Today’s guest is a pet entrepreneur on a mission to help fellow pet entrepreneurs take their online businesses and brands to a whole other level. Her name is Hannah Zulueta. If you’re on Instagram then you may already know her as the creator behind the massively popular account, MaggieLovesOrbit, where she shares her journey with her two Boston Terriers, Maggie and Orbit. She’s also the creator behind the tip-filled Instagram account BarkCommunity, which is loaded with advice for online engagement and growth. Hannah has her own social media marketing firm and works with some of the most popular pet brands. Last, but certainly not least, she is the co-founder of The Pet Summit, an event that brings pet entrepreneurs, influencers, and brands together to learn and grow.

In this interview, Hannah dives into the importance of community building, how she developed her own little black book filled with the creators behind leading pet accounts on social media, and how she organizes events that generate a buzz.


Melissa:

I always like to say there are two kinds of dog parents: The person who grew up with dogs and discovered that bond early in life, and the person who didn’t welcome dogs into their families until later in life. Which category do you fall into?

Hannah:

I fall into the first one! I’ve had dogs since I was six years old. My first dog was a retired K-9, and, since then, I’ve had 14 dogs throughout my life. I remember being a child in Papua New Guinea, rolling around in the dirt with the dogs.

Melissa:

The view on dogs today is very different than it was so many years ago. They’re such an integral part of our lives and viewed as close family members. Was that always the case for you?

Hannah:

No. Actually, there’s a scenario with dog ownership where, in the beginning, it’s food and shelter. I took care of (my childhood dogs) … I always played with them. But it wasn’t the way I am now where I think about how are doing emotionally, mentally. Are they learning, are they growing? … It’s definitely evolved through the years.

Melissa:

Even with this evolution, when you reached working age, you didn’t go right into the pet industry. I read you actually went into the hospitality industry first, correct?

Hannah:

I did. I spent 20 years in the hospitality industry. I traveled the world. By the time I reached the peak of my career, I had 26 resorts from Thailand to Mexico, Puerto Rico, the U.S. I did that for 20 years and loved it.

Melissa:

What was your role in the hospitality industry?

Hannah:

I actually started in the call center and then, as I got my degree, I worked my way up. It was a startup. The owner mentored me and I ended up going into sales and marketing, which was my education. By the time I pivoted, I was a sales and marketing director for about 26 different resorts.

Melissa:

You obviously traveled a lot. What was the day-to-day back then?

Hannah:

That was before social media and it was all about making sure we knew the whole experience for people traveling to the resorts. How do we attract them, from when they’re sitting at their desk and looking at their calendar going, “Where am I going to spend the one week I have this year?” And we would really think about that and go, “Okay, someone’s working for 51 weeks of the year and they want to go away for a week.” We knew that experience started when they looked at their vacation balance and we had to figure out how to find that person, talk to them, and basically carry them through check-in, vacationing, check-out. And this is all pre-digital, so it’s very different.

Melissa:

What ultimately caused you to leave that industry?

Hannah:

I wasn’t home and I got lonely. I remember I was in Park City, it was July 4th, and I did a FaceTime with my friends and boyfriend. They were on a sailboat on the bay – and July in San Diego is beautiful. They were there with my dog – my first Boston Terrier, Zoe. They were like, “We miss you and we love you.” And I’m thinking, “It’s July 4th. What am I doing here in Park City?” It was 2:00 pm and it was one of those defining moments.

It was the time between when guests check-out and the next round of guests check-in. I was there overseeing it because it was a big weekend for us. And I said to myself, “This is not the life I want to have – I want to be on that boat with my dog and my friends.” So, I made a plan and it took about eight months to transition out.

Melissa:

What was your vision?

Hannah:

I don’t know if I had an image, but I knew that I could do it. When you work for a startup, you’re used to figuring things out as you go along. We had a saying that we were building the landing as a plane was coming down, because in a startup you basically have limited staff, limited resources. You might open the hotel with very few people and you’re just growing as the business grows. I said to myself, “Well, if I’ve done this for 20 years for someone else, I can figure out how to do it for myself.” And so I said, “Well, I’ve got 20 years of hospitality experience, I’m going to start consulting in hospitality.” But I never knew I would end up in the dog space.

