The Outsiders and Insiders Driving Ollie’s Outsized Growth
When we announced our investment in D2C fresh pet food company Ollie back in October 2016, it was hard to avoid the obvious (but still relatively entertaining) “eating your own dog food” jokes. Heck, we even did it ourselves! Because the truth is, we’ve believed so wholeheartedly in this business from Day 1 that we actually ate it. We ate the dog food. And it’s delicious.
But the business, and its success to date, is so much more than delicious dog food. Ollie is a vibrant new entrant playing in a massive, $30 billion, innovation-starved industry that’s dominated by a handful of large players. And with all the news coming out of the pet industry now - General Mills’ $8 billion purchase of Blue Buffalo (at an astounding 6x revenue price); PetSmart’s $3.35 billion acquisition of Chewy; and Mars’ $117 million purchase of Whistle, to name just a few - Ollie’s rise could not have been better timed. All signs point to go.
Ollie has certainly benefited from this newfound energy in the pet space, and its results to date are clear testament to its proven product-market fit. Ollie has seen 500% growth in top-line revenue over the last year, and it rode this momentum to a successful Series A in July 2017 - led by Canaan Partners, with participation from Primary Venture Partners, Lerer Hippeau, WME Ventures, Correlation Ventures, RiverPark Ventures and Rosecliff Ventures. Since that time, the company has seen 3x revenue growth. Ollie now delivers 5 million meals per year to a passionate customer base, and retention rates are higher than any meal-kit delivery service to date.
Ollie’s success stems, in large measure, from the ability of its founders to think outside the box. Founders Alex Douzet, Gabby Slome and Randy Jimenez are not pet food professionals, but rather visionary entrepreneurs and seasoned operators who earned their stripes from Ladders, Primary.com and SinglePlatform, respectively. But perhaps most important, they are dog lovers who saw firsthand the negative impacts of mass-produced, overly processed kibble on their own dogs’ health.
Theirs was a big vision: To create a better, more nutritious pet food alternative with a truly modern customer experience. They took a tech-first, ecommerce-driven approach to achieve that vision, and in doing so, built a product far superior to any of its predecessors. Precisely because of their “industry outsider” status, the team has been able to reimagine the traditional customer experience, unencumbered by long-held notions of what might or might not work in the industry.
Many of the most successful ecommerce brands have come about in this way; Warby Parker, Harry’s, The Honest Company and Glossier are all the brainchildren of visionary founders who, as industry outsiders, brought a fresh perspective and a new approach to markets starved for innovation. Just a few years in and millions of customers later, it’s now safe to say that each of these companies has created a new paradigm in their respective industry.
Now Ollie is poised to do the same in the pet food space. Alex and Gabby knew that the key to differentiating themselves in this growing market was by elevating the customer experience to new heights. The company’s AI-powered engine, developed in conjunction with leading veterinarians, enables Ollie to tailor highly personalized offerings based on a dog’s age, weight, breed, activity level and prior diet. A sophisticated back-end algorithm, meanwhile, intelligently expedites shipping based on a customer’s selected plan, location and upcoming weather predictions. The resultant product is fresh, delicious food that provides the exact portions for a dog’s daily needs, delivered straight to the customer’s doorstep in highly personalized packaging.
Validation of Ollie’s strategy came very early on when longtime industry veteran Steve Marton took a seat on its board. Steve has a long track record of managing and scaling billion-dollar pet food business - first as President and COO of Hill’s Pet Nutrition, and then as Chairman and CEO of holistic pet food company Halo - and he brought the unparalleled insights of a deep industry insider that have helped Team Ollie build their product better, smarter and faster.
Steve was an Ollie believer from the very beginning. He had kept a close eye on the growing trend of humanization of pets, and of pet owners treating animals more as members of the family. Being able to provide pets with quality, nutritious food is at the center of that movement, and Steve immediately saw Ollie as a standout player in the market. Since coming aboard, he has been instrumental in helping the team flesh out its go-to-market strategy, and he’s helped them think through product lines, specific formulations and flavor profiles, always with an eye toward the customer preferences and industry trends that he knows so well.
This insider-outsider matchup has given us the confidence from the very beginning that we were tackling the industry’s problems in the right way. As Steve puts it, “We come at the questions from different experiences and perspectives. The combination of both more traditional perspectives about the category, combined with Ollie’s desire and ability to raise the bar on product, marketing and distribution innovation, has enabled the company to make the best possible choices for its products and its customers, both two- and four-legged!”
The Ollie team, true to their original vision, has succeeded in marrying a best-in-class ecommerce platform with a safe, innovative dog food company. By leveraging the expertise of a seasoned industry vet, they have built a trusted brand that nurtures its customers and keeps them coming back for more. We’re now just one-and-a-half years into Ollie’s journey, and we can’t wait to see what comes next!