When Derek Sasaki and Traci Torres (pictured) started keeping a flock of chickens in their backyard nearly a decade ago, they never imagined that they’d end up running a popular one-stop shop for like-minded hobbyists.
My Pet Chicken, the web-based business they founded in 2006, started as an effort to provide the resources that Sasaki and Torres couldn’t find online. But the project quickly evolved into an internet company with 20 remote employees and a national customer base.
“We built the website that we wished we could have found before we got chickens,” Sasaki explains. “We asked, ‘What would have been nice to know before we started?’ and we put that up.”
Today, My Pet Chicken not only offers extensive resources, but also sells live day-old baby chicks, fertilized hatching eggs, and juvenile birds, as well as the latest products for people who tend chickens at home. From its start, the company has provided a breed selector tool, a searchable database of information about chicken husbandry, and free e-books about their hobby. The company brought in $2 million in revenue last year.
The free resources attract traffic to the site and engage customers and prospect once they arrive, making MyPetChicken.com a key destination for the chicken-keeping community. “We knew content was king,” Sasaki says. “Today there are all these SEO tricks and things, but nothing beats good content.”
Sasaki and Torres also engage customers by lowering the barriers to entry to the hobby, using e-books and Q&A message boards to provide firsthand advice and selling as few as three baby chicks at a time, a first in the industry, Sasaki says.
“We try to cover everything that a backyard chicken-keeper would need,” Sasaki says. “Even now, there are almost no other websites that cater to the backyard chicken-keeper from start to finish.” The company has many competitors for various aspects of it’s business; even Walmart now sells chicken coops. Competition in supplying the chickens themselves comes from traditional hatcheries such as Meyer Hatchery, Cackle Hatchery, and Purely Poultry.
To round out its start-to-finish approach, Sasaki and Torres look for employees who share their customers’ passion. “Almost all of them have chickens, and they think it’s great that they can get paid to talk about chickens,” Sasaki says. “We knew this would be a high-touch business where people would call in with all kinds of questions. That’s why we have such a knowledgeable staff.”
Of course, Sasaki is passionate about raising chickens, too. He recommends that any entrepreneur looking to reach a niche audience share its excitement for the product or service.
“It’s not like a tech company where you’re looking to really grow and have an exit strategy in three years,” Sasaki says. “This is going to be something you’re growing organically. You have to love what you do.”