Stephen Longo has solved your cleaning problems when walking the dog. All you do is clip on a small bag, called The Fifth Paw, to the leash so your hands are free. Anyone who has ever carried a doggie trash bag can relate to the hassle of picking up, and in my case, more so when I have three small, hyperactive dogs!
In the initial stages, of course, you wanted a clean method to walk your dogs, but how did you manage to create the concept?
Walking the dog can be a really great bonding experience. Exploring the neighborhood with my Great Dane Caesar (and later Chloe) I met lots of great people and had loads of time to think as my dogs stopped to “smell the roses,” if you catch my drift. What I realized from walking them everyday, sometimes twice a day, was the one thing I hated most about dog walking. It’s not picking up after them, it’s carrying it around till we got home, juggling it from hand to hand whenever I needed to swap hands on the leash. Not only was it a drag but it also made for unsafe walks due to not being in total control of the leash. Stuffing the bag in my pocket or some pouch wasn’t the solution – too many trips to the Laundromat. One day while walking Caesar it just clicked in my mind. Having the idea is one thing, of course; recognizing it as a good idea was key and then having the courage to refine it and bring it to market.
When you were testing this out, did you have a lot of “accidents” with your dogs’ mess? What did you do to fix the issue to perfect the product?
It was a long time before I got to the point of making an actual prototype. I made many sketches, and went round and round in my head refining my idea and looking for possible problems. It’s very easy to fall in love with your idea early and put the blinders on. You have to stay open. I ran into obstacle after obstacle in the early stages mainly due to finding the best way to attach it to the leash and have it work with as many types of leashes as possible. The Fifth Paw works beautifully with med/large flat-style woven (nylon/hemp/velvet) as well as leather leashes. It does not work with retractable or rope-style leashes. In the future we’ll make a version for rope leashes. At some point you have to say I would rather make something really great that covers a good chunk of the leashes sold vs. something that works for all but is mediocre. I only wanted to do this if I could offer a product that would truly give people safer more enjoyable walks with their pups.
How do you manage living with two Great Danes? I have enough trouble with three small dogs.
It’s actually easier than you might think. My husband Chuck always wanted a Dane and friends of mine had one growing up, so I knew how amazing Danes are. I honestly forget how big they are till someone else mentions it. Yes they drink out of the faucet, yes they block the remote control as well as the whole TV right in the middle of your favorite shows, and yes they poop like a true Olympian! I love all dogs, and I’m a hugger, so for me there’s nothing like hugging a 170 lb. dog.
Before your doggie bag invention, what were you doing for a living? How is it being your own boss now?
Most recently I was a print graphic designer, and one that was finding it difficult to find work nowadays where everything is going web and interactive. Web design and interactive were not for me. Surprisingly, product design fell into my lap. While studying at Parsons School of Design, I attended an exhibit by product-design students and I remember getting very excited about it. Who knew? This is not my first business. Before design, I owned an Italian ice franchise for six years so I got a taste for what it’s like to be my own boss. Any rose colored glasses I had about what it would be like to own a business were now off. Coming into The Fifth Paw I had a clearer understanding of the level of commitment and responsibilities, and this time I had no franchise to back me up. Uncharted waters all around.
You wouldn’t think an animated image of your dog using the bathroom would be cute, but your website demonstration really is. What other marketing did you have to think of to make a product involving making a dog’s gross needs seem cute in order to get word out about your product?
Well first off, I have always been a huge fan of Japanese packaging. They do some of the most amazing things. Love that aesthetic. My first go at the packaging was really good but when a friend Alison suggested I have more fun with it, I knew exactly what she meant which direction to take. I mean if the idea is more enjoyable dog walking, why not be more playful in my approach. Hence the use of the word doody instead of poop.
As it can be difficult for people to go from an idea to figuring out how the idea can create a concept and then putting the product into place, what advice do you have for inventors?
Once I had the idea I asked myself why? Is this just an interesting idea? Why should I go for it? I realized that The Fifth Paw took into account my two biggest assets that I possess, my passion for dogs as well as my creative nature. It was a marriage that made sense. Not just in a logical way but on a gut level. I would definitely say follow your passion, because there will be many obstacles you will have to overcome along the way. You will be tested time and time again. I can’t tell you how many times I thought I must be crazy and that I might give up. It’s that passion and knowing why it’s right for you that will get you through those moments. Do the internal work first and don’t obsess over the stuff you don’t know yet. The things you don’t know (and I knew nothing about patenting, manufacturing) you can learn step by step. The other advice I have is surround yourself with great people who can advise you on the things you don’t understand like accountants and Patent lawyers.
Your product might do well in a place like Japan, where people care about small things in life such as cleanliness and polite gestures. Do you ever want to sell your product overseas?
I could totally see my product in Japan. Great minds think alike! Stay tuned. I do think people in the US care a great deal about being responsible dog owners though. One of the best things you can do is clean up after your dog on walks. Recently my two Great Danes got out of the yard and it was a neighbor whom I met while walking my dogs that pulled into my driveway and alerted me to their whereabouts. You want your neighbors to care about your dogs. He would not have bothered if he resented my dogs because I did not clean up after them. I wish you all safer more enjoyable walks with your dogs. Happy Trails!