Pet parents naturally learn how to communicate with their dogs and cats. But they face many challenges in understanding what’s wrong when their itty bitty snookums gets sick. Los Angeles-based Petnostics has created a home urine test kit that works with an iPhone app to detect pet illnesses such as urinary tract infections, kidney stones and diabetes. It tests 10 parameters and uses the same diagnostic test strips that veterinarians use in their clinics. You can share the results with Fido and Fluffy’s doctor and potentially save money by skipping an in-person visit. The savings perhaps makes up for having to hold a plastic cup under Spot as he does his business.
“It’s no secret that people treat their pets like family and will do whatever they can to keep them happy and healthy,” said Stephen Chen, founder and CEO of Petnostics. “In fact, the pet health product industry is $30 billion dollar industry.
“Our team knew that if we could develop a product to help pet parents stay on top of their furry loved one’s health from the comfort of their own home at a price they could afford, that it would be a huge hit.”
The Sales That Wag the Dog
It’s been a massive hit. Petnostics enjoyed $100,000 in annual sales since launching in 2014. In the two weeks following Chen’s winning appearance on Shark Tank April 2016, sales have eclipsed all of the prior year’s.
“What made the appearance a success was the preparation that went into it and the fact that it was simple and to the point,” Chen said. “It also helped that some of the Sharks are pet owners themselves, which allowed them to empathize with the challenge that Petnostics is designed to solve.”
During a special episode of ABC’s hit business reality show with guest shark Ashton Kutcher, Chen struck a $300,000 deal with QVC queen Lori Greiner and O’Leary Ventures founder Kevin O’Leary for 20% of his company. Chen gave away twice as much as he initially offered, $300,000 for 10% equity. Chen invested $50,000 in the business that he gathered from his personal savings, friends and family.
“Aside from the incredible stage Shark Tank gave us to tell the world about our product, the Sharks have also imparted invaluable insights and perspectives that we’ve used to hone our business,” Chen said. “The best piece of advice I’ve received from the Sharks is simply to focus.
“When working on a startup, there’s sometimes the belief that you can do it all in terms of trying to create multiple products for different markets. Rather than trying to do it all, the Sharks encouraged me to focus on making sure that our product is the best possible product for pet parents.”
Thanks to Shark Tank, Petnostics partnered with Fetch for Pets!, a manufacturer and national distributor of high-end pet products. Before his Shark Tank victory, Chen won a custom-branded Petnostics Scion xB car through the Scion Motivator pitch competition. Driving that car to and from work every day provided invaluable help in gaining brand recognition.
Petnostics Test Kit sells for $9.99 and costs $2.50 to make. It’s sold through Petnostics’ website, Amazon (AMZN) and at Healthy Spot, an organic pet food and supplies chain, throughout Southern California. Petnostics also sells complementary products including a hydrophobic cat litter used to collect Fluffy’s urine.
Pestnotics holds four patents for its urine cup and the algorithms for calibrating the different conditions that show up on the test strips, which are manufactured by Teco Diagnostics here in the U.S.
“After first developing the technology and coming up with the idea for Petnostics, it only took a few months to develop our working prototypes thanks to 3D printing and rapid prototyping,” Chen said. “The overall process was extremely iterative and a series of trial and error though as we had to develop very specific algorithms to ensure that our tests were accurate.”
Despite partnering with the Kevin O’Leary, a consummate advocate for licensing and royalty deals, Chen has no desire to license his product.
Chen hasn’t taken on any other investors besides the sharks, although he’s open to investors who may be able to help Petnostics grow sales and expand its offerings.
“Looking further into the future, our technology is applicable to other areas such as human testing, water testing, and dairy testing,” Chen said. “While our primary focus is to make sure our pet health products are the absolute best they can be, these other markets are definitely on our roadmap.”
Chen is working on partnerships with veterinarians and hopes to donate to pet shelters and rescues.
Life Before Petnostics
Before starting Petnostics, Chen managed a medical device company for five years. There he helped develop a new urine analyzer.
“It was during this project that I came up with the initial technology that enabled mobile phones to replicate the functionality and accuracy of the traditional analyzer,” Chen said. “Being a pet lover myself, I could see the potential that the technology had to empower pet parents to take more control over their pet’s health from the comfort of their own home at a price they can afford.”
Chen recommends entrepreneurs read by Jessica Livingston. When ask what keeps him motivated in the face of business challenges, Chen said: “Success to me is helping people and their pets.”
“Every time I hear from a customer thanking us for helping them diagnose a health issue in their pet, or just giving them more peace of mind by allowing them to make sure their four-legged loved one is healthy, I feel a tremendous sense of fulfillment,” Chen said.