Melissa:

So, at this point, it still wasn’t about dogs!

Hannah:

I was used to working a lot of hours, but (when I first started working for myself) I only had one client. It was Wyndham – they had resort properties in Hawaii and I was overseeing their social media. It was only about two hours worth of work a day. So, I would look over at the dog bed and I would sit in here taking photos of her. Then, when she napped, I would edit them and I would go on social media. I was trying to figure out social media – I never really understood it until I had my own Instagram account. And then things started happening.

Melissa:

How long ago was this?

Hannah:

I started working for myself five years ago. And it was very different back then in terms of Instagram for dogs. I think there was Doug the Pug and there were very few famous dogs. I was just there because I didn’t want to flood my Facebook feed with all the photos of my dogs.

Melissa:

So, you’re just starting to post pictures that you take at home and you’re noticing people are attracted to them. You’re gaining more followers. What was the message back then? Was it really just, ‘Here’s my cute dog?’

Hannah:

It was a lot about what she was doing. She was growing up and the aha moment was when she had a health issue – she threw up and I talked about it (on Instagram). Before that it was a very surface-level interaction. Then I lowered my walls.

I didn’t know how to raise a puppy, so I started asking about that. And all of a sudden, the community started volunteering. I remember I was doing something around the house and then I looked at my phone and said, “Wow, there are 30 conversations going on here.” 30 might not seem like a lot, but, to me, it was. And that’s when I knew you could have an online friendship of sorts.

Melissa:

When did that turn into the blog, maggielovesorbit.com?

Hannah:

I created the blog a year later. Again, I didn’t know what I was doing. I just thought, “Well. I sat down for a photo session and I only posted one on the (Instagram) feed and I’ve got eight more, where do they belong?” And I put them on the blog.

Melissa:

Did you also write your stories on the blog, or did it just start as an extra photo album?

Hannah:

It was an extra photo album. And I started to become a little bit more interested in Boston Terriers as a breed. So, it became a place for me to start documenting and cataloging things. I thought, “Well, if I’ve learned something new and it took me a week to learn that, someone else might find this useful.” That’s how the blog was born.

Melissa:

As the blog is growing and your Instagram is growing, you still have clients on the side … and they’re not in the dog space. When did you transition to solely dog-related work?

Hannah:

It was very organic. I was doing a lot of work with my sister-in-law, who is also an independent and has her little marketing company in Glendale. She was in all industries, so I had a client that was HVAC. How exciting is HVAC? Marketing is marketing. Marketing is storytelling, marketing is relationship building. So you can know marketing and apply that to different industries.

As Maggie and Orbit grew, different companies would come to me and ask for my advice. So I would just give it. And then I started @BarkCommunity because I said to myself, “I’m answering the same question 20 times, I just want one place to say, ‘Here, I answered it.'”

Then different companies started to ask if I could handle their social media or consult for them. So, through the years, it grew and, as of last year, I transitioned fully out of other industries. I do 100% for pets now – all my clients.

Melissa:

You have two very massive Instagram accounts. @MaggieLovesOrbit has 138,000 and @BarkCommunity has just under 70,000.

Hannah:

As you know, in the dog space, the majority of dog Instagram accounts are not run by people who are in marketing or in storytelling. They’re teachers, they’re counselors, they’re mothers. And, so, they’re just sharing photos of their dogs. They’re not keeping up with what’s going on in marketing and they would ask me questions too. So, I started answering in DMs and I thought, “I’m answering you 20 times, I’m just going to start building one place to answer.” And, if I didn’t know the answer, I would look it up. And I thought, “Well, since I looked it up I might as well type it out.”

Melissa:

When did the idea of The Pet Summit come about?

Hannah:

That is actually the brain child of Gal’s Best Friend, Megan Rose and Chelsea Evans. They are the team who runs Gal’s Best Friend. I met them three years ago at BlogPaws, which was a great conference for bloggers.

The first time I went was the last year, which is so devastating. And, so, there was gap left. Megan and Chelsea put their heads together and said, “We should have an event and have it more social media-centric.” Because, as you know, media has evolved. It used to be newspaper, radio, and TV. Then the webspace came and then social media came. Before, bloggers were the only influencers, and then social media came and you started seeing people with very large audiences. So, they thought we needed a space to talk about best practices, how to network, how to help each other. Because, again, for a lot of the people who have massive followings, it’s not what they studied. It just happened accidentally. A great, happy accident.

