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Five Lessons Learned from Bill Bernardo, CEO of WINPRO

July 24, 2017


“It’s the year of the dog,” Bill Bernardo, CEO of WINPRO, said by way of showing his devotion to his company. Bernardo was the speaker at the July Square One DSM Startup Stories event. WINPRO is a line of soft chews for active and athletic dogs. These supplements promote healthy canine performance, physical stamina and mental focus. WINPRO dog chews were created when Bernardo partnered with Uckele Health & Nutrition, a manufacturer with more than 50 years of experience in creating quality animal health products. Bernardo talked about how his startup went from an idea to help something he loved, dogs, to a big success.

Five Key Takeaways

Focus is critical.

Anybody can create a product, but to succeed, an entrepreneur must focus. Targeting “performance dogs,” Bernardo established a target market. Based on this target market, WINPRO has focused on creating four types of soft chews in the areas of immunity, focus, mobility and training. They have kept it to these four because it’s what they know they can do well. The time spent on it and the focus they have had ensures a quality product. 

Recruit the best people.

The people on your team work as influencers and ambassadors of the brand that you are trying to sell. WINPRO works with veterinarians because they have great influence over whether people will buy WINPRO or not. People listen to vets when it comes to their pets. Choosing investors is also important because startup founders need people who care about what they are doing and are truly invested in the business. For Bernardo, choosing an investor came down to his gut feeling, the cultural fit and the investor’s philosophies.

Give up some control.

Along with recruiting the best people, founders need to give up some control so their employees can do their jobs and be the most helpful. Bernardo admits that it can be hard to give up control as an entrepreneur, but knows that he can’t do everything all by himself. Hiring or reaching out to people who specialize in the areas of need is valuable. Reaching out to people, creating a network and receiving advice are huge advantages in the entrepreneurial world. Bernardo also emphasized that not only do entrepreneurs need to hire others, they also need to know when it will be most beneficial to make a hire.

Patenting a product is not always the way to go.

Some people think that once an idea is patented, the business is on the road to being successful, but that is not always true. In WINPRO’s case, they did not patent their business because there were already several articles published over the idea. Anybody could do the research and make a product. Instead, WINPRO developed a high-function formula then trademarked the term K-Thrive and kept their formulation process a trade secret.

Get used to hearing the word no.

After giving several investor pitches and receiving a lot of nos, Bernardo described giving a pitch as putting your head in a doorway and slamming the door on it a few times. Bernardo was looking for a commitment that was much higher than what investors were willing to give so he had to look much further than the average entrepreneur. This didn’t stop him from finding the resources he needed. WINPRO raised capital for two years and worked hard to find resources despite the nos early on. They succeeded in raising the capital needed to launch the business.

Make sure to attend the next Startup Stories event hosted monthly by Square One DSM. Learn more.

Mike Colwell

As executive director of entrepreneurial initiatives of the Greater Des Moines Partnership, Mike Colwell leads works with startups to build their business model, financial model, marketing strategies and capitalization plan. He is also co-manager of Plains Angels, a group of Iowa-based Midwest angel investors. Mike spends his days coaching, mentoring, consulting and asking tough questions to help entrepreneurs reach their full potential. Mike assists with business strategy, business planning, business plan execution, business model development and capital acquisition strategies.