Watching her beloved dog suffer from a skin irritation was enough to prompt Naomi Davis to launch her own business, Treats à la Bark, an organic dog treat company based in Sydney.
Davis, who describes herself as a “crazy dog lady”, is just 24 but has launched the business all on her own.
Get business news first
Sign up to SmartCompany’s daily newsletter
She talks to StartupSmart about why there’s a need for organic dog food, and how she juggles the business with a part-time job.
What prompted you to launch Treats à la Bark? What convinced you there was a demand?
My dog, Rufio, experienced skin irritation and it was horrible to watch him suffer. I have always been a big believer in the things you eat affecting the way your body works and this is the same for dogs.
I started looking into the food he was eating and realised he needed a change. I noticed a lack of good quality organic treats for dogs which didn’t contain preservatives or scary ingredients.
The organic food industry is booming and the pet industry is following this trend. People everywhere are wanting natural food that is better for us and the environment, and I believe that dog lovers did not have much choice in this space.
I noticed a gap in the market and decided to pursue it to be able to give people an organic and low-allergy option for their dogs.
How did you fund the business and what were your start-up costs?
I started up on a shoestring (under $7,000). I worked full-time in my day job as a human resources manager and used the leftover money from my salary to pay for the start-up costs as I didn’t have any money in savings.
Costs included the marketing and promotional things such as the logo, website and packaging, getting the treats tested by a food laboratory, and some equipment.
It wasn’t easy but people were really understanding and allowed me to pay in instalments.
How do you promote the business?
I started a blog and other social media such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram long before the business launched.
This allowed me to get my name out there before I had even introduced any products onto the market. It was a great way to build a database and gain a following of people.
How do you stand out in the market? What’s your point/s of difference?
Many commercial foods are highly processed with known common allergens for dogs such as wheat, corn and soy.
It was shocking to read how many chemicals and preservatives were inside commercial products. Treats à la Bark are all natural, organic and low-allergy risk biscuits for dogs.
Our treats have no wheat, no dairy, no corn, no soy, no preservatives, no chemicals and use certified organic ingredients.
I wanted to also create flavours that resonated with us humans so that even we would find them mouth-watering! The response to this has been amazing!
How many staff do you have?
At the moment it is just me. My research and development team consisted of my dog, Rufio, and also some other doggie friends!
My support network (my partner Chris Murr and mentor Kath Purkis) have been amazing throughout this whole process and I couldn’t have come this far without them.
What has been your greatest challenge and how did you overcome it?
The greatest challenge has been overcoming negative reactions from friends and family about my venture.
A lot of people said I was crazy for “throwing away” my career or the stability in the corporate world. However, I have never been one to listen to what other people say – just ask my parents!
I know that if you are truly passionate about something and believe that you can do it, you can achieve anything. With each success I have made, it’s been another silent cheer from me.
What’s the biggest risk you face?
The biggest risk I face would probably be not having enough capital to grow the business.
I understand you still work part-time in your day job. What’s that like?
It’s definitely tough. I’m working seven days. I go to my day job and focus on that while I’m there, but as soon as I come home I am straight into my business.
I usually work pretty late into the night and my weekends are definitely not weekends anymore.
I carry a notebook with me everywhere to make sure that I jot down any ideas that spring into my head at any time. This way I can refer to it later on.
However, I make sure that I am focused on what I am doing at the time. So if I’m at my day job, I make sure I’m 100% focused on that and as soon as I leave I’m straight into Treats à la Bark.
What advice would you give to other young entrepreneurs?
If you have a business idea in mind, go for it. Don’t be afraid to challenge the norm.
Make sure you are following your passion and that you are not starting your own business for money or for more leisure time because it certainly isn’t so. Without the passion or the drive, you will never get anywhere.
Surround yourself with positive and like-minded people as they will be the ones to drive you forward. Never give up and take each knockback as a learning experience.
Most of all, don’t forget to celebrate your wins.