Getting the support from your family members is extremely important, especially if you're married, because a lot of people underestimate the pressure on the spouse. When someone decides to start a business, you're going to be like this maybe for the next five to ten years. All you can think about is the startup. You are not going to be present at a lot of important events, anniversaries or birthdays. And in terms of the pressure on the spouse because he or she didn't sign up for this package but they are almost like they are in this together. - Jane Peh
Prior to starting her own business, Jane spent 3 years in top advertising agencies, working closely with clients such as Tiffany & Co., Borneo Motors, Qantas Airways, and TAFEP. She later moved on to the consulting space, where she helped to manage the PayPal Global & TATA Communications accounts. Since its inception, Pawjourr has more than 6,000 pet owners under their network and worked with global brands like Nestle, MARS Food, Crayola and featured on the local national TV, newspaper, and an upcoming episode with BBC World.
Jeremy Au: (00:30)
Hi Jane. Really excited to have you on the show. You are a founder who is tackling the pet space and really interesting to see your journey to become a founder. So I'd love for you to introduce yourself.
Jane Peh: (00:39)
Yeah. Thanks for having me, Jeremy. Excited to be here as well. Hi everyone. My name is Jane. I am one of the co-founders as well as the CEO of Pawjourr. So what Pawjourr does is essentially an online marketplace that connects pet owners to brands to work on different types of jobs like influencer marketing, pet shoots and branded assets, commercials, focus groups, survey and even vets. Right now we are based in Singapore, but we do have an office in New York and we are looking to expand into the US market in the middle part of this year and subsequently.
Yeah, just a little bit of an introduction about myself, about my background. So before I started the company, I've always been interested in marketing, so I did a degree in marketing, but eventually I went into advertising. So I went in, I was a suit, so I was handling different clients like Tiffany & Co. I did some government accounts as well, like Tuffet, MCI, Singapore, FMCG clients and stuff like that.
So it was all extremely exciting and I think it was also at that point of my career that I realized that I really enjoy just working in a very fast paced environment, but with advertising, it kind of like got burned out eventually a little bit. So I think three years in I was kind of like just thinking of what do I want to do?
And I took a short course, took a break, went into consulting where I was working with PayPal on project management with a consulting firm. So that was also the time that I think I defer a lot to social media like pet accounts just to see cute dogs, cute cats and share really cute video with my then boyfriend now husband. One day the idea just popped up - it was like, why is nobody marrying social media and pets? Because obviously we love looking at pictures and videos of pets online, advertisers want that awareness. So why isn't anyone like doing that? So I did a quick search realized that yes, but it's doing that in the US, but not really anyone doing that in APAC and Southeast Asia.
So I just decided, OK, like maybe I can just try and see where it leads me. And this is where I am like three years later.
Jeremy Au: (03:09)
Amazing. Right at the beginning, why did you do marketing? You obviously went into multiple marketing roles as a manager and executive, so share more about what drew you to marketing.
Jane Peh: (03:22)
This was a real life scenario and conversation that I had with a friend. So he was saying like - What do you do about marketing? During exams you could just write nonsense. Isn't it like just things like common sense, like when it comes to answers. But I think to be really honest, like having been in this field for the past three years, I would say three to five years I really like marketing because I feel like it's very fluid to a certain extent.
It's not like accounting it’s not whereby your balance sheet is balanced. There's a lot of different factors that gets into play, the kind of products, the services that you are providing, how the market is actually reacting. And even right now we always have different tools now popping up. Like ten years ago it was Instagram and now it's TikTok and we don't know what's going to be like the next cool things like ten years later and with every different generation, with the Millennials, with the Gen-Z’s, like how they established a relationship with the brand that they purchase from like you know, those are things that it's always and ever changing.
So I think it's really fluid and there's no fixed form and there's just a lot of creativity by there's no fixed parameter that you have to work within. That draws me to marketing as a discipline.
Jeremy Au: (04:38)
What is the biggest misconception that people have about marketing for startups, from your perspective?
Jane Peh: (04:45)
A lot of people feel that marketing is not like a core. With a lot of founders, they tend to focus a lot on the tech, on the product, but a lot of them tend to, I would think, see marketing as an afterthought. But for me, I think from the very beginning and also maybe because of the background and my interest in this field, I feel like branding is extremely important.
