Sunday, December 4, 2022

Female Founders: Amy Zalneraitis, Founded “We Feed Raw” Out of a Desire to feed dogs The Healthiest Diet

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As a part of the Morning Lazziness series about empowering women who are encouraging and doing incredible things with their ideas in society, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amy Zalneraitis.

“WeFeedRaw has grown into what it is today, an ever-expanding company feeding more pets than my sister ever could’ve imagined. Yes, the work is still hard, but the purpose is simple: we love dogs, so wefeed them well.” states Amy Zalneraitis, Chief Brand Officer, and Co-founder at WeFeedRaw.

WeFeedRaw is the result of the Zalneraitis family’s lifelong dedication to the well-being of animals and their desire to feed these animals the healthiest diet possible. That has made it their family’s mission to make sure you know what’s in your dog’s food: fresh, raw, biologically appropriate ingredients that promote health rather than just sustain life.

Here’s what we found out about Amy‘s daily routine, followed by an exclusive Q+A.

It’s an honor to speak with you today. I would love to know more about your story and your background. Give us some details about your journey as a digital entrepreneur.

Thank you for the opportunity! We Feed Raw is a direct-to-consumer meal plan subscription service that delivers to pets all over the country. Our mission is to make raw feeding easy, convenient, and safe. The company was founded by my amazing sister Alissa and her fiance Rich. They were both dog lovers, so this company’s origin is quite simple and pure: dedication to the well-being of animals and a desire to feed those animals the healthiest diet possible.

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Tragically, four years after starting this business, my sister was diagnosed with terminal cancer at 35 years old. On December 23, 2014, Alissa passed away after an incredibly brave fight. Her love for dogs and this business never wavered. In fact, she continued to work until the last week of her life. 

Immediately after her death, despite being in the most acute stages of grief, my family rallied together to keep the business going–to keep Alissa’s vision and legacy alive. My Dad, Bruce, came out of retirement to help run operations and finances; Rich continued to oversee production, manage a crew, and work a very labor-intensive schedule. And I focused on developing the brand, building out the customer experience, growing the business, and securing outside funding (all while simultaneously working another full-time job in marketing in NYC). 

In large part, my focus was on spearheading a rebrand of the company. Since my background is in marketing, this tapped directly into my skill set. I really thought it was important to create a cohesive brand that reflected our philosophy and values and also matched how amazing our product is. 

To this day, after our product, I would say our branding is one of our biggest assets. It’s modern, fresh, smart, and clever. It resonates most with the millennial demographic, who also happens to be the largest pet-owning demographic. 

What’s your piece of advice for readers who want to achieve wealth and success in life?

Ok, so this isn’t the most highbrow quote, but I truly love it, and it’s gotten me through some tough times. It’s from the rapper Jay-Z, and he says, “The genius thing that we did was, we didn’t give up.” So my advice is to keep going, even in the toughest times. Especially in the toughest times. 

We Feed Raw-Amy Headshots (1)

A lot of people set out with a goal in mind but then abandon that goal when things get too hard. Hard times don’t mean you’re on the wrong path; it often means you’re on a path to getting better. Don’t focus on the “why is this happening to me,” but rather “how can I solve this?” or “how can I pivot to make this work?” 

Is it tough for a woman to survive in this industry? How did you overcome those panic attacks?

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I think it’s tough for women as leaders in most industries today, unfortunately. But the times are changing. From my own experience, I truly believe in this company and what we do, so for me, that offers solace and calms me even in times of tremendous stress. 

Having a passionate and strong belief in the mission and knowing what we’re doing is truly helping dogs have better lives is a great antidote to self-doubt. I’m also inspired by my sister’s life, perseverance, and dedication to this business. Every day, it makes me want to make this company the best it can be. 

This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder, but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?

Well, I think first and foremost, we need more women founders because our society needs gender equality. Society will benefit most when men and women are given equal opportunities in the workplace. 

Men and women can bring different leadership styles to the table, and I think our society can do a better job of having a balance of both. In my opinion, a company’s success depends on diversity and balance. 

What’s your piece of advice for people who want to quit their 9-5 job and start a business?

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I would say I don’t quit your 9-5 job if you think starting your own business is going to be easier. In fact, I can almost guarantee it will be much harder, more time-consuming, and all-encompassing. 

That said, it will almost always be more rewarding. What you’ll lose in stability from having a 9-5 job, you’ll gain in stimulation, excitement, and growth from doing your own thing. It’s unpredictable and scary, but that’s often exactly the place where we thrive. 

Coming to the main part- has the pandemic affected your business, and what have you learned from it?

Because we are a direct-to-consumer dog food company, the pandemic was actually a boon to our business. Not only were people staying home, but millions of Americans also adopted dogs during the pandemic. 

In addition, pet parents were spending more time with their dogs and thinking about how to care for them better. What is the best way to ensure a dog’s health and happiness? Biologically appropriate nutrition. So people were seeking us out in ways we had not seen before, and we saw tremendous growth. 

That said, we still had pandemic-related struggles. We dealt with labor shortages, shipping carrier issues, and price increases. What we learned from it is that it’s important to be nimble. 

If you’re prepared to face unanticipated challenges, those challenges have a harder time bringing you down. You bounce back quicker when you expect the unexpected. 

Has there ever been a moment when you thought to yourself, “I can’t take it anymore; I’m going to get a “real” job? If so, how did you overcome it?

Sure, many times. Not these days because the business is in a great stable place, but certainly, I’ve had those days in the past. The best way to overcome it is to remind yourself that starting a business is supposed to be hard. If it weren’t hard, you’d probably be doing something wrong. 

I think people get scared off by things being hard–in relationships, in work, in creative projects–but again, just because something is hard doesn’t mean you’re on the wrong path. So being ok with “the hard” is really important. 

Where do you see yourself and your business in five years?

We are currently in the process of expanding to multiple facilities around the country. By increasing our distribution network, we are able to service 98% of the contiguous US with 1-and 2-day transit times. Faster time to the customer and more streamlined logistics means we can really hone in on the frequency of delivery to make sure customers have just the right amount of food for their dogs at all times. 

In 5 years, I see us having increased that network even more, and since we’re always striving to be the best that we can be, I see us in the future as an even better version of the awesome company we are today through the expansion of our team of dog experts who believe in what we do and want to be a part of it. 

Personally, I’ll continue to focus on building the brand so that consumers feel connected to our vision, values, and philosophy.

What does success mean to you?

I think success means loving what you do–even when there are challenges. It’s happiness and purpose and knowing that you’re making a positive impact. 

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