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#StartupStories: Hardware lesson with Betsy Fore, Wondermento

This article originally appeared on Brincclick here to check out more awesome blog posts from them!

Betsy Fore is the founder and CEO of Wondermento, a company creating wearables and connected devices to help pets lead happier and healthier lives. Launched in November of 2013, the company recently unveiled WonderWoof, a dog activity tracker, monitor and social network for dogs that tracks all of their activity and ensures they are getting enough exercise based on their size, breed and age. As a ‘Fitbit for a dogs’ that is cute as well as functional, WonderWoof is a bluetooth enabled bow tie that attaches to a dog’s collar and connects to a companion app on your phone. WonderWoof is available at Harrod’s, Bloomingdale’s, Best Buy, Petco and other major retailers.

A mentor at Brinc, Betsy recently stopped by the Brinc IoT Hub in Hong Kong to meet with our startups. We were lucky enough to get the chance to chat with her and her team to get some valuable insights on validating product, selecting distributors and securing marketing partnerships. Read more below on what they learned along the way during product development, launch and go-to-market!

How did you get the idea for a connected device for dogs?

I invented Wonderwoof for my dog Whisky who was a bit overweight at the time when I was still a toy inventor. I didn’t know much about the pet space except that I knew that pets could be a bit like children and my dog is my baby.

When I started doing the research, I realized that half of dogs in UK and US are considered overweight or obese and it can really decrease life expectancy. I decided to experiment at the time and tape a box with hardware components I’d hacked together to Whisky’s collar. It was massive and looked admittedly a bit mean as it was big and heavy for him to wear.

He did begin losing weight however because of wearing the prototype, enough that we think it could have extended his life up to two years as a result of reaching his ideal weight. It was then I realized that we could turn this into a commercial success by making a connected device for your dog to track their activity at all times.

What was the strategy for getting Wonderwoof into high-end retail stores?

Our strategy was to reinvent the category through our brand and not just to get onto retail shelves. My background has always been on the consumer products side. I had been a toy inventor for the past decade, inventing toys for Mattel Hasbro and Spin Master, building the #1 kids digital brand in the UK called Moshi Monsters into the #1 brand in Europe. Prior to toys, I was working in fashion, building visual displays for Saks, Marc Jacobs, DVF. This all definitely influenced design for our first product WonderWoof and why I decided to make a high-end play when we launched exclusively at Harrod’s. We’ve also launched at Colette during Paris fashion week earlier this year and in NYC at Story, a curated high-end shop.

From there we went mass market, and now we’re available at retailers including Best Buy and in Petco where we are the only exclusive pet wearable in the pet tech category. It’s a big enough category where Petco just brought us on their pet tech advisory board alongside Nest, Pet Net and Pet Cube, creating an entire POS for pet tech, with Wonderwoof being the premier pet wearable which is very exciting for us!

How did you assemble the right team for success?

We built the right team for the company we wanted to build, not just the product that we wanted to launch.

We now have around 20 team members, including contractors. The founding team came together during my time at Mind Candy in London. We knew each other from the tech scene, mostly from Silicon Roundabout in London. Joe our CTO had already built 2 #1 apps on the App Store and had a massive software and sound background. He’s worked in Hollywood in TV, film, audio engineering, developing apps, built companies and fully onboard. We also had Phil, our Director of Hardware early on but for us, getting the creative right was as important as engineering. We started Day 1 with an art director and product designer as it was crucial to get the full picture. None of what we’re doing today would have been possible without our pawesome team!

What was the inspiration for your second product? Describe a few of the challenges and opportunities in developing multiple product lines.
We launched a preview of WonderMeow earlier this year at CES. I’m so excited about this as I was a crazy cat lady before Whisky arrived. We wanted to do something a bit different as WonderMeow is about tracking a cat’s secret life, what they get up to when no one’s around. WonderWoof is more about health and knowing what your dog is doing. You can select their personality using the app where you can choose their personality (eg. naughty, grumpy etc).Their bow tie has a camera so users can write commentary for the photos they’re taking as if they’re the directors of their own story. Users can upload it to app, almost like a choose your own adventure book and it will have a health component and launch with GPS. It will also have long range feature.

