In Conversation with Jessica Yergin and Christie Catan of Tails of Connection

Tails of Connection_Blog Header

Describe your business in a few words?

Tails of Connection is an online dog training community.

What made you take the leap to start your own business?

Jess: Christie and I met through Instagram after I fell in love with Christie’s 80-pound dog @otis_unleashed and we became friends IRL even though I lived in NYC and Christie in DC. When I came to DC for a job interview in the spring of 2019, we met up for coffee, and Christie shared her idea to build a new kind of resource for dog parents centered on community. She recounted her struggles trying to help her giant dog, who was still terrified of feathers, despite having spent thousands on training. When I got back to NYC, I called Christie back and said, “What if the job I was interviewing for was actually to start this company with you?” In August 2019, I moved to DC, and TOC was born.

What was your background prior to starting your own business?

Jess: I spent most of my career in TV news, working first for ABC News in breaking news and live coverage of special events like the royal wedding and then for Erin Burnett at CNN. Before I started TOC, I was a director of digital content at Charter Communications where I ran all of their pr team’s external digital properties, including their websites and social handles. As part of that role, I led the content strategy and creation for those platforms. 

Christie: I worked as a consultant at Ernst & Young for over 5 years and left to build my own startup in the fitness space. I had to close that startup down, but it is hard to call it a failure when I learned so much from it. 

Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

Jess: Not at all. Growing up I knew that my dad’s family had a women’s coat and suit business that ultimately split the family apart for years. That kind of risk that could permanently impact your personal life really scared me. I guess that’s why I’m not doing this with family!

Christie: No, definitely not. I actually thought I wanted to be a doctor when I went to college, but I had a lot of health issues that landed me deep in the medical system. I spent a lot of time in hospitals and really wanted to not have to think about health, so I changed majors. 

Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?

Jess: We were lucky because Christie’s dog, Otis, has an incredible community of over 200k followers on instagram. This community has watched her work with Otis and her other rescue dog, Sully, all along and when we launched TOC they were very supportive. For instance, we asked them to fill out a survey about life with their dogs and overnight over 1k detailed responses flooded our inbox. 

Christie: We have always prioritized organic growth. We worked hard to build a small community and add value to their lives. As we focused on that, they started sharing us with their friends. It has been important for us to cultivate an engaged community and not just try to get the biggest reach.

We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?

Jess: Running an online community is incredibly rewarding. We learn so much from our #TOCFam. Over the course of last year we’ve had a few scary moments where a couple of community members sent us threats directed at us or at themselves. We took these very seriously and reported them to the appropriate authorities.

Christie: I feel like my previous startup was a giant learning experience. You name a mistake, I likely made it. I think my biggest mistake in my previous startup was in focusing too much on the idea and then building my grand vision and not enough on actually doing, iterating, and learning. With TOC, we started really small and tried to thrill one person. We learned from that person and the people they told, and it informed the next thing we did. We keep an eye on the vision, but we try not to let our vision get in the way of our execution. 

What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?

Jess: We’ve bootstrapped the entire time and in 2020 (including during the pandemic) we launched two community-based, on demand video e-courses, where you can train your dog at home. We built and marketed both courses entirely on our own. So far we’ve had over one thousand paying customers in our first year.

Christie: I am proud of us for building a community that has a beating heart. This world can be a really tough place, so I feel really excited knowing that we have created a space people feel some connection in.

When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?

Jess: We haven’t had the opportunity to hire yet. I can’t wait for that. In tv news years ago there was a question that I always found fascinating. “It’s five minutes until the Today Show starts and the co-anchors are fighting. What will you do to convince them to come to the set and do the live show?”

How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?

Jess: The pandemic was particularly challenging because we needed to quarantine and were separated. Christie had to film herself in her apartment for our next product, Camp TOC, and upload the footage for me to edit. Overall though the dog industry is booming but dog trainers have been forced to do much more online business because of the pandemic. Christie and I were fortunate to have a digital product, the Tails of Connection Challenge, already available right when the pandemic started so we didn’t have to scramble from that perspective.  

Christie: We have done a lot of growing in a time where the world has felt incredibly uncertain. So much is already unknown with startups, and it became tough for us to predict the future. Luckily our strategy pre-pandemic was digital first and we are small and able to adjust quickly, but it certainly created some extra question marks as we thought about our strategy. 

What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?

