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Navigating A Global Health Crisis As A Petcare Startup

Shanice Graves
May 7 · 9 min read

The Leap Venture Studio Cohort Share Their Stories

On February 10th of this year, just a little over a month before the first wave of the pandemic struck, Michelson Found Animals Foundation, Kinship, and R/GA Ventures announced the seven companies participating in the third cohort of the Leap Venture Studio.

Before the Venture Studio began, the petcare industry was experiencing explosive growth. According to a report by IBISWorld, from 2014 to 2019, the U.S. petcare industry grew at an annualized rate of 6% to reach $9 billion in revenue last year.

In 2018, the Leap Venture Studio launched in reaction to this massive consumer growth. There was a need for innovation from an antiquated market, and petcare startups were disruptors promising new ways to train, groom, feed, and care for your pets.

Fast forward to today, and these seven petcare startups are still on that same path of innovation but faced with the challenge of how to serve its customers in a world where leaving your home is restricted.

In this article, you’ll learn from the latest cohort of Leap founders on the impact their business models have undergone, how they’re helping the communities they serve, and what messages they have for pet parents adapting to this new reality.

Devir and Danit Zivan built Bark Buildings around the idea of building community in shared spaces. Bark Buildings partners with residential apartment buildings to create amenity programs for pets, consisting of monthly events, perks for residents, and access to on-site pet care services such as dog walking.

To support pandemic relief efforts, Devir and Danit raised money to put their staff to work, making sandwiches and toiletry kits for local homeless shelters.

They also pivoted their core business to virtual programming and virtual gifting.

“One of our amenity programs, the Canine Club, normally hosts monthly events in each building, designed to bring residents and/or their dogs together to build a stronger sense of community for pet owners and improve the quality of life for their pets. The Canine Club also includes surprise gifting every other month,” Devir explains.

“During COVID-19, we’ve had to cancel all community events and gift distribution and launched virtual Canine Club programming, including interactive webinars, and gifting. We are partnering with local pet businesses and creating our own content for pet owners around grooming, in-home training, trivia and scavenger hunts, breed based happy hours for pet owners in the same communities, and many more. For gifting, we have transitioned to doing virtual monthly gifts,” said Devir.

Lastly, Bark Buildings has partnered with another company in the LEAP cohort, Dogo, to give Canine Club members a free one-month subscription to at-home dog training.

Bark Buildings Advice to Dog Owners: “Socialization and routine are very important for dogs. Although it can be hard right now, make sure you are doing what you can to keep your dog on a schedule and to (safely) expose him or her to new situations as much as possible so it’s not a shock when things go back to normal. Prolonged isolation can start to have a behavioral impact, so be ready to slowly introduce them back into their routine once things start going back to normal.”

Dogdrop is a new kind of dog daycare based around convenience and flexibility — featuring a monthly subscription, multiple retail locations, quality design, and tech-enabled amenities. In their spaces, they host brand activations, workshops, training sessions, and other engaging activities for dogs and their owners.

Dopdrop launched just six weeks before the Leap Venture Studio began and was aiming to open two more locations in Los Angeles this year. Now they’ve pivoted their focus to serving the community of Los Angeles, where they launched, by providing free dog daycare to essential workers to help those who are helping us.

“We’re focused more on how we can deliver value to people beyond our four walls, which means finding out gaps in the market that we hadn’t explored before, but that still fit with the direction we were already headed,” said Greer Wilk, COO & Co-Founder of Dogdrop.

DogDrop’s Advice to Dog Owners: “Keep your dog active and help them socialize by taking them to places like Dogdrop, while you stay healthy at home.”

Dogly is a marketplace that brings together recommended products, trainers, nutritionists, and other wellness experts, providing a community of learning for dog owners. Dog owners can shop and learn to improve the lives of their pets.

“We created Dogly to help dog parents get answers for their dog conveniently online. So, the current everything-from-home life has multiplied the need behind all we do — both for consults with our Advocates (certified trainers, nutritionists, holistic vets, wellness experts) and for Dogly-approved, recommended products. Our partners — our amazing brands and Advocates — are all small businesses. They’re trainers or holistic vets who suddenly need to replace the in-person part of their businesses with remote. They’re brand founders who took the leap to create good things for our dogs, now struggling with the disappearance of retail store sales.

We’re grateful that Dogly can be an answer for them not just now but for life after COVID. We’ve become better partners than ever, constantly in touch, knowing their businesses, working closely to create more ways to support them and dog parents at the same time,” says Jane Turner, Co-Founder, CMO.

Dogly is also working with rescues and their Dogly Advocates across training, nutrition, holistic wellness to keep dogs happily in homes in a few ways:

  • Group video sessions with new fosters/adopters to share advice, answer questions and help prepare for life-after-COVID issues like separation anxiety
  • Special ongoing memberships with Advocates for new adopters to set their dogs up for success and benefit their rescues

Dogly’s Advice to Dog Owners: “We’re here for you and your dog, always and especially now. This time gives all of us a welcome opportunity to enjoy, love, and lean on our dogs non-stop. But it also creates new kinds of questions and anxieties. If you have a question about your dog or even want help choosing a Dogly Advocate that’s right for you, we’re here. And for dog people who are brand founders or certified professionals who want to grow their business online, we’re here for you too and would love to talk with you.”

