SAN FRANCISCO - For all the robots, apps and virtual reality tools unveiled over the past week at TechCrunch Disrupt, it was a handful of small dogs and puppies that disrupted the whole conference on its final day.
As barks rang out across Startup Alley, sales pitches and networking gave way to high-pitched squeals coming from grown men and women, suddenly reduced to babbling children and Snapchating teens, as they got down on the floor for a face full of dog slobber and a million blurry photos.
"I think every tech conference should have puppies," said one bystander, as she composed a Snapchat post.
"We can just network with the dogs," said another, as she added more puppies to her Instagram Story.
But the story of these furry friends' foray into tech dates back five years, when we met a guy named Sol Lipman who'd just sold his mobile apps startup to AOL.
Two years later, he reassembled the same team, built a mobile messaging startup, and sold it to Yahoo. What does an internet entrepreneur with two successful exits do next? He reassembles the same team again, and starts a dog food company.
"When people test their own products, it's called 'dogfooding,'" Lipman said. "But we decided to take that to a new level and we actually made dog food."
Lipman is from Santa Cruz, where he's been quietly testing his company's products with local canines for the past year. It helps that market research shows the Santa Cruz surfer vibe is a great fit for dog owners.
But this week, Lipman was in San Francisco, unveiling his new brand at the conference. He's calling the startup "YaDoggie" -- pronounced "Yeaaaaah, doggie!" He says it helps if you make the classic surfers' "hang loose" gesture as you say it.
YaDoggie sells its own brand of premium dog food direct to dog owners by subscription, Lipman explained.
"You tell us all about your dog, and then we customize a feeding program for your dog," he said.
The grain-free food comes in a few different flavors, and also includes a red plastic scoop that's more than meets the eye.
"It sounds crazy," Lipman said, "but it's a Bluetooth-enabled dog food scoop."
Paired with YaDoggie's app, the scoop helps track how much food has been used, and allows the company to predictively ship more food so that it arrives before you run out. But it also solves another problem: It may be a human's best chance to overcome the immense power of those longing "puppy dog eyes."
"Dogs are tricky," explained Lipman. "A lot of dogs will pretend like they've never been fed in their life."
By notifying everyone in the family whenever dog food is dished out, the smart scoop helps prevent a whimper or a sad glance from earning the dog a second dinner from an unsuspecting member of the household. Even kids are in on it: The scoop lights up green when it's time to feed the dog, and red when it's not.
"Dog obesity is a big problem," Lipman said. "Over 50 percent of the dogs in the U.S. are obese, and a big reason is that sort of over-feeding.
Lipman acknowledged that subscription delivery services are red-hot with investors now, as consumers become more used to buying products online. But he says this time, he's not looking for a quick exit. As a dog lover himself, he's content to eat his own proverbial dog food at this company as he watches it grow.
"I hope this is the last startup I ever do," he said.
Click here for more information on YaDoggie.