by American Stalls April 19, 2021
As horse people, we know firsthand just how small the "horse world" is in reality. You might live in central Kentucky, but chances are that you travel regularly all over the United States for shows. The very nature of the equestrian sport makes for a small, tight-knit community.
Despite the interconnected nature of the horse world, we also know just how local it is as well. For example, we will consistently travel between Michigan, New York, and Florida for shows throughout the course of a year. We will then come back to our "home." Our local – and nationwide – equine communities consist of tack shops, feed stores, local shows, local Facebook groups, WhatsApp message groups, and so much more. In short, our interconnected equestrian world is rather – in one word – complex.
Up until recently, there wasn't a social media platform that was tailored to equestrians. That is why we are so excited to feature The Pegasus App in this month's Equestrian Business Spotlight.
Pegasus is a new equestrian platform whose mission it is to empower and connect the entire equestrian community by providing a platform that solves the industry’s biggest challenges.
We recently had a chance to sit down with the founders of The Pegasus App to learn more about their journey, their business, and more.
Meet The Founders:
Jen is a civil engineer by trade, graduating with a Civil Engineering degree from the University of South Florida in 2012. Following graduation, Jen worked as a civil engineer for five years across Mitsubishi, Chromalloy and T3 Design. At which point, she transitioned from engineering to technology sales and specialized in parking technology sales, leveraging her training and experience in engineering projects such as intelligent transportation system (ITS) and traffic flow design. She continued to work in technology sales for several years as the Director of Sales for the technology unicorn, PayByPhone.
Sam has a background in national security and geopolitics having served in the Australian Army. He then moved to Washington DC and attended George Washington University and completed a double masters in International Security and Political economy. Upon graduation of grad school, Sam commenced work in defence contracting and eventually started his own technology company with some friends from the army called WithYouWithMe that won the award as the fastest growing technology company in the Asia Pacific. WithYouWithMe focussed on retraining veterans in technology careers such as cyber security, data science, robotics and cloud computing, and was very active in Washington DC as it served the United States’ industrial complex and government, by providing a pipeline of technically trained veterans to work on national security projects and infrastructure.
American Stalls: When did you start Pegasus?
Jen: We began white boarding Pegasus in May 2020 when COVID began. Sam had just exited his previous company and was looking for something to do next. My schedule had slowed drastically as the conference circuit that consumed a large part of my technology sales job dried up so I had newfound time on my hands. So between May and June, we both began developing ideas for Pegasus and conducting market research. By June 2020, it was clear that there was a need for a comprehensive and more advanced technology platform to serve the equestrian community. We then began to build the technology. The platform launched and became available to the public on New Years 2020 and has been growing a steady user base since.
American Stalls: How did the idea come to be?
Sam: Jen grew up riding as a Three Day Eventer and Pony Clubber in Central Florida. At the peak of her career, she competed at the preliminary level on her beautiful thoroughbred Imp – short for ‘Impulsive’. All through her riding days, Jen tried to build new riding products to improve the rider’s experience but failed to get them to market. This was in the early 2000’s prior to the true globalization of modern markets, which has since made building companies and developing new physical products a lot easier. So while the inspiration and need existed, many of Jen's inventions didn’t succeed.
When Jen began college, her competitive days came to an end. All during college and her young professional days, Jen continued to lease horses and ride and train casually, to stay in touch with the sport. Her mother Lori, a lifelong rider, continued to sign Jen up to all the major equestrian publications, like Chronicle of the Horse, as a means of keeping Jen’s passion for the sport alive. Despite her life taking her in another direction, she continued to receive regular equestrian magazines delivered to her front door.
When COVID-19 hit, we began a three month road trip that stretched from the remote parts of the Georgia Mountains all the way up to the very border of Canada and Maine, and everything in between.
