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My Biggest Mistake: Sticking to a plan for success

Native Pet

Native Pet founders Pat Barron (left) and Dan Schaefer

About three years ago, Dan Schaefer decided that — like humans with their own snacks — pet owners might want to be able to recognize the ingredients in their dogs’ supplements, too.

So he and longtime friend and fellow St. Louisan Pat Barron launched a company, Native Pet, with a mission to “make pet food simpler and with a cleaner label.”

People bit on their idea.

“I think the message really resonates with people. As consumers, we are looking [to understand] the things that we put in our bodies, and it’s a natural extension into how you are feeding your pet,” said Barron, 32.

The startup now does a couple million dollars annually in sales, all of it online. And that number grew more rapidly during the pandemic, as so many people decided to bring home new animal friends that shelters and breeders no longer had enough puppies to fill the demand.

The startup, headquartered in downtown St. Louis, also recently received a $50,000 grant and access to mentors and resources as a winner of the annual Arch Grants startup competition, which is based in St. Louis. The company is preparing to launch its goods this year on the online pet product retailer Chewy.com and in brick-and-mortar stores.

In spite of their success, like a puppy on new carpeting, they have made mistakes. Their biggest one occurred in 2019 when they started working on a supplement in treat form — an air-dried chew, aimed at helping older dogs with mobility issues.

While they had a vision, Barron said, they didn’t set a clear agenda with the manufacturer as to what they were looking for in research and development. Instead, they let the other company lead the process.

“Our goals for the product were different than their goals for the product, and so we went into trial and were using some of their plan and some of our plan, and what ended up happening because of that was, there wasn’t a plan,” Barron said.

Like the plan, the chew just fell apart.

“What would have happened if we went with that product is it would have arrived” at a customer’s home “and just been a bag of powder and dust,” Barron said.

After three months of R&D, they were back at day one. The company hired a different manufacturer.

“We went in with a plan and executed on it pretty quickly because we had that experience of nobody knowing what’s going on, so we were very clear about what we wanted to accomplish and how we were going to do it,” Barron said.

Barron and Schaefer now are happy with the composition of the chew and are preparing to start selling it this month.

For the founders, the takeaway was this: “If you are not upfront with how you want to run the process and hitting the different milestones, then really you are just going to be pushed to the side or you’re not going to get exactly what you are asking for,” Barron said.

My biggest mistake

“I think our biggest mistake would be not doing the upfront work with new products and product development, and what I mean by that is really developing the plan and timeline and sticking to that.” — Pat Barron

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