By Carol Novello, Humane Society Silicon Valley (HSSV) President, October 2014
I was very excited to sit down with Ben Jacobs, Co-Founder and CEO of Whistle, a pet technology company, to discuss how his love for animals led him to create such unique products.
Ben definitely grew up with animals. He almost always had multiple dogs growing up, specifically German Shepherds, like my very own Tess. “I genuinely believe a house is not a home without a dog,” says Jacobs. “They have always been and continue to be a huge part of my life, and I find it hard to not have a dog around. Even now, I miss my dog, Duke, whenever I travel for work. I believe dogs have such soul, and Duke is no exception.”
Just as I’ve asked previous guests of our “Humane Side” blog, I wanted to know how Ben’s love of pets influences him to be more compassionate, aware, and wise, particularly since he co-founded a pet technology company. Jacobs said, “I think animals teach you about responsibility and patience. Whistle’s early consumer base was a dual income household where a dog is their kid – a preliminary education to actually having a child. So many owners, like myself, worried about their pets when they were away from home and would ask, “How can I be the best pet-parent, especially when I’m not around?” Whistle provides owners with a peace of mind for their “child’s” safety.”
When I asked how owning a pet and running a pet technology company affects his leadership style, Jacobs replied, “You are always on stage, and that’s even more true when you relate that to dogs. People, like dogs, are always looking to you for cues, even if you don’t think they are. This is a huge lesson for me as I grow myself as a leader.”
I’ve typically asked leaders that I interview how animals help keep them grounded and in the moment. More often than not, I want to know how their pets free them from constant technological connectivity. In this case, though, Jacobs’ company brings animals and technology together to make the best of both worlds.
He elaborates, “I actively think about this everyday. My goal with Whistle is to improve and enhance the relationship between a pet and their owner. We build products that we ourselves want as pet owners. We want owners to pop into the app, see how Duke is doing for a minute, and then use the other 29 minutes on a walk with Duke when they realize he hasn’t had enough exercise for the day. At the core, Whistle is a pet company.”
Naturally, Whistle’s work culture is a very dog-friendly environment. “We are a mission driven organization, and we’ve attracted top talent from places like Google, Apple, and Amazon. People have left incredible jobs because they see the opportunity here to create a category in a space they love. On any given day, in our 3,000 sq. ft. office, we have anywhere from 5-10 dogs running around our open office space. What’s interesting is seeing the people who don’t own dogs and the babysit-a-pet mentality. I’m lucky because I can leave Duke with a myriad of colleagues when I’m out of town.”
After chatting with Ben and learning more about Whistle, I think it speaks to the power of animals in our lives that top talent are adjusting what they do professionally to create technology that enhances the relationship with our pets. I also left the conversation inspired that people, the millennial generation specifically, are tying mission driven work together with profit and think that’s an important and valuable advancement.
Ben Jacobs is the Co-Founder and CEO of Whistle, a pet technology company that manufactures animal activity monitors and GPS tracking devices. He lives in SF with his dog, Duke.