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Jimmy Wu, Cofounder & CEO at Cat Person

Meticulous customer experience: Focusing on connection and purpose

This episode we're talking to Jimmy Wu, Cofounder & CEO of Cat Person. We analyze how creating intentional products can lead to a positive overall customer experience across an entire brand. Jimmy shares how an observation in the pet store led to the creation of CatPerson devoted to supplying an underrepresented customer with the specialized products they desired. We also chat about the direct-to-consumer movement, innovation in product packaging, leveraging user generated content and how each are only pieces of an ever-growing strategy Cat Person uses to succeed.

Connect with Jimmy on LinkedIn. Check out Cat Person.

Episode transcript

Chase: Jimmy, thank you for joining us.

Jimmy: Yeah. Thanks, Chase. Excited to be here.

Chase: So give us a little bit of background on yourself and on Cat Person.

Jimmy: Yeah, sure. So hi, I'm Jimmy Wu. I'm the CEO and co-founder of Cat Person. We're a new cat care brand that's really focused exclusively on cats, and putting both cats and persons at the forefront. We've launched in March of 2020, so we're about seven months old at this point. What we do is we offer a broad lineup of cat care essentials that are really designed for both cats and persons in mind. That includes things like food, wet food, dry food, treats, as well as physical goods, like beds, bowls and toys.

Chase: Awesome. I had cats growing up my whole life, so I'm very aware of all the products that are needed to take care.

Jimmy: Amazing.

Chase: So let's start with this, doing a little bit of research and poking around the site, there's a line on your about page that I absolutely love that says, most cat beds and bowls are simply scaled down versions of dog products. That really caught my attention and got me thinking about how there really isn't this market. So what was the reason behind starting this company in the first place?

Jimmy: Yeah, I think you hit it on the head, which is there really isn't a market, or there's not much of a market, and that's been long overdue. Myself and my co-founder, Lambert Wang, we're both cat people. It sounds like you, Chase, have had cats growing up and you may have experienced this as well. As a cat person, you feel like you've been largely overlooked, neglected, and made to feel like a second class citizen.

If you ever walk into a pet store today, or even go to an online pet store, it essentially feels like you've walked into a dog store. 70% of the inventory there is dog stuff. You walk the aisles and there's a cat section, but it's in the back of the store. When you get there, you find that it's kind of a crazy experience. Food is a bewildering confusing experience.

If you're trying to find goods or products for your cat, it's actually really hard to find a great selection. What ends up happening, I think, is a lot of cat parents end up buying products that are actually designed for small dogs because no one has really developed great products for cats. Not just cats, but cats and their people. Right?

I think a bed is a great example of that is if you walk into a pet store. Cats actually do have different physical needs than dogs, but for the most part, you end up finding beds that are designed generically for pets, or designed generically for a dog. It's not really designed specifically for a cat. Then on top of that a lot of the products out there aren't designed for the person in mind.

What we mean by that is they might work physically for a cat, but as a person, I think by needs are equally as important as well. Especially if I'm a modern consumer with a modern decor at home, I want something that not only my cat's going to love, but I'm going to love and feel proud to have in my home. So we just felt there was an opportunity to build a brand and offer products, designed both for cats needs specifically, and their person's needs in mind. And really do better and help to foster that relationship that people have with their cats.

Chase: I absolutely love that. There's obviously a lot of products on the site, but they almost look like art pieces. You know, it's not just the classic silver bowl with a cat print on it or something. There are colors and there are textures and they're designed, and they're actually beautiful pieces that would actually look good in a home.

Jimmy: Yeah and that's very intentional. They're designed to be both functional for a cat's needs, as well as designed for a person's needs in mind. You mentioned the bowl. Our base bowl, as an example, is an elevated bowl because it helps to have the cat eat at an elevated height rather than try to eat off the floor. It has a base that catches crumbs and food that can splatter. That's all great functionally for the cat, but it's also designed in a way that's going to look gorgeous within your home.

Chase: The less cleanup, the better, I know from experience.

Jimmy: Exactly.

Chase: So moving into your onboarding quiz, this is one of the things that I've been nerding out a lot about recently. What's the logic behind an onboarding quiz? For a cat food, or something like that, you have to imagine that you just know what your cat wants, so you would just buy that thing. So what's the logic behind creating a quiz?

Jimmy: Yeah, I think it's several things. First of all, I think we start with the understanding that every cat is different, right? Cat's are not generic. Every cat is individualistic and they all have their own individual needs. We wanted to make sure that as we designed meal plans, and try to make that food shopping experience as simple and easy for our customers, we also wanted to do it in a way that really met the needs of them and their cat specifically.

