Across the world, in many developed and developing nations alike, pets are big business. In the United States alone, the market value of the pet industry is currently estimated to be US$86 billion, and growing at a healthy 5% annually. In developing pet markets, like China, the sector is experiencing exponential growth in the region of 20% annually.
More and more people worldwide own pets, and welcome their pets into their homes as part of the family. There are an estimated 73 million pet dogs in the US and 43 million in Western Europe. Beyond the two main expenditures of food and veterinary costs, many pet owners buy gifts for their pet for holidays and other occasions, such as Christmas, resulting in a growing market in luxury goods and accessories for pets.
Enter Findster, a Portuguese-born pet tech startup that relocated from its hometown of Braga to San Francisco to ride the crest of this boom. Its wearable location-and-activity tracker, Findster Duo, is now sold in 82 countries.
The six-year-old product, upgraded in 2016, was not the first such product on the market and, at US$150 per unit – comprising a wearable module for pet and owner alike – is possibly the most expensive of its kind. However, Findster had two clear unique selling propositions from the outset that appear to have given it a clear advantage: not charging for subscriptions or upgrades and the use of Maze technology. It has since become Amazon's top-selling item in its sector, besting a host of rivals from America and other countries.
“We saw growth in revenues increase by 650% in relation to the year before,” André Carvalheira, Findster's Co-CEO and operations manager, told media. “This accelerated growth is mainly down to two factors: we have a unique product and the pet market is enormous and in clear growth.”
Innate innovators, exporters
Carvalheira noted that although most pet trackers cost much less – ranging from US$15 to US$60, Findster is the "only pet tracker that allows real-time monitoring and doesn't require monthly payments.”
The device consists of two small lightweight modules: one used by the owner to monitor up to three pets simultaneously, the other to attach to any collar to relay the pet's location and activity data to the user's smartphone (IOS or Android). The Findster app includes a built-in radar that shows users the distance to their pet dogs and guides them right to the tracked dogs. With no need for cell coverage and working even underwater, the Maze technology-enabled modules function worldwide, can communicate wirelessly for a radius of up to 3 miles (4.8 km) in open areas or 0.5 mile (0.8 km) in heavily built-up spaces, and have rechargeable batteries that last up to a week. Maze is a proprietary technology platform that allows Internet of Things (IoT) systems to communicate in real time, off-grid and at long range, without depending on the infrastructure of telecommunications companies.
The application allows the setting of virtual fences, where users define an area around their pet's position and get a notification if the pet leaves that space. It also has an activity function – rather like a FitBit for pets – that tracks the activity and number of steps taken by pets as well as allowing the user to set fitness goals.
Currently, 99.7% of Findster's product sales originate outside of Portugal. From the start, Findster was clear that its future lay in the US and it began by looking to English-speaking markets. Amazon was a clear priority as it commands a 50% share of US online retail sales. The startup is now starting to look at other markets, including Australia and key European markets, like France, Italy and Germany, as well as Japan.
Findster has been retailing on Amazon since the second quarter of 2018, after the two companies met at the 2018 Consumer Electrics Show in Las Vegas and soon after the startup secured US$3 million in seed funding from an undisclosed investor. In 2018, its revenue rose 650% relative to 2017, which saw $1 million in sales, according to Findster.
After initially developing its product as both a child and pet tracker in 2013, the company soon plumped for catering exclusively to pets. “Families see pets more and more as members of the family, and are prepared to invest more in their safety and well-being,” Carvalheira said.
From pets to physiotherapy
Findster Duo was developed as co-founder Virgílio Bento's dog, Aquiles, kept running away from him while on walks and escaping from the garden, and he realised that there were no products available on the market to assist in his searches. “The products that existed were not a solution, ”Carvalheira told media. “There were only reactive – not preventative – products on sale that told owners that their dog had escaped 15 minutes later.”
Bento got together with co-founder David Barroso to develop their product, using Maze technology from day one. “Although we entered the market later than our competitors, we have a trustworthy system with real-time communication. As soon as a dog takes off, the owner is notified and can react. Fifteen minutes is a long time - the dog could have been run over or lost by then.”
After receiving initial seed funding from California-based BrainTrust and New Ventures, the co-founders were selected to join the world’s largest hardware accelerator, HAX, in San Francisco. They then sought crowdfunding online to develop Findster Duo. After garnering more than US$400,000 in orders, the pair realized that now “it was not just an idea that met our own needs, but also that of many people all over the world – that it could be a groundbreaker in the existing location apps sphere,” Carvalheira said.
The company is on a mission to sell one million units, and is looking at the possibility of adding new features that would allow for pet food orders and contact with vets in the future. It is not as yet considering any other form of sales other than online despite, “the majority of sales still being in physical stores, online gives us more flexibility to learn faster,” Carvalheira said.
Findster's co-founders have also launched another wearable technology startup, SWORD Health, though its product is entirely different from Findster Duo. Interestingly, both startups were born in response to their co-founder Bento's personal quests to solve problems encountered by his loved ones. Like SWORD Health, Findster has also found success in the difficult and large US market, almost from the outset.
Given its impressive sales growth, the major problem encountered by the company to date has been matching production to demand, a problem which it has taken urgent steps to solve. “We want to be the biggest pet tech in the world,” Carvalheira concluded.