How to turn a passion into a product line

What if you could start a business around the single-minded proposition of sharing the love and joy doggos and puppers bring into our lives?

That’s the reality for Karan White, who managed to hustle her way to building Happiness is Dog Shaped early last year.

Built as a community (with over 160,000 members) to celebrate all things warm and fuzzy, White has also managed to turn her passion for her adorable dachshunds into a book and product line for dogs.

We caught up with her to get her tips on how to build out a passion to a side hustle, how knowing her numbers enables her to spend more time with her dogs, and just generally chat all things doggo.

The Pulse: So, the most important thing up front – tell me all about Fella and Tidda!

Karan: Fella and Tidda, aka Doxies Down Under are two happy little weens who just love to be in front of the camera!

When they joined our family, I was forever taking photos of them to document their puppyhood and create tangible memories.

Fella is the chocolate ween, who in mid-2017 suffered from full paralysis due to a spinal disorder. Hundreds of thousands of people from around the globe watched Fella’s treatment and rehabilitation and continue to cheer her on to this day.

She’s become a beacon of hope for many dog owners who are experiencing a debilitating sickness or illness with their own family pet.

Tidda is the cheeky little sister.

Her name was inspired by Dr Anita Heiss’ book of the same name. Tidda means ‘sister’ in indigenous Australian. She’s everything you’d expect a good sister to be and never far from Fella’s side.

Next to food and her sister, Tidda just loves toys! She’s always carrying around some sort of toy in her mouth – her current favourite being a hard, plastic ball.

The Pulse: Tell me about what you were doing before starting Happiness is Dog Shaped

Karan: Whilst quite time intensive, Happiness is Dog Shaped is not a full-time job. Through the assistance of some very talented people, I’m able to run our community efficiently.

In addition to working in the Happiness community, I own a social media, technology and IP law firm.

The Pulse: Where did the spark of inspiration come from for Happiness is Dog Shaped?

Karan: I’ve loved animals all my life. My first job was a volunteer with the RSPCA in Darwin. As it was quite a remote area, I was lucky to work with all sorts of farm and domestic animals.

Throughout the decades I’ve continued to work in some capacity with disadvantaged animals – whether it’s been in shelters in the USA or New Zealand, or fundraising and awareness here in Australia.

I think that many people share this deep-rooted love for animals, particularly dogs, so it seemed natural to create a community where this love could be celebrated with like-minded people.

The Pulse: How excited were you in the early days of building the business as a side-hustle? Any sleepless nights?

Karan: Yes! And still, the sleepless nights continue.

When you have a driving passion for something, I think it’s difficult to harness that energy and motivation to ‘business hours’.

I feel that regardless of the stage your business is at, it’s meaningful if you can retain the excitement beyond those early side-hustle days and continue to feel that passion and drive as the business matures.

READ: Your guide for starting a new business

The Pulse: You’ve built out a great social media community for the business – what approach did you take for building this community? Surely, it’s not as simple as ‘publish doggo photos and the masses will come’?

Karan: Building a community takes time. Much like the real world, an online community grows from trust and two-way engagement.

In the early days, it was easy for me to connect with of each our fans and their individual stories.

As our community has grown so large and with the changes to the way content is displayed on social media, it’s increasingly difficult to see the day to day goings on from our community.

To counter this, I personally respond to each message we receive across all our channels – this amounts to hundreds of contacts each month with our community, which are highly valued.

The purpose for building a community varies. For businesses looking to build a community for commercial reasons, I strongly encourage engaging professionals to assist with this task.

Unfortunately, it’s a skill set that extends far beyond publishing a photo and the masses will come. Social media communities are highly valuable for businesses owners, so with a strategic approach, businesses can reap the benefits they offer.

The Pulse: Why did you commit to creating the Happiness is Dog Shaped book? More importantly, where did you find the time for it?

Karan: Each day, through our community, I would have people sharing their stories with me about their dogs. Often these stories began with terrible circumstances and a difficult start to life for their dog but ended with happiness and love.

And, of course, there were as many stories of celebration – a doggy graduation, a milestone birthday or a new doggy sibling joining the family.

The common thread to each of these stories was the pure happiness reflected in the doggo-human relationship. It seemed right to share the stories that bring out the warm and fuzzies in people.

Time is always difficult to find. I could not have bought this project to life without the invaluable support of my editorial team, graphic designer and most incredible husband.
Between nursing a paralysed dog and meeting publishing deadlines, he made it all achievable!

The Pulse: You work with an accountant through the MYOB platform – what’s the best piece of advice your accountant has ever given you?

Karan: Know your numbers! It’s easy to get caught up in the more ‘fun and glamourous’ side of business and some would consider bookkeeping to be a more tedious task, but, the numbers reveal all.

Our accountant helps us keep our financial records up to date, which means at any time, we can understand our cash flow (how many new dog toys can we make and how many have we sold?) and other things like, how much profit are we making (otherwise known as ‘can I take next week off to pat all the doggos?’).

Knowing the numbers in your business is vital. Our accountant ensures we’re across all the numbers that matter, always.

READ: Why your bookkeeper’s value isn’t in dollars, but sense

The Pulse: How much time do you spend on the books each week, and how much time would you be spending on them if you didn’t have MYOB?

Karan: I’m one of those rare people who enjoy the working on the accounts, but I love spending time with dogs more.

I’ve streamlined our accounting via MYOB to ensure more time spent with dogs and less time in the office.

MYOB gives me the flexibility to work on the accounts from any location, at any time. And, I’ll be upfront – I only spend a couple hours a week on this task. The rest is handled by our accountant from an entirely different location.

I’ve been using MYOB in business for over 15 years. It’s an integral element of me streamlining my business operations, to enable me to focus my time on other priorities.