Clayton Gladieux has always been an animal lover but never dreamed he could help so many animals and be a successful entrepreneur at the same time. But that is exactly what he’s done. According to Nielsen, pet owners spent an estimated $32.7 billion on their food and treats alone in 2018. While Silicon Valley focused on capitalizing on the exploding pet industry and the 85 million pet households, this Co-Founder bootstrapped Raleigh’s PawBoost, reached over $1 million in revenue, and reunited hundreds of thousands of lost pets with their families.
It all started with a pooch named Ramsay one September evening in 2014. Ramsay, the dog of a friend, got spooked and took off after being hit by a car. Clayton and his friend were frantic and worried with grief all night as they desperately searched for her. They knocked on doors, drove the streets, and replayed the incident over and over wishing they could turn back the clock. Luckily, Ramsay wandered home the next morning, scared but in one piece. If you own a pet then you get it. You’ve either lost a pet or shudder at the thought that it could happen. Each year, 10 million pets go missing, with only one in 10 successfully being reunited with their family.
The ordeal drove Clayton to find a better way to reunite lost pets with owners faster. He teamed up with Tim Kijewski to build a better mousetrap and PawBoost was created. PawBoost is “the Amber Alert” for lost pets and uses Facebook, email, the web, and their mobile apps to get lost and found pet alerts in front of pet lovers who want to help in just minutes. PawBoost Alerts are seen millions of times a day leading to thousands of pet-to-owner reunions. By leveraging the social reach of the millions who have signed up for alerts (a group referred to as the ‘Rescue Squad’), PawBoost has reunited 375,632 pets and counting.
The Rescue Squad is comprised of passionate animal lovers, dedicated animal activists, pet owners, and knowledgeable shelter workers who sign up to expand the search for lost pets. These volunteers receive over 8.2 million email alerts and notifications every month and mobilize quickly to get the word out to their communities.
To create a PawBoost Alert you simply sign on to PawBoost.com and put in information including your pet’s name, the date, location, and a photo. The Alert is created and shared to the lost & found pets Facebook page for your area, emailed to nearby Rescue Squad, pushed out to local app users, and added to the web’s largest lost & found pets database.
PawBoost has over 2.5 million Facebook followers across all their local lost & found community pages and over 555,000 email alert subscribers. The number of reunions attributed to PawBoost grew more than 130% from 2017 to 2018, and there were just under 2 billion alert impressions on Facebook in 2018.
Yet, Clayton wants to do better. There are still too many lost pets in the shelters that never reunite with their families. The Shelter Return-to-Owner rate ranges from 5% to 25% depending on the geographical area. The APPA National Pet Owners Survey by the American Pet Products Association shows that there an estimated 3,500 brick-and-mortar animal shelters and over 10,000 rescue groups and animal sanctuaries in the U.S. There are between 6-8 million dogs and cats entering the shelters each year and three million are euthanized. Seventy percent of the three million are cats. Clayton’s mission is to solve the lost pet problem. His plan is to work with the understaffed and underfunded shelters to automate and integrate their technology and create a national registry. His dream is that “every animal that needs a home would have a home.“
Jed Carlson, CEO of Adwerx, has no doubt that Clayton, twice a former employee, will continue to succeed in his purpose-driven mission: “Clayton is smart and he has the drive, the integrity, and the dedication. He listens and acts accordingly and continues to ask questions. I’m really proud of him”
This reporter decided to dig further back and found Clayton’s high school friend and college roommate Matt Nemetz, now a Naval Aviator with the United States Navy, who shared this: “All throughout high school and college, if Clayton found a subject, skill, or problem he was passionate about he would approach it with laser-focus until he had mastered it. It’s no surprise to me that PawBoost has turned out to be the success that it is. I’m excited to see what the future holds for Clayton as PawBoost grows and continues to impact people and animals nationwide in such a positive way.”
If you are thirsty to learn more about PawBoost and Clayton Gladieux continue reading our Q & A.
Q: You started PawBoost in 2014. Did you expect this kind of reception?
I did not know much at all about lost & found pets prior to launching PawBoost with my Co-Founder Tim in 2014. I had just had a personal experience with a lost dog (luckily it had a happy ending) and was frustrated with how hard it was to get the word out about the situation to local people. The idea of locally-targeted Facebook ad campaigns for lost pets struck me a few nights later at dinner.
It was only after we started getting some traction that we realized there is a huge lost & found pet community out there. It’s comprised of volunteers at rescues, employees at shelters, individuals in animal welfare, and ordinary animal lovers who hang out in local Facebook groups, Nextdoor neighborhoods, and other online communities.
