Inspiring the Entrepreneurial Spirit at work with Kyle Goguen at Pawstruck

Employees with an entrepreneurial spirit have the capability to be more resilient, resourceful, and innovative. Those with the entrepreneurial spirit have the ability to create new areas for growth. This interview is with Kyle Goguen, founder of Pawstruck. This company was #87 out of 5,000 on the 2018 Inc List. They grew at 3,891 percent in the previous three years. Kyle gives us the real reason why he encourages the entrepreneurial spirit within his company. I love this interview because it gives you practical steps in getting employees to embrace the entrepreneurial spirit.

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Kyle Goguen: The Transcript

Target Audience: Kyle Goguen is the founder and president of, an online retailer and manufacturer of natural dog treats and chews.

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Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.

Gene Hammett: [00:01]
Hi Kyle, how are you?

Kyle Goguen: [00:03]
I’m doing well, thanks for having me.

Gene Hammett: [00:04]
Well, I’m excited to have you here on the podcast we have already introduced you or I have. Um,  so I’d love for them to hear a little bit about your role there at Pawstruck.

Kyle Goguen: [00:18]
Sure. So I am the owner and founder of Pawstruck. I started Pawstruck in 2014 right after college. We manufacture and package and private label, various different dog treats, and dog chews. We sell under our own brand across a bunch of different online sales channel is direct to consumer through our website. We sell through Amazon, eBay, Groupon, Walmart, and we’re launching on chewy later this year. And it’s been a, been a fun ride since 2014 and learned a ton. And this has been my first I guess real business that I’ve run personally.

Gene Hammett: [00:53]
Well, I’m looking at you on video. Our audience may not see the video. You’re young. You graduated from college just, just a few years ago.

Kyle Goguen: [01:02]
Yeah. So I graduated in 2013 with my undergrad and then 2014 with my master’s and I started the business right as I was pursuing my master’s. Kind of at the same time. I guess the thought process being the masters would be a backup plan if the business fell through. Looking back wasn’t really necessary, but I guess I don’t really regret it. It was still a good experience.

Gene Hammett: [01:26]
I have a lot of entrepreneurs that have one day thought they would get the Mba, the formal training, but they got busy with it and I’ve talked to a lot of who actually got the NBA and said, you know, I learned so much more just by doing than learning about doing. So I’m sure you’re putting it to good use now as your company is just astronomical growth of the last three years has really put you into the Inc 500 number 87. Right?

Kyle Goguen: [01:55]
Yup, that’s right.

Gene Hammett: [01:57]
Well, I wanted to talk to you today about some of the core drivers of growth that, you know, really make what your company grows so fast. So if, when I ask you that question, what do you think that top issue is that drives the growth of the company?

Kyle Goguen: [02:14]
So for us, even though our team is really lean and has been kind of since the get-go it’s been our team that’s allowed us to grow and just the people we’ve been able to hire as we’ve gone along. I was really kind of taken us to the next level for the first couple of years, to be honest. It was primarily just me and I was definitely the limiting factor in the business. We’re still doing well. Because I was doing everything that there wasn’t really a lot of room for serious growth. So it was after those first couples of years of learning how to hire and how to delegate, were we able to really take it to the next level.

Gene Hammett: [02:49]
We were talking earlier when we got to know each other a few days ago. I, I think you look at this differently than one of them. Sorry. You look at this differently than what most business owners look at employees. But you’re very similar to what the Inc 5,000 level leaders look at it. It’s that, that entrepreneur spirit and side of the company. Why is that important to you?

Kyle Goguen: [03:14]
Yeah, so kind of like you’re, you’re kind of implying there. When I hire pretty much for almost all roles, I look for someone with that entrepreneurial spirit a kind of inside them. And the reason I do that is that our team is so lean. I’ve found that I need leaders in every role. I need people who are willing to do anything, um, wear many hats be really well rounded. I’m not really looking for someone who is just contents in a single role. Just because honestly we were haven’t, we couldn’t hire employees like that. Our team was so small that we needed people to do all different types of things. And I realized as we started doing that, that was really like my style and what I preferred. I like to surround myself with kind of similar thinking, people that are always pushing for growth and pushing to improve and make things better. And that probably comes down to as we talked about my college education as an industrial engineer. Like it’s all a lot of systems and its efficiency and improvements and it just kind of my personality. So I think surrounding myself with that, those type of people fits me as a leader and I think is honestly a great thing for most businesses.