What really helped with validation and understanding the features that users wanted was having launched the companion app early on and engaging with users. We wanted to build out social capability and be that go to social hub for dog owners. That said, we listened to our customers and recently launched the ‘Multiple’ feature so that you can have multiple dogs and multiple caretakers. This way you can see how your dog is getting on if it’s being walked by caretaker and make sure that it’s getting enough exercise. You can also see what your dog is doing in real time relative to other dogs for size, breed and age comparison.

We had launched the WonderWoof app before the device, and the app has been in 65 countries for more than 1300 dog breeds. With the social app we feel as though we’re helping to build a community, users can connect and meet other dog lovers in their area with map-enabled social feature and see whether you’re meeting goals in months and days. With the app, users can see other dogs out and about on app, friend them on Facebook, schedule playdates and see badges they earn.

 

How are you validating your products?

We focused on understanding our target customer persona and developing a platform for them. We started Wondermento to build a world of wonders. What links all of our products together is that it was developed with the female customer in mind. Pet category is our first focus, we may move into the crafting movement at some point. Over half of women in US own at least 1 dog and 85% of purchases are made by females in the household which helped to validate WonderWoof’s core demographic.

We’re only pet focused for now. We may try other categories. Who knows down the line (connected knitting needles anyone?) but for now we’re aiming to be the premier in pet tech. This means connecting you to your pet, making sure they’re getting proper amount of love and exercise.

Challenges and lessons for other founders looking to build and distribute a connected device market?

Understand your customer and build out a team that is built around them.

For WonderWoof, we knew it was a priority to have a dedicated customer support team in place and technical people who could help with validating the product. We had our CTO helping out with inquiries for awhile to understand the technical inquiries customers were going through with the product.

We feel strongly about having hands-on customer management and we now have a community manager in place who has been with us through the product lifecycle. This way she has a good understanding of the product and is able to respond intelligently to customers. We understand it’s all about how you position the product and this is a priority for us. Even bringing on someone in an admin role and working up to this is valuable.

Lessons you can share for getting to market and getting your product to distribution with high end and mass retailers?

1) Get your POS Display right the first time because you’re literally educating the customer at point of sale. We learned this when we got into Best Buy. We were just so pleased with getting this massive order but didn’t think through the POS display as thoroughly as we could have.

Key learning was tailoring the window box display for retailers like a Best Buy, Brookstone, anyone related to tech. We had put together a gorgeous jewelry box that made sense for a boutique customer or e-commerce but a POS display at a mass retailer a bit different.

Relationships with your preferred retailers is absolutely key and I would always recommend whenever possible to go direct.

2) Negotiate marketing spend and dollars upfront with the retailer and make sure you have a marketing contact on your team who can be the POC for this and manage the relationship on a daily basis. This means phone updates with the retailer not just for volume of unit moved but get a sense of upcoming events. or ex Best Buy just had a national pets day, so that you have give away and email marketing promotion ready. This is really critical. I was trying to do this on my own for awhile and now that we have a COO to help with this and Marketing Manager. We are actively recruiting for a Marketing Director in our NYC offices.

3) Test, test, test

Analytics built in the beginning is key. For WonderWoof it’s about fitting in testing timeline with enough time to make changes for shipping deadlines. Also key was understanding whether or not our customer was indeed really female and validating this by capturing the data so that we understand who we’re targeting or when we’re targeting someone with the app, understanding how much they’re really engaging with it in order to deliver the right features.

Other things we started doing was sending automated reports Monday mornings to senior management in order to track key metrics such as understanding how sales were going in geographic locations, linking crashers to users and users to support tickets to create circles and learn what’s happening to more quickly fix bugs and make key updates.

What’s next for Wondermento?

Cats, cats, cats! (and the whole connected pet home, shhh ;))

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