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Aiming for a world where pets can be loved as family members. Mr. Taisuke Okubo of PETOKOTO, challenging difficult business development and market transformation

In recent years, the pet-related market has expanded in Japan. According to the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry's website, it has become clear that the amount of time spent interacting with pets and the number of people who keep pets have increased due to the corona crisis, and household spending on pets has increased significantly.

While more and more people are adopting pets as part of their "family" and spending money on pet supplies and pet clinics, there are still many challenges associated with pets. Various problems remain, such as the culling of unsold animals and abandoned dogs and cats, pet medical care that owners must pay for in full, and the increasing number of end-of-life care issues as the number of pets living longer lives increases. .

In such a pet market, the owners themselves deeply love pets and are serious about solving the problems in the market. PETOKOTOThe representative is Mr. Taisuke Okubo. PETOKOTO's mission is to "create a world where pets can be loved as family members." This time, we interviewed Mr. Okubo about the history of the company's founding, his thoughts on the business, and his career so far.

Starting a business in the pet market after many years of hating dogs and cats

Could you tell us about the business of PETOKOTO again?

With the mission of "Towards a world where pets can be loved as part of the family", we provide preservative-free fresh pet food, "PETOKOTO MEDIA", an information media that will help pets throughout their lives, and a screening system that connects rescued dogs and cats with their future owners. We operate the matching site "OMUSUBI".

I heard that Mr. Okubo, the representative, was originally not good at dogs and cats.

That's right. Actually, I was not good at dogs and cats until 3 years ago when I started my business. My parents' house is in the countryside of Kyoto, so when I was in elementary school, I would catch crabs in the nearby river, and I should have had no resistance to living things.

When I was in the first grade of elementary school, I asked my parents if I wanted to get a dog because I wanted to adopt a puppy that was born in the house of a girl in my class. However, as parents, there were three sons, so it must have been difficult in various ways. I was never allowed to have a dog. After that, I was estranged from pets such as dogs and cats.

Currently, I live with my wife and my dog, Cork, who I met at a rescue dog and cat transfer event right after the establishment, so I have overcome my pet phobia. Rather, I'm worried about the feeling of loss when the cork dies.

I was wondering if there was a dog in the background of starting the business, but it was right after the founding that I met Cork-kun. So why did Mr. Okubo, who hated dogs and cats, start a business in the pet market?

About 10 years ago, my girlfriend's house had a toy poodle as a pet. While interacting with the child, I found out that I "hated without touching" dogs and cats. As we lived together and took care of them, I gradually became more concerned about the challenges of the pet industry.

Many animal hospitals still accept cash only, and hospital reservations are analog. Even with the same dog, there are large differences in the characteristics of each dog breed, and there were many problems, such as the difficulty in obtaining accurate information about the type of pet I had. In addition, the culling of abandoned pets and unsold animals at pet shops was also a problem.

At the time, I was working for GREE, Inc., which was using the power of the Internet to transform various areas of society. .

The pet market seems to have its own unique difficulties. Did you have any hesitation in starting a business in such a field?

When I started my business, I thought that the only themes I could seriously work on were "pets" or "soccer", so I had no hesitation in starting a business in the pet market. However, as you say, the pet market is a very difficult market. Since the diseases and needs that pets are susceptible to differ depending on the type and breed of pets, the market itself is highly fragmented. Because of the difficulty, investors once asked me if I was prepared to stick with it for 10 years. If you're an entrepreneur who values business success, I don't think you'll choose this market.

Within such a market, PETOKOTO is currently expanding. What do you think is the reason?

Perhaps it's because we love pets so deeply, and because we've made up our minds to create a world where people can love pets as part of their family, which is our mission. think. The five years leading up to today have not been a smooth road. There were various difficulties, such as launching a pet version of the family SNS and closing it, and the balance of the bank account became 10 yen, but I managed to endure each time and continued PETOKOTO.

Until now, there are really few players who have changed the pet industry significantly. Even if major companies enter the market, it often fails and they withdraw, so business sense alone is not enough to win in this market. I think.

I see. On the other hand, I think that the pet market is greatly affected by the economic situation of the country, but what is the actual situation?

As you say, economic growth has a lot to do with the pet market. As the economy grows, the middle class grows, more people keep pets, and the market expands. Markets in China and Southeast Asia are expanding in exactly this pattern.

On the other hand, when "pets become family members" progresses, we will see different market movements. The number of animals raised has plateaued, and the amount spent on each animal/head increases, leading to an expansion of the market scale. This is exactly the pattern in America right now, and in Japan, where the birthrate is declining and the population is aging, more and more people are adopting pets as part of their family, and annual spending is on the rise.

Make your life with pets better. What is PETOKOTO's business?

Please tell us a little more about the business of PETOKOTO. We currently offer three services.

I agree. Each business pursues our mission of “Towards a world where pets can be loved as part of the family.” is expanded to If there is an experience that makes us feel doubts while spending time with our pet as a "family", we often create a business by working backwards from the ideal form of that experience.

