If there’s one thing Matt Gryder 13MBA and Matthew Fishman 13MBA know, it’s a great opportunity. As graduate students in Goizueta Business School’s full-time MBA program, they learned how to properly value a company, among many other business skills. So, when Fishman started to notice a rising trend in the pet industry, he shared his idea with Gryder, a friend and cohort in the program.

Matt Gryder

“When we were doing the private debt (exercises), a lot of what you would see would be a lot of business plans,” Fishman says. “I started to see a good number of businesses in the pet space. I was good friends with Matt Gryder. I called him up one day, and said ‘Hey, I’m starting to see a lot of these businesses in the pet space. What do you think about talking through it?’ I trusted his advice. I trusted his logic, and he said, ‘I’m interested too.’”

Matt Fishman

Gryder says, “It was clear at the time how people treat their dogs. I was also taking my dog to a dog daycare at the time. I knew when we traveled, we always had to board, and so I was already part of that ecosystem of dog day cares. When I walk in and drop my dog off, I can see how many dogs are there, and it was a lot. As I dug more into it, (I saw) this is the potential business.”

Business Over Lunch

The pet care industry is experiencing fairly rapid growth and expansion of services. More than 65 million Americans have a dog in their household. What’s more, pet owners spent $136.8 billion on their animals in 2022, up almost 11% from 2021. Both Fishman and Gryder had dogs at the time, so they were familiar with the industry from a consumer standpoint. From a business standpoint, however, they needed some insight from someone on the inside. So, in 2017, Fishman called the then-owner of Barking Hound Village. It’s the largest locally-owned dog services company, and has been in business since 1999.

One day I just picked up the phone and I found the name of the owner. I just sent him a note saying ‘Hey, I’m a customer. I’d love to understand you and your business a little bit better.

Matthew Fishman 13MBA

“We ended up going to lunch,” says Fishman. “By the end of the meal we basically agreed on a purchase price and worked backwards from there.”

It’s an unusual way to enter into entrepreneurship. But Fishman, who serves as Barking Hound Village’s CEO, and Gryder, who serves as CFO, were ready. They say their work at Goizueta prepared them for owning their own business. Both had been in the financial industry before returning to graduate school at Emory. Fishman was working as an Assistant Vice President at Voya Financial, and Gryder was a finance manager at T5 Data Centers.

Back to School

Barking Hound Village offers private training and group classes.

Fishman says of his decision to get his MBA at Goizueta, “The primary reason that I went back to school was because my skill set was very pigeonholed. I was in mortgage-backed securities. I knew how to analyze mortgage-backed securities. I didn’t really understand how to do a financial analysis on an entity, nor a proper evaluation of an entity. Going back to school at Goizueta gave me the tools, so that if I was presented with an opportunity, or I wanted to explore an opportunity such as acquiring a business, I had the basis to do so and the network to have a really solid sounding board.”

The tools they learned at Goizueta influence the business decisions the partners make on a daily basis, whether overtly or through the vast experience with real-life business scenarios the MBA program provides. Gryder says in his experience, that education at Goizueta has provided him a distinct advantage above some of his competitors.

What I learned at Emory I’m applying almost every single day. Sometimes I know it, and I can actually name what I’m doing. Other times I can look back and think, ‘Oh, that’s interesting. We had talked about this or read this case study in grad school.

Matt Gryder 13MBA

“One thing specifically is price increases, the elasticity of demand,” Gryder says. “At what point can we raise prices and how much? We’ve raised prices four times since we’ve owned the business.

“But we use that every single time. We know that concept through grad school, and I would have otherwise never learned that concept. We talked to some of our competitors, and they’re just throwing numbers against the wall, increasing prices 25 percent. They’re not doing it incrementally. And they’re waiting too long. They’re doing all of these things that we’re not doing because we learned about that in grad school.”

Learning the Language of Business

Working in a business partnership is, according to Fishman, a lot like a marriage. It requires work to make it successful. Gryder says, “The communication is just the absolute, most important thing. That’s true whether you’re communicating with your business partner, to a manager, to a customer, to motivate employees, or trying to explain to them to how to do things better.

“You know all of these different communication skills I learned at Emory. Specifically, one is ‘Yes, and.’ You play this game where you start talking to somebody. It’s like improv, and you don’t say no. You always say yes, and that keeps the conversation going, and it doesn’t shut down ideas. So that’s something that I’ve been applying since.”

In addition to communication skills, the knowledge gained from the MBA program has also helped both owners to focus on diversifying revenue streams and expanding the current daycare and boarding business. Barking Hound Village currently has seven locations throughout Metro Atlanta. They also have a property set aside in Roswell for possible future development.

Fishman and Gryder have recently opened a new business, Coatly. It’s a bath and grooming experience for dogs that encourages regular coat maintenance for all dogs, regardless of size and coat needs. Services include everything from bathing to nail trims to full grooms. From a business standpoint, grooming is a natural extension of Barking Hound Village’s current offerings. The market is expected to grow at an annual rate of 7.09% from 2022 to 2030, and the grooming industry as a whole is currently worth more than $1.3 billion a year.

Leveraging Your Network

Outside of the direct skills learned in the classroom, both Fishman and Gryder mentioned the Emory alumni network as being one of the biggest benefits of obtaining an MBA from Goizueta. After all, it’s how they met and formed their business partnership.

“I’m using my network all the time,” Gryder says. “I went into business with somebody I met at Emory. A couple of financial advisors and investors that I’ve met at Emory, that are my age, I have money with them. So, we’re calling on that network for personal issues and also for business issues. If we ever need to get financing from a bank, we may reach out to that network to see who they know.”

My life is intertwined with Emory. Everything I experienced at Emory has shaped where I’m at today.

Matt Gryder 13MBA

Fishman agrees. “The network is very valuable. I mean a lot of my best friends are still from Goizueta. And it’s been 10 years since graduation. Most of them have pretty powerful jobs around Atlanta. So you know the network you build there is very strong. Throughout your career and business…you are problem solving…whether it be real estate valuation, real estate acquisition, some form of tax strategy, business acquisition. It’s in my personality to run that by my friends to gain their thoughts. Their experiences may provide a different way to look at it. That’s been the case with us and our growth and Barking Hound.

The education you get out of it is very valuable. But no one retains all the details of an education 10 years from the time in which he got it. But you do retain the network, and that’s as powerful as the education.

Matthew Fishman 13MBA

Fishman continued, “We haven’t had to do this, (but) if I have to go and raise capital, I know I’ll have a strong network of people from the program that I could go and hypothetically raise some capital from it. It’s a gift that’s continued to give.”

Interested in learning more? Find out how the Goizueta MBA takes students beyond business as usual.