So we developed this quiz really to one, collect information about their cats and their current feeding patterns. Really to understand what is the cat like, how much food are they eating today? What type of food are they eating today? That really helps us then to develop a more customized meal plan. The hope is that meal plan is something is well suited for that cat. They're going to like the food and they're going to stick with the food.

Chase: I love that one of the details on the quiz is actually getting the cat's name. There are so many marketing tips and tricks on when you're going through a quiz and you get the person's name who's checking out. So when you send a follow up you say, oh yeah, hey Chase, here's your personalized, whatever it is. I think it's so cool that you get the cat's name because it makes you feel like there's that bond there. Even though the cat's never going to have any idea of what you're buying, but it's just such a cool creative way to add that extra piece of connecting that.

Jimmy: Yeah. And I think it's meant also to reinforce what we stand for as a brand, which is we are here to put both cats and their persons first and equally so, right? So it's not just about the person, it's not just about the cat, it's really about both. It also then allows us to be able to better customize and personalize the communication and the relationship that we have with our customers.

Chase: I love that. So shifting gears a little bit, we've talked about what we can call, I think the cat experience, let's shift to customer experience. What are some of the ways that you are beefing up your customer experience, and why is it so important to the Cat Person brand?

Jimmy: Yeah. I think we'll start with the second question. Why is it so important? Well, I'd like to think customer experience should be important to any brand because you don't really have a business without your customers.

Chase: Totally.

Jimmy: For us, in particular, it's especially important for a number of reasons. One, certainly as a new brand and driving that customer satisfaction, and word of mouth, is incredibly important for us. I think also as a brand within the pet category. We know pet parents often look to one another for advice, for tips, for suggestions, and it's incredibly important that we're able to get the word out about our brand and a positive impression about our brand within that community. Then I think thirdly too, we are primarily a subscription business, especially with our food meal plans. Having that relationship and building retention within that relationship is absolutely critical for us.

I think the other thing that's really important for us, and why customer experience in particular is important to us is, I'll go back to what I mentioned earlier. We founded Cat Person with the belief that cats and their persons were largely being ignored and neglected, and overlooked. A lot of brands, a lot of retailers out there, feel like they're dog brands, or dog experiences. So it's incredibly important for us that as a cat centric brand, our customers feel like this is a brand and a business that has been developed specifically for their needs and their cats needs.

Chase: That's awesome. So how are there ways that you are taking that sort of customer experience and growing it as you guys have grown? You mentioned you're only a handful of months old, seven months or so old. What are some of the ways that you've kind of seen things work, or things didn't work, and you pivot a little bit to make that customer experience even better?

Jimmy: Yeah, I think one really great example of how we've thought about customer experiences, actually with our shipper boxes. So these are the boxes that your food gets delivered in, right? For anyone that has ordered from a DTC company, has ordered ecommerce, we've all gotten these. These are these boxes that pile up at the front door with any delivery that you get. I would say for the most part, these tend to be pretty mundane, pretty functional. I think for a lot of businesses, they ended up being an afterthought for them, right? We really wanted to approach it differently. We felt it was an opportunity to actually tap into the insights that we know about customers and people in the cat category. One insight that we know is, as cat parents, cats love boxes, right? It's the oddest thing.

You can go out and buy your cat a thousand dollar toy, and probably all they want to do is cram themselves into that box that it came delivered in, that may be cost 50 cents or a dollar. So no matter what you get them, they just absolutely love to play with, and stuff themselves inside boxes. The other thing that we knew is a lot of customers, especially as ecommerce continues to grow, there's a lot of concerns about sustainability. There is a lot of packaging involved in shipments and shipping products to people's homes. So we took both of these insights and we ended up developing a second life for our boxes. So when you order from Cat Person and you get a food delivery, those food boxes all have a second purpose. They all turn it into some sort of toy for your cat.

We've got one box that turns into a play toy that's got holes and a ball that your cat can bat around. We've got another box that turns into something we call a cat chalet. Where your cat can actually hide out in it and peek out. Then we've got this extra large box that we call the cat condo, and actually converts into almost like an apartment for your cat. Where there's an indoor space and an outdoor space for your cat to play and interact with.

But it taps into these two insights that cats just love boxes and people are looking for more sustainable solutions. And we wanted to offer this as something that's typically a very functional thing, but really helps to elevate that customer experience. It's turned into a terrific surprise and delight for our customers. They're not expecting this when they first receive the order. It's also initiative that might be offline in nature, but has actually turned into a huge online opportunity for us.

We get tons of user videos and user generated content from it. Actually, one of the highlights of my day, beginning of the day, is just looking at videos that we've gotten sent in, or on Instagram stories from customers, showing their cats playing with our boxes. It's probably the funnest way you can think about to start your day.