For example, "PETOKOTO MEDIA", where experts such as veterinarians and trimmers publish under their real names, started to deliver correct information because there were occasional curation media that anonymously posted incorrect information about pets. business. In addition, "OMUSUBI" was started because I wanted to establish a culture of welcoming pets from rescued dogs and cats, and to create a place to create a "family encounter for a lifetime" without causing a mismatch between pets and humans.

The third business, “PETOKOTO FOODS,” is a service that started in 2020. From the time of our founding, we had an image of starting a pet food business that would be easy to monetize. is. Until then, I had fed him dry food, but I felt that if I were a dog, I wouldn't want to eat that kind of inorganic food. Is it possible to create nutritious pet food that is safe for humans to eat? That thought led to the pet food business.

“PETOKOTO FOODS” (Credit: PETOKOTO Co., Ltd.)

I felt that "PETOKOTO FOODS" was designed with consideration given to food waste and other issues.

In developing "PETOKOTO FOODS," we were particular about two points. The first is the construction of a production line that can stably provide high-quality meals. Our pet food is made with fresh ingredients and no preservatives. We freeze food that is safe for humans to eat and deliver it to our customers. Therefore, production had to be done in a factory that handled frozen food for human consumption, not in a dry food factory. However, the number of factories that can handle frozen food for pets is really limited, and we are building a production system with one company that we finally found. The point of this service is that we have been able to stably produce pet food with the same quality as human food, and that is our commitment.

The second is the ingredients used. We do not use any ingredients that humans cannot eat, and only use meat and vegetables of the same quality as the ingredients we eat. We are also strongly conscious of contributing to Japanese agriculture through this business, such as using rice, which is not normally used for pet food, as an ingredient.

In the first place, while there is a strategy to concentrate on one business, why are you developing one business after another?

This is also related to future prospects, but our company wants to become a kind of infrastructure that stays close to pets throughout their lives. If we want to stay close to our pets throughout their lives, I think we need to be involved not only in the food and information services that we are currently working on, but also in other areas such as insurance, medical care, clothing, and housing. I want to create a situation where pets live in an economic zone. For that reason as well, pets have a very short average lifespan of 15 years, so I think we have to create a variety of services as quickly as possible.

I would like to create a cyclical business from adopting a pet to the end of life, and I would like to create a community-based business by creating mutual support relationships with pet owners and animal protection groups. We also hope to eventually expand into the Asian region.

Turned down a job offer from a major company and went to England to play soccer

I don't think there are many companies out there that take their pets so seriously. I would also like to hear about Mr. Okubo, who created PETOKOTO, about his career so far. Did you get a job at a general company after graduating from university?

No, actually, before graduating from university, I took a three-year leave of absence and went to England to play soccer for the London 8th division youth team. I was passionate about soccer since I was in elementary school, but I got injured and quit when I was in my first year of college. However, once I started looking for a job, I felt strongly that I wanted to play soccer again. At that time, I got a call from the British team. After completing my job search, I received job offers from major trading companies and advertising agencies, but I turned them all down and moved to the UK.

That's right. What is life like there?

While playing soccer in London, I helped promote UNIQLO UK, which I had received a job offer from before moving to the UK. When I told him about the situation to consult about my decision to decline the job offer, I was approached to work with a major advertising agency on a consignment basis, partly because it was just around the time when I was re-opening a store in London.

Including my work at UNIQLO, I met a truly diverse range of people there. Through that, I was able to look at Japan objectively again, and I think I was able to rediscover the strengths of Japan's values and the parts that we can be proud of to the world. As I mentioned earlier, we are also looking to expand into Asia as PETOKOTO.

What kind of career did you pursue after returning to Japan?

After returning to Japan, I graduated from university in 2012 and joined GREE Corporation as a new graduate. After being on the global recruiting marketing team for about a year and a half, I had the option of starting my own business at that time, so I worked in the accounting department for about a year and a half to learn accounting. After that, at the end of 2014, I submitted an idea to an internal open call for new businesses. I submitted several ideas, and based on one of them, the business idea of PETOKOTO, I was proceeding with the procedures for retirement and starting a business in early 2015.

Glee era when "entrepreneurship" became familiar. What is the path to the founding of PETOKOTO?

Please tell us why you chose GREE, Inc. as your place of employment after returning to Japan.

I first learned about GREE when the HR manager at UNIQLO UK changed jobs. That sparked my interest, and when I heard a lecture given by Mr. Tanaka, the CEO of GREE, in Japan, I was strongly attracted to his ambition to create Google from Japan. I felt that if I was going to join the company, "This is the only place", so I took the entrance exam and got a relationship.

You said earlier that you applied for an internal job posting, but did you originally have an entrepreneurial mindset?

