Michael Landa founded The Pet Staff with Brett Montana in 2001 and it’s now the largest professional in-home pet sitting and dog walking service in greater Los Angeles. Their service offers a personalized, stress free and healthy alternative to the traditional method of kennel boarding pets. This week’s interview offers a different perspective to the often talked about topic of pet costs at Queercents. There’s nothing quite like gays, their pets and Hollywood! “Sit Ubu, sit. Good dog!”

1. Although pet sitting seems like a warm and fuzzy business, what are the financial complexities with serving thousands of clients and their pets?
Back office logistics (billing, scheduling, dispatching, client service) is no place to skimp when you’re doing nearly 10,000 pet visits per month. Infrastructure is expensive, but necessary otherwise warm and fuzzy bites you in the butt.

2. What is your most significant memory about money?
“Gambling” in the stock market in 2000 and losing big-time. Vegas would have been much more fun.

3. Have you had to raise your rates because of higher gas prices?
We finally did have to raise rates slightly, but we passed on the surplus completely to the pet sitters – the ones driving around and filling their tanks every 10 minutes.

4. What was the biggest financial challenge you overcame to start your business?
Bootstrapping. Self-funding an enormous start-up cost and max-ing out credit cards while betting on “the come”. Ambien helped.

5. Growing up, did you get an allowance for walking the dog? How did your parents teach you important lessons about money?
I wish. When I walked Fritz, that just meant I could eat that night. To teach me about money, I had the “opportunity” to work as a fry cook during the hot Massachusetts summers flipping burgers. Hey, did I mention I was “Fry Cook of the Week” in our local paper? Seriously.

6. Do gay people spend more on their pets?
Del Monte Pet Products thinks so. According to them, “Gay people have a very emotional connection with their pets, stronger than the general population”. And just look at their brand names: Meaty Bone, Snausages, and Gravy Train. They know who they’re marketing to. Cats and dogs do not cast judgment on owners or lifestyle. Our gay clients tend not to nickel and dime. I did say tend, right?

7. As business partners, do you and Brett see eye-to-eye on money?
Since he’s 6’5” and I’m 5’10” that will never happen.

8. Do you have any frugal tips when it comes to pet food?
Frugal and pet food – never in the same sentence, please. So many Americans are feeding their pets the equivalent of fast food each day. Look at the first 5 ingredients – you should not see the words “(anything) meal” or “corn”. Those are cheap fillers that provide zero nutrition. Shoot for 30-40% of a good protein source. If you want to eat fast food, have at it.

9. What’s the craziest amount of money you’ve ever seen spent on a pet?
I understand what the client was going through, so it’s hard to say she was crazy, but one Sharpei owner who’s dog was battling cancer spent $34,000 on chemotherapy to prolong her dog’s life for a few extra months (it was more the quality of life I was questioning). Another client has spent over $16,000 in the last several months doing stem cell treatments on his 15-year old Australian Shepherd. God bless Ozzy.

10. Americans seem to be taking fewer vacations these days. Has the economy had any impact on your business?
Rising gas prices have forced us to raise our pay rates to sitters and yes, people are both traveling less and many are getting laid off at work. A perfect storm. Many of the independent sitters are not surviving. Luckily for us, we’re still growing, just not as fast.

More about Michael Landa

As CEO, Michael Landa is responsible for all marketing and sales related strategies, including brand development, advertising, promotions, pricing and corporate communications of The Pet Staff. Most recently, Landa directed corporate development and strategic planning for Universal Studios. He brings seven years of experience with General Electric in the areas of marketing, sales and strategic planning, as well as management consulting experience with Ernst & Young LLP, and sales management experience with Xerox Corporation. Landa has a B.S. in Electrical Engineering from Boston University and an MBA in marketing strategy from the Anderson School at UCLA.

Read other Queercents interviews in the Ten Money Questions archive.