Today we’d like to introduce you to Ruby Balaram.
So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I was working as a paralegal in Washington, D.C. when I met Turk, my co-founder. This was back in 2012. Turk was launching another startup called Level Up Meals, a company focused on making and delivering fresh, healthy food here in San Diego. I was inspired by what he was creating to solve a problem so many of us face – finding healthy and convenient food. Shortly after the company launch, Turk’s then 12-year-old Doberman’s (Atum) health began deteriorating rather quickly. Atum had eaten home cooked food most of his life, but started to eat more dry processed kibble within that last year. Vets suspected he had cancer, but since he was nearing his life expectancy for his breed, they discouraged us from making any changes to his life or diet that might cause discomfort. They suspected he’d leave us in less than 6 months.
I hadn’t grown up with a dog, in fact, my focus was on international trade and white collar crime; completely unrelated to the dog industry, so there was a lot I had to learn. While researching what we could do to help improve his health at his age, I came across a “raw food diet” for dogs made of primarily meat and no processed ingredients. I thought about how much my life changed when I started eating a paleo (low-carb) diet and wondered why dogs were eating “kibble” at all. And the question became, if kibble is so good, why aren’t we eating it?
Confused by this, my continued research bared some ugly truths about the pet food industry. Fillers like corn, grains and soybean meal were the first ingredients used in kibble, along with artificial flavors and chemical preservatives known to cause cancer and other ailments. Kibble is made using the same machinery used for puffed cereal – a high heat process that pushes ingredients through an extruder, virtually cooking out all the vitamins and minerals in the food. Then, artificial “meat” flavoring and synthetic vitamins are sprayed on for flavoring. Have you ever wondered why some dogs are attracted to other dogs’ poop? It’s because kibble is poorly digested and when those artificial flavorings pass thru their systems, other dogs thinks it smells like food! While all that sounds bad, that wasn’t the worst part to me. I saw the deceptive marketing practices used by large corporations that made these foods. They were (and still are) getting away with using photos of filet mignon and ribs on dog food packaging when those were not the actual ingredients in the food. And veterinarians actively promote kibble because their nutritional classes are funded by kibble manufacturers and they get a kickback from those companies for marketing their products.
Now that is what really sparked my attention. The passion I had when I began my legal career had returned. I just couldn’t believe what the industry was getting away with – deceiving dog owners and making a killing while doing it. Apart from that, we did in fact start feeding Atum a raw food diet. The benefits were mind blowing. The 12-year-old sweetheart given a 6-month life expectancy, went from grumpy old dog to a new pup. I was in the right time and place in my career to make a change.
Turk and I left our jobs in Washington, DC in the summer of 2015. We wanted to bring awareness about a better, more appropriate food for dogs: real food. And we wanted to make it easier, more affordable and convenient to feed real food. By November, we had our first prototype and began testing the market, and in January 2016 we officially launched.
It has been quite the journey. We are now almost 2 years into the business and growing fast. Atum lived until his was 15 1/2, 3 years longer than the vets expected. There is no doubt in my mind that nutrition plays the largest role in health and well-being, for both humans and animals. Food is medicine. I am inspired daily by the love and support we’ve gotten from our members for helping their dogs live happier and healthier lives.
You can read a more detailed version of my story here: https://insights.realpetfood.com/kibble-the-superfood-f34520283fb5
Has it been a smooth road?
More like a road with lots of bumps, curves and unexpected roadblocks!
Starting a business, in theory, sounds like a lot of fun. When we first came up with the idea, we knew we needed some time to come up with an MVP (market viable product). We applied to YCombinator in Silicon Valley to help us with a little funding and incubation. Silicon Valley companies generally use 3rd parties to manufacture tangible goods. We were a quite the anomaly for wanting to make everything ourselves. After an interview, they didn’t understand the problem we were trying to solve. We decided to use our own money to bootstrap the company. That’s when we left our jobs and headed west to California.
Bootstrapping a company is tough – you have a shorter runway and have to make a lot of tough decisions on your own. We faced challenges from building our own kitchen to overcoming government regulations and being denied by food suppliers because we weren’t big enough. The hardest part by far has been building our technology. We are a hybrid between a tech start up and dog food manufacturer.
To break thru the dog food industry, we had to build a system from scratch. Finding talent to do that on a bootstrap budget is next to impossible. We’ve been fortunate to find willing partners along the way, but it has slowed down our growth tremendously.
Because of these challenges, we had to pivot from dog meals to dog treats and chews. But only for now. 🙂
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Real Pet Food story. Tell us more about the business.
We are B2I (business to individual) dog food manufacturer. We don’t want to you to think about what your dog’s nutritional needs are. We want to streamline and address those needs, so you can have more time to spend with your dog.
Currently, we make and deliver a monthly box of dog treats and chews. Each month we make a different combination of items to provide dogs with diverse nutritional benefits and to keep them excited for something new. We MAKE everything ourselves here in San Diego. We use 100% meat, no additives or preservatives. Everything is made fresh to order and we can customize your box to fit your dog’s preferences.
We are known most for the exceptional service we provide. We are reachable and transparent. After all, this is your dog’s health we are talking about. So, we are always available to have a conversation with you about what your dog needs and wants. I am most proud of the reputation we’ve built for the service that we provide.
Check out our reviews: https://www.facebook.com/pg/realpetfood/reviews/
How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
The big players in the dog food industry are starting to meet consumer demands for more transparency and better quality. They are either going to acquire companies like us or they will face deadly challenges. There is no one size fits all. The industry has to shift their mindset toward dogs and not their humans, and be able to automate each dog’s individual needs.
In fact, big time acquisitions have already begun. For example, Petsmart acquiring Chewy.com for $3.3 Billion – which made it the biggest e-commerce acquisition in history.
- Treat & Chew Box $35/m free shipping
- Treat Only Box $19/m free shipping
- Chew Only Box $21/m free shipping
- Mini Box $21/m free shipping
- Super Chew Add-on $7 each available with any box
- Website: realpetfood.com
- Phone: 858-348-5954
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/realpetfood/
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/realpetfood/
- Yelp: https://www.yelp.com/biz/real-pet-food-san-diego
- Other: https://www.google.com/maps/place/Real+Pet+Foodemail@example.com,-114.992053,4z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m7!3m6!1s0x0:0x8a013184ef13bd5!8m2!3d39.1191639!4d-96.9967405!9m1!1b1