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I want to contribute to the happiness of all animals. What Kota Iwahashi, a biophile with an eye on IPO and global business, aims for


“I want to eliminate animals from becoming unhappy.”

There is a person who has continued to use the feelings he had as a child as his driving force and launched a fresh pet food business that boasts the industry's top track record. biophilia The representative is Kota Iwahashi.

Biophilia has disrupted the pet food market, where until now there were only dry and wet foods for animals, and has developed and provided fresh pet food that is of a quality that humans can also eat. Coco Gourmet, a frozen food for dogs, and Miao Gourmet, a frozen food for cats, which are made with additive-free and fresh domestic ingredients, are supported by many users and are said to be enjoyed by their dogs and cats. ing.

How did Biophilia's fresh pet food business come about? We conducted an interview with Mr. Iwahashi, where he talked about his experiences with pets and his feelings toward animals.

Commercialization of "handmade food" that can extend the lifespan of pets by 3 years

Please tell us again about Biophilia's business.

Our company is a startup that develops and provides fresh pet food that is of a quality that humans can also eat. There are currently two types available: ``Coco Gourmet'' for dogs and ``Myao Gourmet'' for cats. By using fresh domestic ingredients and preparing additive-free food at our food factory, just as we do when preparing human meals, we deliver safe and delicious food to our customers' dogs and cats. Up until now, pet food has been mainly dry food or wet food. We, Biophilia, are providing a completely new third option to this market, ``handmade food.''

Credit: Biophilia Co., Ltd.

What are the benefits of feeding homemade food to pets?

This has an impact on maintaining your pet's health and extending its lifespan. According to some statistics, dogs who ate homemade food lived about three years longer than those who ate conventional pet food. You may think it's only 3 years, but these 3 years are a huge amount of time for both owners and pets. For example, 3 years for a dog is equivalent to about 10 years for a human. This has a very important effect on the lifespan of your pet.

Please tell us about your competitive advantage.

We believe that the competitive advantage of our products lies in their high quality and track record. For example, Coco Gourmet, a homemade food for dogs, has a 95% completion rate and is well-received for its filling texture. It also contains 60 to 70% more meat than other companies' products. We deliver the food that dogs and cats really need at the best price. We are proud that this quality is what sets us apart from our competitors.

I believe that it is because these points are appreciated by our customers that we have been able to sell over 100 million meals in total and have over 200,000 member pet dogs, which is among the top in the industry.

It is said that ``Coco Gourmet'' and ``Miao Gourmet'' are manufactured at a factory that makes food for humans, not at a pet food factory, but it was difficult to find a factory that would undertake the production. I think so.

As you said, finding a food factory to manufacture our products was a very arduous task. We started looking for a factory from scratch using the internet, and contacted about 40 to 50 companies in total, but most of the factories were reluctant to produce food for pets and were turned down. . Even if we manage to find a factory that is willing to consider the matter, we may end up giving up on the request due to unsuitable conditions such as equipment or manufacturing flow. The first food factory that we contracted to manufacture our products was finally found after a long process of asking various factories.

Will you be opening your own factory in the future?

I agree. I would like to open my own factory someday. If we pursue our mission of ``creating products that are better for pets,'' we would like to have our own factory and thoroughly pursue improvements in product quality.

Develop through D2C and utilize customers' "real voices" in products

Is the sales channel through retail stores such as home centers?

No, our company operates a D2C business, so we mainly sell our products through our own mail order. As for our business model, we have an integrated supply chain from manufacturing to marketing, sales, and customer success, and we are unique in that we are able to implement in-house detailed ideas and responses that are difficult to achieve by other companies. Another feature is that user data and feedback can be immediately utilized for product development and improvement.

How did you use customer feedback to develop and improve your products?

For example, we have a track record of making improvements to the size of ingredients and cooking methods based on customer feedback. In the past, Coco Gourmet served rice that looked like it was made in roughly 1cm blocks so that customers could experience the goodness of handmade rice. However, customers have complained that its size makes it difficult for small dogs like teacup poodles to eat it. Therefore, we made improvements to make the grains smaller and easier for small dogs to eat.

