PrideBites CEO and co-founder Steven Blustein makes sure his company’s meetings always include his product testers — the employees’ four-legged companions.
Although many told Blustein, MAcc ’10, and his co-founders that the pet industry would be impossible to break into, they found their niche in quality products and customization. PrideBites is the first company in the pet industry to offer a platform for customers to customize one-off pet products with their pet’s name or hand-illustrated image.
Blustein started working on his business plan while earning his MAcc at the School of Business. After meeting fellow KU student Ting Liu at the recreation center, they began discussing how they could work together to use Liu’s connections in the manufacturing industry in China, his home country. As dog lovers, they began with a concept to build a better dog toy.
Once he graduated, Blustein worked as a tax accountant in Los Angeles but continued working with fellow co-founders Liu, Sam Lampe and Sean Knecht on PrideBites. After going through 40 prototypes for their dog toy, initial sales made it clear that PrideBites had serious potential and became a full-time job. Within a month of its launch in 2012, PrideBites was awarded “Best Dog Toy of the Year” by Pet Businessmagazine.
While Blustein never imagined he’d use his MAcc degree to start a pet business, it has been integral to his success, he said.
“I knew nothing about manufacturing,” he said. “I had no concept of the industry I was about to get into. But what the MAcc program taught me was to walk into any situation, know what it takes to get from point A to point B and put together a logical plan to achieve that. Without that training, I could not have done what we have done so far and what we plan to do in the future.”
It wasn’t just the coursework that prepared Blustein but the rigor and scope of the program that strengthened his drive, he added. Like many MAcc graduates, Blustein cited professor Allen Ford and his high expectations of students as a key factor in preparing him for the business world. Although he hated that pressure back then, he’s grateful for it now.
“Now, when I’m at the eleventh hour and I’m really tired and I think I’ve prepared so much, I know I need to prepare even more,” he said. “When you break in to start a company, you’re at the bottom of the food chain. You’re at the bottom of the totem pole, and you have to do anything you can to get to the next phase.”
A keen connection to its customer base has been important for PrideBites’ success. Luckily for Blustein, his English Staffordshire bull terrier named Mona is always available for those important meetings.
This story appeared in the 2015 edition of AIS Channels.