February 26, 2020

CEO designs puppy adoption website that’s a breed apart

From 2004 to 2014, Greg Liberman helped Jewish couples come together as an executive and eventually the CEO of Spark Networks, parent company of the online Jewish dating service JDate. Since 2015, he’s carried on his work making shidduchs, albeit of a different sort:  As the CEO of PuppySpot.com, he helps customers secure pups from responsible breeders. 

“I’m a puppy matchmaker now,” Liberman said during an interview in his dog-friendly office in Culver City. “A lot of people tell me, ‘This is like JDate for puppies,’ which it really is.”

At the time that Liberman arrived at what would become PuppySpot, the company was called Purebred Breeders; he changed the name and soon revamped the business. Under his leadership, the company employed a 15-member breeder compliance team to ensure that only top breeders participated in the program, he said. Less than 10 percent of breeders who apply are accepted; they must be federally licensed or legally exempt, per the United States Department of Agriculture, and follow more than 40 pages of regulations outlined by PuppySpot. The business has a zero tolerance for puppy mills, Liberman said. 

“Breeders have to have an exercise program, and we mandate a health and vaccination protocol they have to follow,” he said. “And they need to constantly send us updates.” PuppySpot employees make all travel arrangements for the dogs to safely arrive at their new homes.

The customers, meanwhile, undergo their own thorough vetting, filling out a detailed questionnaire about what they would like in a pet and what they have to offer. A dog that needs lots of exercise, for example, wouldn’t be matched to a person living in a small apartment. The dog must pass a thorough health check before being allowed to travel to its new home.

And customers are required to take their new puppy to the veterinarian within two days of arrival and to promptly send the doctor’s report back to PuppySpot in order to activate the company’s health guarantee. Should the dog develop genetic or hereditary problems within a year, the network will provide a replacement dog of equivalent value. If issues come up over a 10-year period, PuppySpot offers 50 percent off the purchase of a new dog from the company.

The network, which serves all 50 states, now has about 3,000 active breeders participating, with no first-time breeders allowed. Customers simply can go online, type in the name of a breed, and select from videos and photos of pooches that are available to be adopted immediately.

Randall Kaplan, an entrepreneur and venture capitalist who founded the Justice Ball benefiting Bet Tzedek Legal Services in the 1990s, purchased his miniature goldendoodle, Karma, from PuppySpot about eight months ago. The Brentwood family’s previous canine, a Bernese Mountain dog, had died; subsequently, Kaplan decided to adopt a goldendoodle because the dogs are hypoallergenic and because many of his friends had great experiences with the breed.

Kaplan emailed all 80 goldendoodle breeders he found online around the country, but discovered that many wanted deposits up front for puppies that might not be available for months. One breeder even raised the price of a prospective dog from $3,000 to $8,000 while Kaplan was on the waiting list.

When Kaplan finally tried PuppySpot, he found eight puppies ready to go home with him almost at once. The price was more than $3,000, but that was comparable to what he had found while dealing directly with breeders. Now, Karma is an important part of his family. 

“The process couldn’t have gone any better,” he said.

Liberman, 45, developed his entrepreneurial skills early. At 15, he founded a profitable baseball card company and secured a business license. After attending Stanford and the University of Chicago Law School, he practiced law for a time before being lured back to a business career. He graduated from Harvard Business School’s Program for Management Development and worked in telecommunications and internet corporations before coming aboard at MatchNet, which ultimately transformed into Spark Networks.

The company ran a number of ethnically and racially specific dating services, but JDate was especially important to Liberman, who attends Wilshire Boulevard Temple.    

“A lot of people tell me, ‘This is like JDate for puppies,’ which it really is.”

“It was exciting to work for a consumer brand that was making a huge impact on the Jewish community and that all my friends knew,” he said. “Some of my son’s and daughter’s best friends would not have existed without JDate.”

But by 2014, other entities took over the company, he said.  “We didn’t see eye to eye and I left,” Liberman said.

He found familiar territory when he came aboard on what would become PuppySpot in early 2015. “It’s a profile-based matchmaking service where, instead of matching humans with each other, we’re matching humans with puppies,” he said.

“I had dogs all throughout my childhood, so I love dogs,” Liberman added.

Two Shih Tzus, three basset hounds and a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel were part of his family growing up. His now 10-year-old daughter picked out the Libermans’ current dog, a red miniature poodle named Lucy, from the PuppySpot website two years ago. Liberman often takes the 5-pound pooch with him to work.

PuppySpot now does eight figures in revenues, Liberman said, while declining to name specific numbers. Under his leadership, the company has expanded from a single location in Cooper City, Fla., to an additional two offices, in Culver City and Utah, and has grown from 148 to 201 employees.

But why not just adopt a lovable mutt from a shelter? Liberman responded that shelters are not for everyone. For example, an elderly customer had suffered a stroke and needed a healthy, trainable dog as her service animal. Health issues aren’t always apparent when one adopts a dog from a shelter, he added.   

But Liberman acknowledges that rescue and shelter organizations can work for many individuals and families. “We’re not anti-shelter,” he said. “We’re pro-dog.”

As for PuppySpot, the company will continue its mission to place “healthy puppies in good homes,” Liberman said.

Like JDate, he added, it’s all about helping to create happy families.