As part of our series about the “Five Things You Need To Be A Highly Effective Leader During Turbulent Times,” we had the pleasure of interviewing Chris and Andrew Masanto, founders of Petlab Co, a company that aims to humanize and support pets to help them live a longer, healthier and happier life. The founders embody the American Dream, as immigrants who built the brand from the ground up to become the fastest growing pet company in history.
Before embarking on this exciting venture, the brothers worked in crypto and saw the value in community and data to bring consumers what they really want. Petlab Co. got to work building a brand that continues to unite other pet owners to share stories, pictures, tips and more.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Both Andrew and Chris are first generation migrants to Australia.
Andrew — I was born in the slums of Indonesia, grew up in Australia and graduated with a double degree in Commerce and Law from the University of Sydney (Australia’s top university). I worked as a lawyer in London in 2006 for 2 years. I didn’t fit in in the corporate environment, but found the internet both fascinating and freeing, so eventually started a small e-commerce store for men’s height increasing shoes, which eventually led me to start an Internet marketing agency (for which I lectured at Harvard), before it was eventually bought by a larger agency. This whole experience brought me to the CPA marketing opportunity. This is where I learned the foundation of performance-based customer acquisition. After experiencing success in the CPA marketing space, I then went to music school in 2015 to explore alternative career paths. After graduating from music school in 2016, I moved to New York City and started two of the now top 100 cryptocurrency — www.hedera.com, www.reserve.org, and a digital bank — www.goodmoney.com. I’ve recently been assisting Chris in the formation of Petlab.com — the now fastest growing company in the United States.
Chris — Earlier in my life, I graduated from the University of Sydney with a Bachelor of Commerce and worked for Nielsen, where I became the youngest regional product manager in the Company, eventually rolling out landmark mobile analytics solutions across the Asia Pacific region. Learning from my brother, I then caught onto early innovations in the ad tech space and learned how to market products online. This eventually led to the establishment of the brand incubator Altitude Ads in the UK. Pet Lab Co (www.petlab.com) was the most successful brand to grow out of Altitude Ads and has now become the fastest growing pet company in the United States at scale and has over 100 employees. I am also an early stage investor and advisor to well-known, celebrity-backed, companies such as Oura Ring (https://ouraring.com/), Gem and Bolt (gemandbolt.com), Seed (https://seed.com/), Spiritual Gangster (https://spiritualgangster.com/) and others.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Andrew — In 2008 I tried to start an online company selling men’s height increasing shoes. I traveled to China to meet a “manufacturer” fully expecting to visit a massive facility. Instead, what greeted me was a one man operation in the upstairs of a small apartment complex. I had been dealing with a broker the whole time. I was so new that I just didn’t know the ins and outs of the import and export process. I literally sat in the bedroom of a man who I had been talking to online about purchasing shoes from China for the past four weeks. Luckily for me, in the next few days, I managed to find a real factory, so the trip wasn’t a complete waste.
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?
Andrew — After I started one of my more successful companies, I was removed from my role as founding CMO by co-founders who saw the world in a different way. This was one of the most disappointing moments of my life. I felt betrayed and disheartened. A mentor by the name of Happy Walters (https://en.wikipedia-on-ipfs.org/wiki/Happy_Walters.html) was there to comfort me and gave me the perspective of silver linings. He encouraged me to do greater things. I then started two other companies, both of which became as successful if not more successful than the last one.
Chris — My brother Andrew has been a pivotal part of my success. He was the person to first mentor me through the world of online sales and marketing. It is nice having an older brother to go through some of the hard learnings with — he has helped me avoid some pitfalls that he has walked into in his business and personal experience. He is always very pioneering and not afraid to try new things, which inspires me to do the same and also creates really interesting opportunities for me and the business. We have a great relationship.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. When your company started, what was its vision, what was its purpose?
