Guy Blaskey, 40, founded pet food company Pooch & Mutt in 2008. The business, which sees itself as a health food supplier for dogs, has averaged 60 per cent growth year-on-year over the past five years. Stockists include Waitrose, Sainsbury’s and Pets at Home. It exports to France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Singapore, New Zealand, Dubai and India.
He tells Growth Business about how he plans to keep disrupting the pet food market, why it’s important only to worry about things you can control and why his mentor is a 2,000-year-old Roman.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
Our founder story is an unusual one because a lot of people when they start a business don’t know the sector – they borrow a lot of money and then they start the business, hiring people in using investor money. That’s the opposite of what we did.
The spark for Pooch & Mutt came from my family dog Cookie being diagnosed with a hip condition. We treated her with a joint supplement developed for horses made by my mum’s company. It worked really well but it wasn’t perfect for dogs. So, we launched two supplements in 2008 as a side project. These first two supplements became my discovery period as we realised the huge opportunity in the pet market to help dogs lead happier, healthier lives.
Well, supplements are great but they’re not that great for getting beneficial nutrients into dogs. We started off by putting them into a range of dog treats for digestion, teeth and gums, mobility and so on. After two years people asked, when are you going to get them into food?
In 2014 we launched a calming, weight loss and digestive foods and they were very popular. Since then, we’ve launched more general beneficial foods.
What experience did you have in your sector?
I was a marketing consultant and, for the first few years, this was a side project. That said, I am a big believer in positive nutrition and did a lot of research myself because of my hobby as a marathon runner. Yes, there were healthy dog foods out there but there wasn’t really anybody using nutrients to help them lead a better life. What we’re looking at is getting these functional ingredients into a dog’s life such as selenium and Omega 3 fatty acids. It’s about getting sports nutrition into pets.
‘People jump to external finance too quickly … you end up being controlled by other people’
What funding did you have to start the business and where did it come from?
I got a £20,000 loan from my dad and my mum invested £30,000 as a five per cent shareholder. That’s the only outside money we’ve ever taken.
Would you turn to external finance to grow? If so, what type – debt or equity?
We had a very good offer last year for external finance as we’re launching a cat brand, and we wanted to launch it as a venture capital trust (VCT) but the HMRC said no.
What would you say to any other small business owner mulling whether to bring in external finance?
People jump to external finance too quickly. You get people growing their businesses, diluting their equity and they end up being controlled by other people, at which point you become an employee, which is not why most of us become entrepreneurs.
Invoice financing and working with suppliers to get extended payment terms are ways to cash flow your business without diluting equity. Most businesses raise money for cash flow but there’s other things you can do.
There’s a whole mystique about raising money but I think you should just get on with your business and make it profitable.
What part does technology play in the business?
Technology plays a massive part in communication both internally and with our supply chain. We’re a company of 10 people but we have hundreds of people working for us in supply chains and across Europe.
Even more importantly technology plays an important part with our customers. Unlike some pet food brands, we believe communication is two-way – we’re not shouting at anybody. We want to engage with our customers, producing the products they want.
As the business has grown what major challenges you have faced?
We face challenges every day. Any company does that’s grown as fast as us, whether that’s supply issues or being bullied by competitors. The important thing to understand it to only worry about the things you can change. I try and encourage my staff not to stress about things they have no control over. Every time you have a problem or a challenge, you need to break it down into, ‘What is in my control? What is out of my control?’ Find the elements that are within your control and concentrate on those.
Do you consider your business to be a disruptor?
As we go on, we’re more and more of a disruptor. We launched a wet food last May in environmentally friendlier packaging than tin cans. We’ve already had sales of over £1 million within year one. We have calculated that by converting our customers from cans to tetra Pak cartons, that’s the equivalent of saving 600 trees.
However, we’ve had legal threats from the metal can association and the metal packaging association because we’re challenging the status quo.
Also, all of these big pet food companies hide their ingredients. We’ve done intentionally controversial campaigns pointing out that canned pet food contains crushed insects. We consider this to be a piece of public-service journalism. We’re quite happy to take them on because we know we’re right.
How do you measure success?
I have been home to do my now three-year-old daughter’s bath time for 98 per cent of her life. My family is a huge priority. I want everyone to have a life outside of work. I measure success by everybody getting out of the office by 5:30pm.
What business (or personal) tip would you give to other entrepreneurs hoping to scale up their businesses?
Business planning is like marathon training. You don’t get out of bed and think, ‘I’m going to run a marathon today.’ You have to plan a training schedule. Business planning is like that. We know where we want to go and that’s broken down into small, achievable goals along the way. Incremental wins.
Who has most influenced your working life?
Seneca, a Stoic philosopher in Ancient Rome, said: ‘If you don’t know to which port your heading, no wind is favourable.’ A lot of people start businesses want their business to be ‘successful’ but they don’t know how to define success. What I have painstakingly learnt, through much trial and error (laughs), is that we now have a very clear picture of where we want to be in five years’ time. Oh, and Seneca also happened to be one of the richest people in Rome.
How do you relax outside of work?
For me, Pooch & Mutt is a health food company whose products happen to be eaten by dogs. And I want us to live that, not talk about it. I want everybody here to lead a healthy, happy life. Personally, I do a lot of cross-fit and a lot of running including marathons and triathlons.