Pet ownership has steadily increased through the years, with many people bringing pets into their families during the past three years. That, in turn, boosted the pet industry itself, with the market’s value increasing from $90 billion in 2018 to over $120 billion in 2021.
Of that, $50 billion was spent in the U.S. on food and treats. This opened up a space for startups to offer similar subscription box conveniences that people had for food and other products, with companies like Chewy and Barkbox being some of the biggest.
Many are direct-to-consumer, including pet care startup Bundle x Joy, but founder and CEO Jessica Berger told TechCrunch that she quickly realized that “a true DTC play was not how the consumer necessarily wants to engage.”
“They’re excited to get back into stores,” Berger said. “They’re excited to touch and feel and discover new products. Our brand is very disruptive on the shelf, and so we believe that retail is important in our discovery. DTC is going to be a much smaller portion than we expected while we use retail as more of the beginning of a funnel.”
Berger started Bundle x Joy in 2022 after spending the past 15 years in the pet industry, most notably at PetSmart and Nestlé, where she ran Castor & Pollux’s organic dog and cat food line.
The company provides premium superfood nutrition and curated product bundles of supplements and treats for dogs at a subscription rate of $2 per day. It also has a 3% give-back to help fund women in entrepreneurship and local communities.
A year later, Bundle x Joy is in more than 450 retail locations of Sprouts, Whole Foods and some specialty stores, and will double that footprint this summer, including in another major national retailer yet to be announced. It is also available direct-to-consumer through its website and Amazon.com.
The company also has $1 million in new seed funding, which closed this week. Leap Venture Studio led the round and was joined by a group that included Mars Petcare Companion Fund, R/GA Ventures, Michelson Found Animals Foundation and Cloyes Ventures.
“I’m a first-generation Latina, and we’re really trying to bring more diversity into this space,” Berger said. “A lot of founders struggle with getting into retailers, but we tell them that we bring a lot of innovation and a new customer into your pet set. We’ll also provide a lot of value outside of the store.”
For example, the company took to TikTok with a set of interviews from Sprouts customers. “We align with them and use our customer base and our digital to drive, and it has been very successful,” Berger added.
From a nutrition perspective, Bundle x Joy curates its boxes from 15 products and a proprietary “Pup Quiz” for customers to assess what products to offer and the personality of their dog. In fact, the company assigns fun personalities to each pet, including “Golden,” “Vibrant” and “Brave.”
In addition, the quiz enables the company to output the right bundle for the pet, including formulation, size and frequency of food and supplements, based on the specific needs of the pet.
“If your pet is ‘Golden,’ throughout your experience on the website, it’ll say #goldenaf, so it’s just a more fun way of focusing less on the chore of pet food and more on the joy that comes with engaging with our pets. I really thought that was missing,” Berger told TechCrunch.
Meanwhile, Berger started raising the seed round in October 2021 and just closed it this week — yes, a long time, she noted. Berger explained that Bundle x Joy was a finalist to get into a venture studio, so she knew if she had an open round during that time, investors would come in on Berger’s terms.
Well, she didn’t get into that particular cohort, but it did provide an opportunity for some flexibility to go out and raise funds as needed versus the entire $1 million all at once. Berger recalls talking to hundreds of investors over that year-and-a-half, and while many liked what she was doing, many told her to call them when she was selling $1 million a month.
Instead, Berger went the friends-and-family route with her father as her first investor.
“I think he knew that if he invested first, it would make me really fight to make it work,” she said. “I could see that investors weren’t necessarily willing to bet on me that early, but fast-forward five months, and they are coming to me. We’ve also been very lucky: I have no debt, which is something that was really important to me.”
In addition to expanding into new stores, Bundle x Joy intends on using the proceeds from the raise to expand its team: Berger said the company brought on a full-time marketing director, which is a new focus for the company. It will also increase its inventory and product development.