You don't need to have amazing products but the marketing needs to be on point in terms of like resonating with the audiences. So like for example, Oatly, I think it’s one of my favorite case studies, I love their marketing. They’re so clever with all the things that they come up with is extremely refreshing. It catches the eyeballs of the audiences, and were able to disrupt legacy kind of industry with just a very fun and very unexpected pretty strategies and campaigns.
And I think at the end of the day, if you really were to strip it down, it's really just oat milk. Like there's nothing like special. It’s literally like oat milk. And that's why I feel like a lot of founders, perhaps that’s something that they kind of overlook. They put so much emphasis. But the thing is that even if you have a great product, but if nobody knows about it, at the end of the day, you're back to like point zero.
Jeremy Au: (06:02)
When people think about it as an afterthought versus it being in front, you know, obviously there are big trade offs in terms of timing as well as resources let alone results. What would you say is the right balance or how do you balance that yourself?
Jane Peh: (06:17)
I think here with Pawjourr one of our main values is to always remain hackish. So how do we stay hackish? And that's obviously something that was extremely important for us in the beginning of the days when we were bootstrapping and we didn't have enough people or money to do huge marketing like your big MNC. So I would say it's not about spending six digits on Google Ads or going with traditional channels like Facebook marketing, or Instagram marketing, just because everyone else is doing it, but really recognizing like what works for your brand.
So like for example, in the early days when we had no money, but we realized that because of whatever that we are building, word of mouth was extremely pivotal for us in terms of growth. So on our Instagram initially we would just be posting pictures of famous pets like Gumpy Cat or your hedgehog, but it didn't really work because everybody knew who they were, but there was no real connection with our audiences, which back then was the Singapore pets community.
So what we did then and change was actually to repost and celebrate our own influencers. So we would be repost like pictures of cats or dogs that have worked with us on campaigns. We would celebrate them, we would have a very short snap shot that introduce them, almost like an employee kind of thing that really worked. So that was kind of the spark of everything and how people started talking about the company, how you can actually find campaigns through Pawjourr.
I mean, like literally we didn't spend any money. I mean, like people were just talking about us, like organically. We're not paying them. It was all just free, like PR value looking and saying like, what would work for your company, rather than just following trends. At the same time, you know, you need to manage your budget as well. Like not overspending on marketing.
Jeremy Au: (08:11)
How did you decide to become a founder? Because you started talking about Pawjourr and all that learnings. When did you decide, Hey, I want to build my business on my own?
Jane Peh: (08:20)
OK, so the funny thing or the ironic thing is that I've always thought that I was going to be in an MNC. I always thought like, OK, yeah, I'm just going to be a career like woman. I'm going to climb the career ladder. So I set goals for myself. I was like, OK, I need to manager by the age of 25 and I need to achieve like these milestones in my career.
So I never really thought about starting a business, to be very honest. So tumbling into this, it's really by accident. It's really just me asking my husband like, Hey, do you think it will work? And he was like, I mean, what's the worst that could happen then? We are like 26 or 27 years old.
So he was like, What's the worst that could happen? I mean, he could probably just lose all our capital, which I think at that point of time, it was $600…it was definitely less than $1000. If it didn’t work, then we would just go back to working. There was no real loss because we didn't have huge financial liabilities at that point of time.
So I think it was really just by coincidence and I guess something that I had mentioned on quite a bit of interviews, but it was also like this friend of mine, he was just saying that you are more capable than you think you are. And I think that was really kind of the spark that made me decide that, hey, you know, let's just try it and give it a go and see where it leads me to.
Jeremy Au: (09:39)
And how did you get into it? Because I know that you went into Antler, which is an entrepreneurship program. Did you go in already having built something and you already knew you wanted to do, what was the format for you?
Jane Peh: (09:51)
OK, so like kind of like just break it down. So I think like in the beginning, Pawjourr wasn’t called Pawjourr. We were called the wolf agency, which is actually doing what we were doing. But because of my background in the agency sector, I kind of like just transfer the skills that I learnt there over. So we are operating very much like an agency.
And I think we came to a point where all three of us co-founders came together and ask if we wanted to build a lifestyle business, or we feel like there's a lot more opportunity out there to disrupt this entire industry. I think the opportunity is huge. Let's not just stay within Singapore. Let's look at a global level. So that's when we decided to go into Antler.
So we applied with The Wolf Agency. At that point of time, we were already revenue generating. So I believe that was kind of the big reason why we got in, because everyone there is so talented with such a rich work experience. So, I think if I applied as an individual, I probably wouldn't get in. So thank God for Wolf Agency and I think when we presented, Pawjourr wasn’t the current Pawjourr. We present that as a trust pilot because doing our conversations with brands and pet owners, we realized that there's a lot of disconnection between reviews when it comes to the different products or services.