We also use carrots as an ingredient in our rice, but because we have received many complaints from customers that carrots are difficult to digest, we have cut the carrots into smaller sizes and increased the cooking time. We have started implementing small measures such as

Including these improvements, Coco Gourmet has undergone eight renewals over the past four years. Product renewal is a very difficult task, but our mission is to deliver the best products to our customers. As a result, we are able to work together to improve our products, which in turn leads to customer satisfaction, creating a virtuous cycle.

When developing and improving products, do you provide opportunities for actual dogs and cats to eat them?

I agree. After all, what we feel when we eat is different from what dogs and cats feel when they eat, so we think it's important to let our dogs actually eat the food. At our company, employees are allowed to bring their beloved dogs and cats to work, and some of these dogs are called tasting managers.

We also place great importance on creating products together with our customers, and we listen to the opinions of our approximately 500 customers, which we call the Coco Gourmet Food Development Department, and we study every day to deliver even better fresh food. are layered.

When he was in middle school, a tragic incident led him to wish for the happiness of animals.

From here, please tell us about Mr. Iwahashi's career up to the founding of the company. First of all, have pets always been something close to Mr. Iwasaki?

It was a familiar presence. I started living with animals when I was in the first grade of elementary school, and my first pet was a hamster. That child is so cute. I lived with a total of about 10 hamsters over the course of 2-3 years.

Don't you have a dog or cat?

No, we lived together. I still live with a cat at my parents' house, and we welcomed a miniature dachshund named Liv when I was in the 6th grade of elementary school, and ``Pino'' when I was in the 2nd grade of junior high school, and we started living together. Both of them have passed away, but they were very important to me.

Could it be that your current business was born because of your beloved dog?

I agree. Along with the presence of Liv and Pino, two major experiences have influenced me.

The first is the Fukuoka Prefecture cat abuse case. In 2002, when I was in junior high school, a man was arrested for abusing a kitten and broadcasting the incident live on an anonymous bulletin board on the Internet. When I learned about this incident from my parents, I was really shocked. I still remember the day I found out about the incident, crying all day and feeling pain, thinking how could such a cute and innocent being be abused in such an inhumane way. As a result of this incident, my values in life changed drastically. In the future, I will absolutely eliminate any animals that have to suffer misfortune. I began to have such strong feelings in my heart.

The second trigger was experiencing the death of my beloved dog. Liv and Pino, who I had loved for a long time, died of illness one after another after I started my business. Immediately after the two dogs passed away, I started to blame myself, thinking that maybe I had raised them poorly, and that I could have spent more of the money I had saved up to start a business on them. It's gone. That's when it hit me. The cause of pet loss may not be the death of a beloved family member itself, but rather the owner's regret over not being able to do anything for the pet that is part of their family. When I realized this, the idea for a fresh pet food business was born. Believing that this realization was surely the final gift that Liv and Pino gave me, I poured my energy into creating a world where pets and humans can live happily as long as possible.

You mentioned that by the time you were in junior high school, you had decided that your future would be something related to animals, but at that time were you already thinking about starting your own business?

No, I wasn't thinking about starting my own company, and at the time I was thinking that maybe I could somehow change the way society works through politics, volunteer work, etc. I didn't have a connection between my love for animals and my future career path, such as work or employment. While studying economics at university with these thoughts in mind, I realized that we could use the economic system to solve social issues. So, I decided to eventually create a business in the pet field and use the power of economics to change the way the world works.

Experienced IPO support work at a securities company where I joined as a new graduate.

What career did you pursue after graduating from university?

After graduating from university, I joined SMBC Nikko Securities as a new graduate. Although I was interested in starting a business in college, I didn't start one right away because I was aware that I didn't have the strength or experience to start a business as a fresh graduate. I was thinking of going into the workforce first, gaining experience at a company, and then starting my own business. For that reason, I chose the financial industry as my career, as it allows me to grow significantly and be involved in the movement of money, which is essential for business. Among many other companies, I decided to join SMBC Nikko Securities, which I had a good relationship with.

What kind of work do you do at SMBC Nikko Securities?

