Founder of pet care accessories line Wild One on remaking functional as fashionable

August 10, 2020, 11:00 AM UTC

This is an installment in a special series, Startup Year One, interviewing startup founders about the major lessons they learned in the immediate aftermath of their businesses’ first year of operation.

Wild One, a sleek but simple accessories line for pets, was created in the same vein as many retail businesses: in response to underwhelming options already on the market.

A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Minali Chatani started her career in the art department at Bloomingdale’s before making the jump to Sweetgreen, where she served as head of brand creative.

In 2018, Chatani—along with Veronica Becchetti, then director of production for S’well Bottle, and Bill Wells, previously director of supply-chain strategy and innovation at Warby Parker—launched Wild One as a one-stop shop for dog owners, with thoughtfully designed, cross-category products that took style and function into consideration.

“The pet market was crowded with commodity goods that were either super kitschy, overly outdoorsy and industrial, or poorly designed,” says Chatani. “There was little brand recognition or loyalty, and furthermore, no brand that felt trustworthy and covered all the essentials.”

Fortune recently spoke with Chatani, who serves as head of brand at Wild One, to learn more about the startup’s first year in business, the lessons learned, the hurdles overcome, and plans for the next year.

The following interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.

Start-Up Wild One pets founder Minali Chatani.
Wild One cofounder Minali Chatani
Courtesy of Wild One

Fortune: Wild One has a particular aesthetic that is extremely simple yet feels quite stylish—especially in the social media age. How has technology shaped the development of Wild One?

Chatani: We’re a digitally native brand first, so tech is really at the center of almost everything we do. We approach our digital brand experience by trying to make it emblematic of the dog park. That sense of camaraderie and community is what keeps familiar faces coming back.

Social media and digitally native content informed the creation of Pets and Their People, a content series representative of a robust community of dog parents and Wild One loyalists. Those people are at the center of everything we do from new product launches and improvements to our website to IRL events. You’ll see their own original content on our social media, which functions as a community building tool as much as it aids in marketing and sales.

Wild One says it strives to connect pets and people through thoughtful design and community, with special events throughout the year (pre-pandemic).
Courtesy of Wild One

What were some of the biggest hurdles you faced in your first year of business? What surprised you the most?

I think the hardest part of the first year in business for many entrepreneurs is staying focused on your goals and filtering through the noise. There are so many opportunities flying your way from collaboration opportunities to new product ideas—all these “shiny objects” that catch your attention. Sticking to the plan and staying super focused on the year-one goals is not as simple as it sounds.

I was most surprised by the immediate community growth and sense of camaraderie. We are so lucky to be in the business of pets; having pet parents as customers and being able to chat with people about their dogs is a dream. I am still floored by and grateful for feedback, ideas, and photos our community continues to share, and their general commitment to spreading the Wild One love. It’s definitely a gift that I don’t think all year-one businesses are given.

What kind of feedback have you received from your customers, and have you (or will you) apply that feedback to how you sell your products in the future?

We get a lot of product feedback and new product requests from our customers. All of this feedback most definitely goes into our product development process. Veronica [Becchetti], one of my cofounders and our head of product development, utilizes industry and customer insights during the development process.

Our Air Travel Carrier, which is one of our bestsellers, was a highly requested item following the success of our Commuter Carrier. Many of the 2.0 iterations on our products come from customers writing in about added features they would love to see.

The Air Travel Carrier sports breathable mesh walls and an interior cushion that folds out to become a dog bed—the home away from home your best friend deserves.
Courtesy of Wild One

Obviously, amid the coronavirus pandemic, consumers’ purchasing habits and practices are rapidly changing—and most people are spending less. But pet care is a space that would seemingly be recession-proof. How does Wild One plan to adjust and fit into whatever this new normal might be?

Our outlook has been to stay the course as much as possible and remain true to our brand while being cognizant of the major life changes and challenges for our customers resulting from the pandemic.

But at a certain point we settled into our remote offices and this “new normal,” and we realized that our role as a resource for our community needed to remain consistent, whether releasing a new color Walk Kit to add a little joy to people’s days, or help them stock up on essentials like poop bags and wipes.

Also, you may have read some news about the major influx of people fostering and adopting dogs during the pandemic. We’re of course thrilled to see an upward trend in pet rescue as we work closely with a handful of adoption networks, mainly Badass Brooklyn Animal Rescue.

The Walk Kit comes with a lightweight dog harness; a dirt-resistant, waterproof leash; and a color-matched waste bag carrier.
Courtesy of Wild One

At the same time, how does a shutdown of this nature affect the future of the business, from product development to raising capital?

Working remotely was an adjustment for our team, but we’ve gotten the hang of working together in 2D. Instead of being in the same room for a product development meeting, getting to actually hold samples and chat through feedback, we’ve been mailing each other prototypes and materials, screen-sharing product plans, and “live designing” remotely. I’m very proud of how well our team has adapted.

Of course, some of our timelines have shifted slightly. We’ve become increasingly flexible and malleable, working intimately with our partners and designers, to reimagine timelines and pivot where we can.

Looking beyond the post-pandemic era, which could be anywhere from a year to a few years from now, how do you plan to grow Wild One and what do you want the business to look like five years from now?

Our goal remains the same: to be a curated one-stop shop for pet parents providing thoughtfully designed products across multiple categories. We’re working to become a household name in the pet space as well as to amplify our community on national and global levels. In the near future, we’ll be expanding our offerings into new categories. But overall, there’s still so much more to explore, whether more consumables, wellness, or even services.