Pet owners who have had their pet run away know the worried, anxious feeling that takes hold when they’re searching the neighborhood aimlessly.
PetSimpl founder Dave Waymouth became familiar with this feeling shortly after adopting his first dog, a terrier mix escape artist named Pip. Pip went missing in 2013, leaving Waymouth to scour the neighborhood in an improbable quest to locate his 15-poind friend.
Thankfully, the story has a happy ending for both pet and owner. Pip was found eating garbage from a hotel dumpster later that night and continues to maintain a happy, albeit risky, lifestyle. Waymouth, meanwhile, took from the scary experience an idea he’s been pursuing ever since.
The idea was for a collar that could track a pet’s location in real time. It’s an obvious concept that Waymouth admits seemed simple to him on the night of Pip’s disappearance. More than three years later, with a final product set to begin shipping at the end of the month, Waymouth concedes he may have underestimated the challenge.
“It’s taken three or four times as long as we expected. It really takes a village to succeed with something like this,” Waymouth says. “You’ve got to believe in your idea, and I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have thousands of people pushing me forward.”
Waymouth founded PetSimpl in 2013, after winning the UMass Innovation Challenge and while pursuing his MBA at UMass Amherst. Several fruitful rounds of the competition netted him a total of $30,000. Waymouth used the winnings to develop a rough prototype of the tracker, which is aptly named Pip.
The contest victory would be the first in a series of increasingly encouraging endorsements of Pip. The following year, PetSimpl became a MassChallenge finalist despite being in an earlier stage than companies typically accepted into the hyper-competitive incubator.
Waymouth says he got his "PhD in startups” going through MassChallenge, where he received advice from hundreds of other entrepreneurs and investors. The program also helped him secure a partnership with Verizon, allowing PetSimpl to use a combination of GPS and the telecommunication giant’s cellular towers to accurately track locations anywhere in the country.
Finally, PetSimpl created a Kickstarter to prove there was demand for the tracker and to help raise funds to bring Pip to market.
“Everyone kept saying, ‘Sounds great, but show me the customer,’” Waymouth says. “It’s one thing to have people saying they’d buy it but it’s another to get them to put their money on the line.”
In November of 2015, PetSimpl set a Kickstarter goal of $50,000. After considerable publicity, the campaign ended up raising roughly $75,000. The Kickstarter experience also proved invaluable for expanding PetSimpl’s network: Waymouth found the company’s investor and manufacturer through Kickstarter.
Just 15 months after his dog went missing, Waymouth had managed to push PetSimpl from concept to company while simultaneously earning his MBA.
Although PetSimpl was riding a remarkable streak of success up to that point, a long road still lay ahead. Eventually, Waymouth realized there’d be value in adding people to the PetSimpl team.
“I was doing the solopreneur thing for a while, but it was such a relief to bring on cofounders,” Waymouth says. “It just makes the whole ride so much more pleasant.”
MassChallenge partner, Lightspeed, helped Waymouth with the initial prototyping, but as Pip got closer to market Waymouth wanted to create later iterations with his manufacturer to get the company familiar with tweaking the assembly process for the product.
“The trick is to automate as much of the assembly as possible, because every human touch adds cost,” Waymouth says.
PetSimpl faced some unique challenges during the manufacturing process, including having to build a replica cell tower at the assembly plant to test Pip’s tracking before shipment.
“Our Kickstarter updates read like an epic novel,” Waymouth jokes. “The main takeaway is that it’s going to be tough at times, so you just have to roll with the punches and keep your eyes on the goal.”
Although, some aspects of the manufacturing process are still being perfected. Customers who submitted pre-orders, in addition to certain Kickstarter donors, will get Pip shipped to them in April. There have been around 700 pre-orders to date, and a second shipment is already being negotiated with the manufacturer.
People who have used the early versions of Pip have given overwhelmingly positive feedback. Customers slide Pip onto their pet’s collar and download the PetSimpl app to create a profile for their animal.They can also create profiles on the new PetSimpl website. The device can also be used to track feeding schedules and activity. The latter application, in the age of Fitbits, has proven to be a major source of Pip’s appeal.
Pip uses an innovative technique to conserve battery life. The device leverages a Bluetooth connection to ensure the tracker only uses its combination of GPS and cellular communication when it’s outside of a certain range. Waymouth says Pip can track pets for days while its competitors can only offer hours.
Pip will be available on Amazon, and PetSimpl is already working to partner with some boutiques and rescue organizations. A deal with a major retailer is also in the works.
“It’s all about having that peace of mind,” Waymouth says. “So that if your pet goes missing, you know you’ve got the best tool to track him down.”
Images courtesy of PetSimpl.