Stephanie Wiggins is the founder of DJANGO, a dog gear company that launched in late 2016. DJANGO designs high quality, durable and weather-resistant dog gear and strives to help dogs and dog owners get outside, travel and adventure more often. DJANGO products are currently offered via djangobrand.com, Amazon, and various retail outlets.
Prior to founding DJANGO, Steph worked in Interest Rate Derivative Sales, helping large corporate America manage and hedge interest rate exposure. After 7 years in finance, Steph enrolled in Columbia University’s MBA program. Unlike other classmates who were already applying for summer internships, Steph’s first priority as an MBA candidate was to get a dog. So one morning in early November she skipped class, drove a few hours north of NYC, and came home with her new best buddy, Django. Steph’s second priority was to get experience outside of finance. In early 2015, Steph began working as a part-time consultant for Managed by Q, a fast-growing startup that is reinventing how offices are managed and operated. Steph left her role at Managed by Q with a new mindset and drive to build her own company.
Steph lives in New York City with her husband Mike and long-haired dachshund Django. In her free time, you can find Steph running in Central Park, practicing her classical piano skills, or exploring a new hiking trail with Mike and Django in upstate New York.
Where did the idea for your company come from?
I always wanted to start my own company and build my life around something I truly loved. Of course, I had no idea what that meant until a few years ago when Mike and I got Django, our long-haired dachshund.
After graduating from business school in mid 2016, Mike, Django and I left New York City. We were both working remotely at the time and decided… what the heck… let’s leave the concrete jungle and experience something new. So we flew to the Pacific Northwest with two suitcases and Django and rented a small furnished apartment in downtown Portland. Every evening after work, we’d drive 30 miles east into the Columbus River Gorge with Django to go hiking and swimming in the most beautiful Oregon streams and waterfall plunge pools.
We quickly learned that our city pup Django was also quite the adventure dog. I also learned that high quality, durable, and stylish dog gear to compliment our life of travel and adventure was not easy to find. Inspired by Django’s adventurous little legs on the steepest and wettest Oregon mountain trails, I launched DJANGO from our Portland apartment.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I usually have 1-3 items that I need to accomplish every day. These are things that will move the needle. I have a To Do list of endless items, but I always make sure to knock off the 1-3 most critical items before moving onto something less vital. The rest of the day is usually spent on email correspondence, calls, and crossing off some of the second-tier items on my To Do list.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Through research and a lot of focus. Whenever I have a new idea, whether it’s a new product idea or a new avenue for the business, I immediately educate myself on what’s already out there. For new product development, I research similar products on the market. I make sure I know what works for existing products and what doesn’t. I read customer reviews and take notes on features customers say are lacking or non-existent. I make sure I have a clear view of the existing product landscape and product economics before diving in and designing a new product myself. I do the same amount of reading and research for all new aspects of the business. I want to educate myself as much as I can before making decisions or investing capital.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The pet dog landscape is changing dramatically. The percentage of small dogs is on the rise as more people move to urban areas where residential space is limited. Smaller dogs also allow for greater mobility and travel. Pet travel and pet-friendly accommodations are also becoming increasingly common and affordable as pet owners look to travel with their smaller dogs.
DJANGO is built around travel and adventure with dogs, and right now our focus remains on products for small- and medium-sized dogs. The trends towards smaller dogs and pet-friendly travel are definitely in our favor.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I wake up early. Unlike my days in finance when I was tied to a train schedule and early arrival time on the desk, I don’t have anyone dictating when I have to start work. So it would be easy to sleep in or hit the snooze button on the alarm when I’m tired. With that said, I am my most productive in the morning and make sure I’m up by 7am and ready to work shortly thereafter.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would tell my younger self to explore many potential career opportunities, not just the ones you think you’re supposed to pursue. When I was in high school, I naively thought my only chances for success in life were by becoming a doctor or lawyer. I never introduced myself to industries outside of these two realms, and went into college as a pre-med student. I finally stoked an interest in finance after meeting my friend’s very outgoing and successful father who was a bond salesman for JP Morgan. His personality and professional success inspired me to pursue a career in finance. Imagine if I spent time with many other equally interesting and successful professionals as a young adult? Maybe I wouldn’t have pursued finance after college but something else entirely. Who knows where I’d be now.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Not everyone has a passion. This is something my husband Mike and I used to debate years ago when we both worked in finance. Mike is strongly passionate about his skillset and hobbies and always encouraged me to find my own passion – something that would drive me and keep me up at night. It is natural for older family members and interviewers to ask “What do you want your career to be?” or “Where do you see yourself in 5 years?” . I think many people don’t have answers to these questions, and that is absolutely normal and OK.
