If your furry friend feels like family, then you know there’s way more to the relationship than trying to make them Instagram famous and designing your very own pet tattoo. For one engineer, there was a clear need in the pet market: a better way to track your dog’s health records. And when she couldn’t find anyone to bring her vision to life, she did what any bonafide #girlboss would do, she brought it to life herself. We caught up with Emily Dong, CEO and founder of PawPrint, to get the details on carving your own path, advancing STEM education for girls, battling sexism in Silicon Valley, and so much more!
B+C: Take us on your journey. How did you get where you are today?
Emily Dong: I started off with a brief stint in consulting before being bit by the startup bug. I discovered a very early-stage company in the edtech space, LearnSprout, and fell in love with their mission of empowering educators through data. Luckily, they took a chance on me and brought me on as their first product manager. The company was later acquired by Apple, and I went on to pursue engineering at Hack Reactor in hopes of building Pawprint.
B+C: Pawprint puts your four-legged friend’s records in the palm of your hand. Why is access to these records so important?
ED: If you’re a pet owner, you know that proof of vaccination is required everywhere. Whether you need to get your pup [or] kitty a haircut or drop them off for boarding, facilities need to know your pet is safe to be around. I discovered this first hand when I had to get my dogs (Apple, a maltipoo, and Bowser, a yorkie) a haircut and was turned down by five groomers because I didn’t have their records. After trying to get in touch with my vet, I found out their vaccines were expired, and I had to update them before going to the groomer — total time from initial call to getting to the groomer was two months.
Records are also important in cases of emergency. It’s easy to forget vets are not open 24/7. And when your ever-curious dog eats something they shouldn’t or walks off the porch in their discovery of gravity, your 24/7 emergency vet can give much better treatment if they know the pet’s history.
B+C: You couldn’t find a developer to build Pawprint so… you did it yourself! (High five!) How did you learn to code well enough to build a beautiful app?
B+C: You come from an engineering background, how have those skills helped you as an entrepreneur?
ED: [My background] allowed me to get the project off the ground. I launched the app in both app stores before bringing on another engineer. These days, most of my time is spent on sales and product (rarely engineering) and understanding the technical aspect helps me bridge communication between our customers and engineers. When our customers ask for features or make suggestions, I know how feasible and difficult the implementation will be.
B+C: How do you balance your days? Do you still have time for fun, or is it all CEO decisions and coding?
ED: Work occupies my mind 99 percent of the time, but I’ll always make time for workouts (three to five times a week) and friends (at least once a week). Staying active physically and having a strong social support group are both fun and great for relieving stress.
B+C: STEM education is a big (and important) point of conversation in today’s educational ecosystem, especially for young girls. How do you think our system can better empower girls to become more interested in math and science?
ED: Having spent a lot of time in edtech, I strongly believe no amount of software or technology can take the place of a great teacher. Kids are so easily influenced by the people around them and that one special mentor or friend can make all the difference. Growing up, I spent a lot of time at math club because that’s what my friends were doing and because we had the best teacher/coach. Mrs. Christy was everyone’s number one fan and would never let any of the girls believe they weren’t as smart as the boys. My hope is that the system can attract more educators like Mrs. Christy.
B+C: If you could have a conversation with any #girlboss, current or historical, who would it be, what would you chat about, and where would the convo go down?
ED: Indra Nooyi, Pepsi CEO. I love how open and honest she is. I’d ask her for management and team building tips [as] she’s clearly excelled at this despite growing up in a traditional family where she is expected to run the household in addition to work.
B+C: As a young, female CEO in tech, have you run into any challenges or obstacles you weren’t anticipating?
ED: There are definitely challenges. Sometimes people don’t respect you as much initially and occasionally men in powerful positions will hit on you — every female CEO I’ve met has at least one of these stories. That said, in my experience, it’s not as bad as the media makes it out to be. If you have a good business and you are building something people want, the challenges of being young and female are small inconveniences. They will not make or break your company.
B+C: Any advice for other women trying to make it in the tech world?
ED: Confidence is at least half the game. In many situations, it’s not just what you say but also how you say it.
(Photos via PawPrint)