Nick RIjniers is a 28-year-old CEO of Global Dog Services company Bark & Birch. Nick used to train dogs in the Dutch Army and his love of dogs and desire to give them a better life together with their owners led to Nick setting up Bark & Birch. The company started with just two staff members back in 2019 and has now expanded all across the UK, Ireland, Portugal, the USA, Canada, and Brazil. The company trains upwards of 1000 dogs a month and has over 100 dog trainers and employees worldwide. Going through a further round of investment, Bark & Birch is estimated to be worth in excess of $100 million dollars next year.
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Before we begin, our readers are interested to know about how you got started in the first place. Did you always want to be where you are today or was it something you were led to? Share with us your journey.
Nick Rijniers: A lot of people in my family own businesses and I’ve been working since I was 12 or 13 years old. I left school at 15. I actually got kicked out of quite a few schools! I was a bit of a rebel, to be honest. I joined the Dutch army at 16 and a half years old and picked up a lot of dog training there. When I was 19, I moved to Ireland and applied for some jobs on LinkedIn. I somehow managed to get a job at Mcafee, the biggest Anti-Virus software company in the UK. I was really into mind over matter and manifesting my dreams at that time and I bought suits and ties and went walking with my dogs with a full suit on, just believing that I could be in a position to wear that suit and be a big businessman and a few months later I got that big first job! If you believe you achieve.
I won every award going at Mcafee and afterward, got a Senior Account Executive role at Indeed.com in Dublin. I then started a side business in e-commerce and dropshipping, which I turned into a 2 million euro business. I was on something of a roll at that point. I then went to set up Hubnexa- a technology platform for the relocation industry- Hubnexa is an online marketing, customer retention, and on-demand business services web and mobile app, which I eventually sold to focus on Bark & Birch. Before Bark & Birch though I was also doing my own individual consultancy business and I was hired by numerous companies to advise on sales strategies- I was only 24 at this point and I was hired to advise on expansion and flown all over the world.
Bark & Birch just exploded from the very beginning. It solves a problem- no one does what we do and that’s the truth of the matter. Our competition is local businesses and small family-owned daycare businesses. People will never stop spending money on dogs and kids. But the thing I wanted to do that isn’t out there, is I wanted to provide an all-encompassing dog services company to include, doggy daycare, training, boarding, and grooming as a one-stop-shop so that owners don’t have to drop their precious pups at various different places and for Bark & Birch to be the full trusted provider of dog services globally! We want to be with dogs from them being a puppy to the very end and provide every single service they may need, holding their paws throughout for their every need- we want to be that full trusted provider.
Tell us a bit about your current focus. What is the most important thing that you’re working on and how do you plan on doing it?
Nick Rijniers: Bark & Birch currently train almost 1000 dogs a month. We have a fantastic team of highly experienced dog behaviorists and ex-police/army dog handlers. Our team is some of the best and most talented dog trainers in the world. We rehabilitate and teach basic and advanced obedience, either as part of a residential ‘Board and Train’ Program or through a series of private one-to-one sessions. During the Bark & Birch Board and Train Programs, dogs will be boarded at the homes of their trainers, enjoying home comforts for the duration of their program alongside their training. We also provide daily video and photo updates, as well as progress reports for owners so they can keep on top of the training too. We know all dogs are different, so we really do strive to build customized programs around each dog. What we can guarantee is that Bark & Birch Trainers are comprised of the highest quality of dog behaviorists, ex-police/army dog handlers, and highly trained canine experts!
You name it and we can do it! Puppy training, basic & advanced obedience, separation anxiety, human and or dog aggression, destructive behavior, specific behavior, and obedience-related issues, guard dog training, breed consultations, emotional support dog courses, doggy daycare, holiday boarding. The whole works!
Bark & Birch just grew and grew from the start. I started the company in 2019 in the UK with only two members of staff. Bark & Birch now has over 100 staff members globally and trains over 1000 dogs a month. The ethos of the company is to give both dogs and their owners a better life together and that is what we really strive to do. Particularly with dogs where it may be their last chance. Maybe they have been hugely reactive or problematic and their owners are at their wit’s end and feel like nothing more can be done, that’s when we step in to help and give these souls a second chance and it is worth it every single time.