They wanted to have it in Austin and they asked me to be part of it, but I knew with my workload I couldn’t go to Austin and handle logistics with them as a team. But, with COVID last year and pivoting to the online space, I thought, “Well, I can do that! I can do it from my office. I can be part of the team.”

Paige Chernick is the fourth woman on the Pet Summit team. It’s been great for me to observe (and work with) like-minded people. I could never do that event on my own, but the four of us can come together and create a strategy.

We genuinely want to help influencers because we know what it’s like… We wanted to build a community where we could share information because a lot of people like to hold their cards close to their chest and not share (their success strategies). But, the community will only grow if we grow together. And all four of us are social media managers as well. So we want to make sure we help educate new accounts that are turning into little businesses.

Melissa:

What categories did you cover?

Hannah:

We covered:

  • How to be an influencer
  • The different social media platforms – Instagram, TikTok, YouTube, Facebook.
  • How to build a business
  • How to take photos
  • We had Rachel Fusaro talk about what makes a video great
  • We had you! You’re a very accomplished blogger.

It was like a love fest. We said, “Who do we love out there, and let’s invite them!” And each one of us had our little Rolodex of who we wanted to be part of it. So we just reached out to our friends or people that we quietly, secretly admired and they didn’t even know it.

Melissa:

When it came time to do outreach, you already had so many people that you were connecting with through @MaggieLovesOrbit and then also @BarkCommunity. Then, the women you worked with are powerhouses in the pet space. With a really nice little black book of influencers and brands, how much of that do you think contributed to the success of the event?

Hannah:

It really helped that we had a good Rolodex. See, that’s how old I am, I’ll say Rolodex! At the same time, though, nothing replaces elbow grease. We had a list of people who we wanted to reach out to and it was straight: How many people can I DM? We would even lock ourselves out (of our Instagram accounts) because we were doing too many DMs.

Melissa:

A lot of people are very intimidated to do outreach and connect with people on social media, even though that’s what social media is for: You’re getting social on your media! What tips do you have for people?

Hannah:

Outreach doesn’t start when you need a project. Outreach starts every day through the relationships that you make. If there are people in the industry that you admire or aspire to be like, or want to learn from, or want to build something with, it starts with interacting with them. It might be something simple, like liking their photos and making genuine comments.

When it comes to the actual physical outreach, you just reach out and it’s a numbers game. And the worst thing that they could say is no, or maybe they don’t even respond, but then you just keep going.

Melissa:

How many teachers did you have at The Pet Summit?

Hannah:

We had over 70 classes, and they’re still online at ThePetSummit.com. We had about 700 people tune in. So, for our first event, we were very excited.

Melissa:

You had a lot of good built-in advertising from the speakers because they all had large audiences of their own. Was that intentional or an added bonus?

Hannah:

That was just an added bonus because we also had speakers who had very small audiences, but they had very good content. We went with the people that showed — through time — they knew what they were doing. I know bloggers who might be getting over 100,000 page views a month on their blog, and making six figures on their blog, but when you look at their social media following it’s not corresponding in size. So, we knew that people were good at what they did, their expertise, and we brought them in, regardless of the size of their audience.

Melissa:

From the idea of this to the actual event, how long did it take to put this all together?

Hannah:

Gosh, 2020 is such a blur! I want to say maybe two, three months.

Melissa:

That’s quick!

Hannah:

It was quick. We worked on it every night. We would get on the phone and do a video call every Thursday, some weeks we’d do two. We would split up different tasks and just wrangled everyone to come together. Just to gather all the videos, to edit them, to upload them – it was a lot of work.

Now we know we probably want to double our prep time and start six months, maybe even longer, maybe eight months.

Melissa:

Was it all in-house?

Hannah:

All in-house with exception of the video editing. We did hire someone for the video editing, but each one of us knew how to build ads, how to build a website, marketing, social. I mean, we just put our heads together.

Melissa:

How long before the event did you start selling tickets?

Hannah:

About a month prior.