Chris — I had a Labrador several years ago, who died when she was 18. I loved that dog so much that I kind of figured out how to get her to live longer, which is how she got to 18. We fed her raw and organic foods, ensured she did not get excess calories and we even had a pram for her when she lost use of her legs. I did not know at the time that there were supplements that could have made her life a lot better. When I discovered this, it gave me the drive and enthusiasm to bring these products to other dogs and people. The purpose of our company is to make dogs’ lives and owners’ lives better. This objective stems from a very personal experience with my own dog.
Can you share with our readers a story from your own experience about how you lead your team during uncertain or difficult times?
Chris — The first few years of running the brand incubator were really tough. Trying to find product market fit and learning the ropes of customer service, logistics, manufacturing et.c was a lot of “learning the hard way”. There were very hard times that we had to go through before we hit our winning brand — Pet Lab. During this time, I found that it was important to really double down on leading by example as a founder or CEO. Your people are looking to you for leadership — not just to hold your head high and be optimistic — but to lead the way in doing the things which need to be done in order for the company to thrive. In moments of crisis, you engender their respect and loyalty by really stepping up and making a difference. One example of this is when revenue on our brand (any brand) would be of concern, I would personally step in and create creatives, launch ads and figure out exactly how to get things back on track from a granular level.
Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the motivation to continue through your challenges? What sustains your drive?
Chris — There were times that I felt flat or down because things were just not going well. However, I feel like that is the story of any business or even anything worth fighting for in life. I think the motivation to continue came from the feeling that I was doing exactly what I wanted to do. I loved the team, I loved the difference that we were making in people and pets’ lives, and I was very proud of what we were building even when it was not going well.
What would you say is the most critical role of a leader during challenging times?
Chris — As I said before, I think that the most critical role of a leader is not being afraid to lead by example and to problem solve the most difficult parts of the business.
What is the best way to communicate difficult news to one’s team and customers?
Chris — The best way to communicate is with genuine honesty, with compassion and with an understanding that life cannot be all about good news. Gentle, firm, realistic but reassuring communication of the plan to weather the storm is important.
How can a leader make plans when the future is so unpredictable?
Future plans are a combination of planning for the future and also pivoting based on opportunities and threats that occur. You have to understand where you’re going but also be flexible about how you get there. An example of this is if there was a marketing and selling opportunity through a different traffic sauce which was right for the taking. You should assess the opportunity and decide whether you want to allocate resources to that opportunity even though it may not have been your primary plan to do so to achieve revenue targets.
Is there a “number one principle” that can help guide a company through the ups and downs of turbulent times?
“This too shall pass.” We have to figure out a way around it, through it or over it. However, as a team, we can do this.
Can you share 3 or 4 of the most common mistakes you have seen other businesses make during difficult times? What should one keep in mind to avoid that?
1) Giving up when the difficulty you are experiencing is cyclical and temporary or business model based
2) Not giving up when you have a bad business model
3) Usually, I find that the mistakes are made before the difficult times. The difficult times just bring them out more.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a business leader should do to lead effectively during uncertain and turbulent times?
1) Lean on your teammates. There’s nothing you won’t be able to get through together.
2) Be the most positive person in the room. It’s easy to feel the pressure the most as a business leader going through tough times. But, your team will only pull through it if you lead from the front and exude positivity every single day.
3) Take advantage of change. That is the only thing that’s constant, so use it to your benefit. There are winners, losers and people who take advantage of the changes. Change is one of the only constants. Learn to take advantage of it.
4) Don’t be afraid to try something new. Even if you’ve never had experience in a certain field or area, you can utilize different skills you’ve acquired through different careers and settings to point you on a new path. For example, my background in cryptocurrency moved me into the pet industry.
5) Remember the phrase “This too shall pass.” I said that before but I’m saying it again now, the good times always follow the bad times.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
When there are changes in technology, whether this be the Internet, blockchain, ad tech or any other technological advance and or change in the world circumstances (for example, the pandemic), like I said above, take advantage of it.