We help thousands of dogs a month and we want to help even more every month become the best that they can be. I have trained lots of dogs in the Dutch Army, it started with me training my friend’s badly behaved dogs and I realized that there aren’t many trainers who can deal with reactive dogs and it became apparent that I could build a company with something I am passionate about and have the satisfaction of helping these people and their dogs.
It has always meant so much to me when we have someone calling us crying tears of happiness that we have helped their dogs and changed their lives and given their dogs a second chance and the chance to have a better life.
Some argue that punctuality is a strength. Others say punctuality is a weakness. How do you feel about it, please explain.
Nick Rijniers: When it comes to punctuality it is a strength. We are delivering a service for owners and their dogs so punctuality and being there on time for sessions and handovers is hugely important!
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How important is having good timing in your line of work and in the industry that your organization operates in?
Nick Rijniers: It is so important. We run a Global company and operate across many different time zones. These dogs and their owners rely on us so good timekeeping is of the utmost importance as we are such a professional operation.
Founder of Virgin Group, Richard Branson, states “Timing is everything in life, and it’s particularly crucial in entrepreneurship. People often equate success with luck, but it usually comes down to impeccable (and carefully mapped out) timing”. Do you agree with this statement? Please answer in as much detail as necessary.
Nick Rijniers: What we have managed to achieve in two years is massive and it has been down to the right timing and launching in the right territories at the right time! We managed to get this business from nothing to a Global fragmented business providing physical in-person services across multiple countries and cultures whilst going through a Global Pandemic!
We launched in America, in LA, Houston, New York, and Georgia and we continue to grow rapidly across the USA. We are in so many states now including New Jersey, Texas, Philadelphia, Georgia, Washington, Maryland, Ohio, Dallas, Illinois, Arizona, Georgia, and many more states. We hired highly experienced Head Trainers across numerous states and so many of our head trainers have a military or army backgrounds. We work closely with recruiting ex-servicemen and women and this is hugely important for us. They may have worked with bomb disposal dogs or drug detection dogs or been on active tours of duty as dog handlers. This is something we have an emphasis on when it comes to recruitment. The company plans to rapidly develop across all of the remaining US states this year, with the recruitment of an additional 75 plus dog trainers plus 25 support staff.
The decision to launch our services across the USA and now Brazil came quite naturally and was a logical step in our business growth strategy. We are very excited about this new market as we have already seen great success In the UK, Ireland, USA and next stop, Brazil. We’ve already welcomed many Board and Train dogs with fantastic results from our high-quality trainers. We will continue to establish closer ties in the Brazilian market while creating many jobs as part of our recruitment drive and will then expand into more countries globally. We already run residential training and daycare in the UK, Ireland, and the USA and we are on a mission to become the largest provider of dog services globally, also developing new technology and digital methods to grow Bark & Birch. Our goal hasn’t changed since we first started, help dogs and their owners lead happier lives together! I plan to have 4 daycare centers open in Sao Paulo and make our mark in Brazil!
We are already building and launching the doggy daycares across the city and bringing the Bark & Birch residential training model to Brazil, which is hugely exciting and we can’t wait to be fully operational in Brazil and Latin America.
As a leader/entrepreneur/CEO, how do you decide when to put the pedal to the metal and when to take a break? How do you time the key moments in your career?
Nick Rijniers: It is important to take a step back but this is always hard with a startup as it’s so constant. Having a young family and my own dogs means I do have to take some time to digest everything and spend quality time with them.
Branson also states “If you’re starting to feel like you’re just going through the motions and losing sight of why you started, it might be time to take a break”. But how do you decide when to take a break?
Nick Rijniers: Having a balance is so important and feeling burnt out is never constructive or helpful to anyone so following your gut on when to take a break is so important
“Timing can be everything when starting up. It can be the difference between building a thriving business and not” How has good timing helped you achieve success in your career or business? Are there any particular examples from your career that you would like to share?
Nick Rijniers: I believe everything happens at the right time and when it is meant to. For me right now this is the right timing in the business to be looking for another 50 or 60 people by the end of this year globally. I want to launch 4 daycares in Brazil and so another 20 there too by the end of this year. Again, the timing is right! One thing that is so important to me running this business is treating my staff equally- it doesn’t matter where you are in the company. I have always been involved in every single interview, from entry-level to senior roles. I have always believed you treat your cleaning lady the same way you treat your Senior Executives.