Jess: We are excited to partner with a professional trainer this year and design a course around her. In the future we would love to develop content featuring many more diverse training personalities. We are also releasing something puppy specific this year since there have been so many pandemic pups.

What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?

Jess: A day that you are healthy and have food and a roof over your head is a great day. 

Christie: The little things are the big things.

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?

Jess: It sounds cliche but it’s about the journey and not the destination. There are a lot of days where it feels like nothing is happening but now I know I have the power in me to change the direction of this business and make something happen and doing a little of that every day really adds up. 

Christie: It is really hard and will challenge every belief you have about yourself. I likely would have had some mantras taped above my desk to help ground me from day one – ha! 

How have you managed to stay grounded this year?

Jess: I raised a brand new puppy this year that I picked up in March (the timing was scheduled well before the pandemic and coincidental). He had a number of health issues from the beginning and is extremely high energy. Training and caring for him has been all consuming. For the first time I really got to appreciate being a part of our #TOCFam and using our products to learn and get help and advice from our amazing community. 

Christie: Trees! I fell madly in love with trees. I try to spend time in nature each day — often walking through the woods with my dogs. I stop and sit with trees and feel this calm just wash over me. 

Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?

Jess: I’m trying to. Especially with the pandemic and working in the same house as my husband all day long. I try to give myself breaks to play and train my puppy, Stanley. I also take time for myself to read (I really enjoy a good romance novel), work out (Christie and I have been doing Obe’ well before the pandemic and know and admire their kickass co-founder, Ashley Mills), and cook.

Christie: I hear so many different terms thrown around these days and am never sure what people actually mean by them without asking. I will tell you where I stand right now though. I think it is so important to remember our humanity. Work can often be a beautiful part of that, but it is not the only thing. I try to remember that I have all sorts of currencies — things that fill me up and add value to my life. Money isn’t the only type of currency. I value time with my dogs and friends and family. I love deep heart conversations. I love time in nature. I love dancing. Those things are also worth my time. I also find that I can be so much more creative at work when I give myself space to play and be. Like life, I think work has seasons. I think there are periods where it takes up a huge amount of time, and that is okay. In those seasons, I sometimes carve out just 10 minutes and give myself permission to do whatever the heck I want. Also, the busier work gets, the more important it is for me to spend some time in nature playing with my dogs, so I usually do that first thing in the morning to make sure I have filled my cup up before I get going with work.

What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?

Jess: When I started college in New York, I wanted to be a professional flute player and I was in a joint program with the Manhattan School of Music. 

Christie: As a child, I used to have recurring dreams (over years) that I lived with dolphins (I have always loved dolphins). That is likely not what you had in mind, but it would at the very least surprise some people. 

What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?

Jess: 

Make a checklist in the morning and start checking things off.

Disable alerts from instagram on your phone.

Set mini goals for the day and reward yourself with a walk, a workout, a snack or something else when you hit those goals. 

Christie: 

Put your phone away from you or turn it on airplane mode when you want to work something out. 

Have a mini goal that is concrete and focuses your day a bit. 

Step away from what you are doing if you are just spinning. 

What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?

Jess: I feel so lucky to be a female founder of a small business. We still have a ways to go before we shatter that glass ceiling and I want to support as many female entrepreneurs as possible on this journey. 

Share it!

Posted in
Tags

Leave a Comment





Michele Henry of FACE FOUNDRIÉ on why she leans into her fears, and the importance of dreaming big

Describe FACE FOUNDRIÉ in a few words? Efficient and effective focused facial bar specializing in all things face, facials, lashes, brows, and skincare. What made you take the leap to start your own business? I worked in my parents’ small inground pool business from age 13 all the way through college. Being an entrepreneur is…

Ashley Spriggs of Pivot Media on the power of genuine relationships

Describe your business in a few words? We are a media firm that gets your message the attention it deserves. We offer services in Public Relations and Podcast Management. What made you take the leap to start your own business? It was the right time! I was growing my client list as an independent contractor…

Mary Allard of The Third Place podcast on inviting listeners to explore uncomfortable conversations in a safe space

Describe your business in a few words? The Third Place podcast is a weekly podcast that invites listeners into the hard conversations that we have a tendency to avoid. It is a podcast that “goes there,” within a safe place where curiosity is encouraged, differences are welcomed, and empathy is embraced through healthy dialogue. What…

