For Ron Holloway ’17, every day is a dog day. That’s because he took his pet-focused UMGC Capstone project and made it a reality.
A dog lover, Holloway had become intrigued by the pet industry during his degree program. He understood how much people love their dogs, and he had an idea for an out-of-the-ordinary pet food business that he thoughts others might like just as much as he did.
Though it was once a school assignment, today Woofbowl is a thriving food truck for dogs, providing fresh, healthy and nutrient-dense treats made without synthetic ingredients, artificial additives or preservatives. Offerings include from-scratch, canine-friendly snacks that look like hamburgers, pizza, French fries, donuts, waffles and even “beer” for dogs.
“We make it look like human food, but it’s based on the science of a dog’s needs,” he explains.
Holloway owns and operates the business with his wife Solo, who is also an electrical and biochemical engineer. She helps formulate the items they sell to ensure they’re of the highest quality, and their four-legged customers are literally eating them up.
“It’s an experience,” says Holloway. “People love their dogs and want to see them happy.”
Betting on an idea
It hasn’t all been a walk in the dog park for Holloway. After serving in the U.S. Navy for eight years, Holloway suffers from PTSD. In 2011, he and his wife adopted two dogs, Latto and Dino, which provide Holloway with emotional support. His love for his support dogs inspired the idea of healthy food for them presented in a fun way to engage their owners, too.
When Holloway initially presented the dog food truck idea to his wife, she had her reservations.
“My wife first thought it was the dumbest idea ever, but after thinking about it some more, she thought it was actually kind of genius,” he says.
They decided to go all-in on this new venture, using their life savings to buy and outfit a truck to their specifications. After a number of delays with construction, though, they received some bad news from their contractor.
“He sent out an email to customers and vendors saying he was filing for bankruptcy,” explains Holloway. “We lost $100,000. Imagine starting your dream $100,000 in the red.”
Fortunately, Woofbowl had already cultivated a following of customers who had discovered their offerings at the farmers markets and special events they frequented. The media has also picked up on his story and helped spread the word about his unique business.
“The community has rallied around us,” he explains. “They have said they will not let us fail.”
Grateful for his graduate degree
When Holloway launched his business, he leaned on the skills he learned during his MBA program at UMGC, which he completed while he was working at the FDIC after earning his bachelor’s degree.
He studied Amazon’s approach to value proposition, Apple’s dedication to innovation and iteration, Marriott’s ability to replicate its model, and how well Nike knows its customer. He was struck by each of these approaches and how they contributed to their organizations’ respective success.
“I took all of that information and synthesized it, and it helped me build the Woofbowl ecosystem,” he said.
His best advice
When he became an entrepreneur, Holloway learned a few important lessons, the first of which is familiar to most professionals.
“Tap into your network where you can,” he advises.
He did just that in the early days of WoofBowl, including his professors, fellow classmates and others in his circle. They helped open doors and create opportunities for him to pursue as he found his footing as a business owner. Later, he continued to cultivate new relationships, which have helped him and his wife weather the ups and downs of the economy.
From the start, Holloway realized that the flexibility and autonomy of owning a business came at a price: uncertainty.
“Fear and freedom are remarkable bedfellows,” he says. “Don’t be afraid to be uncomfortable or to fail.”
For Holloway and his wife, the risk has paid off, despite the challenges they have faced along the way.
“If we would have never left comfortable jobs and salaries, I would have never been on CNN or on Vice Video, and I wouldn’t have been contacted about a reality show and a book deal,” he insists. “I have all these opportunities because I took a leap of faith.”
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