Every year new technologies are helping shelters and rescues across the globe be more efficient, and today we will be delving into this topic with our guest. Stay tuned to hear about how something as small as photo editing can make the biggest difference.
Our guest today is the founder and CEO of Adoptimize, Jessica Schleder. Jessica had an ah-ha moment while working for popular candy bar company Butterfinger. One day she realized that her value was being measured by the number of candy bars she sold, and she decided then and there to make a bigger impact on the world. Click play to learn more about her and her companies journey.
See more at Jessica's website @ Adoptimize.co
00:00 Lorien Clemens
Hey pet lovers. Welcome to Pet Lover Geek powered by PetHub. I'm Lorien Clemens and today we are talking about such an important thing. Adoption of fur babies and we're going to really dig down deep with our guest today about why photos of adoptable pets are such a key part of the equation of getting pets into their "fur"ever homes. 'cause I know you know that when you look at a picture online or whatever of an adoptable pet and a lot of times their maybe in a cage at the shelter, or maybe outside in the yard where they look really sad or they're like, surrounded by things that are, like, you know, depressing frankly 'cause I'm not shelter situation. You're kind of like awh I don't know, and that takes away from your enjoyment of actually searching for this beautiful pet that is going to join your family so the person we are talking to today has developed a really magical photo editing software tool that is helping shelters and rescues address this problem. Her name is Jessica Schleder. She is the founder and CEO of Adoptimize, and her company helps shelters and rescues all over publish really beautiful photos of the furry friends that we're all trying to bring into our home--so their process has been shown to drive more engagement online and get pets home at a higher rate so I know you want to learn more, stick around, got just a quick little short break and then we're going to get on to this interview. Hang tight.
01:41 Lorien Clemens
Welcome to Pet Lover Geek Jessica.
01:43 Jessica Schleder
Hello, thanks for having me Lorien.
01:46 Lorien Clemens
Well super excited. You and I have known each other for a long time now. It feels like several years,
01:50 Jessica Schleder
01:51 Lorien Clemens
but before we get started I wanted to say that I love what you're doing. I've been watching you for now, what, 3-4 years that you've been in this space and I've been really excited to watch your journey, and I love what you're doing to help pets and their humans get together. So with that being said, I would love it if you could just kind of talk about how you got started in this pet space because when I met you you were doing Graduate School work, but you were also like schlepping candy.
02:20 Jessica Schleder
02:22 Lorien Clemens
So talk a little bit about how you got here.
02:25 Jessica Schleder
So before I started Adoptimize and got into animal sheltering. I had eight year career building digital products and running multinational marketing campaigns from the ad agency point of view and worked on array of things. There was one point where I was working on a Star Trek theme park in the country of Jordan which never came about.
02:51 Lorien Clemens
02:51 Jessica Schleder
Right, all the way too candy bars, and so there was a day where I was sitting in my cubicle working on a Butterfinger campaign, and I realized that... it was an actual a-ha moment. I realized that my impact on the world was being measured quite literally in the number of candy bars I could sell, and for me that wasn't the impact I wanted to have. So I started volunteering around at the animal shelters in Los Angeles and I was shocked at the lack of data and technology that really impeded the shelter's ability to connect with the public and serve the animals that they really wanted to do, like they really wanted to do right by all these animals, they just didn't have the tools. So I decided to switch careers and to do that I got an MBA thinking that I would go into nonprofit management of an animal shelter that was a tech forward animal shelter eventually, but in the MBA program I started Adoptimize, and the concept for Adoptimize is actually pretty different from what it is now, but I got the seed funding through a pitch competition to build the minimal viable product and the rest is history.
04:07 Lorien Clemens
Yeah, I love it and you and I met when you were doing your MBA studies,
04:11 Jessica Schleder
04:12 Lorien Clemens
and I remember at the time thinking, oh man, she's one to watch and it's true so, and I'm also in that startup world so I totally get the ups and downs and crazy challenges that the roller coaster ride of doing a startup can be. So let's just dig into that right then and there. So you started Adoptimize, you already said that it's a lot different than what you originally thought it would be, so I'd love it if you could kind of talk about that journey like when you first started with what your vision was and then where it went and all those challenges that you had along the way to get to where you are now.
