Q&A: Letting the cat out of the bag on a novel business

Terry Pratchett once wrote that “in ancient times cats were worshipped as gods, and they have not forgotten this.” This resonated with Hasara Lay, who as a child spent much of her school holidays in regional NSW towns and always took the family cat along for the ride, to the extent that Hasar has founded Catexplorer, an online platform where cat lovers can share tips on how to train cats, get encouragement to explore the world with their cats and to learn from others who have successfully done just that.

ISB: How did the idea for Catexplorer come about?

HL: As a child, my family often travelled around regional Australia. As catteries were not what they are now, we used to take my family cat with us.

When I adopted my two cats, as an adult, I wanted the flexibility to travel with them too. However, I grew frustrated as I couldn’t find the tools, resources or information on where to go or how to explore with our cats. Initially I started sharing my experiences and the feedback was so great that I started Catexplorer to become a depository of that information.

It has now exploded into an amazing community full of like-minded people who are willing to share their experiences and help each other. The Catexplorer community highlights all the incredible possibilities of ways to explore with your cat. For instance, I didn’t know I could take my cat to brunch, and now we do it all the time!

ISB: How were you able to manage the transition from information depository to lifestyle brand?

HL: The transition happened fairly organically. We listened to what our community was looking for and started with the easiest product to bring to market – merchandise. Through this experience we were able to learn about the logistics and realities of selling products to an international market.

We identified the next product range that our community was struggling to find, cat backpacks, and expanded into that range, and our community has grown steadily. Other businesses in our industry have been very open to collaborations and sponsorships of our content.

ISB: What was the biggest challenge you faced in running such a niche community and business, and how were you able to overcome it?

HL: The most common question I get asked is

“Is there even a market and is it even big enough?” Being asked this continuously sometimes makes me question our niche and whether we need to widen our target market. However, I have learned is that our market is big enough. Our loyal customers are within this market and they are repeat customers. We do occasionally try a new campaign to appeal to more customers, but these campaigns are never as successful as the ones where we focus on our niche.

ISB: On the other hand, what are the advantages and opportunities in setting up and running a business with such a unique concept and market?

HL: One of the biggest benefits is that our niche has been looking and craving for something like Catexplorer. We are able to fill a gap that has been needed. Catexplorer has given a sense of belonging to so many people and this, in turn, has resulted in loyal customers.

Having a defined niche has also guided the activities we do, from the products we source and sell, the content we create, and our marketing activities.

ISB: How do you Catexplorer developing in the next couple of years?

HL: The main goal of Catexplorer is to encourage more people to give their cat the world and to help them do this. We want to help people realise that their cats are capable of more than they give them credit for. With this in mind, we will continue to create content that supports this, via our website, podcast and social media.

We’ll continue to investigate (and potentially sell) the best products and will also continue to collaborate with other brands whose mission aligns with ours.

ISB: Finally, what is the number one piece of advice you’d give to others who have a unique idea in mind for a business?

HL: Define your target market. I really recommend understanding them, the products they would buy, what is important to them, the content they consume, their challenges and how you can help them. This, in turn, helps you decide how you can fill a gap for them and how you can stand out in a business world that can be fairly saturated.

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