Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Building a business to help animals

Michael McTeigue left the rat-race to set up a business that helps rescue dogs. Here he is with his Lab aka Chief Tasting Officer Buddy. (Note to self: write pets into business plan!!! Genius).

Here at SAT we like to try to help animals every which way. We support various animal causes, we aim to provide info for vets/vet students/pet owners, we volunteer our time, and we try to shop ethically. Heck, we even adopt them sometimes (in a sign of just how helpful we are, one is warming his little tushy against the computer as we type). The philosophy we try to live by is one of harm minimisation/benefit maximisation in life, and we're always interested in different approaches people take to help animals.

So we were interested to learn about a guy who threw in a major corporate job to put his eggs into the basket of a startup company to support rescue dogs. SAT spoke to Michael McTeigue about his company, SavourLife, and how it all works.

You left a successful corporate career for a startup venture designed to help dogs in need. What was your previous job and did anyone suggest you were crazy at the time? 

I was a marketing executive at one of Australia’s biggest companies, it was a great job working at a great company, working with some very talented people. I’m sure people still think I’m crazy (!), but I’m doing something I’m passionate about and I think we are really making a difference. The bigger we get, the more we’ll be able to help and that really excites me. 

There are plenty of good causes worthy of our attention. What is it about rescue dogs that inspired you to take action? 

I grew up with dogs and have always been a big softie when it comes to them. I guess I’ve been really affected by the innocence of rescue dogs. They are there through no fault of their own and are powerless to change their outcome. I wanted to be able to do something to change that situation. 

A happy rescue dog.
Why did you make the leap instead of donating cash to an animal charity? 

From a personal perspective, I thought I could use my own money to create a business that could eventually deliver many more donations than I, as an individual would ever be able to. Kind of like planting a seed for someone and watching it grow. I wanted to build a business that would continually be able to generate donations for animal welfare groups. From a wider perspective, not everyone has the means to donate cash to animal charities, so I thought if I could create a way for people to lend a hand to a great cause just by buying something awesome for their own dog, then everyone would win. 

How big a risk is it for a startup to donate 50% of profits? 

It’s a big risk, we are a family company, we are not backed by some big investors with lots of money, and like every start-up, yes sometimes it’s a struggle. But we are in this to help rescue dogs, so really that’s what it’s all about and I feel very strongly that we are doing a really unique and great thing. The support from people we don’t even know has blown me away; we just love it when people help us spread the word. I know we’ll be successful with the help of people just like the ones reading this blog; they’re the kind of people who are going to make us a success. 

How does SavourLife help rescue dogs? 

We partner with four, medium-sized pet rescue organisations throughout the country, you can check them out in detail on our website. We chose them very carefully, all are no-kill organisations, which was important to us. They are the experts in their fields, I just hope to facilitate them in doing their work even better. 

So there’s a few way we help. There’s the direct assistance we give in the form of donations to our partners, that goes to things like vets bills for example which make sure the dogs have the best health, no matter what background they’ve come from.

We also give them our products for them to use with their dogs, whether it be for playing, training, feeding or just simply for rewards. Which really helps makes rescue dogs a great choice as the new addition to your family, you know that they are in good health and they even get basic obedience training!

[Ed - if anyone doubted the trainability of rescue dogs, check out this article about the fantastic display courtesy of Dave Graham and the Australian Canine Sports and Training Centre in The Australian].

And then lastly we help promote the dogs through the unique “See Who You Helped” code on each of our packs. The 7-digit code from your SavourLife pack is your key to seeing the picture and profile of a real-life rescue dog, just like the ones your purchase is helping. You can sign up for updates on how your dog is doing and even share his profile with your friends. You never know, by sharing him you might help us find him a new home! By doing this we are getting these dogs in front of thousands and thousands of people who would otherwise not have seen them, so we know that helps drive more adoptions. 

Are there any non-humans in your life and can you tell us a bit about them? 

Ah, yes our CTO (Chief Tasting Officer), Buddy! He takes his work very seriously! He was the inspiration behind SavourLife and you can see him on the back of every one of our bags of treats. He is an 11 year-old yellow Lab and the world most perfect dog, he has the best nature of any dog I have ever met, I could be biased though….He’s hilarious, or at least I think he is, he’s got a very funny personality and loves his routine. I know what time of day it is, literally, by looking at him and what he’s doing. He is my mate, he’s been with me through thick and thin. 

Here's Buddy again in case you missed him.
How do you spend time together? 

He comes with me pretty much everywhere. He’s with me all day in the office which is great; but when I am not working (which is not very often at the moment!) we love walking as a family, so we’ll all go out and just wander for a couple of hours around where we live. He’s a Lab, so he loves the water, so I take him for a swim at least once a week. He’s also got the most incredible tennis ball radar, he’ll smell one from 50 metres away, I swear, so he loves playing fetch with those. 

What could we all do to improve the lives of non-human animals in Australia? 

There’s so many things you can do. You can volunteer at your local shelter, you can donate goods or money, you can be a foster carer for an animal. I know people are time poor, so simple things like telling your friends what a great option a rescue dog is instead of purchasing one from a pet shop is a great thing to do. When you buy SavourLife, just the simple act of buying something awesome for your own dog, will in turn help rescue dogs across Australia.

Thanks Michael. I love this idea for a business and I like the idea of a business based on giving back. 

Speaking of rescue dogs, this is a beautiful account about a dog named Bran who was rescued by some compassionate and dedicated peeps.