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PetPlate Founder Discusses Navigating the Messy Middle in Business

Building and scaling a business isn’t easy, and reality quickly settles in after the initial excitement of launching your product or new business venture. Navigating this next phase of the entrepreneurial journey is difficult and creates more questions than answers.

I believe author Scott Belsky summarized it best by calling this part of the journey the “messy middle.” Belsky accurately describes the messy middle as the hardest and most crucial part of any new venture or project. How well you navigate the messy middle ultimately determines the success of your venture.

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The Small Business Administration says that nine out of 10 startups and new business ventures fail; about 20% do so in the first year; 70% by year 10.

My personal experience has taught me that conviction in your understanding of your customer and confidence in your ability to design the right product or service is crucial to navigating your way through this stage of your business.

The moment I first realized I was in the messy middle was when I stepped off stage of the hit TV show, “Shark Tank,” without a deal. I had launched my business, PetPlate, a direct-to-consumer human-grade pet food company, six short months after leaving my job in private equity. I had spent months at my previous job consulting for pet food companies and was shocked at the ingredients that made their way into our pet’s food. This firsthand experience gave me strong conviction in PetPlate’s mission and products, but the Sharks questioned that conviction. They doubted the product format, price, the size of the market, and me as a young entrepreneur. I remember the moment when the last Shark (Mr. Wonderful) said he was out, and for a moment, I wondered if they were right to doubt my vision.

In that moment, without strong conviction, it would have been easy to give up, or worse, make the wrong pivot. Without conviction in PetPlate’s mission and products, I might have pivoted to a more traditional form of dog food. However, after spending months in pet food factories and being a pet parent myself, I had the necessary conviction to define what the future of dog food should look like. It gave me a North Star and helped me navigate and find a path forward.

I would still say PetPlate is in the messy middle, but our conviction in human-grade nutrition for pets has brought forth great success.

Finding your own North Star is hard work, but it is important to do so to build strong conviction. In my case, I built my North Star through my personal relationship with my dog, Winston, and almost a year of consulting to large pet food factories.

This journey is important for entrepreneurs, as it gives you space to better mold and craft your ideas. It also allows you to gain valuable experience and to become a subject matter expert. It is easy to jump the gun with a business idea when you have the first moment of inspiration, but it is important to nurture that inspiration before acting on it. It will only make your idea stronger and will give you the conviction to push through obstacles.

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We’ve done that hard work at PetPlate, and we’ve now shipped over 15 million meals to more than 300 dog breeds around the country. Most importantly, we receive testimonials daily from customers about how PetPlate has made a huge difference in their dog’s lives.

In fact, “Shark Tank” even recognized our success and we became one of the few companies to have a “Shark Tank” update, despite not originally receiving a deal.

Despite our rapid growth, it still feels like PetPlate is in the messy middle. However, I am now surrounded by a supportive team that has that same strong conviction in our mission and vision at PetPlate.

This article originally appeared in The Costco Connection by Renaldo Webb for StartupNation

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