I remember listening to a CEO of a major pharmaceutical company speak to my MBA class. He said that he never knew what he wanted to do in life, even as his career in pharma blossomed. He was never sure what he wanted to do next throughout his incredibly successful career, but he kept learning out of curiosity and always said yes to new opportunities. He’s had an incredibly interesting and rewarding life and career as a result.
Instead of being fixated on figuring out what you’re “passionate” about, follow your curiosities instead. Educate yourself on something you’re interesting in and say yes to new opportunities. This is how I grew a passion for e-commerce and ultimately built DJANGO. I explored a market I was interested in, read as much as I could about growing and marketing an online retail company, and ultimately built my passion out of thin air.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Never stop reading and learning. There is so much free information available to us. We literally have all the answers at our fingertips with the internet, so there is never an excuse to give up on something because you can’t figure it out.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I pour my personality into DJANGO. Everything about the company — the brand, the collection, and our popular dog blog — is a reflection of my life, adventures, and travels with my husband Mike and our little guy Django. There is a story behind each product. I think DJANGO customers appreciate this genuineness and consistency.
There is so much competition across all industries, including pet products of course. For this reason it’s so important to distinguish your brand in an honest way. By being true to myself and letting my personality shine through DJANGO, I have created a brand that would be incredibly difficult (if not impossible) to replicate.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
When you’re a first-time business owner in a new industry, there is always something you don’t know. In the beginning, I didn’t know all the legal aspects of building a retail company. I still don’t know everything of course.
A while back we were contacted by a very well-known and respected fashion label saying we were infringing on one of their trademarks. They claimed that one of our product names was too similar to one of their trademarked product names. When I got this email, I freaked out and started imaging everything I built crashing down. How on earth could I afford to go to court against a massive company?
After consulting with a legal expert, I quickly realized that these situations are highly common. Even though we felt our product name was unique and could hold up in court against their trademark, I had zero desire to fight the battle. We immediately scrapped all references to the product name in question out of professional courtesy and never heard from the other company again.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I think the natural dog food market, although competitive, is still a huge opportunity. Natural pet food sales topped $8 billion in 2016 and continue to take increasing market share in the US pet food market. We want to eventually introduce a line of organic, healthy and protein-rich dog treats that compliments our active and outdoor-oriented brand.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Mike and I recently sat at the bar at Babbo in Greenwich Village and treated ourselves to an Italian dinner and way too much wine. The bar area was crowded, the dishes were expensive, and it was 100% worth it.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
I use Microsoft Excel for everything. I use Excel for my To Do list, to keep track of orders, to iron out the economics of every existing and potential product we launch, and to forecast demand and inventory needs. I mastered Excel during my years in finance and don’t want to use anything else right now.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
I recently finished and recommend Alec Ross’ “The Industries of the Future”. The book has nothing to do with my industry or e-commerce. Rather, it highlights the industries that will define societies going forward: robotics, the code-ification of money, data, etc. Did you know there are GPS-driven killer robots used to shred the growing number of jellyfish in the ocean? The book is easy to read, incredibly informative, and highlights the most important technological advances that will define our way of living in the coming decades.
What is your favorite quote?
“There is no passion to be found playing small — in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” — Nelson Mandela
- Pour your passion and personality into everything you do. You’re the only person like you in the world, and no competitor or copycat can replicate your unique character.
- Follow your curiosity. Think about what you enjoy and what you’re interested in and learn more about it. At the very least you’ll be enriching your mind on something you already like. If you’re lucky, you’ll foster genuine interest in a subject and maybe even turn it into a true passion one day.
- Get comfortable with the uncomfortable. You will never know all the answers. But we live in an incredible world where every answer is at our fingertips on the internet. Start a task that is overwhelming and complicated, and don’t procrastinate because you’re in unfamiliar territory. Do research, focus, and work at it until you find the answer you need. You’ll reach a goal, look back, and realize the unknown wasn’t so bad at all.
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.