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WeRateDogs founder on fundraising for pets in need

Matt Nelson, WeRateDogs Founder, joins Yahoo Finance Live to discuss the success behind WeRateDogs and helping raise money to aid pets in need.

Video Transcript

KRISTIN MYERS: All right, let's talk more about the business of pets. Our next guest turned an Instagram account that posts cute pictures of dogs-- I've tried to get my dog Titan onto the Instagram page-- into a profitable business that is also now giving back. We're joined now by Matt Nelson, founder of WeRateDogs. And Matt, I had to mention that in case you want to post Titan somehow--

MATT NELSON: Yeah.

KRISTIN MYERS: --later on. I've now--

MATT NELSON: Sorry about that.

KRISTIN MYERS: --pressured you into it.

[LAUGHTER]

So Matt, how did WeRateDogs really come to be? And when did you realize that it could actually be just more than an Instagram page, but really a profitable business?

MATT NELSON: Yeah, so really, it started with me being on Twitter and using it as a creative outlet. Like, I wrote jokes and found a community of writers trying to do the same thing. And then I've always loved dogs. I soon realized that my jokes that had to do with dogs or even showcasing my own dogs did really well. And so when I was a bored college freshman, I started WeRateDogs and had about 10,000 followers on my personal account to market it to. And it just blew up immediately. It was like the perfect storm that Twitter must have been waiting for.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: So you did so well, Matt, that you actually left school, right? I don't think you graduated college because you were already making six figures with this app. So tell me how you decided to monetize what you had there as a freshman.

MATT NELSON: Of course. So initially, it was obviously to-- like, it was just to make people smile. And then it would soon became-- like, we experimented with making some stickers in an e-commerce store based on some of the more popular posts. And people really embraced that.

And then it was probably a year after the account started that we made a full e-commerce store with, like, the best phrases and things from the account that people really loved. And so that's how the audience kind of embraced that initial attempt to monetize. And then soon, we realized that our community was way more powerful than just liking and retweeting dog photos. And we kind of pivoted to these GoFundMes that we do every Friday.

KRISTIN MYERS: So talk to us a little bit more about that. Because I have seen and I actually do follow your page and your account so I was very excited to chat with you today. And I've just noticed the ability of you guys to, essentially, crowdsource money and funding to really help a lot of dogs that have gotten injured, to really talk about pet insurance and other things. So talk to us a little bit about that component of giving back, how much money you guys have been able to raise and to give out to other dog owners, and what's next, really, in terms of giving back to the pet owner community.

MATT NELSON: So to date-- and we really started this GoFundMe effort with the first Friday of 2017. So in those four years or so, we've raised over $1.6 million and have been able to help hundreds of dogs, which is amazing. I'm not sure how I curated a community that is so empathetic and passionate about dogs. But it's been wonderful to see.

And yeah, every Friday-- and so these are mostly for dogs that need unexpected surgery or treatment. And that can range from $4,000 to $20,000. Pet health care is very, very expensive. So but my audience sees that goal. They understand how GoFundMes gameify, and we try to gameify it even more. And we're able to raise that money in minutes. I think we've raised upwards of $10,000 in 15 minutes before. It's really something to watch unfold.

And with-- we have a new partnership with Trupanion, which is medical insurance for cats and dogs. And because we've been so consistent with these GoFundMes, it's easy for us to pivot and say, hey, guys, we would love to be sent less of these GoFundMes. So please consider pet insurance. Because in most cases, it can alleviate some of this financial burden.

So again, thanks to our partnership with Trupanion, every Friday, we're able to fund a second dog ourselves. WeRateDogs covers the bill for someone. And instead of asking our entire audience to crowdfund this dog, I just tell them to please consider pet insurance so that you're not in a predicament where we would have to post your dog.

KRISTIN MYERS: Matt, of course, this is all a part of our business of pets, of course, because today is Bring Your Dog to Work Day. Mine decided to sleep instead of joining me here for this interview. But curious to know because we were just showing some figures, some stats right there on how much money is really being spent on dogs, but also cats and other pets. I'm curious to know, especially after the year like the one that we just had, how much you see pet owners really just spending more money or expanding into pet ownership. Where do you see this industry going since you started it?

MATT NELSON: So it's been wild to behold, like people-- the growing love for dogs and treating them more and more like a member of your family is, as a dog lover, it's amazing to see. And so I think that number will continue to increase as they're treated more and more like a member of your family and as people have less kids. Like, dogs are considered, for a lot of people, their children. So I think that that will continue to grow. And hopefully it will grow in a responsible way.

During the pandemic, we were inundated with pandemic puppy submissions from people that had more time on their hands and went and got a puppy. And we hope that our community is not the type to return those dogs once they have to go back to work or return to their normal lives. But that has been, unfortunately, a trend that we've seen and just hoping that, at least, the members of our community have been responsible in that choice and actually do treat them like their family and aren't making that return as soon as life goes back to normal.

ALEXIS CHRISTOFOROUS: Well, you definitely honed in on something here, Matt. And I'm just curious if other companies in the space have come to you with buyout offers, or they want to sort of envelop your brand into theirs for WeRateDogs. You know, have you gotten those sort of inquiries, and do you entertain them?

MATT NELSON: We do entertain them. I think that it's still my baby. And I love the creation-- the creative part of it so much that it'd be hard to give away. But with partnerships like Trupanion, and then we also have a long-term partnership with Just Food for Dogs, which is a pet food company, I think with those partnerships, it's allowed us to kind of be a little bit more independent with our creative and having-- like, those two choices are very aligned with our mission of just celebrating dogs in general.

I think that having pet insurance and feeding your dog quality food are what helps you celebrate them and help them live longer. And so those very purposeful partnerships are not made by accident. And I think we're looking forward to continuing to create a community that loves their dogs and does what they can to make them happy.

KRISTIN MYERS: All right, Matt Nelson, founder of WeRateDogs, thank you so much for joining us, but also for bringing the world just a ton of cute dogs for us to all look at.