Alexis Peterka – Founder of Stayhound

[quote]Listen to your body and mind and take breaks when you need to. I see entrepreneurs ending up in the ER and losing relationships because they insist on grinding gears in pursuit of some macho ideal of how a startup founder is supposed to live. This is the only life I have, I don’t want to waste it.[/quote]

Alexis Peterka spent 15 years working at Internet startups before starting one of her own, Stayhound, in 2011. A recent graduate of the Portland Incubator Experiment, Stayhound connects pet lovers online to make it easier for your friends and “friends-in-law” to help you care for your pets in the real world.

With a rich background in user experience design in startups and Fortune 500 companies, Alexis has proactively brought mobile-first design to small development teams, conducted usability testing with no budget and is old enough to remember designing for WebTV. Her first attempts at startups in the education and veterinary spaces looked great, but suffered from the typical rookie mistake–failure to find product-market fit.

After some borderline-sadistic mentoring, lots of reading and painful ripping off of ego Band-Aids, Alexis and her team now focus on staying close to their customers, iterating quickly and building things people want.

Alexis lives in Portland, Oregon, with a 6 year-old lab-mix puppy named Jake and a psychopathic grifter in a cat suit named Toby. When she’s not working on mockups, chatting with customers at the dog park or meeting with potential partners, you can find Alexis running the trails of Forest Park with her dog, Jake or eating her way through Portland’s food carts.

What are you working on right now?

I’ve teamed up with a local business and software development company to take Stayhound to the next level. It’s been great iterating the product using customer development processes, but I’m excited to scale it.

Where did the idea for Stayhound come from?

I was living in downtown Portland and traveling a lot–driving around to drop off Jake with friends in the suburbs before driving myself to the airport. I knew there were people who lived in my building who I’d trust to take care of him, but I didn’t know how to get in touch with them. We started building Stayhound as a way to connect the people who are already important in your pet’s life and also grow your circle of friends. I like to say that it takes a village to raise a puppy!

What does your typical day look like?

Most mornings I wake up and go for a run with Jake–a tired dog is a good dog! Then I either take Jake in to PIE (the Portland Incubator Experiment, a startup incubator run out of Wieden + Kennedy in downtown Portland) or settle in to my home office and spend my morning reaching out to customers. I get the best feedback on what we’re doing that way. Since my background is in user experience and visual design, I spend a lot of my afternoons and evenings working on mockups and other product development tasks. Of course, there’s usually a break in there for a trip to the dog park–another opportunity to connect with potential customers–and maybe a veterinarian’s office to get the word out about how we can help pet care providers.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I like to start with wireframes, get feedback on them and then move to pixel-level mockups or static prototypes. Once I’m fairly certain my idea resonates with others, I have my development team build out the back end.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

Collaborative consumption. We’ve been adopted by the movement for some reason and I’m flattered. As a long-time city dweller, I love the idea of sharing with the people around you instead of mindlessly consuming things we don’t really have room for.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

I did a brief contract stint at a now-defunct Internet company in the summer of 2001 that epitomized the “irrational exuberance” of Web 1.0. I learned that hubris and working for the sake of looking busy are a fantastic way to alienate your employees.

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I wish I had learned to code when I was in middle school.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Listen to your body and mind and take breaks when you need to. I see entrepreneurs ending up in the ER and losing relationships because they insist on grinding gears in pursuit of some macho ideal of how a startup founder is supposed to live. This is the only life I have, I don’t want to waste it.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Bike sharing. It’s huge overseas and I’d love to see the ambition and technology behind Getaround and Zipcar applied to more sustainable forms of transit.

If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?

I would make sure every child has access to safe and healthy food and water. There is so much waste in how we consume and transport in the developed world; I want to find ways to leverage that waste to share our abundance with others.

Tell us a secret.

I am incredibly insecure about public speaking.

What are your three favorite online tools and what do you love about them?

  • Mockflow because it’s easy to make and share wireframes with teams.
  • Usabilla because I can get instant feedback from potential clients on interfaces.
  • Google Docs because it’s democratized office software.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

The Places That Scare You by Pema Chödrön. There’s so much to read about lean startups, networking, raising money, optimizing your site and all the logistics. When my brain is whirling like a VitaMix blender, reading or listening to Pema Chödrön helps me get back to why I’m doing this crazy startup thing.

What’s on your playlist?

St. Vincent, Black Sabbath and Erik Satie.

Three people we should follow on Twitter and why?

  • @cindygallop: Cindy Gallop because she blows shit up.
  • @globalmoxie: Josh Clark because he sees the potential in touch interfaces.
  • @bubs: Darius Monsef because he’s creating great things while having a kick-ass life.

When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?

This morning when my dog tripped on his own feet and face planted into the cat. I probably laugh out loud at Jake’s antics at least 5 times a day.

Who is your hero?

Tara Hunt of Buyosphere. She’s honest, inspiring and works to help others succeed. If you haven’t seen her TEDx talk, The Unclear Path, you must. Now.

Aren’t there already enough social networks? Why create more?

In his book, Grouped, Paul Adams talks about how munging all of your social circles together – your family, your college buddies, your coworkers – doesn’t work for most of us. We end up self-censoring or getting ourselves into trouble. What drives me to work on Stayhound is the importance of layering meaning onto our social graph and the desire to turn those online social networks into real world helping networks.

So who takes care of Jake when you travel?

I try to bring him with me whenever I can (ask me about pet-friendly lodgings at the Oregon Coast or Seattle!), but when I can’t, I usually drop him off with a friend who lives close to the airport and takes Jake to work at an indoor mountain bike park. I’m lucky that I have great friends who will take care of Jake as if he’s their own.


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Alexis Peterka Email: [email protected]
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