In the post-pandemic pet product boom, one LA-based startup seeks to set itself apart from the dog-eat-dog competition with a single word: Science. Front Of The Pack, run by British serial entrepreneur Neil Hutchinson, puts the emphasis on research in marketing its nutritional supplements for canines, which are presented as powdered food toppers designed to enhance the wellbeing of healthy dogs, and to target chronic conditions in others.
“I think the easiest way to show the efficacy of our products is to invest in science. Initially, that meant investing in the supply chain, taking the world’s best sources of ingredients,” says Hutchinson, who cofounded the company just a year ago alongside Chris Wilkinson, with whom he’d also collaborated on the purchase and merger of an online pet supplies retailer in the U.K. “Now it’s investing in a clinical study at a top university,” he adds, referencing the company’s plans to sponsor trials of its products at U.C. Davis’ School of Veterinary Medicine.
On Wednesday, FOTP—which is now doing over a million dollars in monthly revenues—announces a $10 million Series A to help make those trials a possibility, bringing its total funding to $13.5 million and its valuation to $50 million. The round is led by London-based Stride VC with participation from Heartcore Capital, Founder Collective, and angel investors including Andrew Dundum, the founder and CEO of now-public digital health and wellness company Hims/Hers, who also backed a pet telemedicine startup that launched earlier in July.
Like many online companies that sell straight to the consumer, FOTP relies on brand loyalty: Wilkinson says that “The One,” which is its bestselling product and similar to a multivitamin, is a “gateway” good for the brand, leading satisfied consumers to purchase monthly subscriptions and to add other FOTP products to their cards, as well. The brand incentivizes customer return by offering discounts on such subscriptions—”The One” is available for $38 as a one-off, but $34 as a monthly buy. One tub contains about 60 scoops, which, administered daily, can last up to two months depending on the size of your dog. FOTP did not share with Forbes what percentage of their revenues come from subscription-based, versus one-time, purchases.
Hutchinson—who previously founded a successful digital marketing agency—and Wilkinson began their joint foray into the pet supplies industry in 2017, when they purchased internet retailer Paws.com with the hope of turning it into the Chewy of the U.K. In 2019, the company merged with other online retailers to create a holding company now called The Paws Group. The two spun FOTP out of this experience: they wanted to create their own products, and like many entrepreneurs, saw an opportunity to take advantage of insatiable consumer desire for online subscription goods.
“Nine months passed of R&D and we realized that we could make the very best pet supplement product the world has ever seen,” Wilkinson says. The duo decided that investing heavily in the research to support their ultimate product line would be their differentiating factor, and designed their website to emphasize this positioning: “Our experts assembled a catalog of over 400 research publications verifying the health claims of every one of our ingredients,” it reads.
FOTP launched months before the pandemic unfolded across the globe, leaving consumers with significantly more time to focus on the wellbeing of their pets, and to browse the internet for products to enhance that wellbeing. Investors hopped onboard: two months after its debut, the brand announced a $3.5 million seed round.
“For us it was very much the macro trend of pet ownership, people’s emotional connections to their pets, and the fact that that redistributes to the wellbeing of people who own pets,” says Max Niederhofer of London’s Heartcore Capital, which backed FOTP since its earliest stages, and doubled down in this latest round. Hutchinson, who Niederhofer describes as “one of the top serial founders in the U.K.,” is also key to investor confidence.
For evidence of their products’ effectiveness, Hutchinson and Wilkinson point to customer reviews on their website. “My dog has her life back,” a “The One” customer writes. “I think I found something that really works,” writes the owner of a 9-year-old chihuahua, who was suddenly as energetic as a puppy. But Veterinary nutritionists, including University of Tennessee’s Angela Rollins, are skeptical of canine supplements given to healthy pets.
“The vast majority of commercial diets available for dogs and cats in the U.S. are already going to have all the vitamins and nutrients that a pet needs,” she says, adding that pets with chronic conditions should visit their veterinarians, who can recommend dietary changes if and when they are appropriate.
FOTP hopes to upend such concerns by way of its upcoming trials. “We’re very confident,” Hutchinson says of the probability that the research will confirm his and Wilkinson’s convictions that FOTP is selling the best supplements around, and that those supplements are beneficial for dogs across the board.
FOTP also plans to use its newly acquired capital to create a pet food, which will put the startup in competition with highly successful online subscription brands like the Farmer’s Dog, which, as of 2019, was valued at $600 million.