Gene Hammett:  [04:30]
I think you might be with the only other industrial engineer that I’ve had on the show other than my myself. So you know, that systems thinking is part of that industrial engineering course load. Everything was about measuring systems, designing systems. How has that benefited you in growing the company?

Kyle Goguen: [04:52]
Right. So a lot of my education dealt with like the very high level I guess processes and systems and all sorts of stuff like that. It’d be like, oh, okay, if you have 10 different warehouses, warehouses across the country and there are 10 million square feet and all of these machines and all this sort of stuff. And in reality, our operation is significantly more simple. You know, it’s like one warehouse, it’s not super complicated. So I would say like the exact curriculum. I haven’t really put it into use, but I think it’s just that kind of problem-solving thought process that’s really helped me. It kind of came naturally to me and that’s kind of why I pursued that sort of degree in the first place. But just all of that sort of thinking where you know, it’s all about efficiency and, and there’s no problem too big that, you know, we can always figure out a way around it. Kind of thought process.

Gene Hammett: [05:42]
Well, I can say the same thing for me. I’m not formally using that industrial engineering, but problem-solving has been a big part of what I got from my Georgia Tech Education. I want to go back to this entrepreneur spirit because, you know, it’s one thing that to say that you, you hire for, for people that think like entrepreneurs, but what are the values that you have identified that really, are important to you as a business owner and a leader?

Kyle Goguen: [06:10]
Sure. So I didn’t have this really formalized for many years. I kind of was just not realizing that I was hiring these sort of values. And then we actually went through the process of writing down company values and kind of building all out that a kind of culture for our company. And so I realized those company values, I mean it’s curiosity, like I think entrepreneurs just naturally or are very curious people. And so we’re looking for people like that that always want to learn to get onto the next thing and kind of be leaders within whatever space we’re doing or whatever. Whatever we’re pursuing I guess initiative. So same thing like entrepreneurs. I mean that’s basically the definition of being an entrepreneur to you. You gotta take the initiative to start a business or you know, run a department or take on big projects, whatever that is as an employee. And then collaboration is another one of the values that we look for in people. Uh, you have to be able to work well on a team because I mean, there is, I guess technically like those Solo preneurs and that’s definitely what I was initially. But for most successful, larger, fast-growing businesses, you have to be able to lead a team or work within a team. And then the last thing is like satisfaction and that covers both customer satisfaction. Obviously for us as an eCommerce company, that’s like one of the main priorities for us. But really satisfaction personally like with your own work, like always striving for satisfaction and no perfection when it’s possible. But you know, just doing the best he can I guess is kind of what we’re looking for.

Gene Hammett: [07:43]
Entrepreneurs don’t really do well when they have to have everything perfect. Would you say?

Kyle Goguen: [07:50]
I don’t know. I’m a perfectionist and that’s definitely been an issue, especially early on is like I can’t get out of my own way trying to make things perfect and it was really tough for me to give up control. It took a lot of work, kind of personal growth on my ends to hire and delegate and give up control and it’s been the best thing. And like we talked about growth-wise like that’s okay. It’s not the secret sauce, but that’s what I’ve had to do to grow.

Gene Hammett: [08:18]
What do you think about controlling as a, as an owner or business leader? And it really does limit your growth and you’ve mentioned a couple of different times. Is there anything specifically that stands out around when you were controlling that was limiting your growth of the company?

Kyle Goguen: [08:36]
Nothing specific that comes to mind. I mean, really it was just general stuff. It was, it was things that, I guess one of my biggest strengths and weaknesses is that I’m very well rounded. Like I can handle some of the technical stuff, like on our website, some of the HTML or some of the development staff and photo editing and video editing and all of these things. I’m not an expert, but I can get it done, which is terrific when I’m just starting out because it’s a very cost-effective way to get things done. But I’m not especially fast. I don’t really love it and I’m not that great at it. So I just got in the habit of continuing to do these sort of things that I should have hired for or outsourced very quickly. So it just didn’t allow me to spend time on the big picture things that would actually grow the business.

Gene Hammett: [09:23]
Well, I want to go back to the hiring because you mentioned about learning how to do that over time. So what have you learned about how to hire someone with the entrepreneur spirit?