Jen: Along the way, I hoped to find a local barn where I could secure a short term lease or other riding opportunity for a horse. Despite the search however, it became increasingly obvious that finding such places was close to impossible, unless you knew someone local or you were in the right Facebook group, which was difficult as many of them require being approved by a moderator. We were not in a single place long enough to both get approval and make a request for input from the group, before we moved on to the next spot in what we termed our “COVID Quarantine Tour.”
This frustration led to many conversations between the two of us – prompting questions like, ‘How do people who make their living in this industry get things done? How do they find customers, communicate with customers and get the word out about their operation?’
When our road trip came to an end in late May 2020, we settled for a month at a farmstead in Farmville, Virginia. We then delved deep into market research about what else was out there and why someone had not yet built a modern technology platform to empower the equestrian community and economy. Sam, who had a history with building modern technology platforms and companies to solve problems for niche communities, was amazed at how antiquated a lot of the current tools in the market were, and so was immediately convinced that they could build a world class technology company to help the equestrian community and economy.
American Stalls: So that was the seed of The Pegasus App?
Sam: It sure was. We then began to build. For six months, we worked with key personnel within the American equestrian industry to refine what the product needed to be and the problems it needed to solve. We also worked closely with Jen’s mother Lori Tankel, who is very much still deeply involved and connected in the eventing and show jumping worlds in Florida. She had a lot of feedback as to what she and other riders, businesses, and horse enthusiasts would love to see a modern technology platform achieve. Lori, in addition to other prominent equestrians and businesses in the Virginia and Florida areas, provided feature ideas and tested the product to make sure that the platform really was optimized for equestrians.
By the 31st of December, 2020, the Pegasus platform was ready for launch and at midnight on the dot of NYE, it went live and was made accessible to the public.
American Stalls: Fantastic. Since launching, Pegasus has expanded its features. How does Pegasus help the equestrian industry?
Jen & Sam: Pegasus has a very long road map of features that we are developing. After months of research, it is apparent that there are many modern solutions to old problems that Pegasus can fix.
In the immediate term, Pegasus is trying to solve three very simple problems. Firstly, we are trying to optimize communication within the equestrian community. While tools like Facebook are very well developed technology platforms, they are not a good tool for sharing, trading, communicating, etc. If you have ever posted a saddle on Facebook to try and find a buyer, and then had it disappear from view down the Facebook groups activity feed because it was one of one hundred posts that minute, then you know what Sam and Jen mean by Facebook not being optimized for equestrians.
The second big problem is the buying, selling and trading of horses and equestrian equipment. We focused on this feature due to the overwhelming number of posts you will see on Facebook where people are having to use emoji’s to spell out the price of a horse they are trying to find a buyer for, or worse, are paying to post an add for their horse or saddle on an aging classified site. A seller just then hopes that someone sees it. We set out to solve this problem by creating a beautiful platform where you can post an ad for your horse, business, services, side hustle, whatever it might be. Other people can then find it by selecting what they are looking for and in vicinity of what address. Then an AirBnB looking interface reveals it for you and connects you via private message to the seller so you can immediately trade with one another.
The third and final problem is very simply the challenge of Facebook’s policies that restrict the sale of animals on the platform. We have spoken with a few hardworking equestrian business owners who have had their Facebook accounts locked due to breaching their policies. This has greatly damaged their business and risked their livelihood.
So if you look at these three problems together, Pegasus is a platform designed to provide all the functionality and convenience of Facebook, without the challenges and risks Facebook poses and with a lot of extra benefits due to it being optimized for equestrians.
American Stalls: Those are three very large, but necessary problems to solve. As you build Pegasus, what do you both enjoy the most about building this app?
Sam & Jen: Meeting and working with the people that make the equestrian world go round. From your next door neighbor who keeps a single horse on their small property, through to the heads of USEF, USEA, etc. It is greatly fulfilling to sit down with them and learn about their challenges – whether that be macro issues like how to attract more people to the sport or micro issues such as Facebook keeps taking down my posts. To learn how the community and economy work and take that information back to our engineering team and build technical solutions that solve these problems, that’s the best part of our jobs. At the end of the day, Pegasus is just a tool that serves the community to do things that exist in the real world. So we have to focus on the real world and build technology that makes that easier. Not the other way round.
