internet startup. Their team has grown to 13 people, mostly in product and tech. Rasa tells us that even in hiring, their strategy is product-first: “In total now we are 13 people, and our talent is mainly tech and design.”
“We believe we’ll succeed through making a good product - we don't have a marketing person, Dogo speaks for itself.”
The product has evolved over the past four years, from the first version–a clicker button based on Pavlov’s method–to what Rasa calls “a little dog trainer in your pocket”, featuring built-in games and activities that emphasize engagement and education. Each iteration has to pass the most important test: Ūdra, who is the first user tester for each new feature. The founders also stay close to users by managing Dogo’s customer support themselves. Dogo has a close network of dog trainers who test and give them feedback, and they also regularly conduct surveys, stay on top of Google Trends and research. As a result, Dogo’s founders are experts on their target customer.
Rasa got the opportunity to deepen her analytics practice during her time in the Google For Startups Immersion: Women Founders program. She says her mentor introduced questions such as “What's important?” and “How should we make product decisions?” and helped Rasa approach to her product in a way that was both intuitive and analytical. This transformed her product management: “We had all the analytics in place–but I think that was the first time that somebody put that much effort and structure into it,” reflects Rasa. “Now I'm running the product and after the Google program, I felt more confident to own the analytics, so my mentor gave me this guidance and self-belief.”
Rasa and her team have been long term users of Firebase, which has been a game-changer for Dogo’s back-end development. “Even with a very small team, we have managed to have this amazing product that doesn't break when we suddenly get featured in 12 different countries all over the world,” said Rasa. “We can get tens of thousands of users coming in and everything still works seamlessly, and we never had problems with it.” They’re also implementing in-app messaging for Dogo through Firebase, and Rasa says they have ended up with a better product without additional development costs or knowledge required.
Rasa credits her team with helping her evolve into an entrepreneur. “I come from the veterinary world, and when I started, learning about development and product was a challenge. A lot of our colleagues are senior to me in that sense and they can educate me. We try to have a no-hierarchy approach and we have a very close relationship with our team.”
What’s the one piece of advice Rasa would share with other founders? “Talk to each other.” When she first started out, Rasa says she second guessed herself about approaching other founders–but she found them more than willing to share: "Meeting regularly with other founders has been so valuable. It just gives you a wider perspective and helps you get out of your own head. Now it’s built into our best practice” Anything else? “User testing. Like every month, even every two weeks. That's how you learn.”
Founders Book Club
What book are you reading right now?
1. Fascism, Madeleine Albright - The history of 20th and 21st century fascist leaders. Most of the fascist leaders rose to power democratically and were elected by the people, then they used their power to be undemocratic. I think it’s always good to learn from history’s mistakes.
2. When Pigs Fly, Jane Killion - It’s a great book drawing a lot of parallels between motivation in humans and dogs, and I’m reading it to better understand what motivates dogs. A nice, easy and interesting read.
What’s your recommended reading for founders?
Never Split The Difference, Chris Voss - I would recommend it to other founders even if they’re not going through an investment round. The author is a former FBI hostage negotiator who gives a lot of helpful tips on how to negotiate. The book gives good tips that can be applied in personal life, B2B partnerships, and investment deal negotiations.
Immersion: Women Founders is a 12-week, skill-building mentorship program for high potential women-led startups selected from startup communities across Europe, including the UK and Israel. The program aims to address predominant challenges for women founders in the startup ecosystem with the aim to close the gender gap, ensuring more equal access to funding, and leveraging strong professional networks.
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