We’ve created the Client Spotlight series to showcase some of the incredible sites that are being created with SocialEngine. For our inaugural installment, we interviewed Mike Pacifico, the founder of Pawsley (www.pawsley.com). In their words, “Pawsley is a social networking and shopping experiment created for dogs, their owners, and people that sell dog-related services or stuff”. Pawsley was even featured on both TechCrunch and TIME.com. Without further ado, here’s Mike!
SocialEngine: Hi Mike! Thanks for agreeing to interview with us. First things first: how did you come up with the idea to start Pawsley?
Mike Pacifico: Pretty simple: fun! My fiancee and I were messing around on Facebook and created a profile for our 6 month old puppy. We immediately noticed: (1) there are an AWFUL lot of people who have profiles of their dogs on Facebook and (2) it must be REALLY annoying to people who don’t have (or like) dogs to see all the activity! There are obviously a handful of social networks for dog owners, but I was not AT ALL impressed with the look, design and feel – from a UI perspective – of any of them; when your business model revolves around display/banner ads, I guess it’s tough to claim “design” as a top priority. So I decided that I wanted to create something from the ground-up that was all about the dog, including some clever functionality, a unique (cleaner!) way to monetize the user base, and really great design elements.
SE: Obviously a good idea, since even Mark Zuckerberg created a profile for his dog. So what makes Pawsley unique?
MP: I love Facebook, but it can’t (and probably shouldn’t) be all things to all people. We want Pawsley to be THE PLACE you go to share and discuss all-things-dog – pics, videos, groups, etc. To encourage people to give Pawsley a shot, we’ve implemented Facebook integration (via the Pawsley App) to allow seamless sharing with a member’s Facebook wall – when you post a comment, pic, link, etc. on Pawsley, you’ll have the option to post it to your Facebook wall. In this sense, you’re not leaving your Facebook friends totally in the dark (even though some might not wanna see any more pics of your crafty Beagle) While the dog-related social network space is pretty full, the quality is awful. The user experience/functionality is very minimal, and the monetization strategy has been to plaster banner ads all over the place – at the sacrifice of a clean UI. We wanted to develop a totally new platform for dog owners – and put ~7 months development into creating a killer UI and great design elements.
Users still create an “owner” profile, but they basically navigate the site as their dog(s) (i.e. a sub-profile with the ability to post/comment as a pooch…maybe more of a novelty, but fun nonetheless!). But we know that’s not enough to keep users coming back – we need repeat visitors. So we also integrated (1) a point/badge system (users earn points for each purchase/successful invite, which will result in future credits/gift cards, along with different “ribbons”) and (2) the “deal” component focused on dog-related products and services. At the end of the day, we’ve basically created a HIGHLY targeted, engaged audience – if you sell anything dog-related, this is the place to feature it. No other dog-related site can claim to integrate reward and social shopping/deal elements into a social network.
SE: What types of members are joining Pawsley (besides me!)?
MP: The member demos are all over the board right now! Though over 95% are within the US, there are several “pockets” of global users (particularly in Japan and Canada; handfuls elsewhere). Interestingly, a large proportion of members have more than one dog (making the ability to add several dog “sub-profiles” so important). They seem to be relatively Web 2.0 savvy (many share their blogs, Twitter handles, Facebook pages) and already understand the flash-sale/daily-deal model. Members appreciate the concept of having a dedicated community to share and discuss all-things-dog, particularly on a new site that’s generating a bit of a buzz (it’s so much more refreshing than the content aggregators/mega-blogs or current alternatives). Above all else, they love their dog(s)!
SE: How are new members discovering the community?
MP: Primarily word of mouth or coverage they might have come across elsewhere. We are not running any marketing campaigns right now. Although the TechCrunch and TIME.com coverage sent pretty crazy traffic to the site, they’re not exactly targeted demographics. The BEST days of sign-up activity come when a credible dog-related blog features us.
SE: Congratulations on the press you’ve gotten at Techcrunch and Time! Do you have plans to monetize Pawsley? If so, how?
MP: We are currently generating revenue. We built the site around two channels.
(1) The “deal” channel. This is the Groupon/flash-sale model wherein a vendor decides they want to reach a highly targeted audience and offers something like a less-than-face credit ($20 for $40 credit) or a unique product/service offering at a substantial discount to retail (we recently had an organic dog treat bakery offer an exclusive “sampler” package that sold very well). We never take inventory. We process payments, keep a % of the purchase price, and (THIS is what truly sets us apart) will push the purchase thru the social networking component of the site. Aside from the social network integration, we did something clever in which each dog profile has a “Treats” section where recently bought deals are listed. The links remain active even post-deal (another perk to potential vendors). The deals also have above-the-fold exposure on almost all pages (you’ll notice the deal carousel on the right).
(2) A unique pay-per-click model. This is different from anything out there and we essentially pitch it as a rich, interactive display ad (users have to actively purchase it to count as a click; not merely a passive display ad). We’ve built the deal plugin/platform to allow vendors to offer a simple discount (i.e. a promo code) at a price (to the user) of $0. Users can “buy” the deal and the vendor still receives the same social integration as provided in channel 1. The ad is priced comparably to a traditional display ad served by Google… but ours is much cooler and reaches a VERY targeted audience
SE: Sounds like a great plan! Do you think you’ll add other kinds of pets in the future?
MP: There are already several cats on the site (I personally loved it when I first noticed!)… even an iguana or two! We love seeing other pets, but our focus is on dogs for the moment – primarily due to the data surrounding dog owners’ typical spending patterns/ownership rates/etc. but I won’t get into that!
SE: What other features do you plan to add to Pawsley?
MP: We keep a running list of awesome features we’d like to eventually add! I don’t want to disclose all the specifics, but there’s definitely room for improving certain aspects surrounding dog “ownership”, as well as integrating some sort of review functionality (as it pertains to the deals we offer). We’re also talking about having an “information” element to the site (i.e. original/how-to content) but I am VERY adamant about the site not becoming like Dogster, which in my mind is an elaborate blog/content aggregator. I rather have the users determine the most clever ways to use the platform. For example, several companies have already created profiles for their business a la Facebook pages – not exactly what we intended, but so long as it’s not a competing business the more traffic the better! We’ve also noticed a few rescue groups who have created profile for each dog – a clever way to augment whatever online prescence they currently have.
SE: Cool! Last question: What made you choose SocialEngine?
MP: Above all else, the ability to brand and customize the entire platform. We are able to create 100% custom plugins, yet maintain the SE out-of-the-box ease of use. Though we do make use of a few standard plugins, we’ve modified/customized so much to fit our needs – but the platform still functions superbly. CMS controls were obviously important – especially as a start-up with limited funds. I’m very impressed by what we can do without involving the development team (and the associated costs) – from tweaking the profile fields to creating custom blocks in the layout. With a pretty basic understanding of HTML, you have an immense amount of control. With zero understanding, you can still do everything needed to keep the site humming along.
SE: Thanks for your time, Mike! You have a really great site on your hands (so great that I signed Loki up to it)! We wish you nothing but success!