Travis Justin Sneed is a world-renowned dog groomer, breeder, and trainer from San Jose, California. A high achiever from a young age, Travis graduated from high school at the age of 16 and completed his undergraduate degree in political science at age 19.
He first entered the world of dog grooming during the summer break of his freshman year in college at the suggestion of his girlfriend, who was a dog groomer at the time. In that job, he found a niche grooming the larger dogs that many of his coworkers didn’t want to handle.
His love for dogs only grew, and after buying his first dog during his sophomore year of college, he was encouraged to enter the world of dog breeding. As time passed, Travis became dissatisfied with certain aspects of the industry. Starting as early as 2008, he made it his mission to improve conditions in the grooming industry, both for the pets and for the groomers. Travis Sneed was introduced to the hybrid Goldendoodle breed in 2012, and having noted their high intelligence, empathetic nature, and allergy-friendly coat, began breeding them shortly thereafter. This endeavor later grew into Silicon Valley Goldendoodles, the company he runs to this day.
While owning and operating Silicon Valley Goldendoodles, Travis Justin Sneed continued his education, returning to school after his father’s death in 2016 and earning a degree in neuropsychology. He now uses the foundation of knowledge he acquired during his studies as a basis to explore the therapeutic relationship that dogs have with humans, and find new ways to promote that relationship.
What do you currently do at your company?
At Silicon Valley Goldendoodles, I primarily work with our most severe or advanced training contracts. For example, if someone with hypoglycemia comes in and needs us to train their dog to alert them that their blood sugar is low while they’re sleeping at night, I’ll take that job. I spend most of my time working with families like that on dog training. Besides that, I deliver around 85% of the dogs in our program. I also meet every family that acquires a dog through our program in-person and on-site, and I assist them in picking their dog. And I train my groomers on a monthly basis, making sure that they’re caught up on the latest advances in grooming techniques.
What was the inspiration behind your business?
For me, personally, it’s about fulfilling a need that was missing when I was a child. I had wonderful, supportive parents. They rallied behind me when I went through my football stage, and my golf stage, and when I went through the various levels of the Boy Scouts, from Cub Scout all the way to Eagle Scout. They were very supportive, but they wouldn’t let me have a dog. That might be the only thing I asked for that my parents consistently said ‘no’ to. So, being my age and not having a family of my own, and realizing that I put my education and career over my personal life, I’ve now come to think of my dogs as my kids. I’m honored and humbled to live the life that I live, and to have a special, deep connection with the dogs that live on the property with me.
That’s just one side of it, though. Another is that I love seeing the joy that families experience when they come to our facilities to meet their dog for the first time, and I love getting cards and emails about how much their dog has changed their family.
And finally, I really like the science behind it. I like the genetics at play. I have to consider each person who needs a dog, and understand what the function of their dog will be. What service are they providing? What individual dog do I have available that will complement this person and their needs? It all gets complicated very quickly, as I have to consider the adult size of the dog, the allergy coefficient of the family, and the training coefficient of the dog. The dog needs to be smart enough and emotionally stable enough to support this person for whatever function is required. There are so many other things we track and look into to ensure that our dogs are not only emotionally and intellectually stable, but physically healthy, as well. It takes a lot of work.
What defines your way of doing business?
In this business, our first priority is what’s right for the dog. After that, we look at what is right or what is fair for the customer. Usually, if those two things are done correctly, then the employees are happy, too. Then, of course, I come last as the owner, but I’m happy as long as everyone else is happy.
What keys to being productive can you share?
Especially in American culture, people can get into a business, career, or hobby for the wrong reasons. I’ve had other careers along the way, but they weren’t fulfilling. They were just in and out—you get successful, you get bored with it, and you move on and do something else. But if you do something that you really like, it doesn’t feel like work, and you’ll become really successful at it. So, I really love dogs, whether we’re talking about breeding or grooming or designing dog treats. And because I love dogs, anything I do involving dogs doesn’t seem like work, and I’m really good at it. I can work seven days a week, fourteen hours a day, and it doesn’t burn me out. I just don’t see the time going by.
The other strategy is just perseverance. If somebody says that something can’t be done, a lot of times that just means that theycan’t do it, and you should still aim high and pursue those challenging goals. If you pursue them correctly and things don’t work out, you might still hit the moon because you shot for the stars, and that’s still pretty good.
Tell us one long-term goal in your career.
I have several long-term plans for Silicon Valley Goldendoodles. We’ll likely further expand our boarding services and find a larger, more centralized boarding facility. I’d like to expand our training offerings and our grooming offerings. And there’s a good chance we’ll come up with our own line of raw dog food as the science starts to come together for that. We have more research to do on that topic.
Another idea I’d really like to bring into reality is that of a nicely landscaped botanical garden, maybe three or four acres, that families could utilize to spread the memorial ashes of their pets. The garden would be open to the general public, not just to our customers, and it would be a place where people could go to be present with the spirit and memory of their departed pet.
How do you measure success?
We just went through COVID, so, considering that, success isn’t a dollars and cents situation for us. Actually, since the onset of the pandemic, we’ve expanded operations. We’ve opened two new grooming salons, we’ve hired 11 more employees, and everybody’s happy. None of my employees have experienced a loss in their immediate families, we’re able to pay the bills, and the dogs are healthy. That, for us, is what we call success. And, of course, we still have people asking us for dogs.
What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned through the course of your career?
No matter what your trade is—you can be a physician, a dog groomer, a real estate agent, a stockbroker, a small business owner, an entrepreneur, or anything else—if you work with people, your primary function is customer service. That’s the most valuable lesson I’ve learned, and it’s something they don’t seem to teach young people in school. There are very few professions or trades that don’t require customer service skills.
What advice would you give to others aspiring to succeed in your field?
Understand that you’ll never be the best. If you can practice enough humility to understand that, then you’ll probably do a good job. Things get really bad in the breeding world when people think that they’re the best, or think that they’re untouchable. There’s really nothing pushing them to do more or do better, and because we’re talking about breeding, that means that either your customers are suffering or your animals are suffering. Just try to stay grounded by acknowledging the simple facts that, one, you’ll never be the best, and, two, you’ll never know everything there is to know.
Also, network with other breeders. Learn from other breeders. Learn how not to do things from their mistakes, and learn how to do things well from their successes. And make sure you understand why you’re breeding. What function or need are you fulfilling in your community? If you have to ship dogs out of your geographic area, then you’re probably breeding too much.
What are some of your favorite things to do outside of work?
I have quite a few interests outside of work. I love sports. As often as possible, I try to make it to Giants games, Sharks games, Golden State Warriors games, and 49ers games. I’m also an avid golfer and sailor, and I’m training to become a private pilot. Besides that, I love cooking, and I’m pretty active in the Adventist faith as well.
How would your colleagues describe you?
I think my colleagues would describe me as someone serious, and someone who is very dedicated and very driven. I think people would describe me as someone who does what I say I will do.
How do you maintain a solid work life balance?
Like I said before, when you do things that you love, nothing feels like work. There are some areas where I have pretty strong boundaries. I never put work before church, and I never put work before family. Those two things come first.
But sometimes my days are long because I pretty much have two jobs. I’m running a business, but I’m also in clinical practice. So, I usually work six days a week, 6 am to 10-11 pm. But it rarely feels like work.
That being said, I constantly keep time management in mind, and part of that is assigning the proper value to my time. I consider what I’m doing with the time I have, and whether those things can be done by someone else while I focus on something more important. For example, I don’t clean my own house, because I deem my time to be too valuable for that particular chore. I pay someone else less than I think my own time is worth to do that job instead.