Did you know that approximately 14% of startups have a female CEO?
Leave it to PetPlate’s own Gertrude Allen to defy the odds.
Gertrude much prefers shining a light on others than bringing attention to herself (sound like any other woman you know?). But we weren’t about to let the month pass without paying tribute to one of the coolest minds and warmest hearts at our company!
We sat down with Gertrude to talk about the excitement of leading a startup, why it’s important to her to remain grounded in day-to-day operations, and her advice for other female entrepreneurs.
How did you end up joining forces with PetPlate?
I met Renaldo Webb, the founder of PetPlate, back in 2016 when he was raising money for his business. I was a member of BrandProject, an early-stage VC fund. I was looking for interesting deals to invest in, and we just fell in love with Renaldo and PetPlate.
We thought it was such a great idea, and something needed in the world. We thought his DTC business model was spot-on and decided to back it, so we made a pre-seed investment in the business in the fall of 2016. The company started to really take off beginning with an airing on Shark Tank. Renaldo and I began working closely together to figure out manufacturing and marketing and partnerships, and we really enjoyed the collaboration.
That was when Renaldo and the rest of the board asked me to join the company as CEO. Where Renaldo’s strengths are in operations, product development, tech and data, my background as a marketer is in business development, corporate development, and investor relations, so we really complemented each other nicely and have been partners ever since.
What excites you about startups?
I love the process of building something from scratch, and providing consumers with a service or product that’s really needed in their lives. PetPlate solves a need and makes life better for the pet parent and the dog.
It’s very gratifying knowing that the work you do every day is benefiting other people directly. And you can see it in a startup so clearly. I also love creating a team and bringing people together to continue to building on a foundation. All these great, talented people come in and add to that story, and then the story gets bigger and bigger.
Why is it important to you to stay involved in the day-to-day operations of the business?
It’s a pretty well-known and accepted notion that you should know how to do the job that you’re hiring other people to do. Meaning, you should know exactly what is required in that role, how that role should be performed, and what the challenges and opportunities are.
So when you hire somebody to own that role, you understand what that person is going to be up against, and how they can best navigate through it. Renaldo and I are of the same mind here. We want to empower people to do their jobs, but maintain a closeness to the work that’s so integral to startups.
A startup is truly like a child, or a dog! They go through growth stages and every stage feels very, very different. The needs of the company change over time and roles expand and contract.
If you don’t stay close to the things that happen on the ground level, you can quickly lose sight of what’s really needed to drive the business forward. We try not to be excessive, but we also try not to be too lean. We’re looking to strike the right balance so that people feel really empowered but not overwhelmed in their jobs.
What do you think it takes to successfully pivot between careers?
It’s cliché, but at the end of the day, it’s important to chase your dreams. Know what is it that you love to do or are good at, and go after it.
Taking all of your skills and experience and parlaying them into the thing you love to do requires taking a risk. It requires you to go outside of your comfort zone. But if you bring to bear all the tools you have in your arsenal, you’ll find you’re qualified to do a lot more than might appear on paper.
Energy, enthusiasm, passion and devotion also help make up for whatever hard skills you may be lacking on day one.
What would you say are some of the advantages of being female-run and Black-owned business?
First and foremost is empathy. One of the things that makes PetPlate special is that we can relate to the customers we serve. We have a true understanding of the role pets play in their lives, and why our customers want to feed their dogs something better and healthier and more delicious and more nutritious.
In other words, we don’t look at the company as some business plan that was drafted in a VC office.
We ask ourselves, what would we want for our own family? And how do we translate that to the customer experience we deliver? Females tend to be very empathetic. And Renaldo’s personal experience has allowed him to operate outside of the expected playbook.
How has being both a mother (and more recently, a dog mom!) shaped your understanding of the investment of love, time, energy, and money that people put into their dogs?
I nurture the business the way I try to nurture my own family and my own dog. When you bring loving kindness, care, and thoughtfulness to a business, you start to see the returns. And we are a loving and caring brand.
When creating the company, Renaldo pursued what was best for his own dog. And coming from a food and beverage background, I look at dog food through the same lens as I would when determining what is best for people.
If healthy food and beverage helps people live a happy and healthy life, we should provide the same for our dogs.
What are some of the most instrumental lessons that you and Renaldo have learned from each other?
This goes back to how well we complement each other. Renaldo has taught me that data is important. It allows you to make informed decisions that really streamline the process.
On the flip side, being so data-driven and operationally-focused, Renaldo has benefited from my emotional investment in certain things we do.
And he’s come to understand the power of brand. It’s an amorphous type of thing, but if you build a brand that people care about and are loyal to, there’s power in that. We’re not just creating a superior product, we’re creating a brand that people trust and rely on over time.
What advice would you give to female entrepreneurs; especially women looking to break into traditionally male industries like business?
Women bring a really good balance between EQ and IQ. It’s a special quality. So lead with confidence! Women too often are intimidated and kind of fearful. But that fear is a phantom.
Trust that you have the information. You have the data. You have what it takes to walk into a room full of people and know that they’re going to be interested in what you have to say. The substance is there. Be confident without being cocky. Be competent, and be prepared.
Leverage the talent, experience, and expertise you have, and know you have a gift that’s unique and special to the world!
To watch Gertrude in action, check out the interview on video!