04:43 Jessica Schleder
So originally I wanted to build a piece of software that could match people to pets online based on people's online behavior, and my hypothesis was okay so if you're on Facebook and you're signed up for 1/2 marathon, you might be a good fit for an active dog, and then we would show you an ad of the Husky in the local shelter and there are a couple reasons this didn't work. One was, shelters didn't want this because it relied a lot on breed labels and the animal sheltering at the time was moving towards basically losing breed labels to judging pets by the personalities and not the way they look, and then the other thing was that we couldn't do it because the pictures coming out of the shelters were so bad that you couldn't reasonably show an ad of a pet that's at the shelter and say this is your perfect match because it would be a pretty ugly photo, and no one would click on it and no one would believe that that was really the pet that was perfect one for them. So Adoptimize is an animal shelter software that generates high quality photos in just a couple seconds and what this does for shelters is it significantly increases adoption and return to home rates and moves pets through the shelter faster because these photos showcase the animals better online and people are more likely to click on those profiles and thus adopt those pets.
06:05 Lorien Clemens
Yeah I want to get into the return to home thing 'cause of course with what we do here at PetHub that's why it's like ooh I want to learn more about that. But you know, having done software product development here at PetHub. You know there's a lot of times you go in and you're like this is the idea. This is going to be the solution that everybody is going to want it, just like you were like, oh, they don't really want that, but they want this other thing that we hadn't really thought of before, and so when you're talking to that customer and you're trying to figure out what is their pain point. When you think you figure out what that pain point is, and then you completely, basically, reenvision what you're going to do. What's that like then to go back to them and say, hey, I know we chatted before and you didn't really want what we were talking about, but now I got this other great idea. What was the reaction for adopting Adoptimize? Once you figured out the photo thing?
07:00 Jessica Schleder
So I'll be honest. The original solution for the photo thing also wasn't a fit. We over engineered the problem, so basically what we said was it's so hard to get a good photo at intake of a pet in a shelter. Let's skip the photo process. Let's take a video instead, so the original version of Adoptimize that was geared towards photos was actually a video product. So we set up. We had five pilot shelters that where we set up a physical essentially backdrop and video camera plugged into a computer and we launched that across the US and we found out in three of the five shelters that the animal control officers kind of hacked the system like in a good way to upload photos, and what that told us was that the video process that we provided them even though it only took 30 seconds to upload an animal was one too long, two wasn't mobile enough so the animal control officers were uploading photos from in the kennels rather than in the place that we were taking the videos, and the upload process was much shorter so it was taking too much time to take a video. The upload process with a photo was much shorter and it was more mobile.
08:18 Lorien Clemens
08:19 Jessica Schleder
And ultimately it turns out that people know how to take better photos then they do videos and that's something that we learned by looking at the footage.
08:25 Lorien Clemens
Isn't that funny.
08:26 Jessica Schleder
Yeah so we had built an algorithm to find the best shot of a dog from a video and it turns out we didn't need that. What we needed was a simple way to take the shelter out of the shelter photo.
08:40 Lorien Clemens
Yeah, yeah I think it's great. I love by the way, listening to a fellow entrepreneur like really honing down into that pain point, and really figuring out
08:49 Jessica Schleder
08:50 Lorien Clemens
like where can we turn a lever that will make a difference for these people 'cause so many startups that you see out there, they come, they have this great idea and they're almost in love with the idea so much that they really are loathe to listen to the customer, the person who's going to be using it, and so it might be a cool shiny product, but it's not really at the end of the day what people want or need.
09:07 Jessica Schleder
09:08 Lorien Clemens
So I love the fact you did that. So then let's chat about that. So what's the process now for shelter or rescue that's using it? What does that look like for them?
09:17 Jessica Schleder
So Adoptimize is a web app, which means it's like a piece of software that lives on the Internet, so you can access it on your desktop, your tablet, your phone and all you have to do is upload a photo of the pet that you take either on your phone or with a webcam, and the software does the rest. We take out the background, we replace it with a cute brightly colored background, add in shadows, automatically edit the pet and we do this all in 15 seconds so that then you click to download and then upload into your animal management system like you would any other photo.
09:48 Lorien Clemens
That's awesome and it is very quick 'cause that was going next question, I mean is this something that the Magic has to happen elsewhere and then it comes back or like essentially Instantaneous.
09:56 Jessica Schleder
Yeah it is really fast. That used to be one of our bigger pain points was that it was taking too long to upload and once we went from large video file sizes to small photos, everything just went faster.
10:11 Lorien Clemens
Yeah, that's awesome. Well, okay, now let's dig into, 'cause you mentioned earlier, you know better adoption rates, better returned to home. Let's dig into some of those case studies 'cause I love the results that you guys are getting. So let's just start with the one that you love the most. Which case study do you think like best epitomizes why Adoptimize is so needed?