Melissa:

So, within a month you were able to get 700 ticket holders?

Hannah:

Yes.

Melissa:

That’s really impressive. What do you think contributed to its success?

Hannah:

I think it was a combination of things. All of the speakers had their own audiences, so that was one. And there really is a need in the industry to provide an educational component. Because, if you think about it, all these pet parents who are posting at least once a day to their feed and then creating stories, they’re marketing storytellers without even calling themselves that. They’re doing it naturally.

I will tell you, I did not understand social media running resorts until I had a dog account. We thought, “Oh, just put up the pretty pictures.” We knew how to story-tell to wholesalers and to travel agents, but it’s very different when you’re talking to the consumer. You almost have to be not as polished, that authenticity is really applicable when you’re speaking directly to the consumer.

Melissa:

What lessons did you learn in the hospitality industry that you applied to The Pet Summit?

Hannah:

Storytelling. And I learned that from Tom LaTour. Tom LaTour was the CEO of Kimpton and then he retired in Wine Country. But he didn’t do retirement very well. So he came out of retirement and formed a brand called LaTour Hotels and Resorts. And we would go into very unknown destinations and open up a high-end resort. It’s the elevated version of timeshare where people are looking to have a second resort home, but they’re looking to only be there for maybe a month at a time or six months at a time. So they would buy into a resort and they might spend anywhere from $100,000 to $2 million, just to have a little fraction of this little property.

At this point in my career, I’d been in the industry for 16 years. I was in sales and marketing and he would say, “Hannah, tell me about the menu.” And I’d run through the menu with the chef. And then he would say, “Now, tell me about the drink.” And I’d go, “What do you mean?” “So, you have a margarita. Where’s the alcohol from. Where’s the tequila from? What region?” And he would get down to the granular level of what’s the story behind this drink? How was it born? What’s the name of it? And we would go through the whole property — the sheets, and the soaps. We would think about every little detail because, in the resort industry, a room is a room is a room. You really just need it to go to sleep and take a shower, and then you’re out vacationing wherever you’re going. So, what I learned in the resort business is to really think about the experience that you want someone to have when they come to your property and the stories that they tell other people when they go home.

We wanted to talk about the transformation that people would have and the experience that they would have by going to the Pet Summit. When we were reaching out to other attendees, and in the ads that we would run, we wanted to touch on the trajectory they would have the minute they sat down…

We’ve had some great testimonials. The perfect attendee we targeted were those that had less than 10,000 followers. That’s the audience we wanted to serve.

And we helped rescues! Each of us selected a rescue and we donated the proceeds to our rescue of choice.

Melissa:

How much of that was in your storytelling when you were advertising the event?

Hannah:

We made sure that we share that at least 70% of the time, and that was very important. Even though now I have dogs that I got from a breeder, my background came from going to the shelter and just picking up the dogs that looked like they needed a home… So I brought in Frosted Faces, which is out of San Diego. They take in the dogs that no one’s adopting. They’ll take them into their shelter and then foster them out and then eventually place them. Each of the organizers had an organization that was near and dear to our hearts.

Melissa:

Are you looking at doing a similar two-day event in 2021?

Hannah:

We are. That was the accident we learned by having it online: We were able to reach more people. If you think about going to a traditional conference – you have to book a hotel room, you have to get on a plane. Who’s going to watch my dog or cat if I’m not taking them with us? So, we really did have that aha moment. Not only did we reach more people, we were able to reach people globally. So we will continue to have an online component. We still do want to have an in-person event, but with everything going on that probably won’t happen until 2022.

Melissa:

Any advice that you would have for someone else inspired by the work that you’re doing?

Hannah:

To just imagine the possibilities you can do when you collaborate with other people, and the only thing that’s stopping yourself would be your own limitations. I always say, ‘Yes, you can. You’ll figure it out.’ I am not a great athlete. For example, I wanted to run a marathon. I’m five feet, I’m slow. But I knew that if I showed up every day and hit the pavement I could get to 26 miles. And it’s the same thing with any project or goal that you have.


You can connect with Hannah and her pups on Instagram (@MaggieLovesOrbits), Instagram (@BarkCommunity), Facebook, Twitter, The Pet Summit!

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