And there's really no go to source when it comes to understanding whether if a product or doesn't work. So that was kind of like what we were aiming for, like trust palate for pet products and services. We did that for maybe about eight months. It didn't work. So there were a lot of complications, there were a lot of challenges.
And eventually the only thing that remained and was still constantly attracting clients and influencers and pet owners to join was really the jobs thing, which it was the Wolf Agency thing and all. So what we did is that we actually kind of like pivoted and really just focus on this thing that was getting in all the money, putting food on our table and we tried to productivize it instead of just continuing as an agency and that's kind of just a flow of the entire timeline.
Jeremy Au: (12:01)
As you thought about doing that, what were some things that you learned about being a founder that you didn't know before?
Jane Peh: (12:08)
I think for sure, I always thought my job was stressful back in advertising but being a founder is worse. There are so many days where I'm just thinking I'm stupid and I don't know what I'm doing with my life. Maybe if I had just stayed in corporate and I could be earning more money or at least going for dinners and ending was seven, I think is really the mental health thing.
The entire stress and coping with it. I think to make it even more challenging. One of my co-founder is my husband. So literally my marriage is also at stake so I think my doing the time which was in 2020 during second half of the year where we’re doing all this pivot, trying a lot of things to make the old Pawjourr work.
There were a lot of arguments, there were a lot of nights whereby we would just spend arguing about like how we want to bring the company forward. He’s extremely finance driven. So it's all about like how do we spend each dollar and in a very controlled manner as well because we, we didn't raise any fund other than the Antler 100K, so we were also bootstrapping to a certain extent.
And for me it was really like, hey, we need to let the experiment space to breathe and grow. Like we can not expect immediate results. So I think there were a lot of arguments and he burnt out, I thought that was very real because another thing is also that I cannot complain to anybody about my job. When you're not working on the same thing as your husband, you can go back home and you can complain to him that, hey, my finance or my colleague was being a bitch today.
But I can't do that because he was the one that was being a bitch to me during work hours. So I think that was very real. Having a support system; I think the media tend to over-glamorize the entire Startup founder because they were portray people like Elon Musk, Bill Gates or Jeff Bezos and they are living in luxurious lifestyles.
They're everywhere. I think these are like, I don't know, like maybe the 0.001 percent. I think it is basically like not as glamoralized as what the media like portrayed it as. So now that I'm a founder myself, I kind of see the truth, reality versus the expectation.
Jeremy Au: (14:22)
It’s interesting because you mentioned about working with your spouse, which is actually pretty common both in America and in Southeast Asia, especially as well. Any advice you have for people who are thinking about working with their spouse or partner?
Jane Peh: (14:36)
I mean, I probably need some advice myself, but I guess something that really worked for us is to always think in the best interests of the company, so not to bring any personal feelings into the conversation. I think for both of us ENTJ, I would say that we are pretty, I hope, like logical to a certain extent.
So whenever there’s a disagreement, what we would do is really just lay out our case. Why do we support this? Why do we not support this? And from there we come to a conclusion that obviously sometimes like not everyone is happy about the end result, but it needs to be like everyone needs to make peace with the end decision and don't be emotional, don't bring personal life into the entire composition.
And after it’s done, just leave it at the office. Don’t bring it home. Yeah, I would say that. And obviously, like any advice from Jeremy, yourself, is to go on date nights. We have been doing that and it has been extremely helpful. So I would say it’s really just passing on the wisdom, which is to reserve a day in a month to just go on date night and just enjoy yourself, don’t talk about work and just be present.
Jeremy Au: (15:45)
You made me remember that I did recommend keeping date nights. Important.
Jane Peh: (15:52)
It’s extremely important. Yeah.
Jeremy Au: (15:54)
Also, you mentioned, as you said, oh, we're both ENTJ. For those who don't know, is Myers-Briggs personality. So you're saying extroverted, intuitive, you're thinking you're judging. How do you think about personality? Do you believe there are certain personalities that are better for founders or do you have to adapt your founder lifestyle to be more fitting to your personality type?
Jane Peh: (16:17)
That's a really good question. I think from a personal perspective, I feel like there are some personalities that are any suited to be founders because sometimes you have to do the right thing and not the popular thing. So for example, there's definitely going to be conflict. There's going to be employees who are not happy with certain decisions that were made by the business, by the company.