10:30 Jessica Schleder
My favorite case study is the city of El Paso, Texas. They've been using Adoptimize for over a year, and we ran their one year report a couple months ago and the results were pretty staggering. For them the huge impact was the return to home impact. They saw 105% higher return to home rate for dogs with Adoptimize images compared to dogs without, and what that did was it saved them over half $1,000,000 in cost of care over the course of the year, and the way that works is that the pets that would have been on the 10 day length of stay adoption track were then put on the two day length of stay returned to home track, which essentially saved 8 days across thousands of dogs, and that's what ended up basically giving El Paso more resources to work with.
11:21 Lorien Clemens
So let's break that down a little bit 'cause obviously here at PetHub that's what we do is we help lost pets get home through our system, but it's basically when folks have a dog that's missing and they're going and looking at the shelter photos their more quickly able to identify their pet. Is that basically what breakdown too?
11:37 Jessica Schleder
Yeah, so what we have is we have these cute brightly colored backgrounds and what I think is happening is people are clicking on these images more--there more likely to examine them, and then as a result for the return to owners, they're more likely to recognize their pet online for adoptions. They're more likely to go adopt them. We did a study with AdoptAPet.com about a year ago, and we compared pets with Adoptimize images to pets without, and we saw that the pets with Adoptimize images had double the click rate, they saw 33% unique views, so those pets were more exposed to more adopters, and the time on the page was also about double.
12:23 Lorien Clemens
Wow, that's fantastic. Well I like to just for I mean I know we're essentially just radio here, so you can't really see it, but we will give you the website address in the post that you found us on, but go and look at those pictures 'cause to me they're almost like 3 dimensional pictures, they have such depth to them and with the shadow that you guys add and everything like that, they are very rich, even though they're super simple and I love that about them. I'd love it too if you can talk about--so one of the things that I notice when we were digging into your site. There's different structures there for different types of organizations, and I'd like for you to talk about that. Like there's a different thing for shelters, and for rescues, and for fosters, and what are the differences there in the nuances there for what you guys are doing?
13:10 Jessica Schleder
Yeah so the way we have our payment models are... there different because different shelters need different things, so we have both a monthly subscription if you'd like to pay based on your annual intake, that's usually best for rescues because they have lower intakes and it doesn't go above 50 bucks a month. For larger municipal shelters we have a pay-per performance model where a shelter only pays for pets that have positive outcomes that have Adoptimize images.
13:44 Lorien Clemens
Oh that's genius, because that way you know you're kind of putting your money where your mouth is with what you're doing.
13:49 Jessica Schleder
13:50 Lorien Clemens
And it also takes away that, and I know from working with municipal shelters sometimes are not willing to try something new that has a big price tag attached to it. So this is a great way for them to try before they buy, and fosters, how does that work? How does a foster? I'm assuming it's for foster parents or for foster programs and shelters, or all of the above.
14:08 Jessica Schleder
Yeah, so last year best Friends Animal Society and Amazon sponsored us to adapt our technology for all the fosters that were happening as a result of covid and so it's a free. It's foster.adoptimize.co and it is a free upload tool where you can upload up to five animals and well It's just a free software for everyone.
14:29 Lorien Clemens
Yeah, that's awesome because you're right with the pandemic. There's been a huge growth in that foster and I actually frankly hope it stays that way because I think it's better in the long run.
14:39 Jessica Schleder
14:40 Lorien Clemens
For the animals to not be in a cage and I can't think of a single animal welfare person who would disagree with that.
14:45 Jessica Schleder
14:46 Lorien Clemens
So I would love if you could kind of talk about the future of Adoptimize. Where does it go from here? I mean, is it a perfect product right now? Or do you see applications in the future? Or things maybe that excites you about where this is taking you.
15:02 Jessica Schleder
I don't think I will ever be happy with it because it's always going to be growing. I mean, I'm sorry, let's take a step back. I don't think it's ever going to be perfect because it always needs to be growing and adapting to the changing landscape of animal sheltering.
15:19 Lorien Clemens
15:20 Jessica Schleder
So we're actually piloting a new type of paid ad pet adoption listing with Best Friends Animal Society right now and the City of Pasadena, Texas, and what's interesting about this is, right now, shelter pets are missing out on the very first part of the pet adoption process, which is awareness because they don't offer paid ads. So, in the channels that people are already on their getting advertised over 6,000 ads every day and shelter pets are really missing out on that consideration process, so the process between do I adopt or do I buy from a breeder? By the time you get to Petfinder or Adoptapet.com, you've already made that decision. So there's a big education component that shelters are missing out on and also it's paid ads are also an opportunity to expand the existing adopter network that can be really limited for a lot of humane societies. So what we're doing is we're running paid ads to test whether they move the pets to the shelter faster or increase adoption rates, and we already have the ads live, and we'll be testing it through the month of August to see how this affects the population.