No, I never intended to start a business. However, when I joined GREE, I found that some people started their own businesses and came back, while others joined mega-ventures in their early stages. I was When I thought, "I might be able to do it myself," I invited my friends to come up with ideas night after night, and applied for internal recruitment. I focused on producing as many ideas as possible, so while most people would normally submit one or two ideas, I submitted about 10 ideas.

One of them was the origin of PETOKOTO.

that's right. PETOKOTO's business idea was able to advance to the management interview, which was the final screening, but at that time, no one in the management team of GREE had a pet. I failed in the final judging because the significance of my idea and the market needs were not communicated well.

However, the executive who supported me at that time suggested that I should start my own business, and introduced me to CyberAgent Capital. When I went to the presentation, I was able to receive an investment offer even before I created the company, so I told my boss that I wanted to retire on the same day, and immediately started working towards starting my own business.

After you received the investment offer, you proceeded toward starting a business at a very high speed.

The business idea of PETOKOTO was something I really wanted to do, and starting a business became more familiar to me during my time at GREE, so it may have been the reason why I was able to move forward smoothly.

I see. And this year, seven years after its founding, in July it won the IVS2022 LAUNCHPAD NAHA, which is said to be the gateway to success for entrepreneurs. How was the reaction after that?

I myself am not good at pitch events, and I was debating whether to participate in this event until the application deadline, but with the support of our shareholders, I decided to participate. At "IVS2022 LAUNCHPAD NAHA", I think I was able to express what I wanted to say from the bottom of my heart on the pitch. By watching the video of the pitch, there were many positive influences such as funding being decided and recruitment being successful. Now, in order to have a deeper understanding of our company, we start by watching videos of our pitch events.

Rebranding verbalizes thoughts and ideals for 10 years ahead

The brand was renewed in March 2022. Could you tell us about the background and any difficulties you encountered?

I decided to rebrand because I felt that there was a problem with external communication. Although each of our services has gained fans, there were not many fans of PETOKOTO, a company that creates experiences with pets. For this reason, we have reworked the message and brand logo to be sent externally, including the mission of "creating a society in which people coexist with animals," which has been loved by the company for a long time. In rebranding, I thought it was necessary to involve a third party, so I decided to join GO inc.

I have had very few difficulties in rebranding. Basically, I had GO inc. brush up on what I had proposed, and put together missions, strategies, strengths, rules, and beliefs.

We were able to verbalize our thoughts and ideals for the next 10 years, so I think there were fewer mismatches in the hiring process. The fact that we were able to create a character that could run the company without me was a major achievement of our rebranding.

I see. I also saw the rules of PETOKOTO, but I was impressed by the item "Let's imagine outside the circle". It seems that there are few companies that do pet-related business that firmly keep in mind that "not all people like animals".

I think I was able to create the item "Let's imagine outside the circle" because there was a time when I was originally not good at dogs and cats.

The "rules", which consist of three items in all, are the action guidelines for our members. In "Let's deliver to short lives", we wanted to emphasize a sense of speed in order to provide good service and happiness to pets with a short average lifespan before they passed away. The item "Let's be a professional who loves pets" was created to confirm the attitude of delivering what we want to customers from the customer's point of view precisely because all members of our company have pets.

Last "Let's imagine outside the circle" is because we believe that consideration for people who are not good at pets is necessary in order to finally realize our goal of "a society that accepts pets as family members." made item.

For example, this spring, in collaboration with JR East, we launched Japan's first pet-only bullet train. At that time, in order to consider people who are not good with pets or who have allergies, Panasonic cooperated to verify cleaning and boarding operations. Efforts to create a good environment for all people are really important for the realization of the world we aim for.

Please tell us about the corporate culture of PETOKOTO.

I think there is an open culture based on the theory of good nature. In addition, our company has already been engaged in three businesses in the eighth year since our founding, and we would like to further develop our business in order to quickly deliver services to the short lives of pets. Not only do we have multiple businesses, but we also have zero-to-zero businesses and businesses in the expansion phase, making for an extremely chaotic environment. I feel that the members who work energetically and are active in our company are those who enjoy such a chaotic situation and have the power to overcome it themselves.

Could you give a message of support to startups from the pre-seed stage to the seed stage?

I founded PETOKOTO seven years ago, and I feel that it is finally starting to take off. I have overcome many difficult situations before coming here. I believe that the time will come for all of the startups, from the pre-seed stage to the seed stage, to blossom one day by persevering through any situation toward the world they really want to achieve. I hope that you will act according to your mission.

Finally, please give a word to our readers!

The pet industry is truly a legacy, devoid of players who have revolutionized the industry. I would love to work with people who want to take on new and big challenges in such a difficult but potentially hidden market. I myself am the type of manager who creates 1 from 0, but in the future it is necessary to raise 1 to 10 or 100, and I would like to actively hire people who can take on that role. If you think that I am the one, I would be happy if you could contact me once. I would like to continue working hard to realize a society where more people live with their pets as true family members and everyone can accept them.

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