Jackson and his girlfriend have always had a love for cats. While traveling through South America, they noticed how street cats were treated poorly and decided to create a business that would help homeless cats. This is definitely not your common high tech startup’s story. However, as seen other times, these startups are the ones that find the best way to be successful in the long-term.
Jackson has always been an entrepreneur, although he had a few stops working in a “real job” to make sure he could sustain the different ideas he was working on. He has proved through the years to be a relentless entrepreneur with a can-do attitude that led to his latest venture, Tuft & Paw.
In this exclusive interview with MyStartupLand, we walk through his experience as a startup founder, his successes as well as key learnings for himself as well as other fellow entrepreneurs around the globe.
1. Hi Jackson, thanks for having this interview with us today. Let’s start with something easy to get everyone on the same page. What’s the elevator pitch Tuft + Paw?
We make modern cat furniture that both cats and humans will love. We’re rethinking the way cat furniture has been made for the last 100 years and working with amazing designers, engineers, and cat behaviorists to create beautiful new products.
2. Tuft + Paw covers an interesting area that is not so common for startups nowadays, how did you come up with this idea?
In 2015 we were on a trip to South America and we saw some homeless cats being treated so poorly. As cat owners, we were determined to create a business that could give back to the homeless cat community. A few months later, when we adopted our own cat – we noticed how hard it was to find nice cat products, and the business was born!
3. OK, this is for Tuft & Paw, but what inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
For me, being an entrepreneur is an easy choice compared to working for someone else. The fear of needing to get a steady job and find a career drives me to do whatever I need to in order to succeed with my own business.
4. Indeed being an entrepreneur is an exciting way to live and gives you a lot of freedom, but startup founders go through a lot of ups and downs, what keeps you motivated and focused on the target? How do you manage to keep that motivation up within your team?
I think it’s really important to have a mission that you really believe in. That will make it much easier to weather the storm when times get tough – because you know deep down that what you’re doing is important and people care about the results.
5. Mentors and advisors are important figures, especially for young startup founders. However, finding the right help can be challenging. Can you walk us through how you managed to find the right support?
I think lots of experienced entrepreneurs are really open to supporting younger entrepreneurs. I’ve emailed some very successful entrepreneurs with questions (i.e. Seth Godin) and they are usually happy to respond. I think if you find someone local who you look up to, you shouldn’t be afraid to send them an email introducing yourself, the roadblocks you’re facing, and go from there.
6. Wow, OK, so successful entrepreneurs do reply to emails! So tell us, what’s the best advice you have got so far?
The best advice I got so far was to just get started and stop the analysis paralysis of reading and researching. You’ll learn so much more by doing.
7. Let’s get to something a bit more complicated, stress. As most of us know, this is a natural companion in the journey to success. Can you suggest to other startup founders, who might be going through some rough waters, what’s the best way, in your opinion, to deal with it?
Being an entrepreneur is definitely stressful. I think keeping a balance is extremely important. Make sure to exercise and meditate daily! I also have a strict no work after 6 PM or weekends policy. Usually, you end up being less efficient when you work crazy hours anyway. I also like to keep a google sheet of my major metrics that I update every 6 months (savings, income, happiness out of 10, major life updates, biggest problems I want to solve). I also find journaling is very helpful to keep perspective. It’s surprising how much of our emotions are patterns that come up over and over again.
8. Has the startup life changed you?
I’ve always been an entrepreneur, but there was a phase I needed to get a “real job” for a few years to keep the businesses alive. That really motivated me to do whatever I need now because I find it way less fulfilling working for other companies.
9. When running a startup, there are several components that become priorities: product, team, culture, funding, and so on… what’s your top priority when running your startup and why?
Priorities are always changing with startups. So it’s just a matter of figuring out what your biggest problems are and making sure they get fixed. I generally believe that product is the #1 priority, but usually, that requires having a good team in place. So probably team, and then, product. But if you need funding for a team, then you should focus on funding. So it really depends.
10. Did you raise venture capital? If yes, what would you suggest to other startup founders that are getting into VC funding? If not, are you going to look for funding and how would you go about it?
I didn’t raise capital and I’m really glad I didn’t because it allows me so much more flexibility. However, if you see a major opportunity for growth that requires lots of capital, it seems like a good opportunity.
11. How much influence did customers interviews have while building your startup?
A ton of influence. Basically, we’d contact every single customer in the early days trying to understand who they were and why they liked our products so that we could learn.
12. What’s the startup ecosystem in Canada? Do you feel that startup founders get a fair shot at it compared to those in the States?
I think there are probably more opportunities in the States in certain areas where it’s basically part of the culture. But I feel like Canada has some great programs and startups seem to be a growing part of our culture.
13. How has Tuft & Paw been perceived by the market so far? How does your current growth look like?
We’re growing super quickly, basically doubling sales every few months!
14. One last question for the fellow entrepreneurs out there. What advice would you give to first-time startup founders?
Just get started. Give yourself a deadline and go. You’ll learn so much, even if you fail.
You can follow Tuft & Paw stories on Instagram as well.