Some of them are going to be extremely vocal about it. Some people are just going to be passive and just burnt out, and you kind of need to know what's happening. So I think if, let's say by nature you're not confrontational, so if you're not confrontational by nature, you tend to avoid conflict? I wouldn't say it's impossible, but I would say it would be probably a lot more challenging for you when such circumstances arise.
And I think maybe that's also one of the reasons why for us, between the three co-founders, I’m the one that's the most intense. So I can be very aggressive and very vocal about what I want. And with my CTO and with the CFO, which is my husband, like they tend to be a little bit more on the background and a little bit more introverted.
For the CTO, he's extremely nice, good natured and he's very approachable as well. So I guess that's where I like the magic of life, finding the right co-founders like come into play because you can’t be like great in everything so having different people like managing different aspects of the business, I think that will be extremely helpful.
But that being said, I guess eventually with your business at stake, I would think that a lot of CEOs would actually morph or change their personality because if not, your startup will die. So I guess it's really about balancing it as you grow with the setup, you evolve as a person as well.
Jeremy Au: (18:02)
How do you think about that balance between working as co-founders, servicing multiple categories and geographies? How do you recommend people think about working with co-founders?
Jane Peh: (18:16)
When you have money, you quarrel a lot, so you need to settle and trash everything out when you have no money like before you raise any funds. So it’s understanding the no-go zones or what are the taboo topic that you shouldn't even talk about for each of the founders, understanding the motivations behind starting a business together - Is it about money or is it about really trying to create a product that benefit like the greater good, or is it really just enjoying the process? What are the non-negotiables like the dealbreakers? Like, at any point of time if, let's see, I were to lose control all of a sudden, expect when it comes to the final decision making, that would be a deal breaker for me and I would lose motivation to continue to work in the startup.
I think really just by sitting down, having an extremely honest conversation about why you want to be in this and what you want to get out of it. And be very honest, I think with my co-founders, I guess because I'm the talkative one, l am the vocal one. So I'll always be like, Hey, guys, let's just talk about it.
What's happening? This is not working. Let's sit down together and just problem solve. I think I would like to think of me as a problem solver. I don't like to just leave things as it is because I feel like it would just snowball eventually. So I just like to get things done, settle any conflicts or whatever that I feel is going to brew immediately.
So I guess like that is something that I would advise to friends who are thinking of starting a business together and just to solve problems immediately. And don't let it just harness into something bigger.
Jeremy Au: (20:01)
How do you set that vision of something bigger from your perspective?
Jane Peh: (20:05)
I think because we are only human, so everyone would have emotions and you don't want there to be like, I guess like negative feelings towards a scenario. So I think obviously I think if we haven’t really come into talk about it, here is an emergency. We need to talk about it immediately. I would have assumed that it would snowball into something bigger and that would be a significant impact on our co-founders relationship, on the business and even on my own marriage.
So I thought that was definitely a lesson learned as a founder, as a wife, as a individual.
Jeremy Au: (20:44)
One interesting thing is, of course, your decision to not only build this but also keep growing. What would you say have been some BRAVE times along the way?
Jane Peh: (20:54)
I guess starting this business is I think for me, it was a brave decision. It wasn't a natural decision like to cut off my income stability so I think in the beginning when I started The Wolf Agency, I didn’t jump into it full time. So I was doing it almost like a side hustle and make sure that it was at least able to pay my bills.
So just backpedalling a little. I came from a low income family, so I think from a very young age, I was already working and paying for my school bills, and I couldn't afford to go for overseas trips with my school because I couldn't afford to pay for flights and stuff. So I think from a very young age, I started to understand the importance of having financial freedom or having money in a sense.
So I think back then I took a pay cut off almost like 50%. It was very low like salary that I took when starting this company. And just having that and I was still giving allowance to my parents, paying for my parents insurance, and I have all this financial obligation. So I think that was something like looking back, I'm not sure if I can do it again.
Maybe back then I was young and foolish and I was like, OK, I have nothing. No financial obligations. Like, let's just do it but now that I'm turning 30, there's a lot of things like a house and maybe in the future, like family and seeing your peers getting salary increment each year, getting promoted, going on holidays, buying expensive stuff.
I think like there's always this basis of comparison. Also, I wish I put on such a lifestyle, but the startup is unable to afford such a lifestyle at this stage. So I would think that is one of the bravest decisions I have made in my life.
