Anyone who has ever owned a pet knows it can be an involved and sometimes overwhelming experience, and managing their needs is more complicated than simply filling a food dish. And like other complicated aspects of life, there’s a market for making caring for your pet simpler.
I recently spoke to Karan Dalal and Arnuv Tandon, the cofounders of PetCode, a Bay Area company aiming to make the experience of caring for your furry companion easier with virtual pet profiles. As high school students that crowdfunded their idea, it’s an interesting perspective on bringing your idea and passion to life.
Mary Juetten: When did you start?
Karan Dalal: I started PetCode in May 2020 with my cofounder Arnuv Tandon. Our high school was making the abrupt transition to online “Zoom” school, and we found ourselves with an unprecedented amount of free time. Rather than binge the latest shows on Netflix, we wanted to do something more productive – to channel our passion into a project.
After dozens of iterations we landed on the idea of PetCode – a QR tag linking to a virtual pet profile that would replace archaic, standard metal engraved tags. Over the course of the next few months, we pivoted the idea from a sole QR Tag to a pet management system – consisting of a QR Tag and mobile app. We felt that this idea was unique, robust, and appealing to consumers.
Juetten: What problem are you solving?
Arnuv Tandon: Pet management is difficult! Karan and I had the shared experience of frustration and stress of taking care of our dogs after adopting them. Quickly, we realized that the overwhelming nature of pet management is an unsolved problem for millions of pet owners globally.
Our product combines a pet QR Tag and mobile app to help users manage the core aspects of their pups’ lives: safety, health, activities, and social wellbeing. With PetCode, owners can ensure their pet’s safety, store and access medical records, discover nearby pet parks, and enjoy an ever-growing suite of features. We take the “paperwork” out of the process and allow owners to focus on the best parts of being an owner.
Juetten: Who are your customers and how do you find them?
Dalal: Our customers are first and foremost pet owners! More specifically, a majority are first-time pup parents looking to ease their pet management experience.
To find customers, we either leverage our networks—sharing PetCode with all the pet owners in our community—or use social media platforms like TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook to promote our product and build a brand identity. We’ve found these strategies to be low-cost, high-impact methods of reaching potential customers.
Juetten: How did past projects help with this new project?
Tandon: PetCode would not have been possible without the key experiences Karan and I had prior to founding the company.
We have been members of both our school’s Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) chapter and robotics club since 9th grade (this is where we met!). Through FBLA, we learned the fundamentals of startups while also improving our communication, public speaking, and writing skills. Experience in robotics allowed us to take the theoretical skills that school taught us and apply them to a practical situation.
These experiences fostered our passion for programming, product development, and entrepreneurship – allowing us to successfully run PetCode.
Juetten: Who is on your team?
Dalal: PetCode is an all-high school team. We have nine team members under the age of 18 from across North America. Apart from being incredibly talented in their respective areas of expertise, our team is full of pet lovers, all of whom are dedicated to our mission of making pet ownership easier.
Juetten: Why did you decide to use crowdfunding?
Tandon: “If you’re solving a problem no one has, you’re not solving a problem.”
In the early days of PetCode, while reading up on how to run a successful startup, this piece of advice was ubiquitous in every article, book, and podcast we consumed. Thus, we made it a top priority to ensure that we had an excellent product-market fit.
Crowdfunding seemed like an excellent way to do this. We would be able to raise funds for our idea while also gauging the market’s interest in our product—a true win-win situation. Our crowdfunding campaign confirmed that people wanted PetCode and were excited about the product. We were able to raise over $10,000 in just 30 days!
Juetten: What are some tips you have for those looking to crowdfund?
- Run a pre-campaign. Once you launch your crowdfunding campaign, there are a limited number of days to hit your goal – it’s all or nothing. Moreover, backers are less likely to support a project that has low chances of hitting its goal. My top tip for crowdfunding is to ensure you run a successful pre-campaign and develop an engaged product fan-base before you hit the launch button.
