After spending 30 years working for brands like Nike, Under Armour, and Crocs, Baker was tired of the corporate world.
Baker had been observing the pet-toy industry and thought he could add variety to the category. "I thought the category of dog toys was very slow moving -- every time I went in to look at dog toys, it was always the same stuff," he says. "There's so much emotion tied up in the category because people are crazy about their dogs. There's an opportunity for better marketing."
After starting SodaPup in 2013, Baker took a page from the Nike playbook and put his first products in front of influencers to post them on their social media channels. The strategy gained the brand traction, then the global COVID-19 pandemic transformed SodaPup as consumers increasingly ordered products online. The result is that the company expanded its product line to 24 distributors worldwide.
SodaPup works with two rubber factories and two plastics factories -- with one of each based in Colorado. It also contracts with a peanut butter manufacturer in Nashville, Tennessee, and a treat supplier in Illinois. "Now we're talking to bigger retailers and retail chains," Baker says.
The company expanded its product line to include slow-feeding trays and licking mats, which helps to satisfy a dog's foraging instinct. "It's all designed to stimulate your dog with a food puzzle," Baker says. "It has a calming effect on a dog and keeps them occupied.
"When we entered the feeding space, we tapped into a different type of behavior with our consumers. One of the ways moms express their love with their children is through food. There's a humanization of pets. We treat our dogs as members of the family -- they sleep on the bed with us. That extends to food and diet."
It's not that Baker is reinventing the wheel. He's simply improving on products that are already available by learning from the experiences he's had with his black lab. SodaPup lick mats, for example, are 40 to 60 percent heavier than competitors' mats.
"Innovation is often incremental, not revolutionary," Baker says. "When we design a new product, we're looking for ways to make it 10 percent more fun, 10 percent more functional, or 10 percent more durable."
Challenges: Starting a company goes through different phases of challenges, Baker says. At first, the challenge was to create a compelling product that people want. Then, Baker had to figure out how to build out a product line that requires expensive molds. Then there was the marketing followed by expanding into new product lines.
"The thing I love about entrepreneurship is the challenges are always changing," Baker says. "I liken entrepreneurship to trying to cross a raging river -- there are some big rocks you can hop on, but you can't see the other bank all the way across. It's this ongoing process of finding the next stone to jump to."
Opportunities: Drawing on his background in apparel, Baker introduced the fashion cycle to the pet toy category. "We have lots of seasonal items, which most of our competitors don't have," he said.
And like fashion, SodaPup takes advantage of social media to promote its products. "People were taking pictures of their dogs using these beautiful creations and hash-tagging us," Baker says. "I was reposting them to drive traffic to them and showing our audience what people were doing. I started getting calls from France, Poland, and Asia because they were seeing it on Instagram."
Needs: SodaPup needs more space and more employees. Baker expects to have as many as 17 employees by the end of 2023. The job additions will be in the company's 16,000-square-foot warehouse. Meanwhile, Baker handles all the product design and development, forecasting, and planning as well as marketing and sales management.