Kyle Goguen: [09:32]
Yeah, so it was not something that I was intentionally looking for in the beginning. It just, I just started to recognize that pattern that those were the people that I naturally we’re attracted to as employees. But looking back, we’ve started, I’ve started to pay closer attention to it during the interview process and even like looking through resumes and applications and stuff like that. So the obvious one is anyone who’s kind of run their own small business or held, you know, serious leadership positions from the, you know, that’s one that checks the box right away, that it might be interesting to speak with them. I mean in this day and age with Shopify and some of these other ecommerce platforms, so easy to just throw something up and start selling a product. So anyone who’s taken that initiative, it honestly doesn’t even really matter how successful that business was.

Kyle Goguen: [10:22]
Like I’m not looking to hire people who were running a successful business because otherwise why would they be looking for a job? But someone who just took that initiative and did it, cause that’s a big step. I think there’s a lot of people talk about it, but then someone who actually signed up and actually took the time to put, you know, take the risk and sell something and buy something. And I think that says a lot about someone based on what I’m looking for. And then during interviews, I actually do make a point of bringing up the fact that type of person is someone I’m looking for someone with that ambition, that kind of entrepreneurial ambition. And then if it’s not during business hours that I’d be happy to help them grow or assist or give advice on their side projects.

Kyle Goguen: [11:06]
I mean, it’s something that I’m passionate about is helping other business owners. Like I love talking about business during, you know, work hours and you know, on my own time with other peers in eCommerce and other businesses. So I let him kind of the employees know that if they want to do something else that’s totally cool as long as it’s not during work hours and I’d be happy to help them. In fact, and you can kind of gauge like the interest level from the Gecko. Some people are really excited by that prospect and you can kind of tell like, oh, they were serious about this other business. It wasn’t just something they are sticking on their resume. And I guess just to give you an idea of some of our past employees like we’ve definitely had a couple that has their own eCommerce businesses.

Kyle Goguen: [11:43]
It’s funny, for whatever reason, a lot of them were in some sort of apparel. They were kind of handmaking things and selling on their website or like an Etsy business. And then we also have someone in the house who’s a writer who’s published poetry. And is just finished up a novel that she’s working on editing now. So that’s kind of an outside my wheelhouse for May, I guess a business standpoint, but I’m excited to help her with the marketing of the book and all of that stuff even though I really don’t know anything about it, but I just want to get involved. It’s exciting for me.

Gene Hammett: [12:16]
Well, let me know if you have any questions cause I marketed my book over the last couple of years. It’s a lot of fun and you have to learn a thing, a lot of new things.

Kyle Goguen: [12:25]
We’ll definitely be reaching out once she’s done editing it, which I’m sure a huge process.

Gene Hammett: [12:30]
A lot of leaders might be tuning in here going, you know, I understand this entrepreneur spirit, but I don’t want them to have a side project. I don’t want them to have, um, you know, have a distraction or maybe something that they’re worried that they’re going to be so successful that they’re going to leave the company. So what do you say to those leaders that they may be thinking that right now?

Kyle Goguen: [12:52]
So I hear a lot of people saying that and I understand it and there definitely is a risk. And personally I’ve never been burned to buy it. So maybe I’m just naive, but I think there are more pros than there are cons. Having someone with that mindset and that ability, uh, and someone who is on the side working to learn more about business and run their own business, like they’re going to take all those skills that they’re learning in their own business and bring it to your workplace. Of course, you need someone who’s not burning themselves out. Like, but that’s a separate issue. Like if they’re not effective at work, will, you know that’s something that you need to coach them on or you know, have conversations about. I don’t really worry about it. Obviously I’m a let them know very clearly that they can’t create a business that’s competing with Austrac for obvious reasons.

Kyle Goguen: [13:38]
But you do want to make that clear. But if they’re selling something else, I mean that’s the beauty of eCommerce to some extent. Like they can take everything they learned here and go sell almost anything else. It doesn’t really matter. And they can take a lot of the same principles and vice versa. Anything they learned selling stuff online they can bring to posture. So I don’t see it as a huge risk. I kinda compare it to a lot of people who, who are thinking they’re going to start with on business and this brilliant idea, but they don’t want to share it with anyone where they’re so nervous that someone’s going to take the idea and seal it. I kind of think of it the same way, like I’m of the opinion that it’s all about execution. So share that idea with everyone in the world and get as much input as possible. And kind of the same with this, like I’m not gonna keep our email marketing strategy secrets from these sorts of employees. I want them to know it. I want them to implement it. If they are doing a side project so they can bring something to the table that maybe they wouldn’t have learned in the office.

