Q&A: Reducing the anxiety of man’s best friends

This week we talk to Jye de Zilva and Davie Fogarty, co-founders of Pupnaps, a line of calming dog beds designed to reduce anxiety and stress of dogs and to improve their sleep quality. Fogarty and de Zilva are longtime friends, having come from diverse backgrounds (de Zilva worked as a carpenter and Fogarty has had experience running successful brands) and sharing a common love for dogs. The two decided to bring these experiences together to come up with a product that benefits their canine kin.

ISB: What was the inspiration for you to start a unique business idea as Pupnaps?

JZ: We’re both dog owners and noticed a spike in anxiety and stress in our own dogs, particularly during storms and fireworks. My kelpie had separation anxiety and each time I’d leave the house for work, I would return home to a distraught, or occasionally, missing dog. We really wanted to create a product that solves this problem for not only our dogs but every Aussies’ pets. We wanted to give owners peace of mind if they ever need to leave their dog alone or outside for a few hours.

DF: I also loved the idea of creating a product that reduces stress and anxiety in pets, given the success of my weighted blanket brand Calming Blankets, which is based on a similar concept. Before we launched Pupnaps, there was a noticeable gap in the market for products that successfully support the mental health of our pets.

ISB: How does a dog bed help in relieving anxiety among dogs?

JZ & DF: Our beds are made using soft faux fur and padding which can mimic the warmth and safety of being hugged by their mother. Our beds are also designed with an oversized, raised rim, which can act as a pillow or give pets a place to hide and feel secure. Dogs can curl up in the bed to feel safe, and the raised rim helps them stay calm and less anxious. Dogs spend a lot of time enjoying their bed and our Pupnaps beds help create a safe space for them to remain relaxed and comfortable.

ISB: How did your respective experiences as a carpenter and an entrepreneur help in getting the venture off the ground?

JZ: While I’m a carpenter by trade, I always had a passion for entrepreneurship and a desire to launch a business. Davie’s marketing and videography skills and experience, having grown several successful brands, including The Oodie and Calming Blankets, and his initial investment in the business, also helped launch Pupnaps off the ground. Our partnership was natural, combining our love of dogs and business-driven mindets with a desire to solve a problem for the wider community. I’ve also made sure to surround myself with a strong team, experienced in business, marketing, product development and innovation, and Davie continues to offer guidance and advice where possible.

ISB: What was the most challenging aspect of running such a unique business idea and how did you overcome it?

JZ & DF: When we first launched, we knew we needed to build a strong community around the brand and our products and communicate with potential customers, in order to have the best chance of success and create a problem-solving product people truly wanted. We asked dog owners what they wanted out of the product, including the designs, patterns and colours that would appeal to them most. Engaging with customers from the outset has ensured our products are frequent sell-outs. In fact, within the first several months of launching, we attracted $1 million in sales a month. We continue to communicate frequently with customers ever since, launching new products as a result.

ISB: What is your vision for Pupnaps in two years’ time?

JZ & DF: We expanded the business into the UK in June 2020, which proved successful. In the next couple of years we’d like to expand into more markets. We also plan to continue innovating and expanding our range of products. We recently launched a bamboo version of the original Pupnaps bed, for warmer climates and during summer, and we have a range of Orthopaedic products for senior, injured and disabled pets.

ISB: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your business journey that fellow entrepreneurs should know as well?

JZ & DF: We think it is important for entrepreneurs to focus on building a product or service that people will love. A product idea can come from anywhere, even from looking at the products your friends and family enjoy and finding ways to improve them. The key is to find a product that offers a solution to a common problem.

You can also never stop learning. Take every opportunity to learn, grow and build an arsenal of skills. Books can provide you with the fundamentals of doing business, while podcasts and YouTube videos are great resources for up-to-date information on evolving areas, such as social media. Upskilling in different areas, such as direct response copywriting, basic graphic design, videography, and media buying, can also be helpful, particularly when you’re trying to launch a business of the ground. It reduces the need to call on eternal resources, saving on costs.