Jeremy Au: (22:42)
Yeah, definitely very brave and I think kind of goes back to that gap between expectations like coming in your like trade off seem low and upside seems large and I mean you become a founder now you realize the trade offs are very real, right?
Jane Peh: (22:55)
Jeremy Au: (22:57)
How do you give advice to people who want to be founders nowadays? I'm sure the people around you are like, Hey, I want to be a founder one day. I would like to join the Antler program. I would like to be a creator. What advice would you give them?
Jane Peh: (23:11)
For anyone who is looking to start a business? Obviously, depending on what age you are at, but if let's say you have a family and all, I think having or getting the support from your family members is extremely important, especially if you're married, because I think a lot of people underestimate the pressure on the spouse.
When someone decides to start a business, you're going to be like in this maybe for the next five to ten years. All you can think about is the startup. You are not going to be present in a lot of important events, anniversaries or birthdays. Maybe there's going to be a crisis and say, sorry, I need to cancel like this holiday and I can go with you and your kids.
And in terms of the pressure on the spouse because he or she didn't sign up for this package but they are almost like they are in this together. So I feel like having the support from your spouse or just like your family members, like your parents, like the understanding they're going to give this a shot and they should support you instead of being negative and say, what are you doing with your life? I don't know why you're doing this. Every day I dressed in just shorts and t-shirts and running around and I didn't pay you to go university to do this thing and earn like 1-2k a month. I mean, these really brings you down in terms of the morale. So having a support system is extremely important if you are going to start a startup, I think that would be one of the advice.
It's about like being a creator, then I guess it's really about finding your unique voice. It's not about having I guess this circumstance and parameter talking about pets. It's not having like a most expensive breed. It’s not about having like the most beautiful dog or cat, but it's about finding that unique voice online because I think these days, like people want to feel connected like beyond the screen, like they want to know that there's a human behind like the accounts that are being run. They want to understand like the pet on a deeper level. It's not just about beautiful or fun cute videos and photos. So I think a lot of our larger influencers that have found success online, like they've managed to pinpoint exactly what's their unique voice, what's the unique selling point of their pet and really just like amplified it.
So yeah, I guess it's just be like some humble suggestions from myself.
Jeremy Au: (25:31)
How would you think about dealing with family views? We mentioned about sometimes it can be negative, sometimes it could be helpful, obviously, if is helpful then it is great, right? But how would you advise people to think about dealing with like negative family comments? Should they compartmentalize that, should they just avoid it?
Jane Peh: (25:49)
I think it depends on how close you are with the family member. I mean, obviously, if it's just a distant relative, you can just shut it off. It doesn't matter what they think or feel. But if let's say it's your spouse, like immediate family member, your parents, maybe you want to have a family real conversation with them and I think at the same time, you know, depending on what age you are at, being very realistic with the opportunity of the startup that you're building.
So if let's say you have been doing this for five years or eight years, it doesn't seem to be going anywhere. Maybe it's time to just box this experiment and be like, OK, like after this year, if I don't hit a certain milestone and I still can't afford to pay for my rent, I just have to stop.
I think like being a founder is also about having the courage to know that it's not working out. Admitting that this didn’t work out and I need to move on to the next thing. I think it takes a lot, a lot of courage to actually admit that, especially as founders. When we built a startup, it's almost like our baby and just admitting to the world that it didn't work out and I need to shut it down. It gets very personal. I think it's really about time boxing and having a real conversation with the family members as well.
Jeremy Au: (27:03)
Amazing. Thanks so much for coming on the show. I’ll love to paraphrase the three big themes that I got from this. The first is thank you so much for taking time to share about marketing misconceptions about how you chose to enter marketing yourself. Also the myths about how important marketing is for various startups versus product and engineering, and I think you shared some good tips on how to balance between all the various dimensions.
The second is thanks for sharing about your spouse as a founder, which is a common situation for many founders across the world. So thanks for sharing I think the real world behind the scenes and also what the right dynamic is to share the right language and how to resolve the issues over time because marriages aren’t easy; relationships aren’t easy; humans aren’t easy and startups definitely are not easy. And so all of those stacked up can be quite interesting. So thanks for sharing about that.
Lastly, things for sharing about the aspect around family support, about how you should be treating advice from other folks as well as other people in the space and how to timebox your time and be able to keep your head down and do the work that's in front of you.
So thank you so much, Jane, for coming on the show.
Jane Peh: (28:13)
Thank you for having me.