DANVILLE — Mo Lynch-Vashel never saw herself as a savvy entrepreneur. She is terrible at balancing her checkbook, is put off by technology, and never took a business class in her life.
But when her husband, Chris, told her their financial situation would need to change or they wouldn't be able to afford their home, her reservations about starting a business had to be shed. Not only did she save her house, she made it her company's headquarters.
"To him, his whole speech was about budgeting better," she said. "What I heard was, 'It's time to start my own business.'"
And what she lacked in business skill she made up in canine skills: she knew how to give commands such as "sit," "go to bed" and "quiet." A former guide dog trainer, and owner of a Labrador retriever named Omni, Vashel knew that her Danville neighborhood was full of potential canine customers.
The result was Diablo Doggies, which offers dog training, baths, walks and housesitting services for cats as well. What started in 2008 with just a few clients has grown to 68. Last year she netted about $32,000 and this year, she hopes for more, despite the tough economy.
The key to her success, she says, was understanding her strengths and weaknesses, and being willing to get help from others.
"The ramp up period was really intense, because I didn't really know what I was doing," she said. "But I took a lot of people that did know what they were doing to lunch and really learned from them."
She hired an accountant and set up an LLC through the online service LegalZoom. In total, startup costs for Vashel were about $5,000.
"The dog part was never the problem for me," she said. "It was running the business. But when I realize you don't have to be the world's greatest bookkeeper to succeed, it wasn't that bad."
As a married mother of two young children, the hardest part of the business for Vashel was trying to juggle work with parenting. She has a huge three-ring binder to make sure her time is managed perfectly.
Initially, Vashel started small. She took on her neighbors' dogs and offered up "dog adventure walks" and basic training. For those who went on vacation, she offered to feed the dogs and keep them company.
Dog walks or visits cost $25 for one dog and $40 for two. Training sessions are $80 per hour, or $400 for a series of six.
By building her customer base, she can now be a bit more choosy about the type of work she takes on. If she had her way, training is more her preference.
"It's been really good, because the word-of-mouth has really brought me business," she said. "Where before it was me going out and saying 'You need me,' it's them coming to me."
Most of her clients live between Walnut Creek and Pleasanton.
Stephani Hawthorne has been using Vashel's services on her dogs, Mayzie, a shepherd mix, and Max a Great Dane.
"Because she worked with guide dogs, she knows a little bit about everything in regards to pet care," Hawthorne said. "Anytime I have a pet question, I call Mo."
And when there's a situation Vashel can't handle, she won't hesitate to recommend other trainers for the job.
"What I make for my clients is a real nice dog for them to live with," she said.
Vashel has been looking for ways to branch out and expand her earning potential. Possibly franchising or branding Diablo Doggies and one day offering dog products. But right now it's about baby steps. Such endeavors will have to wait. Her philosophy is to stay focused on her core offerings, and not to work too hard in the first four years, because she might lose her zest if she does.
"I'm really happy with what I've been able to do in such a short time span," she said. "Even though the business side was really intimidating for me, I made it a challenge for myself, and I feel like I've done well."