Kimberley Miller for Tails.com
Like millions of people around the world, I love my dog. My passion is so great, in fact, my husband jokes that I love my dog more than I love him. (At least, I think he’s joking.) I’m also really interested in artificial intelligence, particularly the more unusual use cases that are emerging for it, such as brewing beer and shrimp farming.
So just imagine my excitement when I discovered that it was possible to combine my passion for dogs with my interest in artificial intelligence. In case you’re wondering, no, I am not planning to buy a robo dog. The discovery that actually sparked my excitement is the algorithm-powered dog food that is produced by UK pet nutrition business Tails.com.
Tails.com uses algorithms to create tailored dog food based on the answers that owners give to nine simple questions relating to their dog’s age, breed, eating preferences, size and level of activity. Although the company was only launched four years ago, it already feeds more than 100,000 dogs in the UK. It has also attracted the interest of pet food giant Nestlé Purina PetCare, which snapped up a majority stake in the business in April, for an undisclosed sum.
In this Q&A, James Davidson, cofounder and CEO of Tails.com, talks about leadership, labradors and helping dogs to live longer, healthier lives.
Sally Percy: Why did you decide to launch a dog nutrition business?
James Davidson: My cofounders (who are no longer involved in the business) approached me with a new pet food idea. I was excited about the prospect of launching a brand that offered something completely new to the market. What they had begun to explore for dog nutrition was something far more complex than anything that had been done before. It also required game-changing ways of approaching not only pet nutrition, but also food manufacturing and development. I jumped at the chance to do something both innovative and accessible, particularly as we were committed to mass-market adoption. This was an opportunity to deliver something radically better for mainstream family dogs.
Percy: How have you used digital technology, food innovation and new manufacturing techniques to develop your product?
Davidson: We are the only brand that provides this level of tailored nutrition, and we’re certainly the only one, anywhere in the world, that does so at prices comparable with high street brands. We specifically tailor nutrition, portions and service for every dog, based on their unique requirements, including age, allergies, activity levels, breed, flavor preferences and health conditions.
Following a brief two-minute online consultation, we develop a nutritional profile for each dog using a proprietary algorithm to calculate the appropriate levels of specific macro- and micronutrients that the dog needs. We blend different kibbles into a unique mix, just for that dog, creating a completely tailored meal plan and daily menu – which can also include wet food and our growing range of treats. Calculated calories and portions are delivered precisely and the monthly blends evolve gradually over time, as the dog’s needs change.
We’re currently delivering over four million bespoke meals a month across the UK, up to 6,000 unique blends every day, which we are extremely proud of. Customers also have access to our award-winning in-house support team, which includes industry-leading nutritionists, vet nurses and vets.
Percy: Why did you agree to Nestlé Purina PetCare acquiring a majority share in Tails.com?
Davidson: We chose Purina PetCare because its genuine commitment to helping pets enjoy happier, healthier and longer lives is completely aligned to our own values. It is also better placed than anyone to support us in doing more of what we do best: delivering high-quality, tailored nutrition at large-scale and affordable prices. Purina’s investment enables us to make improvements to our groundbreaking technology in our factory, hire additional team members, and invest further in marketing and advertising. We also plan to extend the reach of our life-changing nutrition beyond the UK.
We’re here to change the world of pet food for good – it’s our company’s mission, and it guides every decision we make. Very early in our conversations with Nestlé Purina PetCare, we realized that it was important to both of us that Tails.com remains a standalone company in order to maintain its fast-paced culture. In that sense, nothing has changed. I’ll still be the CEO, supported by an outstanding leadership team and all of our colleagues.
Percy: What have you learned about leadership from launching and growing your business?
Davidson: To be a great leader, it helps to know yourself really well – what drives you, what you are good at, and where you need the support of others. I’ve become so much better at capitalizing on my own natural skills and understanding where I can enhance myself or partner with others. I’ve worked really hard to help my team reach that level of self-awareness, too. It goes all the way down to small details, such as managing energy levels and nutrition choices as well as recognizing the need to let off steam, which I do with mountain biking. I’ve always understood that getting people to tap into their own motivation is key.
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