Kelsea Olivia of East Olivia Creative on creating experiences that spark curiosity, joy, and connection

Describe your business in a few words? East Olivia is a boutique creative agency that specializes in large-scale floral installations. What made you take the leap to start your own business? I have been starting businesses since I was a child, selling my crafts and babysitting. As an adult, I had an innate desire to…

Tiffany Roman of Small Biz Highlight on creating a platform to help small businesses thrive

Describe your business in a few words? Small Biz Highlight is a web show, created to help introduce the people behind a small/local business, their products and services, and discuss how COVID affected them. What made you take the leap to start your own business? Back in April 2020, COVID shutdowns were in full effect…

11 Mamaprenistas share their best productivity tips to manage a business and a family

1) Tierney Larkin, Founder at Larkin Living Spaces: “Be sure to have a designated space to work that is just for you and your business. It can be a makeshift office in the corner of a room, or even a traveling cart that you can take around with you to store all of your supplies…

How Two Entreprenistas Launched & Scaled Their Business on Shopify in 30 Days

Within 9 years, Stephanie Cartin and Courtney Spritzer have bolstered the presence of over 300 women-owned companies — all through social media strategy, platform management, influencer marketing, paid media and creative service. Given their success with Socialfly, Steph and Courtney recently decided to create a podcast called Entreprenistas, which provides a community to celebrate and…

Sarah Kallile of Lunnie on building the first community-led brand for modern mothers

Describe Lunnie in a few words? Community-led brand for modern mothers. We’re reinventing the nursing bra. What made you take the leap to start your own business? I’m a mom of two young girls. While breastfeeding my second daughter, I was frustrated with my clunky nursing bra and how it made me feel frumpy. I…

Ramy Sharp on launching Ramy Brook to fill a void in the marketplace, and what inspired her to take the leap

Describe Ramy Brook in a few words? Happy, Sexy and Strong! Ramy Brook is female owned and operated, stemming from one woman’s dream to uplift, empower and celebrate women. The apparel, accessories and swimwear collections transcend generational dressing, offering something for anyone looking for a vibrant and celebrational style. My vision is for women who…

Charlotte Michailidis of Parenthood Ventures on fueling the next wave of innovation for early stage ParentTech

Describe your business in a few words? Parenthood Ventures is the founder ecosystem for early stage ParentTech – i.e., startups serving parents, from fertility to teens.  Companies in our community span sub-sectors like caregiving, employee benefits, food, physical goods, digital health, retail, clothing, education, media/entertainment and fintech.  The objective is to fuel the next wave…

Vanessa Coppes of BELLA Media + Co on how determining who her customer was changed her business

Describe BELLA Media + Co in a few words? Lifestyle media company sharing content and resources for living a beautiful life. What made you take the leap to start your own business? My mental health. Launching my business literally saved my life. I was suffering from postpartum depression and needed a creative outlet. I launched…

Ingrid He of the Sjogren’s Tracker app on using her creativity to help people with autoimmune disorders manage their symptoms

Describe your business in a few words? Sjogren’s (SHOW-grins) Tracker is an app that helps people with autoimmune disorders manage their symptoms and flares. We aim to help our users better understand their conditions and identify triggers to their flares. Our mission is to create innovative solutions to improve the lives of users and facilitate…

Bari Koral of Yogapalooza on pioneering kids yoga with Yogapalooza!

Describe your business in a few words? Bari Koral is a Kids Yoga Pioneer and recording artist. Bari inspires thousands of parents, teachers and young children every day with her kids yoga, music and mindfulness activities and popular YouTube channel. What made you take the leap to start your own business? After burning out on…

Angelica Hanley of ACouplePuns on growing her business while staying 100% true to herself, and the biggest lessons she has learned over the years

Describe your business in a few words? ACouplePuns specializes in sparking joy through laughter and delivers the punniest content and high-quality paper goodies for every special occasion and moment in-between. Whether your bestie loves her house plants, binge-watching Friends, or drinking coffee, ACouplePuns has a punny card for that!   What made you take the leap…

Kelly DuFord Williams of Slate Law Group on disrupting the traditional law firm space and building a business where employees can thrive

Describe your business in a few words? Slate Law Group is a forward-thinking, accessible San Diego-based boutique law firm that provides legal, tax and HR services for small to medium sized businesses and corporations. What made you take the leap to start your own business? I was inspired to start my own business because I…