Dogo is a mobile dog training app that helps strengthen the bond between dog owners and their best friends. The app features game-like elements and positive reinforcements to make training fun, digital, and personalized.

“We offer an easy solution to take care of dogs and train your dog at home. All you have to do is log in once a day and you get access to lessons on how to train your dog, stimulate your dog, play games with your dogs. It’s easily accessible and financially accessible. It’s dog training in your pocket,” says Rasa Žiema, Co-Founder of Dogo.

Dogo is now offering one-month subscription gifts to newly adopted dogs and trial subscriptions for owners wishing to get started with their existing dogs.

They also launched a series of training at home video webinars with top U.S. trainers who provide expert help and guidance for those caring for a new dog.

Dogo’s Advice to Dog Owners: “We hope you are as lucky as we are, spending this time with your furry best friend in isolation. We recommend taking advantage of this newfound time to spend quality time and create new experiences with your dog. So play more, solve puzzles together, learn some cool tricks. This will tighten the bond of your unforgettable friendship.”

Native Pet is redefining pet supplements by harnessing the nutritional power of whole food ingredients to deliver highly effective, clean label supplements. As an all-natural solution, Native Pet only believes in creating products that show what they stand for: the health and wellness of pets.

With a direct to consumer business model, Native Pet has been seeing a rise in their online sales.

“We are an eCommerce company so our sales have been on the rise with everyone at home and trying to not shop in stores. It also doesn’t hurt that they have their dog staring at them all day! On the supply chain side, we’ve seen significant disruption. Suppliers are still operating but with skeleton crews and they have prioritized bigger customers for capacity. We are still filling orders but it’s a much longer process”, said Dan Schaefer, Co-Founder of Native Pet.

Native Pet’s Advice to Pet Owners: “Try to find the positive in what is going on! Enjoy the time at home with your Pet! I know I’ve enjoyed having the time to spend more time with Louie and give him all the attention and exercise he deserves.”

PetHospice provides comfort and care to both pets and their families when the end of life nears. Their full-service support includes in-home care, hospice, euthanasia, and telehealth consultations focused on the quality of life, grief counseling, and free education. PetHospice is also a professionally moderated online community.

COVID-19 has created an increased demand for their services.

“With current shelter in place orders mandated by the state, many people are looking for in-home alternatives to end of life care, which is what we provide. Additionally, many veterinary clinics are having to limit or alter how they approach their services. For example, for euthanasia, many clinics are requesting that families ‘drop off their pet curbside,’ not allowing them to be with their pet during these final moments. While these measures are understandable given the circumstances of COVID, families are looking for a better way,” said Shea Cox, Founder of PetHospice.

PetHospice has also been providing Telehealth services focused on the quality of life and “knowing when” to families nationwide for the past three years. Their team has helped thousands of families navigate this difficult time and are more determined than ever to help during the COVID-19 crisis.

PetHospices’ Advice to Pet Owners: “There are other alternatives to going to a veterinary clinic during COVID, including Telehealth and in-home services, such as PetHospice. If you are struggling to understand your pet’s quality of life, or need guidance knowing when euthanasia should be considered, you are not alone. PetHopice’s team of hospice doctors provides support and advice 7-days a week, giving peace of mind while offering timely guidance on what can be done to help your pet.” Learn more at: https://www.pethospice.com/virtual-care

Project Blu is on a mission to revolutionize pet accessories and become the global leader for sustainable pet products. They convert polluting materials such as ocean-bound plastic waste into top quality dog beds, cat beds, leashes & toys.

COVID-19 has accelerated Project Blu’s ambitions to grow their direct to consumer sales channels, specifically looking to pursue global expansion. But first, they pivoted their supply chain to produce face masks instead of dog beds.

“Our factory in Italy has been unable to produce dog beds but we were given permission to make face masks, which we have been doing for the past 5 weeks. Initially, we donated 1,500 face masks to the local community. Now, we are manufacturing over 4,000 masks a day for zero profit,”

Project Blu’s Message to Pet Owners: “It is perfectly natural to panic in this current situation but now is not the time to stand still and feel sorry for yourself. Our advice would be to explore channels you previously would not consider, for example, a dog groomer broadcasting grooming lessons on YouTube.”


For more information about Leap and the portfolio companies, please visit: www.leapventurestudio.com and follow @LeapVenture on Twitter.

To learn more and stay in the know, visit ventures.rga.com/studios or follow @rgaventures on Twitter.

R/GA Ventures

An innovation platform built for industry leaders to…

Shanice Graves

Written by

PR Manager at R/GA Ventures

R/GA Ventures

An innovation platform built for industry leaders to identify and capitalize on disruptive technologies and emerging behaviors, unlocking new opportunities. Investment arm of global agency R/GA.

Shanice Graves

Written by

PR Manager at R/GA Ventures

R/GA Ventures

An innovation platform built for industry leaders to identify and capitalize on disruptive technologies and emerging behaviors, unlocking new opportunities. Investment arm of global agency R/GA.

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