- Use your network. An easy and often underrated way to grow your pre-campaign is to reach deep into your network. In the months leading up to our Kickstarter campaign, Arnuv and I pitched the idea of PetCode to connections, friends, and family, encouraging them to back the campaign and spread the word. This allowed us to form a list of guaranteed backers while also reaching second or third connections we may not have been able to pitch to. At times it was daunting, but we always found that people responded positively and offered their support in one form or another. Don’t be afraid to reach out to people you haven’t talked to in a while; each and every interaction matters.
- Be Prepared. As soon as you hit the launch button, all of your time needs to go into promotion. There should be zero time wasted creating ads during your campaign – everything should be ready to go. By being prepared, you enable yourself to tackle any challenges that come your way while avoiding the issue of spreading yourself too thin over all the various elements of your campaign.
Juetten: Startups are an adventure — what’s your favorite startup story?
Tandon: My favorite startup story is Doordash. The company started quite small. A group of Stanford students talked to one business owner and noticed that she had issues with taking and fulfilling deliveries. Interested by a potential problem they could solve, the students began interviewing more business owners in their community and found that this was a common pain point shared by restaurants. From there, it was a matter of creating a prototype, testing in the local community, seeking funding, and scaling.
I love this story because of its simplicity. It’s a great reminder that most of the large companies today started small, and made calculated, quality progress over time. As a leader in an early-stage startup, the story serves as a great inspiration.
Juetten: How do you measure success and what is your favorite success story?
Dalal: As mentioned previously, we make timelines and organization a high priority within the company. We always have a roadmap with short-term and long-term goals, and measure success by our ability to consistently meet these goals. On a less quantitative note, we also measure success by the little things that make business ownership fulfilling – seeing your website at the top of Google for the first time, hearing someone rave about your product, or seeing your company make a tangible impact are also metrics through which we gauge success.
My favorite success story is Tesla. Since its inception, Tesla’s mission has been to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy. The company knew it was going to be an uphill battle but it has survived challenges to become one of the top 10 most valuable companies by market cap.
Juetten: Any tips to add for early-stage founders in growth mode?
- Establish your “North Star”. Running a business without a plan is like sailing on a starless night: without a North Star—an overarching objective—you’re lost. It’s crucial to map out your company’s short-term and long-term goals while being prepared to make minor course-corrections along the way. Having a plan allows you to anticipate potential problems and successes and come up with a realistic picture of the future.
- Hire Awesome People. When you’re a business as small as PetCode, you are defined by the skill of your team – they’re your most valuable asset. We went through hundreds of interviews before selecting our seven team members, and we’re glad we took the effort to find them. Hiring is a short-term process, but the team behind a product is long-term. Make sure you are rigorous and thorough when recruiting members of your team.
- Be Professional. As an early-stage founder, you’re the face of the company. Thus, it’s highly important to put your best foot forward – demonstrating your poise, confidence, and organization to prospective mentors and investors. Your objective is to minimize the risk others see with getting involved in your company–being professional helps.
Juetten: What’s the long-term vision for your company?
Dalal: Right now, we are focusing on fulfilling our crowdfunding promises and gearing up to begin selling through our website. From there, we plan to introduce even more features to PetCode–including AI-based reminders on our mobile-app and a companion web portal.
In the future, we want to expand the suite of PetCode products by incorporating our QR technology into pet collars and crate tags. We also want to further our mission of “making pet ownership for all” by partnering with animal shelters and foster programs to encourage pet adoption.
Finally, we hope that our story continues to inspire other young entrepreneurs. There’s often a stigma around high school students starting a company, but if someone is passionate about an idea, I truly believe that—regardless of age—they can put in the work to make it a reality. If you’re passionate about something, don’t let anything be a limiting factor—focus on putting in time and energy and you will find success.
Given the lengths we go to for our pets, PetCode is indeed meeting a need. Again, a set of impressive young entrepreneurs who already have wisdom to share. #onwards.