I was very fortunate to be involved in preparing and supporting unlisted companies to go public. I joined the company as a general employee in the retail department, but wanted to work at the head office because I wanted to gain experience as quickly as possible. It is not so easy to receive an offer to work at the head office as a general employee. Therefore, before and after joining the company, I aimed to get a job at the head office by demonstrating how useful I was by getting perfect scores on the various qualification exams that I was recommended to take.

As a result, I was successfully assigned to the headquarters. It was decided that I would be assigned to a department that supports IPOs, and I was able to gain a variety of experience.

Is there anything you have learned from your experience in IPO support that you can apply to your current business?

There are two main reasons, but the first is that I was able to understand the structure of the company through the work content. In order to realize an IPO, a company must pass an examination by the TSE. The TSE strictly examines the continuity and governance of companies that wish to IPO, so by supporting the preparations, I was able to learn how to establish a company and how to create a system. . Currently, it is helping me a lot in running my own company.

Second, I was able to witness startup entrepreneurs aiming to solve social issues. When I saw my predecessors pouring extraordinary energy into solving social issues, my mindset changed drastically. In particular, the presentation by Mr. Izumo, CEO of Euglena, that I saw in the winter of my first year at the company was really motivating. Mr. Izumo's overwhelming determination to use Euglena to solve the world's poverty, malnutrition, and energy problems made me want to do something like this myself. This was a great opportunity for me to make concrete preparations for starting my own business.

How many years later did you start your business?

This was about four and a half years after that event. I was actually planning to start my own business within 3 years of joining the company, so I cut back on all expenses and steadily saved up 9 million yen. However, when it came time to start a company, I found myself holding back and thinking, ``Is it really okay for me to be so incompetent?'' As a result, we got off to a slower start than expected.

What made you take the plunge and start your own business from a stumbling block?

A senior colleague at my company introduced me to the company, and I was able to talk to someone who had started a business with a similar background to me, which was a great opportunity for me. When I asked the person about their doubts and concerns about starting a business, I answered, ``It's absolutely fine. Even if the startup fails, it will be a positive thing for Mr. Iwahashi,'' and ``Even if it doesn't go well, I can still find a decent job in Japan.'' He encouraged me by saying, ``I can live. I won't die.'' Finally, I was able to start my own business.

After four failures, we arrived at our current fresh pet food business.

After starting your business, were you involved in the current fresh pet food business from the beginning?

No, at first I was running another business. In order to reduce the amount of animals killed, we launched a platform that directly connects breeders who value the lives of dogs and cats with owners who want to adopt their animals as family members. At that time, we envisioned using this business as a platform company to change the entire industry from within. For example, if the puppies of rescue dogs and cats are also posted on the site, it will be possible for owners to adopt rescue dogs and cats without having to be conscious of the distinction between rescue dogs and cats. , I thought that as a result, we would be able to reduce the number of deaths and save many lives. However, this business is not growing very well. I realized the difficulty of running a business.

How do you analyze the reasons why your business did not succeed?

I think the biggest reason is that there were leading companies and that we were not able to properly assess the size of the market. I think if we had continued for 10 years, we could have grown into a business that would have taken the top spot in the industry, but even if it took that much time, the scale of the business would have had such an impact that it could change society significantly. I thought it wouldn't happen. I wanted to fundamentally change the social structure surrounding animals, but I was afraid that it would only result in partial improvements. Therefore, we gave up on this business three months after it started and pivoted to the next project. Afterwards, based on the belief that we needed to create a big business in order to change society, we worked on about four businesses, including an album app where you can save photos of family pets and a community business, before arriving at our current business. .

What was the difference between the business that never took off and the fresh pet food business?

it's difficult. There are many points to consider, but I feel that the most important factor is whether you have chosen a market that will be viable as a business. When creating a business, it is important to pursue the ideals of an entrepreneur, but it is meaningless if the business is not established. Start-ups live in a world where you rely on a 1% chance, so in order to increase your chances of success even a little, I think it's better to develop your business where there is a market. Businesses that are directly connected to creating the ideal world but are difficult to monetize should be taken on after the company has grown.

With IPO and global in mind. I want to realize an ideal society by expanding my business.