This group of literally millions were working to reunite lost pets with their families, but their efforts were grassroots, fragmented, and generally underserved by technology. Our vision is to build technology products that empower this community to raise more local awareness for lost & found pets and help them facilitate connections that lead to more happy reunions.
Q: How did your experience in technology companies prepare you for PawBoost?
I previously worked at two startups based in the Triangle: ReverbNation and Adwerx. I was lucky to have an extraordinary mentor in Jed Carlson, the guy who started both those companies. He is a total Jedi when it comes to user/customer acquisition, which became my role at Reverb and later Adwerx.
I would not say I was prepared to start PawBoost when we launched in 2014, but what I did know was how to get people to use a digital product. As a new company, traction is everything. If you can’t get users or customers, you won’t last for very long.
My Co-Founder Tim was both a business guy and a tech guy who had started a few successful companies prior to PawBoost. We were lucky in that a lot of my weaknesses were his strengths. Between the two of us, we had a lot of ground covered.
Q: What do you hope to accomplish in the next year with the company?
We are in the process of integrating directly with large municipal shelters so that their stray pets can be viewed on PawBoost. These facilities collectively intake millions of strays per year.
We know based on tons of data that the more lost & found pets reported to PawBoost, the more connections that are made and the higher the percentage of lost pets that get reunited with their families. However, two out of every three pets posted to PawBoost is a lost pet, and only one out of three is a found/stray pet. Conceptually, there should be a 1:1 match of lost pets to found pets, because every found pet is someone else’s lost pet.
Increasing the number of found pets in our system will be the biggest needle mover for raising our reunited rate in the short to medium term.
Q: What was your greatest challenge with this startup?
As a fully bootstrapped company, we never raised any money. This meant we had to be creative – and inexpensive – when it came to marketing our service. To add to this challenge, there is a very narrow window of time when our product would actually be useful to our target user (when that person’s pet is actively missing), and churn is pretty much baked in (once you get your pet back, you don’t need us anymore).
We ultimately overcame these hurdles by focusing on the lost & found pet community first: We encouraged people to sign up for local lost & found pet alerts from PawBoost. Every one of these pet lovers acts like a mini brand ambassador. Each time someone shares a PawBoost Alert, they are raising awareness for our service and helping the people who need us find us.
Q: Share something we might not know about you—preferably personal.
My cat Socks grew up on the streets of downtown Raleigh before I fell in love with her and subsequently adopted her. She’s pint-sized – only about 7 pounds – but she’s a big talker and a world-renowned biscuit maker.
Q: We share a passion for animals. Tell us more about that and how that drives or shapes the person you are today?
I have been a huge animal lover from day one. I think it comes from my mom, who has a gigantic heart full of love for all living things, but especially those that have fur. My best friend growing up was Jake, our doofy yellow lab.
Of course, growth is motivating, but the most motivating thing is the happy tails that are a direct result of the millions of pet lovers who use PawBoost. Pets are more than animals that live in the house, they are members of our families. Even after hundreds of thousands of reunited pets, the happy tails still don’t get old.
Q: If you weren’t doing your role now what would you be doing professionally?
I still have not figured this out and hopefully won’t have to for a long time.
Q: What were you like in high school?
I was a nerd at a school full of them (Cary Academy), and I mean that in the most endearing way possible. It was actually through the CA connection that I knew my technical co-founder Tim.
Q: If you could change something/anything (pie in the sky) what would you change?
Every animal that needed a home would have a home.
Q: What gets you most excited about the future?
What gets me most excited about the future is the genuine belief that PawBoost can actually solve the lost pet problem. Both our overall reunited rate and the percentage of reunions directly attributed to PawBoost have been consistently growing month-over-month since we began tracking them years ago. If we stay on this path, we will get damn near close to a 100% reunited rate for lost pets.
Q: Fast forward 10 years from now and where do we find Clayton?
Hopefully still growing PawBoost! If we completely solve the lost pet problem by then, I see myself continuing to apply technology to animal welfare.
It’s encouraging to see Silicon Valley and other tech hubs finally focusing on the pet space, but I think there needs to be more emphasis on animal welfare specifically. Large municipal shelters – particularly those in the warmer states – are often overcrowded, underfunded, and understaffed. Things like a national standardized pet registry with an open API would go a long way in preventing animals from being separated from their families and, in the saddest cases, euthanized.