Next, when it comes to timing, our goal is to be the biggest global dog services provider in the world, and next it will be insurance and vet clinics and products and we want to manufacture our own products and help as many people and their dogs a month as we can- We train around 800 dogs a month now and eventually I want that number to be 20 or 30 thousand, helped through our different services! Next year, I want us to be in Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, South Africa, and more of South America as we are having a Brazil office in Sao Paulo. Then, we will look to expand more in Europe, the Netherlands where I’m from originally then Belgium and Switzerland and Germany and France. By the end of next year, we should be in 15 more countries!
“When you’re thinking of starting up, ask yourself: ‘Is the community I want to serve ready for this idea?’ It could make all the difference!” Would you like to add anything to this piece of advice for all the aspiring entrepreneurs?
Nick Rijniers: It’s always a challenge to build and grow any business but when it’s physical services and you’re doing it globally it is hard. There are so many moving parts. Every single remote dog trainer, daycare driver, office staff- it can be tricky to keep the business in line. We aren’t under the same roof and that can be a challenge and feel difficult at times. All of our people are remote and our trainers are going out in different cultures with different languages etc but that excites me and we are getting there. I’m blessed that even during a global pandemic we can hire people rather than fire people. I am responsible for 100’s of my staff and their income and I feel a passion for my staff and them getting by. This is why I am so driven as I am so responsible for everyone. You need to be resilient too as a CEO, as in a start-up there are more bad days than there are good days and you have to be resilient and stay focused on what you’re trying to achieve. We have come through some hiccups and hard patches as we grew so fast. We have bought in lots of senior people to push the business forward.
My advice to someone growing their own business or a start-up is that with me, I implement something and reimplement it and don’t test it for months so I would say that you need everything in place when you try to grow a business and you need to be operationally ready to deliver the service. Plus, don’t take your mind away from what you are trying to achieve. Don’t always focus on the revenue and focus on what you are trying to do and why you are doing it. The service is so important and the customer experience and then the revenue will follow. I had always spent years in technology and that’s where my knowledge was even though I have trained many dogs in my life. When I was helping friends’ highly reactive dogs, I realized not many people can do this well, word of mouth spread, and soon I was getting lots of recommendations and people were asking for daycare, etc. if you do a good job with people’s dogs and their needs then they will keep going back. So, just remember why you are doing what you are doing and the rest will always follow.
COVID forced many businesses to adapt fast, some did so successfully, others failed, it was a lot due to good or poor timing. What are some of the big lessons you’ve learned during the pandemic?
Nick Rijniers: It’s always a challenge to build and grow any business but when it’s physical services and you’re doing it globally it is hard. There are so many moving parts. Every single remote dog trainer, daycare driver, office staff- it can be tricky to keep the business in line, especially during a global pandemic! We aren’t under the same roof and that can be a challenge and feel difficult at times. All of our people are remote and our trainers are going out in different cultures with different languages etc but that excites me and we are getting there. I’m blessed that even during a global pandemic we can hire people rather than fire people.
I am responsible for 100’s of my staff and their income and I feel a passion for my staff and them getting by. This is why I am so driven as I am so responsible for everyone. You need to be resilient too as a CEO, as in a start-up there are more bad days than there are good days and you have to be resilient and stay focused on what you’re trying to achieve. We have come through some hiccups and hard patches as we grew so fast. We have bought in lots of senior people to push the business forward.
Your insight has been incredibly valuable and our readers thank you for your generosity. We do have a couple of other bold questions to ask. What fictional world would you want to start a business in and what would you sell?
Nick Rijniers: A fictional world where dogs are in charge and they train the humans!!! That would be popular I am sure! 🙂
Before we finish things off, we would love to know, when you have some time away from business, what is one hobby that you wish you could spend more time on?
Nick Rijniers: Spending time with my young family and my two dogs and enjoying time in Sao Paulo!
Mike Weiss, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Nick Rijniers for taking the time to do this interview and share his knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Nick Rijniers or his company, you can do it through his – Linkedin Page
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