The UK boasts over 8.5 million dogs, and as most dog owners know, each has its own individual tastes and nutritional needs. Banking on this, Richmond-based start-up Tails.com brings completely personalised doggy meals for man’s best friend, taking age, breed and medical requirements into account. We profile co-founder James Davidson on how he plans to build his pet food empire, one happy customer a time
Name: James Davidson
Date launched: Summer 2014
Number of employees: 50+
What does your business do?
Tails.com is tailor-made food, blended to your dog’s unique nutritional and dietary needs. We analyse your dog’s profile through a short online consultation and our unique blending algorithm calculates their specific nutritional requirements. We then select the ideal kibbles combination and hand-blend according to your dog’s specific needs and preferences. Every single bag of tails.com food is hand-blended one at a time to make sure each dog gets their ideal diet.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
Dogs are the most diverse species on the planet, and their nutritional requirements for a healthy life varies greatly according to factors such as breed, gender, age, weight and health issues. We’d noticed that no matter how much research we did as dog-owners into the options available, we were never completely sure if we’d picked the right food for them. Our canine friends are so special and unique and yet we were feeding them one-size-fits-all, generic food. It just didn’t feel right; we didn’t do that for any of our other family members. Choosing was confusing and without reassurance. Buying was difficult too – options ranged from suspiciously cheap to eye-wateringly expensive. So we set about creating a better, smarter and just plain simpler way to feed dogs. Following a year of extensive researching, building, trialling and formulating, tails.com was launched in the summer of 2014.
How did you know there was a market for it?
The pet food market is estimated to be worth £2 billion in the UK alone. Mass customisation in a FMCG category is a truly unique and complicated thing to do and hadn’t been seen in the dog food market. We were coming at it from a standing start but with a group of minds with experience spanning various high-growth, consumer-facing and technology businesses that gave us the platform to create a better, smarter and just plain simpler way to feed our dogs.
How did you raise funding, and why?
We are mostly owned by our co-founders and employees and we also have a large number of friends and family as ‘Angel’ investors. A small proportion of our shareholding is institutional like JamJar investments (the Innocent Drinks founder’s venture capital fund) and Octopus Ventures. It took £5 million in total form a combination of this to start our business.
Describe your business model in brief
Tails.com is a repeat-order business with regular recurring revenues. Our customers pay us a monthly amount for their tailor-made food and because each dog’s food is a unique combination and amount of ingredients, no two prices are the same.
What was your first big milestone and when did you cross it?
Our first milestone was in May 2015, when we became aware of the level of advocacy we were building. We were receiving hundreds of testimonials and pictures from customers who had seen major differences in their dog. So we took a decision to change our communications to include pictures of real tails.com dogs, using real photos sent by our customers. This was a real step change for us in terms of the results, as well as building a business around one of our core value being customer led.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
One of my entrepreneurial heroes is Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and Space X. He has redefined how people think about sustainable transport. His fresh approach and distinct clarity of purpose are incredibly inspiring to those of us who believe in new, different and better. He has changed the way people think in an established industry – so I would advise any budding entrepreneurs to focus on keeping thing simple and doing fewer things better.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
We want tails.com to be a household name. Our next focus lies in building our brand to grow our customer base and in developing and launching new products to expand our range. Reaching our business goals is only part of success for the team at tails.com, we want to have changed the world of pet food forever, and we’ll know we’ve achieved this when major players in the market start to emulate us.
What is your philosophy towards business and life, in a nutshell?
We’re a new company that’s not only trying to build a brand, but trying to transform an entire industry so tails.com is always on my mind – even when I sleep! I do try to balance work and home life by trying my best not to work weekends and using that time to spend with my wife and two daughters. It’s also important to keep fit and healthy and I do that by mountain biking in the Surrey hills where I live, and eating properly – getting as good a nutritional balance as the dogs we feed!