Pet society

Maev founder Katie Spies goes from dog walker to pet food CEO

Maev is a startup that believes dogs should eat as well as humans.

The company entered the market in 2020 and has been growing ever since. For its first year of activity, it was confronted with the problem of product exhaustion. This led him to strengthen his manufacturing and raise $9 million in funding. Today, Maev founder and CEO Katie Spies says the company is seeing sales growth of around 15% month over month. She joined the Modern Retail podcast and spoke about the growth of the company and the overall premium pet food market.

Spies doesn’t have a background in pet nutrition, but she has worked as a dog walker to learn the ins and outs of what pet owners need.

“I spent a year as a dog product walker,” Spies said. “And I was getting to know a lot of consumers and understanding what their headaches were.”

This time, on the street with dozens of dogs, Spies has teamed up with a business plan for Maev; the company reportedly sells human-grade dog food online. After two years of beta testing and determining the appropriate product line and formulas, Maev hit the market in late 2020.

It was the right time to launch a dog food brand. In the first year of the pandemic, one in four Americans owned a dog, Spies said. “Pet ownership has exploded and more and more people have started buying pet products and groceries online,” she said. Maev therefore did not have so much trouble finding clients. Instead, the problem was making sure he could maintain his supply chain and get products to customers.

“The problem was really keeping inventory on our factory shelves and running a facility to keep producing product, despite Covid being around the world,” Spies said.

This meant Maev had to stop working in a test kitchen in New York to become a subcontractor able to meet its demand.

Now Spies says the plan is to grow even more. While Maev is still only available online, Spies has its sights set on new retail channels. “We started with our own e-commerce site,” Spies said, but “we moved to [online] marketplaces is next on our list.

Here are some highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.

Get consumer insights as a dog walker
“We spent two years in beta. We were working with veterinary nutritionists and reiterating the actual formula of our first product. Before officially launching Maeve, I spent a year as a dog product walker. And I was getting to know a lot of consumers and understanding what their headaches were. And I also just needed a break from work and wanted to be outside walking dogs. And so we had this big beta group. For two years we were in beta, shipping the product to consumers, receiving tons of feedback, and working with veterinary nutritionists to improve the formula.

At launch during the pandemic
“When we first launched, during those early months of Covid, times were really scary and there was a lot of uncertainty. People didn’t know what was happening in the economy, and we didn’t know if consumer spending would be affected by Covid and the macro climate. It was difficult to keep our manufacturing plant running smoothly. Because it was a scary time in the world before the vaccine, we didn’t know how to keep people safe and what the right protocol was. So for the first month or two, there was just a lot of uncertainty. And that made it difficult to celebrate the launch. But around June and July [2020], we started selling products extremely quickly. And we had processes in place to keep our manufacturing operational safely. Throughout this first Covid summer we had this bittersweet problem of selling out products very quickly [while] get to know the customers who really wanted the product. And more and more dog owners were buying online, so we had no problems finding customers and no problems marketing to customers. The problem was really keeping inventory on the shelves in our factory and managing a facility to continue producing product, despite the presence of Covid around the world.

Maev’s guerrilla marketing strategy
“We view paid marketing channels as table stakes. We don’t want to rely on them too much, but we need them. We know they work. So we’re definitely using Facebook and Google. And we recently leaned into TikTok, and it worked really well, especially for pet content and people who are on TikTok with a dog, and then we found that going back to our guerrilla marketing roots is really interesting for our community When we launched, we were doing a lot of wheat dough and publishing in New York, and building a community of people on a mailing list who were willing to test the beta, it worked great with just posters in the town. We recently had a wild wheat dough campaign, and it was really great for activating communities. People are back on the streets; they don’t They’re not stuck inside, they’re going out with their pet. And so it works well too. And that couples with paid marketing, which makes it a bit more effective.

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