American Stalls: What are 2-3 tips you would recommend for a traditional equine business (i.e. venue, boarding barn, etc) to go digital and have a solid presence?
Sam & Jen: Our first tip would be to stop building your own websites. They are expensive to build. They are expensive to maintain. They cause you stress. And in 99% of cases, they look bad. At this point, unless you do something truly unique, most people know what you do, so all they want to know is how much do you cost and can they come take a look at your location/products/etc. This is all stuff that can be achieved by spending the time to really fill out your business details on Google maps, which most people use anyway.
Now of course, we would prefer that you use Pegasus instead because the Pegasus Directory is essentially a Google Maps optimized specifically for horses and designed for you to run your entire business through it for free. But if that isn’t something you are willing to do, then our one piece of advice is to stop wasting money on an antiquated website and instead use the tools that exist like Google Maps and Pegasus.
Another piece of advice we would give is to talk to each other more. So much of the equestrian economy relies on a small number of repeat customers. Repeat customers come with great customer service and referrals; referrals are the cheapest customer you will ever attract. So we would encourage all equine business owners to talk to each other more. Not just the people in your barn and not just posting a picture on Facebook or Instagram. Find people nearby who have a symbiotic relationship with your business such as an equestrian event business and horse motel, and speak regularly and offer to help one another wherever you can. This will not only increase your referrals but also make you aware of what's happening in the equine economy and give you ideas you can capitalize on.
The last thing is paperwork. We have been blown away to learn how little paperwork exists in the equestrian economy. Deals are all hand shakes and written checks. If a release waiver is signed, it is printed, signed, and then lost in the tack room somewhere. If horses are bought, a check is handed over and you are waived good luck. While we are very fond of the ‘old ways’ and can appreciate the trust in this industry, it is a recipe for disaster. We understand that no one wants to involve lawyers in anything ever, due to it slowing things down and costing money, but that what we are building a portal to automate all that for free so you can get those contracts in place free and quickly to protect yourself.
American Stalls: Those are 3 great tips! If you had to narrow it down to one more tip, what tip would you give other equestrians to succeed in today’s climate?
Sam & Jen: This is perhaps our biggest piece of advice. The equine world needs to get creative. It is full of very experienced people with a lifetime of knowledge in their head, who are then doing lackluster jobs on the side that doesn’t utilize their experience and skill, to make money. There is a drastic need for the equine industry to start being creative with how they monetize their time and skills to better serve one another.
For example, one of the features we are launching soon is what we have dubbed the Horse Inspector. The Horse Inspector is someone who has a lifetime of experience buying and selling horses and knows exactly what they would look for in a horse if they were buying it for themselves. So why not have them go and review a horse for you and write you an objective report on their assessment, and you pay them for the in-person assessment. You can then commission five reports for five horses all over the country that you are interested in and then widdle the list down to two horses you actually want to invest time in going to look at yourself. If you pay each horse inspector $200 for a report, then you have spent $1000, but you have saved at least three times the cost of travel and accommodation on the horse you don't have to go see yourself, not to mention the time, so you end up on top. For the Horse Inspector, they can start a second career, conducting up to ten horse inspections a week and making $2,000 a week in extra income. That’s just over $100k a year doing something you already know how to do.
As for Pegasus, we have built out the technology to make all that happen and standardize the reports, contracts, Horse Inspector profiles, reviews, search, etc.
This is just one example, however, of how being creative can both save people money and make people money. The equestrian industry is a tale of two worlds. Those that are wealthy and enjoy horses. And those that make horses their life and livelihood, and often are not wealthy at all. The wealthy are happy to spend money if you give them a great product and save them some time. The less wealthy have the time and expertise, they just need to be taught what else they can offer the wealthy and be given a portal to get in contact with them.
That’s the bridge we are trying to build at Pegasus.