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Cincinnati, OH

Keith Johnson of Petbrosia

Keith Johnson founded Petbrosia to provide in-home delivery of dog and cat food customized to pets’ age, breed and unique nutritional needs.

What inspired you to start your business?
I have experience in the pet food category, and I was aware that there’s an epidemic: Dogs and cats are becoming obese at an alarming rate. Fifty percent of dogs and cats are overweight, and there’s been a huge increase in the identification of diseases in pets, so there’s a need to do something about the root cause.

A study done in the 2000s found that feeding a pet to their ideal body condition could lead to a significantly longer lifespan and higher quality of life. [In previous positions,] I’d been in hundreds of consumer’s homes and had shopped with them, so I really knew what they saw as optimal health: a long, higher quality life.

How did you figure out what each type of dog needs?
It relatively follows the same type of logic that you and I apply to our lives. A baby has different nutritional needs than a 45-year-old adult male, and it goes beyond quantity of food.

We also have proprietary algorithms we’ve created with scientific data that help us map the average lifespan and weight for each breed. From data consumers give us, we can understand where their pet fits within these ideal nutritional

How does it work?
You go to petbrosia.com and answer a few questions about your pet. We identify specific nutritional needs and craft a unique blend of food for your pet that is delivered to your door. And we’ll automatically ship you your next order, updating the formulation as your pet ages. From month to month, you’ll see very little change, but over the course of a year or two, you’ll see changes.

You’ve had some success raising capital for Petbrosia. How do you decide where to seek money?
It’s a full-time job to raise funds. That said, the type of people I’ve found attracted to Petbrosia are those who are familiar with tech-enabled consumer products and have been involved with other successes in the past.

To date, we’ve raised about $335,000 in addition to founder funds. It has, frankly, taken a lot of work. Our knowledge of the category and the consumer, how innovative of a product this is, and the strength of our team has led to our success. We’re in the process of raising another $800,000, which would take us through our Series A funding.
What have you learned along the way?
The way that you market through e-commerce and online, tactically, is a lot different from how a traditional consumer products company would market. We use tactics like online affiliates, very targeted SEM and email campaigns.

What does that look like?
If you look at our Facebook page, you would say, “Wow, you built 30,000 followers in 3-4 months.” We’re figuring out how to turn these followers into consumers or advocates of the brand.

We call them the first 1,000; these consumers are fantastic advocates of the brand. Our marketing has really changed to focus on making them happy. That’s different from a traditional company because they’re just looking at the numbers; they’re not looking at the individuals. 

You recently completed an MBA out-of-state while working full-time. How do you find time for Petbrosia?
I’m a pusher; I know I have to keep pushing forward. Once I finished my MBA, I knew I wanted to start a business, so I told myself not to get relaxed and go back to the five-day-a-week mentality. I spend about 80-100 hours a week [on Petbrosia]. And I do have a family—a few girls and my wife.

I’m pretty good at balancing it all, but I don’t spend as much time with my family as I really, really would like. As we grow, we can hire more people and that will help a lot. It’s tough. At first, I didn’t have anyone to delegate to, but we’re building up our team now.

Interview by Robin Donovan

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