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Sniffy Labs

The digital dog trainer that makes professional dog training accessible and easy

Highlights

1
First mover advantage focused on innovating the traditional dog training market
2
US total addressable market is $1B a year, and growing at 10% a year; has the global reach market potential- any companion dog, any language
3
Launched closed beta in December 2019 with 50 dog owners; quickly got 39 testers converted to customers at a 78% conversion rate
4
Partnering with two breeders and two shelters that are promoting us to dog owners
5
Built product with $0 outside fund, technical founders develop and iterate the product quickly
6
Field experts onboard to create professional dog training content
7
Solid customer discovery by talking to over 400 dog owners and trainers to find the product-market fit
8
Advocate animal welfare and against animal cruelty; proper dog training could help mitigate behavioral issues and decrease abandonment rate

Our Team

In 2018 and 2019, we talked to over 400 dog owners and found a big challenge that owners are facing is dogs’ behavioral issues, which could possibly develop to severe problems. However, many of them couldn’t find convenient and satisfying access to professional dog training resources. So we decided to innovate the traditional dog training market.


It all started with a stray cat.

It was in a day in December 2014, the day that I rescued ZaiZai from a severe car accident. Although I’ve always loved animals, I never thought a cat would change my life. It started as an average day for me, but it was the beginning of suffering for ZaiZai. The first time I laid eyes on ZaiZai, he had been run over by a car. With bloody hind legs, ZaiZai was dragging himself towards the median with its two front legs. I stood there, shocked by the fight in him, and decided I would take care of him until his last day. 

The truth is, it wasn’t me that saved ZaiZai, it was him that shed light to my future and saved me. I didn’t know what I wanted for the longest time. Taking care of him, I realized what I wanted was simple – better relationships between humans and animals. ZaiZai inspired me to leverage the power of technology to facilitate petcare. I want all other animals to live with dignity and have better care. That right shouldn’t belong to humans only.

A picture of ZaiZai and his wheelchair
Howard's cat, ZaiZai, with his wheelchair that Howard made for him

With the ambition in my mind, I came to the U.S. to pursue my master’s degree of Human-Computer Interaction at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), where I met my best friend and most important business partner, Ting. We always did class projects together and got good grades. The heavy workload of school projects didn’t make me forget my dream. I wanted to apply the skills I've learned from school to building an app for dogs. 

Originally, I thought it is very important to bring a dog for a walk twice everyday. However, my guess was that lots of owners don’t walk their dogs enough because dog walking could be very boring when it becomes a daily routine. Then I asked Ting if she wanted to develop an app that could probably make the dog walking more fun to motivate owners. As an animal lover, Ting thought this was an interesting and meaningful project and decided to join. We named our team Sniffy and started our startup journey.

Pic of Co-Founders working together
Co-Founders: Ting and Howard

Our Journey

We brought the prototype of our idea to RIT student innovation center, Simone Center, and wanted to see how RIT could help turn the idea into a real product, so that it would be able to impact and benefit more people. Starting from taking the class Applied Entrepreneurship (AE), we then took National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps Short Course, graduated from 2 RIT student accelerators, and finally got into RIT Venture Creations Incubator. 

During the AE class, we were asked to conduct 50 customer discovery interviews, which was a big challenge for us. Since we are not native English speakers, it was really challenging for us to interview people and quite understand their situation. But this didn’t stop us from pursuing our dream. After some interviews, we became more confident in talking to people and expressing ourselves.

Pic of Doing Customer Discovery
We have done over 400 customer discovery interviews

The most important lesson we've learned from the AE class is that we were envisioning a product that likely no one's gonna use. According to the dog owners we interviewed, we found that seldom people used the cellphone while walking their dog(s). It is because they wanted to focus on the dog(s) and be cautious of emergency, and it was almost impossible to use the cellphone outside during winter. Moreover, walking their dog(s) wasn't that boring to them. Although this was a frustrating finding, the good news was that we found an opportunity in another field - dog training, which is very related to dog's behavioral issues. We conducted another 350+ customer discovery interviews in RIT accelerators. We found lots of dogs have behavioral issues and owners do know their dog(s) needs training, however, not every owner gets the chance to go to training classes. 

The main reason is that owners have demanding schedules. Furthermore, even some owners go to a class, the group setting of the class doesn’t fit into their personal needs and the dog's learning curve. Some owners even had used negative methods in training which may lead to severely behavioral and mental problems developing in the dog later. Eventually, some owners decided to tolerate the behavioral issues or even turned their dog(s) into a shelter. Our online research found that there are about 3 million dogs entering shelters every year in the U.S. Of those, about 700,000 are euthanized. The most common reason that owners abandoned their dog(s) is behavioral issues - about 47% of dogs in shelters were abandoned because of not behaving well. As a result, we envisioned an idea of making professional dog training resources accessible to every dog owner, and providing tailored plans to fit into their needs and dog's learning curve.

A picture of Sniffy pitching on an investor demo night
Sniffy pitching on an investor demo night

Product

To achieve this goal, we decided to build a professional dog training and management app, Sniffy, tailored to not only each individual dog but its owner as well. We collaborate with certified canine behaviorists and trainers with numerous years of experience to produce the training content. Dog owners can get customized training plans which are composed of a series of training modules. Each module contains a pre-made training video and instructions. Besides, Sniffy also sends notification to owners everyday to remind them to train their dog. If owners need extra help, they can consult our trainer through video calls.

Pic of Product Screens
Sniffy Beta Version Screenshots

We are making progress

We are currently working with 4 certified dog trainers, Stacy Fleming, Rebecca Rene, Rebecca Giannavola, and Eleonora Clemente, who helped us build the beta version of Sniffy. We conducted the beta test with 50 dog owners and 39 of them have paid for the future product

The most important thing we’ve learned from the testers is that owners can really learn how to train dogs by watching the training videos. The training videos were highly complimented by the testers for helping their dogs learn basic manners. About 84% of testers mentioned that they like using Sniffy because the training videos helped them train their dogs at their own pace. Moreover, about 60% testers had the experience of bringing their dogs to a group training class but found it wasn’t effective. It was because there were lots of distractions so they couldn’t learn very well in the class. After they went home, they forgot how the trainer did the training and they had no references. Sniffy perfectly solves this problem since owners can watch the training videos anytime, anywhere! Without promptly, almost all testers said that the reminder really helped them keep consistency in the daily practice. As a result, they can easily see their dogs’ progress and they are very satisfied with that. According to the feedback from our customers, we truly believe that Sniffy has the potential to shape more dogs into valued family members, make professional dog training resources more accessible, and save more dogs from being abandoned.

Next Step

Our next step is to officially launch Sniffy app in App Store and Google Play in January, 2021. We are now improving and redesigning the app based on feedback from beta testers and producing more training content for dog owners. 

Our ultimate goal is to provide a platform that integrates training, pet care services, healthcare, insurance and other pet industry segments all together in one streamlined service. At Sniffy, we believe if a system like this was to be in place, it could curb the issue of pet abandonment in North America and other areas. This vision is what keeps us and our partners striving to see Sniffy come into fruition.


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Overview