16:37 Lorien Clemens
That's exciting and I think, you know, I'm thinking for a lot of people who have had pets before like I do believe that shelters and rescues are often one of the first things on our minds because we've been in that space, particularly when you're talking though about new adoptees or new potential pet parents. There is such a wasteland in front of you, but where do I go? How do I even start? You might even just have an idea based on a friends dog or a dog you saw in a show or something like that that you think is cute. You know sometimes you don't even know the name of the breed, so I do think that that is actually a great opportunity for you guys. I would love if you could talk a little bit about. When you're a pet parent and just if you have any data, I don't know if you do, do you have any data about that potential pet parent when they're looking at it? What their reactions are? Like what you've gotten feedback from pet parents that have found pets through Adoptimize?
17:30 Jessica Schleder
I don't have a lot of access to the data yet because we've only been running the ads for a week, So...
17:36 Lorien Clemens
Oh I mean, like just in general with your whole system, like the whole system of Adoptimize, I mean I know you've got the data of more pets are getting through the shelters, but have you got actually gotten a chance to talk to you know the everyday person that's seeing these photos like what their reaction is or anything like that?
17:53 Jessica Schleder
What we've seen, like comments on social media, is kind of like, oh how cute and oh save him and all of that. But honestly, we haven't done an in depth kind of post adoption study yet and it's an interesting part of one of our struggles with being--we don't have access to adopters, is not being able to get that data. We serve shelters and so the shelters are the conduit between the adopters, and so we haven't been able to do an easy quick study of that yet.
18:22 Lorien Clemens
Is there any plans in the future then to make this a consumer facing product that maybe could help fund the other parts of the project?
18:29 Jessica Schleder
Yes, so something that we're looking at right now that we're testing with a couple of pet startups is the ability of the Adoptimize technology to create custom pet portraits that are used for customer retention and loyalty. So, for example, Chewy, the big pet retailer makes over 50,000 custom pet portraits for their customers in their loyalty program every year, and they're all manual, custom painted portraits and what'd Adoptimize can offer startups is the ability to get digital custom pet portraits at the fraction of a cost that also surprise and delight their customers.
19:06 Lorien Clemens
19:07 Jessica Schleder
So we're exploring that right now, my whole goal is to ultimately make Adoptimize free for shelters because they need it the most.
19:13 Lorien Clemens
Yeah, that would be--I guess that's kind of where I'm getting at. It seems like there's such a kind of ripe for being able to fund itself, and so I know you've done it, and you can see too like with the way you already have some of your services out there that are clearly funded or sponsored by places like AWS and things like that helping you. So that's really great. We've got just a couple of minutes left. Is there anything else that you want our listeners to know about before we sign off for the day?
19:39 Jessica Schleder
So for Adoptimize, something that we could really use help with is just letting shelters know about us. We're in about 170 shelters across the country, so that's actually very small fraction of the shelters that are out there, so either sharing Adoptimize with your local shelter. Or if you're a pet care startup and you're interested in custom pet portraits, we'd love to pilot the new system with you.
20:04 Lorien Clemens
Awesome, thank you so much and tell people where they can find you online.
20:08 Jessica Schleder
You can find us at www.adoptimize.co, that is a ADOPTIMIZE.CO
20:17 Lorien Clemens
Awesome, thank you so much Jessica delight to have you love what you're doing and I can't wait to see what happens next with Adoptimize and you.
20:24 Jessica Schleder
Oh thank you.
20:26 Lorien Clemens
So thank you so much for joining us today everyone, you know, I love it when we have startups that are out there that find pain points, start solving problems, that are helping pet parents, that are helping shelters, that are helping all of us that love these fur kids so much. So if you're listening and want to learn more about Adoptimize. I'm going to say the website again so you can make sure to get it. It is Adoptimize.co, that is the word adopt, IMIZE dot co. alright now, thanks for sticking with us today and as always if you have ideas about things that are geeky and furry and wonderful that you want us to dig into for Pet Lover Geek, please just drop us a line on any one of our social media channels and make sure that you tune in next time to Pet Lover Geek powered by PetHub. Until then!