Gene Hammett: [14:34]
Have there been any mistakes that you’ve made in this journey? I mean, you’re a new leader, new founder. This is your first real business. Is there anything you could share with us that you’ve learned from?

Kyle Goguen: [14:47]
Yeah. So I’ve definitely, I guess it a few times in this interview already, so that shows you that it’s, it was a huge issue that I’ve faced in the past. But the biggest thing was me being slow to hire and slow to delegate things. It all comes down to that me being a perfectionist and holding, all the responsibilities for the first couple of years, if not longer. You know, especially in the beginning doing everything from customer service to packaging and shipping orders and all the marketing and everything else, which isn’t to say that those roles are not important because they definitely are. It’s just, you know, looking back it was, I was just limiting our own potential and growth and hurting my own business. And my own employees, by getting in the way. So I would say for anyone out there who’s a new leader like I was and maybe struggles with similar things, it’s just learning for me and, and getting help sooner. Um, and learning how you can give up responsibility faster and realizing that not everything has to be perfect, um, that most people aren’t even really paying attention. And if you do make mistakes as a small business, like almost most all mistakes, you can come back from and in reality like it’s just going to be a learning lesson and no one else except for you is going to even realize it or remember it.

Gene Hammett: [16:04]
This whole concept of failure, it’s really different when you have people that have that entrepreneur spirit because they seem to be more resilient through failure, whereas people that just want to it to do the work and try to make it just a little bit better each time. What do you think about failure inside your company and how do you lead people to have a better grasp of that?

Kyle Goguen: [16:30]
So I try to give my employees the same, I guess select that I get myself cause I’ve definitely made a lot of mistakes and a lot of things that you could consider failures. But in reality, it’s stuff that we had to learn from them. It’s a lot of mistakes where we tried, maybe it was different product lines or different sales channels and we stuck a lot of time and effort into it. And it wasn’t necessarily bad ideas is just stuff that didn’t work out, whether it was in our control or out of our control. And I’m the first one to accept responsibility in front of my employees. And I think that’s really key to is kind of a culture of hey, just, you know, mistakes will happen. Take responsibility from them and learn how to move forward. It’s not about placing blame. It’s not something that we’re going to point fingers and fire people because of it’s, you know, if you made the decision, if the thought process was right and why you made that decision. Like it’s not something that I’m going to hold against my employees. Same as I cut myself a little bit of slack.

Gene Hammett: [17:34]
Well, I really appreciate you being here to share some of the ways you think about and approach to leadership in your culture that has really activated such impressive growth for your company posts truck. Is there anything that I haven’t asked you about what you feel like pays an important part of the growth of your company that you want to kind of get out there right now?

Kyle Goguen: [17:55]
Yeah, sure. So I guess one thing that I can touch on in addition to trying to hire people with this skillset, uh, there’s one thing I, I purposely do to try to kind of continue that growth as, as kind of an employee with an entrepreneurial mindset. And that’s just involving almost all the employees from the get-go in higher-level meetings. So I’m pretty trustworthy, pretty transparent with a lot of our financials and a lot of our business strategies. And from the beginning in our weekly meetings will involve a lot of employees that in most businesses are traditional, would not be involved in those sort of meetings. And in the beginning, it’s not like they contribute a whole lot, but it expedites that process of getting them to the next level. Just having exposure to everyone and seeing that sort of collaboration does wonders and then much sooner than normal. They’re starting to get your best ideas and really helping out and taking ownership of their specific roles as well. So I would say in most businesses, my advice would be to you know, give your employees the opportunity to learn and grow as fast as possible and don’t limit them even if they are and maybe like a more entry-level position, give them the opportunities to see what they can do and step up to the player.

Gene Hammett: [19:14]
Well, that transparency you talked about is one of the key principles of fast-growth companies that they talk about. And I actually say it’s radical transparency because most businesses aren’t willing to include them in financials, in business strategies. And so they have a better context of everything. So there’s no surprise to me that you’ve, you’ve done that and been successful that because that’s a real core thing with other Inc500 leaders like yourself. So Kyle, thank you for being here on the podcast. Thank you for sharing your insight. I really appreciate it.

Kyle Goguen: [19:46]
Of course. Thank you.

Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.


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