Please tell us about the future prospects for Biophilia.

Currently, I am working on a business centered on the "1:1" love between owners and their dogs and cats, and I receive gratitude from many customers every day, which is very rewarding, but I am not satisfied with just this. We hope to eventually contribute to the happiness of all animals through our business. We are currently working on the Wani Nyaru Project, which supports rescued dogs and cats by donating Coco Gourmet and Myao Gourmet foods that are no longer available for sale even though they are still edible. . The bigger your fresh pet food business, the more money you can put into this project. Eventually, I will go public and increase my own assets, and by making donations like SoftBank Group's Son and Microsoft's Bill Gates, I will create a society where all animals can live happily, both as a company and as an individual. I want to go.

Are you considering an IPO at some point?

I agree. I believe that in order to change the world, companies need to grow. There are no borders in the world of animals, so we want Coco Gourmet to become the most loved brand in the world, so we are not only looking at an IPO but also expanding globally.

As I listened to his story so far, I was impressed by his courage to carry on the pure feelings he had as a child until he became an adult, and to turn them into a business. I don't think there are many people like Mr. Iwahashi.

thank you. I really love animals. They have a beauty that humans don't have. There is no other being so innocent and pure. I truly believe that there should be no world where such animals suffer misfortune at the hands of humans. Even if I have a child of my own, this feeling will never go away. I think I will continue to live with animals.

Why we created an office where you can work with pets

I heard that your company allows employees to come to the office with their pets, or to work remotely if their pets are not feeling well.

That's right. Starting around fall 2020, we have put in place a system that allows employees to bring their dogs and cats to work. Depending on the day of the week, we allow dogs and cats to come to work on different days.

I think the system of working with pets is quite rare in Japan. Is there anything you were conscious of when setting up the system?

While creating a space where animals and humans can spend time together, we place importance on maintaining our growth potential as a company. Our mission is to "eliminate the barrier between animals and humans." We hope that our efforts will send a message to society and help create an ideal world. To that end, we also carefully designed the design not only in terms of cleanliness, but also in practical aspects, such as setting rules to prevent problems from occurring. This office is a symbol of our feelings.

Please tell us about the characteristics of the people who are active in your company and the people you would like to see join in the future.

Our company employs two types of people: those who have a strong passion for animals and sympathize with the company's vision, and those who are willing to take on the challenge of expanding the business. People with the former color will interact with customers based on empathy, and if it is for the benefit of animals, they will spare no effort and time to create a good product, which will greatly contribute to the business. My impression is that many people do. On the other hand, people with the latter characteristics tend to be idealistic and proactive, so we would like someone who can demonstrate their abilities by taking into account the current situation and creating a system to develop the business. I think there are many. Our company's feature is that the two colors blend together in a well-balanced manner.

In the future, we would like to invite people who want to take on the challenge of new fields while leveraging their own expertise to come. In the future, our company plans to focus not only on mail-order sales but also on retail business as a new pillar, and will also work on overseas business. I would be happy if I could meet someone who is willing to take on such a new challenge.

Could you give a message to startups in the pre-seed to seed stage?

When you are running a startup, you are likely to experience some tough times. When it comes to the policies we advocate, we may sometimes hear heartless comments such as, ``That can't last'' or ``There's no way it'll come true.''

However, I believe that the person who best understands the market for the services you are working on is the entrepreneur himself/herself. If you are confident and truly believe that this service will work, I would like you to believe in the service and market that you are currently focusing on and do your best. I believe that if you continue to face challenges while suffering, the time will definitely come when you will blossom.

Finally, do you have a message for our readers?

Startups are organizations that often encounter extremely difficult situations. Therefore, immediately after changing jobs to a startup, you may often feel some hardship. At times like these, I would like you to value the purpose of joining a startup and your own thoughts.

I myself have been able to continue and expand my business to this day because I have a strong passion for animals. I believe that this world will become a better place if each and every person's thoughts come together.

I think many people come to work at a startup with a sense of the challenges they feel and an ideal world in mind, and I want them to keep those thoughts in mind and do their best. I hope you will continue to burn the flame of your desire to make the world a better place through your work and cherish it.