"Know your industry inside out and have a plan" - former Dragon's Den contestant and dog-loving MD, Andrew Nowell tells us about his journey so far.
What is it the company does?
We’re PitPat and we’re connecting dogs to the internet. Yes really, we’re not barking mad. We’re using the latest technology to engage dog owners and help pet care brands keep dogs happy and healthy. And they love it!
Our dog activity monitor (‘canine Fitbit’) is the most popular and best-rated in the UK. In the two years, we have been on the market we have sold over 40,000 PitPat devices and our Pack has achieved a staggering 1 billion minutes of activity with PitPat.
We're currently building on this success and planning to launch the world’s first dog wellbeing club that rewards owners for keeping their dogs fit and healthy, whether it be money off pet insurance or an extra squeaky toy.
Describe your role in no more than 100 words
As the Founder and CEO of the company, I came up with the idea for PitPat and lead our vision and strategy. I ensure the different parts of the business are working towards the same goals, manage our funding and finance and work closely with our larger business partners. My current focus is the launch of our new dog wellbeing club and growing the company through new distribution partnerships.
Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?
As a kid, I always loved building things, so I followed my passion for engineering and studied Electrical and Information Sciences at Christ’s College Cambridge. I left with a first class degree and a desire to set up a technology company, but knew there was still a lot to learn, especially commercially. I, therefore, decided to join a technology and innovation consultancy where I’d get a wide exposure to large brands, real world problems and how to build new business propositions. After 3 years as a Technology Developer, I was promoted to Head of Smart Building and oversaw the delivery of several products from being a concept on paper to their first sale to a customer.
It was then that I came up with the idea for PitPat and grasped the opportunity to combine two of my passions, dogs and technology. Along with three other founders, we self-funded our business initially (working from my flat and doing part-time consultancy to pay the bills) and after a lot of long nights, we had developed our first prototype. With this we raised our first investment of £200k from an angel investor, which we used to put the product to a manufacturer and pay for our first stock, getting us on the market.
In 2016 I went on Dragons’ Den, where after receiving very positive feedback on the product, we got offers of investment from Nick Jenkins and Deborah Meaden. I decided to turn the offers down based on valuation and on reflection, I am glad I did. Since then we have raised over £2m of investment, from industry giants such as RSA (FTSE 100 insurer) and Neovia (global food manufacturer), increased our turnover by x15 and have grown from a team of 3 to 14. My job remains to lead the company and our partnerships to ensure that we grow, building on our dominant position in the UK to launch in the EU and USA.
What do you believe makes a great leader?
I believe a great leader is someone who is passionate about what they are doing and can motivate others to follow them, through their belief and enthusiasm. They lead by example and set the tone, whilst still respecting and incorporating the views of others. They are not scared to take a risk and push what is possible.
What has been the biggest challenge in your current position?
Technology products are inherently development and capital intensive. We’re taking on a problem which much larger and better-funded companies have failed to solve. We always have to prioritise which features get developed and which don’t to maximise the effectiveness of our relatively small team and resources.
Raising awareness has also been a challenge, without millions to spend on advertising and this has lead to our partnership model, partnering with large brands that can provide us with access to dog owners.
How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?
Exercise and planning! I find a daily run clears my head and I meticulously plan my week ahead, writing down exactly what I want to achieve and breaking it down into daily tasks I can check off. I find knowing what needs to be done each day and being able to see progress stops things becoming overwhelming.
When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Both my grandparents were engineers and I have very fond memories of my childhood, building things with them, understanding how they worked, pulling things apart and putting them back together again. This passion for engineering has never faltered and I smile every time I see a PitPat on a dog’s collar.
Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about them?
My pet hates are poor communication and unreliability. You can plan for most things, but if you don’t know about them you can’t plan. As a startup, we try to balance good communication without having too many meetings and encourage staff to be open, share their problems and work collaboratively.
Where do you see the company in five years’ time?
In five years’ time, I see us as a ‘household brand’, known and loved for helping owners keep their pets healthy and happy through a range of products and services. We’ll have created the worlds’ biggest community of caring dog lovers through our new dog wellbeing club.
What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?
Know your industry inside out and have a plan. Also, make sure you are entering into something that you are passionate about and believe in – when you have to work late nights or weekends, knowing what you are doing makes a difference is critical.
What do you wish someone had told you when you started out?
Many entrepreneurs will see the stats that most startups fail, but believe that theirs will be different because ‘they’ are involved and they won’t make the same mistakes. I also thought this, but you need to accept quickly that you can’t control every risk and be prepared to live a less comfortable life, where what you do every day, week and month will determine your success or failure.
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