In recent years we have seen a proliferation of healthy eating alternatives. From organic farming products, to the farm to table movement, or to the growing breed of on demand prepare yourself food startups, consumer desire and new technologies have spurred a renaissance in the healthy eating industry.
As much of the innovation in the healthy eating space has focused on humans, you might find that if your pet could speak, he or she might also ask for a more diverse, healthy, and tasty menu of food to choose from. San Diego based Real Pet Food not only thinks your pet would prefer such an alternative, they've also built an entire business around it.
While San Diego is known for its beaches and sunny climate, it is not usually the first place you'd think of in California when referencing startups. Yet, in 2014, San Diego was named as the best city to launch a startup in within the United States. In his 2016 State of the City address, San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer indicated his intent to pursue policies that would continue to foster San Diego's startup scene. When you add that San Diego is one of America's most pet friendly cities, you find yourself with almost perfect conditions with which to launch a pet themed startup.
Founded by Turk Sapta and Ruby Alexis Balaram, Real Pet Food seeks to provide pet owners, and their pets, of course, with healthy and natural pet food alternatives. Utilizing the subscription model popularized by Birchbox, Real Pet Food seeks to disrupt a business the company feels has been complacent for far too long.
I sat down with Real Pet Food co-founder Turk Sapta to discuss his company, his approach to entrepreneurship, and the state of the San Diego startup ecosystem.
CG: What led you to come up with the idea for Real Pet Food?
TS: I've always had a passion for dogs and wolves, and about 2 years ago I launched another startup to make healthy food more accessible and affordable. The launch of that startup was right at the peak of the human food revolution towards fresh and unprocessed foods. It turned out that we were helping a lot of people overcome their health and weight issues, and it became a very profitable venture for us.
Along the way our Doberman's health started declining. When I looked at the evolution of dogs and how they've been eating for centuries, I realized their eating of processed foods mirrored that of humans ever since the industrial revolution. I found there was a better, species appropriate way to feed him and at the same time discovered unbelievable inefficiency in the pet food industry that I knew I could fix with technology and data.
I guess it's safe to say that I was "looking for answers".
CG: Real Pet Food operates a subscription model. Can you run us through how it works and what you get?
TS: Just like the name of our startup, we want everything to be real and simple. You can literally set up your account and check out under 2 mins.
Every month we deliver you a box full of fresh single-ingredient air-dried treats and chews. Each box has a different muscle meat, organ meat, seafood, and 3 different types of chews to keep your dog satisfied and healthy.
We make everything ourselves from human grade meats, without additives or preservatives. We have an unmatched quality, price, convenience and the best customer service the pet food industry has ever seen. We want to transform the way people feed their dogs. We make exactly what your dog would eat in the wild. All you have to do is open the box and feed!
CG: What has been the reception? By both humans and canines.
TS: We make some of the best, if not, the best treats and chews in the world! Since our start, our goal was to make our product and service an experience for humans as much as for dogs. We want to provide a lifelong service and adapt as we learn more about dog health and nutrition.
Not only are we getting great feedback from humans and canines, we also attracted a few investors. We have a great value offering, a product that is incredibly unique and steady cash flow. We are at the dawn of the canine fresh food movement, offering higher quality food and service to dog owners that are paying double the price for inferior products at pet shops. It is phenomenal to see that our efforts are not going by unnoticed.
CG: Launching a startup is an inherently risky endeavor. What is your advice for other young entrepreneurs seeking to launch a potentially disruptive startup and what have you learned along the way?
TS: On the contrary, it was more risky to stay where I was. I had one of the best jobs I could ask for in Washington D.C. The people I reported to couldn't have been better, co-workers were supportive in tasks, but my work wasn't my passion and as time passed I found myself working just to pay my bills. I got into a routine where I wasn't learning, just repeating the same thing everyday.
Disruptive companies don't come up with crazy inventions. They study existing sectors and discover how they can make a big difference. Apple took computers and made them more user-friendly. Uber took limo services and made them more user-friendly. Slack took instant-messaging services and made them more user-friendly. And now we are taking dog treats and making them more user-friendly.
So far this is what I've learned and applied to Real Pet Food: Study your industry. Research the market - timing will either make you or break you. Test the product. Bootstrap it. Be frugal - don't take investments too early on. Have an exceptional value proposition. Put your brand out. Maximize sales - create a community and stay close to early adopters.
We've come this far and now we are getting ready to hire the right people, scale our operations (raise funds) and expand our portfolio, while staying on top of our research and learning from other sectors to bring innovation to our industry.
CG: Real Pet Food is based in San Diego. How would you describe the San Diego startup scene and what are the benefits of being based out of SD.
TS: San Diego has ambitious goals to be the next Silicon Valley. Things move at the speed of So-Cal, but locals are quite supportive and optimistic, as there are a growing number of startup resources here.
We wanted to be closer to our target market - somewhere with active dogs and a lot of sun - to create a community and to get rapid feedback. From an entrepreneur's standpoint, you shouldn't pick what's "hot" or "trendy," but rather where your customers are and where you fit best. We couldn't have picked a better location.
CG: Any parting words?
TS: You know... I think people generally worry too much and just get scared, waiting for the right time for everything. There are always things out of your control, but people who are successful are the ones who overcome the unexpected.
We got rejected by Y Combinator early on; the day my co-founder and I were moving to San Diego our car got broken into; the day we signed a lease to our shop we got news that my uncle passed away and a few hours later, news that my co-founder lost her grandmother; I tore my meniscus at the midst of our operations set up; I had to learn plumbing and electrical panel wiring, and deal with a lot of other factors that come with owning your own business. There has been a lot of blood, sweat and sleepless nights, but we are not alone in the entrepreneurial grind. Our customers love what we are doing and that is why we work hard for it.
CG: Thank you!