According to a survey by Nielsen, over 95% of those who participated indicated they consider their pets to be part of the family. It’s understandable with that statistic why the pet industry is valued at $123.6 billion. However, for some pets, it comes at a price. Obesity concerns expand beyond humans into the animal kingdom. As the nation pampers its pets, it’s alarming how many animals are overweight, specifically canine companions. According to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 54% of U.S. dogs are overweight. Additionally, the American Pet Products Association’s National Pet Owners Survey reported that pet owners spend over three times more on routine and surgical vet visits than they do on food. As healthier dog food options become available, pet owners should see a decrease in veterinarian visits and costs.
Katie Spies, founder of Maev, launched the first human-grade raw dog food brand. It is leading the charge on prioritizing wellness for pets with its bone broth, vitamin bars and human-grade raw food formulated to address the specific nutritional gaps in a dog’s diet. At the end of last year, Spies and her team announced they raised $9 million in a round of funding led by Springdale Ventures. In addition, the company previously raised undisclosed rounds backed by VMG Partners, Bolt and Willow Growth.
“With raw in general, you see health benefits within 30 days,” Spies explains. “Those benefits continue over time. Initially, after switching to raw, you’ll notice energy balance. You’ll notice weight maintenance improvement. Over time, you’ll see decreased dehydration because it’s so high in moisture content, and you’ll see a change in their bowel movements and shinier coats. One of the most noticeable health benefits is cleaner teeth and fresher breath. Dental health is a huge issue in dogs in the U.S., and a lot of dental health issues are directly linked with carbohydrates and fillers in processed foods.”
Spies began her career working as a product manager for a tech company. During this time, her dog, George, developed some health issues. She turned to the dog community she cultivated and found that what George was experiencing could be related to his dog food. So she started making her own dog food that contained higher nutrients. Mindful of the ingredients she used, Spies researched as much as possible, which pivoted her career in a direction she never anticipated.
She realized she wanted to spend more time with people and dogs within her community. Spies quit her job and began walking dogs. Within two months, she immersed herself in studying dog nutrition, learning about the shortcoming of products on the aisle and how many dogs actually suffered because of the lack of nutrients. Over the course of a year, she worked with veterinary nutritionists to make her own food.
“At the time, I wish I knew that I wanted to start a business,” she states. “It would have been a way more linear path. I knew I needed to do something different and needed to reconnect with myself. The thing I felt the most need to do was to get outside and hang out with like-minded people. After I got my dog, so much of my life revolved around pet things or things that are more accessible if you bring your dog… When I wanted to leave my job and figure out what was next for me, that felt like the path of least resistance and the most fulfilling way to spend my time; outside and meet more of those people [from the dog community].”
Initially, she made the food strictly for her dog. Gradually, her clients noticed a difference and asked her to supply them with what she fed George. However, it was still a side project, not something she thought she could turn into an entire business. It wasn’t until she conducted market research that she understood pet owners’ needs.
After three years, Spies launched Maev. She spent those initial years researching and designing, ensuring the product met the American Pet Products Association’s requirements while being entirely human-grade USDA-certified meats. The company launched in March 2020 at the start of Covid.
“For a long period of time, we were a tiny team,” Spies comments. “That time I spent as a dog walker was surprisingly helpful because you are a team of one. You have to be scrappy and gritty to get where you need to be on time. And as a dog walker, you serve every function. You’re sales, customer support, operations and logistics. At first, that was really nice. You talk to your customers every day. You talk to your vendors every day. It’s really fulfilling and exhausting. And you need help, or else you become the bottleneck.”
Maev is currently developing a puppy-specific formula. It also has partnered with various organizations such as rescue groups to ensure that the dogs receive adequate nutrition for recovery or continued growth.
As Spies continues to evolve in her career, she focuses on the following essential steps:
- Understand what motivates you the most and the why behind your work role in life. This clarity will help you focus on moving towards accomplishing your goals.
- Surround yourself with people who make you smile. Onboard team members that create an uplifting work environment.
- Think about the next few years ahead of you and devise a plan that will get you there; it’s not about the next role. It’s about the following two roles.
“We have strong leaders internally, with expertise in areas that I don’t have,” Spies concludes. “That’s really incredible and inspiring on the day-to-day. In the early days, it was all hands on deck. Everyone’s a generalist, and everyone wears multiple hats. So my leadership style has had to shift to manage and lead those two different types of people. Today, I get the benefit of having more leaders around the table.”