Written by: Heather Holst-Knudsen, CEO & Founder, KidBacker and Francesca Cassola, Sophomore, Franklin & Marshall College & KidBacker Intern
We all know the feeling when our pets don’t want to eat a certain treat or meal, and it can be tiring at times to search for the safest and healthiest treats for our lovable pets. A few years ago, an 11-year old young man named Ryan Kelly from Stamford, CT identified this problem when he smelled his own new pet’s dog food and decided it was time for a change. Committed to eliminating salt and preservatives from his puppy’s diet, Ryan met with veterinarians, did his research and created a test kitchen in his own home with his mother to come up with a perfect and healthy alternative. When Barkley gave him the paws up, Ry’s Ruffery and a new entrepreneur were born.
Now thirteen, Ryan has an illustrious resume that includes Student Speaker of 2013 for Junior Achievement, participation in a class case study at the esteemed New York University Stern School of Business and top producing participant on the well-known entrepreneur TV show, Shark Tank winning an investment of $25,000 from Barbara Corcoran.
Even more impressive, Ryan’s healthy dog treats can be found in Target stores nationwide and at his company website at http://www.rysruffery.com/. Ryan donates part of his proceeds to support pets in crisis through STARescue and Pet Assistance. STAR is an organization that works to provide financial and medical assistance to pets so they will stay healthy, happy and home.
KidBacker asked a few questions to Ryan about himself and Ry’s Ruffery here:
KidBacker: Can you tell me a little about yourself?
Ryan Kelly: I’m 13 years old. My company is Ry’s Ruffery. We make and sell fresh all natural dog treats. We were on Shark Tank recently and also a follow-up show after that which is called Beyond the Tank. Beyond the Tank was really fun because they shadowed us for a few days to see how we are running the business, problems we encounter and how we solve them.
KB: When did you start your business?
RK: I was 11. We started it because I wanted money for a new bike. We would always do lemonade stands, but our street was small so not that many people were buying the lemonade. We got a rescue dog named Barkely, and we thought it would be a good idea to start making dog treats.
KB: How were you able to get you business off the ground?
RK: First, we started selling our treats at local pet adoption events where they would bring in a lot of dogs and allow people adopt them. That’s how we started getting the word out. Then, someone actually called Shark Tank and put our information in for us. We didn’t even know what the show was, this person just did it for us! Soon after, a producer from Shark Tank called us and asked if we wanted to be on the show and, of course, we said yes. We filled out a lot of paperwork, sent in videos and were asked to come to spend a week in Los Angeles so they could film the show.
KB: What’s the name of your company? Ry’s Ruffery or Ryan’s Barkery?
RK: We had a trademark issue. It was Ryan’s Barkery but now it’s Ry’s Ruffery.
KB: How do you earn a profit?
RK: For us it’s selling treats to big box stores and local stores as well. I personally don’t get a paycheck.
KB: What’s an average day like for you?
RK: An average day for me isn’t as hard during the summer as it is during the school year. During the school year, it’s very difficult because I travel a lot and do speaking engagements with a group of teen entrepreneurs that I belong to. We travel around the country speaking to people. It challenging because I have to manage my school work as well as my business and all the traveling. I also help ship out all the treats.
KB: What has your biggest challenge been?
RK: My biggest challenge has been not letting the things people say to me get to me. A lot of people have said “good luck, kid” in a sarcastic way. I’ve overcome that challenge because I’m successful and made it big.
KB: What does being an entrepreneur mean to you?
RK: Being an entrepreneur means that I am making my own future. I am sure it will come with many ups and downs, but I will hopefully be financially independent and be able to do what I love. I will have the freedom to change course when things aren’t working and push forward when they are.
KB: Are your parents entrepreneurs?
RK: My mom is working closely with me now, and loves it. We are both learning so much and love the fact that every day is different, comes with new challenges and new successes.
KB: What initiated the idea to start your business? What pain point do you solve?
RK: I started my business when we rescued our dog Barkley. My brothers and I hated the treats we found on the shelves, they were filled with preservatives and salt and they smelled horrible! I started making my own, and when my dog loved them so much, started passing them out to neighbors and friends. We asked if we could sell them at our local pet adoption events, and I had a loyal following of customers from being there.
KB: How did you fund your business?
RK: My mom loaned me $200 for cookbooks, ingredients, a table and a sign. When we were asked to be on the ABC show Shark Tank, we made a deal with Barbara Corcoran for $25,000 in exchange for 25% of my business to help grow my business to what it is today and where we’re going next!
KB: Are you a single founder or do you have (a) founding partner/s? How did you meet?
RK: I am the only founder, but have a lot of help from my current partners, my mom and Barbara Corcoran.
KB: What were the biggest challenges you faced when launching your business? How did you overcome them?
RK: My biggest challenges were and still are, keeping up with demand. We’ve grown so quickly, filling our Shark Tank orders from our home, then moving into a rented bakery, and now using a copacker to fulfill our baking needs.
KB: How did you secure your first customers?
RK: I secured my first customers by giving away free samples so that people could try them with their pets. Soon after, people started talking about the treats to their friends and it grew from word of mouth.
KB: What tools do you wish were available to you when you launched your business but weren’t?
RK: I wish I had a bigger kitchen!
KB: Do you have any mentors? If so, who? How do they help you? On what frequency?
RK: I have Barbara, of course, and her group of Shark Tank entrepreneurs. Even though our businesses are all different, they guide me and encourage me and can share a lot of experiences and advice so I can learn from it. Kim Daisy from Daisy Cakes and Jim Tselikis from Cousins Maine Lobster are the best!!
KB: If you had three tips to give other young people who want to start their own business, what would they be?
RK: Don’t be afraid. It’s better to try and fail than not to try. Don’t ever let anyone tell you what you can’t do.
KB: Why should young people consider becoming entrepreneurs?
RK: Young people should consider being entrepreneurs because you can control your own destiny and because it will never feel like work when you’re doing something you love.
Ry’s Ruffery At-A-Glance
- Name: Ryan Kelly
- Age now: 13
- Age when founded business: 11
- Company: Ry’s Ruffery
- Location: Buffalo, NY
- Industry: Animal
- Years in business: 2
- Website: http://www.rysruffery.com/
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