Beyond The Product Roadmap

Wednesday, May 10, 2017


It's been almost a year since we landed our first paying rescue clients and we’ll venture to say that (outside of animal rescuers of course!) we've learned more in that year about rescue groups, how they operate, and what they need, than most humans have the chance to do in a lifetime.

While these learnings directly inform our product roadmap (which is our blueprint for what Sparkie as a software will turn into), we believe the way our knowledge can be useful to rescues shouldn’t end there.

Thus, we've decided to take everything we’ve learned about rescue groups and the ‘pet-tech’ space so far, combine it with our respective experiences as software developers, marketers, and client success leaders, and author a series of articles about what animal rescue groups can learn from “startups” and vice-versa.

This post will serve as an introduction to our content, which will run for the rest of the year, and perhaps even into 2018 (omg did we just say 2018!?!)

Series Goal

So what are we hoping to accomplish with this series? Our goal is two-fold:

  1. By introducing some of this content to animal rescuers, we hope it will offer not only inspiration but tangible ideas for how to approach (and perhaps even re-evaluate) the management of their own animal rescue organization
  2. For working startup professionals looking for a way to give back to the animal rescue community, we hope these articles will provide guidance on all the amazing (and perhaps lesser known) ways they can contribute to the organizations their furry friends come from

What is a startup anyways?

First things first. What do we mean when we say “startup”?

If you search online for 'what's a startup?' you'll find a wide range of definitions, from companies that are fundamentally built around solving a problem no one has tried to solve yet, to companies that are small but growing really fast (i.e. scaling rapidly). Startups are also often characterized as having extremely passionate teams who believe in what they are doing and work endlessly to achieve it (sounds a lot like animal rescuers, right?)

As “startups” evolve and move from a simple idea into a business that has traction and a path to future growth, they tend to take on the form of (or use processes from) large companies. In other words, once a startup hits a certain point, it needs to change the way it operates (not its goals necessarily, just how it will achieve them) in order to keep growing. That might mean bringing in an HR team, buying software to support business operations, or just leasing more office space. At this point, a company ceases to be a “startup” and is just a “regular” corporation, even if in articles or media coverage the term “startup” is still used (how many times do you still hear Facebook being called a "startup" when it's valued at over $400Bn!!!)

So to be more specific, our focus in terms of what animal rescue groups can learn from startups will center on what “seed" and early-stage” startups do to get - and stay - off the ground. Since most animal rescue groups are permanently in “early-stage” mode (for a variety of reasons) it’s most relevant to focus on this part of the startup world, as it's these companies that are small enough to be nimble, scrappy, and move fast.

What will we cover

Now that we’ve defined what we mean by the term “startup,” let’s review how we’ll approach the series and each post in particular.

First, there will be some consistency in structure so that in case you want to jump around and read “out of order” it will be easy to understand where we are going. Each will contain:

  • Post One: Your Mission. What do you actually want to do when it comes to rescuing animals? It may seem like a pretty obvious question but have you ever tried to articulate it in a single sentence? Before starting a rescue - or even after running one for several years - it’s critical to understand what your end goal is. In this post we provide a lot of food for thought and pose some tough questions around what rescue means to you and what it might take to achieve your goals.
  • Post Two: The Business Model / Finances. It’s definitely less emotional to think about the cost of a widget than it is the cost of saving an animal, but understanding how much your organization is spending on each area of operation is key. This post will provide some basic financial models to follow as well as review some of the better fin-tech software products on the market (as well as fundraising and payment processing platforms).
  • Post Three: Customer Lifetime Value (or for rescuers AFLV: Adopter/Foster Lifetime Value).Perhaps the single most important metric a startup looks at for understanding its customer - and the health of the business overall - is CLV (acquisition cost is also important). In this post we’ll review what this metric is, how to calculate it in the context of rescue and if it’s not looking too good, ways to improve. We'll also tackle how to manage and cultivate relationships with other types of "customers" like donors, businesses you might partner with, and national organizations.
  • Post Four: Marketing and PR. Many startups today start their reach via social media, notably Instagram or Facebook, email marketing, and then move into content marketing (blog posts, white papers, etc). This post - likely to be 3-5 articles in total - will explore what each of these outlets looks like, as well as software and processes that can help support managing it all seamlessly and efficiently.
  • Post Five: Human Capital. Lots of startup founders will say that who they hire is the single most important decision they make, especially in the early days. Who is brought in can sometimes make or break the future of a company. In this post we’ll explore the types of roles that are most important to a rescue and how you can be sure to “hire” the best people you can (and fire those that aren't working out).
  • Post Six: The Service Model. Even purely SaaS (software as a service) companies need some layer of customer/client support for their end-users. But few stop to think about the right service model for them. This article will address what ‘customer service’ means for animal rescue groups, why it matters, and how it can be done in a sane and not-too-energy intensive way.
  • Post Seven: Managing Suppliers. As an organization, you will need to hire/buy products to help your group run. Even if you get those products for free (and lots of software companies offer great discounts for nonprofits) vendor management is a critical skill. Being able to ask the right questions, read and negotiate contracts, and stay on top of what you are supposed to receive as part of your relationship with that supplier is critical. This post will provide a guide of questions to answer, things to be on the lookout for, and tactics to use when dealing with other business and/or organizations.

We can’t wait to hear what you all think and hope this series contributes a fresh way of thinking about animal welfare to the industry.

So without any more delays ...let’s start leveraging some of this crowd-sourced knowledge to disrupt the animal rescue ecosystem and just generally crush it, bro.

Have an idea for us? Thoughts on our approach to this series? Reach out at and we’ll take it from there!