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Entertaining Entrepreneurship

Henrik Werdelin’s Bark fetches $1.6 billion valuation

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Originally from Denmark and now living in the US, Henrik Werdelin has been recognized as one of the “Top 100 Most Creative People In Business” by Fast Company and named to the “Silicon Alley 100” by Business Insider. His path to entrepreneurship took him through the BBC, MTV and Joost before he ended up creating Prehype, a “halfway house” for entrepreneurs like him, who didn’t know what to do next. Not only has Prehype incubated new ventures from scratch and in collaboration with Fortune 500 companies, it’s also where he hatched his own startup, Bark.

With a mission to make dogs as happy as they make us, Bark quickly took off, expanding its BarkBox subscription service over the years to include toys, pet food, home and health product lines. In June of 2021, Bark went public via SPAC by merging with Northern Star Acquisition. The newly combined company is valued at approximately $1.6 billion, and Bark is expected to generate around $365 million in revenues and reach a gross profit of $221 million this year. But the coolest part of the job, Henrik says, is getting to make dogs happy. 

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Highlights from this episode:

“My secret superpower was that I knew about computers.”

“I find that, actually, if you want to start a service company, then that seems to be the way that it only goes, right? You kind of have this aspiration of being your own boss.”

“For a brief second, it was super hot to be able to basically press a button on your remote control and this interactive layer will happen on top.”

Going back to MTV after striking out on his own: “It was, like, a salary, which seemed good at the time.”

“I’ve always seen myself as somebody who started things.”

“I find, like, this idea of being, you know, entrepreneurial is not necessarily a job — it’s an attitude more than anything.”

“I think this idea of having this very simplistic view of what an entrepreneur is, which has very much, I think, been defined by the venture capital community and by Silicon Valley, is just too limited.”

“In my view the word entrepreneur and entrepreneurship as such is really just solving problems in a scalable way and kind of like trying to find new ways of doing it.”

“If you want to be a little philosophical, I think it’s sometimes more of a founder-product fit than a product-market fit, and what I mean by that is, I’ve found that, following my career, that it’s almost as important that the person who’s kind of driving something also has a great intuition and great passion about the subject matter.”

“Even today, I find gaming to be somewhat…kind of a fringe thing.”

“People couldn’t really see that this could be a big industry when there were so many other things that were staring in their face.”

“Fundamental to how I think about businesses is this idea of finding a specific customer to serve, and then serving them with a lot of different products and services.”

“The way that I compute the world is, what is the specific problem a specific group is trying to solve? And then, how can I kind of try to solve that with any tool I have in my arsenal? And then once I have a relationship with that customer, how can I treat my customers so well that I have the permission to offer them other products and services?”

“I think it’s more difficult to build something internally than it is externally. You have so many divisions that are set up to keep the status quo.”

“I kind of have what I call default kill switches…I think, you know, as an entrepreneur, your biggest asset is your time.”

“Working on something that is not quite working for 10 years, for me, is, like, worse than failing with something like relatively inexpensively and fast.”

The founders of Skype: “They just think very big.”

Why startups fail: “We have a tendency of thinking there’s, like, the one thing. The reality is, I feel, with a lot of these things, that it’s kind of like the accumulation of many small things that, independently, looks trivial, but when they all kind of compound together either makes you successful and unsuccessful.”

“I got to kind of like, hang in that crew and really learn about, you know, really, how do you build a global internet business.”

“This idea that just by packing, kind of like, very smart people with a lot of money and a good idea doesn’t necessarily yield a multibillion dollar outcome.”

“Startup life is always stressful.”

When you’re starting a company: “You’re always on your back foot in many ways. There’s just an endless amount of things that [don’t] work all the time. And so your to-do list of things to fix is just endless.”

What’s unique about people in the U.S.: “Their appreciation of people who are trying.”

“There’s not many creative entrepreneurs that want a boss, and they definitely don’t want me as that boss, and so I felt that if I could kind of just be their caddy and kind of like help them carry some clubs, while still playing good golf like and show that I wasn’t just a caddy, then people will come and hang out.”

When things work: “Success tends to be somewhat obvious pretty quickly.”

“The headline is, I met [co-founder] Matt [Meeker] when we woke up in heart-shaped bed on a cruise ship.”

“Matt, I think, started by having Square in his phone, so he’s like, taking money right now. And then, that’s when you really get people’s real complaints.”

“We had a WordPress template and didn’t know what to do next.” 

On co-founder Carly Strife: “She’s a force of nature.”

“The nice part of having two co-founders is that you kind of divide and conquer.”

“Sometimes time spent is not necessarily value created.”

“It’s a cool job because you get to make dogs happy.”

“When things are going up and to the right, you get a lot of permission.”

“We had always wanted to be a public company.”

“Most people are in the company because they like to make dogs happy, and that just creates, like, a culture that is different than other companies I’ve been involved in.”

“I get to have the best of both worlds. I get to spend the majority of my time sitting at Bark and doing dog stuff, and then I get to go over to Prehype and hang with a lot of very smart entrepreneurial people who are really trying to understand how to build stuff from scratch.”

“We, in many ways, see ourselves as an entertainment company, like a Disney for dogs.”

“It’s incredibly nice to build stuff.”

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