In Conversation with Tennille Teague of JUST FRED
Describe your business in a few words?
You bet! We are a community for dog lovers that creates cruelty-free pet accessories.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
It was really inspired by my dog Mo who would join me at the office on most days.
After work, rather than traveling back to Brooklyn to drop him at home, it was more convenient to bring him along with me for whatever I was up to. Whether running errands, checking out an art gallery, or grabbing a drink with friends, I was craving a dog carrier bag that was discrete and had elevated style while he was in tow with me.
After searching high and low I could never find a carrier that had a premium design and was comfortable for him so I decided to design one myself and everything began from there.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
I have been an executive producer in the advertising industry, leading integrated productions for US and Global brands. Beyond producing commercials, I also was the executive producer of the feature documentary Lo and Behold directed by Werner Herzog. It was a truly memorable experience to create a film with him.
And personally, I’ve been an advocate for helping ensure kindness to animals and have surrounded my life in that mission since I can remember.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I think so. Creating and bringing ideas to life has been the foundation of my career as a producer so I’ve always been drawn to creating compelling brand stories/worlds.
I’ve also always had a desire to create a company that I’d want to buy from, and work for. A desire to be a business that is able to provide something more valuable beyond a product. And part of that is driven from experiencing brands that cared how you felt while engaging with them. Whether it’s how comfortable you feel when you enter someone’s physical store or the feeling you receive from a reply to an inquiry you’ve sent to them, I’ve been drawn to being able to create a brand that ensures genuine kindness in the way we exist and show up in the world.
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?
We are just getting started, but our main focus has been around research and setting measurable goals to define if something has been successful.
Before we launched JUST FRED, we created a test run of products to see how people responded to them and what they enjoyed the most or resisted. These learnings were super helpful as we moved into thinking about how JUST FRED should live and exist in the world. We are setting measurable goals and trying things to see what has traction while being nimble and pivoting when needed.
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?
A mistake we made earlier on was hiring someone without vetting them enough. I learned that you need to take the time to truly be relentless in ensuring you are clear on who you are including into your team.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
Ensuring our products are all cruelty-free. We spent an extensive amount of time researching materials that were never tested on or made from animals while still ensuring the quality is exceptional. It is super important for us to never use animals for our products. We believe they should be our friends, not our bags.
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
Do you love dogs? 🙂 But also, one question I tend to always find insightful is “do you think you are a lucky person? and why or why not”
This is really driven by a quote I read once by the poet Rabindranath Tagore “The winds of grace are always blowing, but it is you who must raise the sails”
Luck is oftentimes viewed as something that happens to you versus having optimism that luck is a wind that is blowing constantly. Those who make their own opportunities in how they approach life tells me a lot about how someone would approach thinking about our business. Having optimism to building “a sail” – made up of conscious creative thinking and curiosity to catch those winds of luck is a quality we celebrate.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
When we were manufacturing our accessories, things were halted by a handful of months due to COVID -19. This directly affected our originally targeted launch and runway of cash flow but we took this pause as an opportunity to further define what we could do to connect people with their pets and how to further protect the pets who have been mistreated.
During this difficult time, people were struggling and their furry family members were one of the grounding pillars of their days. Interestingly enough, the amount of people opening their homes up to a dog has grown substantially in 2020 which is refreshing to see people encouraging that connection with a kind soul such as a dog.
Although from a short-term business perspective we had challenges from COVID-19, long term, we are seeing an evolution of how people view the inclusion of a dog in their lives as a moment in growth that we want to support and connect with.
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
Get ready! We have some really fun things brewing. Such as a set of dog bowls that through a collaboration with the incredible ceramists Amiee Byrne that are truly going to be like nothing seen before. We also are in the final phase of our Zilla toy which is a retro looking creature that has two holes to stuff treats or soft food in to keep your pup entertained.
Also through our continued mission to connect us all together, we will be hosting an exclusive content series called FredTalk.
FredTalk is a bi-weekly IG Live series featuring tastemakers and influencers that have a dog or are within the pet community.
And longer term, you can expect us to really make a difference in protecting the pets who have been mistreated and helping unite as many as possible with their forever families.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?
I learned that racism is not about being good or bad, it’s about a system we all live in—seeing it, exposing it, and understanding it so we can change it. So I think the biggest thing I’ve learned is we all (myself included) have a lot of work to do, a lot to unlearn.
One of our main brand pillars at JUST FRED is to promote inclusivity and it’s personally extremely important to me to support brands (big and small) that have made this movement a priority within their organizations.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
Stay FOCUSED. Don’t get distracted by the shiny objects. Keep your eye on targeted goals you want to achieve and say NO to everything else. I have a tendency to want to do many things at once but I learned quickly that staying focused on your key business objectives will strengthen your business in the ways it needs.
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
I actually think working remotely has helped me stay grounded. I feel a sense of better time management in what I need to accomplish in the day. Also, being with my two pups Mo and Rizzo more, brings a lot of peace and comfort inside me.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
I do believe in work/life balance – and as a Libra, I feel very comforted by having balance in my life. I think ensuring you take time to check in with yourself is one way to lean into finding that balance. Looking for the positive in moments in life and living your core values will likely help things naturally balance. Also, eating healthy always helps me think more clearly and efficiently which helps in how I prioritize things in my life.
What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
One thing some might be surprised to learn about me is I regularly practice TM meditation. I find it’s a very introspective / concentrated practice that really helps me with clarity and resilience.
Also my dog Mo has been to more broadway shows than I can count. One in particular was when a friend invited me last minute to see Cabaret. I had Mo at work with me and I didn’t have time to run him home first but I really wanted to see Michelle Williams and Alan Cummings in that production so Mo and I headed up to the theater and I saw the show with him secretly in his bag at my feet. The friend I was with asked if I wanted to go backstage to meet Alan Cummings so we headed to his dressing room. As we were hanging out, Mo shifted in the bag and Alan saw the bag move and asked what’s in the bag. I nervously apologized explaining I didn’t want to miss the chance to see him in this role and I had my dog with me. He immediately smiled and asked me to bring Mo out and Mo and Alan became fast friends for the rest of the evening.
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
I am an early riser so I find my most productive time is before the sun rises. Getting those hours in of dedicated focused thinking sets my day up for being productive. I’m also a big fan of organizing my overall goals and tasks in Trello. And I love a good notebook and taking notes. There is something to writing down things that just makes me pause and absorb it a bit more.
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
Being Rebellious and Curious and harnessing that power to visualize a dream and making it come true.
I think also lifting up our fellow female entrepreneurs and supporting each other is a key value to being an Entreprenista.