Welcome to Podcast Episode 57: Feeding Your Dog Better with Ruby Balaram of Real Dog Box. On this episode, we’re talking a lot about life-changing dog nutrition. The origin story of this business starts with a Doberman who was given just 6 months to live, but through a major diet change he went on for nearly 3 more years! Now that nutrition advice and knowledge is being shared with dogs all over the country – changing the way dog moms give treats to their pups. Today’s guest also gives some great advice on how to launch a business that’s different from the status quo.
Real Dog Box Delivers the Freshest Dog Treats on the Planet
Ruby Balaram is the founder of Real Dog Box, a fresh dog treat and chew delivery service. Born a valley girl, she’s now based in San Diego, after moving to the west coast from Washington, DC to launch Real. Ruby was in the legal field for about a decade before leaving the corporate world for startup life. Unlike most dog business owners, she did not grow up with a dog! It was witnessing first-hand how a fresh food diet saved the life of a 12-year-old Doberman that inspired her to start Real and change the way we feed our dogs.
(00:29) Introducing Ruby Balaram of Real Dog Box
(02:13) How Real Dog Box started and the kinds of products they sell
(03:51) The backstory of the Doberman who inspired Ruby to start the business
(10:59) Something you could feed your dog to give them a better life
(15:14) What meal prep Ruby does for her dog
(16:54) The startup phase of Real Dog Box
(25:39) Advice for people who have a revolutionary idea
(28:24) Favorite tools or apps and resources
(29:53) Where to find Ruby Balaram
TORI: Tell us about the Doberman who’s life changed thanks to fresh food
Ruby: I was inspired by my cofounder’s dog, Tombs. Around the time that I met him, he was already close to 12 years old. He suffered from testicular cancer when he was nine. And then a couple of years later, he was diagnosed with heart disease. The vet suspected that another form of cancer had come back and basically gave him six months to live. They didn’t want to do a biopsy as it would be too hard on his body.
My cofounder, Turk, was starting another business called Level Up Meals, a fresh food delivery service for people. I was approaching my 30th birthday and I wanted to be in the best shape of my life. I just started doing CrossFit and really started paying attention to my own diet. I started eating Level Up Meals Paleo plan. I saw a major change in not only my physical appearance, but like mentally I felt great. So we were really deep into nutrition at that time and it made us question, “Why is he getting sick again? Why is this happening?” I know this happens to a lot of dog owners and I just wanted to help Tombs. So we did the research and changed him to a grumpy elderly dog to almost a puppy!
TORI: What can dog moms/dads/owners do to feed their dogs better?
Ruby: The two things that I recommend to start with is adding a little bit of fresh food into the diet That can be in the form of a little bit of your dinner that you cooked for yourself like ground beef or chicken. Then, diversify the food so it surprises your dogs. If you’re feeding them dry food, a different flavor or protein every other bag or just adding those fresh treats into their diet will help them feel better about their diet. I usually start with fresh fruit and diversify, but my next two suggestions are a whole egg and yogurt kind of probiotics.
TORI: I saw that you do packwalks with one of our friends. Tell us more about those.
Ruby: Hannah reached out to me on Instagram to learn a little bit more about dog nutrition. One of her dogs, Orbit, suffered from some skin allergies and she was trying to learn more about how diet might help or affect that. We ended up becoming friends and we talked about how we both have reactive dogs. So we start actually just started out walking on our own as friends. And the way that I explained it as we both have a dog food business and I would love to bring our dogs together. My goal was just to get him to be in close proximity with other dogs without interacting with them. Hannah had taken her dog to a trainer before and attended a pack walk. She told me about how you just walk your dogs together and they don’t interact. There are no nose to nose interactions, no butts sniffs – just let’s walk. So we started packwalking while adding friends every single time. We decided it was probably time to start a meetup group. Well, there might be other people that are struggling with the same things. So we did that over a year ago and our pack walks have grown to 30 to 60 people every weekend here in San Diego.
TORI: What’s the best advice you can offer someone that wants to launch a startup to disrupt a largely unchanged industry?
Ruby: I suggest start with a product and work backward. Think about what people’s pain points are and what problem are you trying to solve for them. And in some cases, they don’t even know that they have a problem. People that we run into don’t even know that MilkBones are bad. Like I can make a claim and what’s stopping you from just opening a new tab and googling if MilkBones really are bad. So know that whatever product you’re going to offer has to provide them some value. I think that’s probably the biggest hurdle that most entrepreneurs get stuck with because they think it’s a great idea for them, but maybe not for your next door neighbor.
TORI: What are your top tools or resources to run your business?
Ruby: Two things that I highly recommend, whether it’s a smaller big team, is Slack for communication tool. You can send documents or pictures and keep track of those conversations. It helps when you have multiple teams, sending everyone the same message or only to certain people. That saves us a lot of time as well as Asana, which is what we use for our project management. We’ve got our editorial calendar in there, our operations schedule and sourcing information. It just helps to keep track of all the different projects and even smaller day to day tasks that we’re working on. And also we can invite people in so it eliminates asking what is happening when. Your team members can just see it. I haven’t used their services personally but I’ve heard that Cloud Pay is a great way to organize payroll efficiently. My friend was starting his own bespoke cheese business and needed an easy way to work within US payroll regulations so he could focus on making the best product and bringing it to his customers. Hearing this, I might consider outsourcing payroll myself.
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