So we've been able to turn this into a lot of UGC opportunities for us. I think the other thing, and why we love it so much too, is it also helps to establish ourselves as a brand and what we stand for. You know, we are a cat focused cat centric brand, and we wanted to make sure that when you get a delivery, when you get a shipment from Cat Person, it's clear to you that this didn't just come from a big ecommerce site, or even a big pet retailer. But this came from a company and a brand that really understands you and your cat and what it means to be a cat person.

Chase: You hit on so many things in there that speak directly to me. So I'll go back and start with your unboxing experience. I think that's one of the coolest things that I've been shouting from the rooftops recently, is that's the one piece of your brand that everyone interacts with, guaranteed a hundred percent.

Jimmy: Yeah.

Chase: Sometimes they miss emails. Sometimes they miss shipments, or there's random things within there. Customer service is a piece of this. But when you order your product and it shows up on your door, that unboxing experience is one that every single person is going to see. So creating something out of that, like creating this cat chalet, which I've seen, they're hysterical. They're so great. They end up being these big monstrous, like forts for cats. Which, if thinking back to your childhood, that's all you wanted to do is just play around in a fort. I think that's one of the coolest things.

Jimmy: Yeah. The other reason we love it too is I know a lot DTC companies put a lot of focus on unboxing experience, because it is incredibly important. We certainly have brochures and collateral in there for you to read, to make sure you understand the products that you're getting. But I think it takes it to just a different level when you can actually get customers to interact with the unboxing experience. It's not that you're just trying to push information on them, but you're actually creating a really, truly deep deep experience for them.

Chase: Totally. And we're going to hop into this idea of user generated content in a sec here, but the one other thing to touch on is that you're creating a community without even saying the word community. You've created this group of people who love to continue to get these boxes. One, because they get great products, but two, because they actually get additional toys without even having to think about it.

Jimmy: Yeah. It's actually a value added to them and at really no additional cost.

Chase: So let's hop all the way into UGC here. Your branded hashtag on Instagram is Cat Person for cat persons. So jump into that a little bit, I think it's awesome. Maybe just to have a bit more into your user generated content. Do you do that on purpose or is that just kind of a nice side effect that you get from it, from your marketing?

Jimmy: Yeah. I think it's several fold. One is we think user generated content is incredibly important. To your point, we do want to create a community. There already is a community out there. I have this saying which is, the internet is the dog park of the cat world. If you have a dog you may know about dog parks. It's where you take your dog to go out and play and your dog socializes with other dogs. The dog parents all get to socialize together.

But there is no equivalent for cats. You know, cats typically tend to be indoors, that's why you don't see them out in public that much. But that's also why we think the internet, and in particular social media platforms, are so powerful in this category because it is the equivalent of the dog park for cat people that are out there. People want to show off their cats and they want to talk about their cats. We want to be able to play a role in that too, to both bring them content and levity and joy to their day, but also allow them to showcase and show off their cats.

Chase:
I absolutely love that. So when you create content, do you think about the user generated stuff that's going to come afterwards, or do you just kind of let that all out and let it get created for itself?

Jimmy: Yeah, I think it's a combination of two. But I think what links the two together, and why we have this hashtag of Cat Person for cat persons, is because at our core we are a cat centric brand that certainly makes products to help the lives of cat people, and make it easier to care for their cat. But we also want to support real cat people out there. We also want to dispel some of the stereotypes that are out there too. You know, I think one of the challenges within the cat category is there is this perception and stereotype of people in the category. We'll just talk about the elephant in the room, which is people have this stereotype of crazy cat lady, right? And we think it's a very outdated and very incorrect stereotype.

We've talked to a lot of customers. We've talked to a lot of cat moms. We've talked a lot of cat dads. What we found is actually almost 75% of cat owners out there think that there are negative stereotypes of cat people, but almost 80% of them don't believe that those stereotypes apply to them. For some reason I think there's a lot of folks that believe this is a category that's largely female. What we know is, actually, the category is about 45% male. But there's just a lot of these outdated perceptions. Part of what we're trying to do as a brand is really shine a light and showcase what it means to be a cat person. In particular, what it means to be a modern cat person. Which is, this is an incredibly diverse community of real people, of all different ages and genders, and professions in whatever dimension you want to name.

But I think it is not a singular stereotype that a lot of people have in the category. So as we think about user generated content, both in terms of what we source, as well as content that we want to develop, what makes all of it is we really want to show the diversity of different types of cat people that are out there in the real world.

We also want to show the relationship that people have with their cats, because I think that's sorely missing a lot of the content that's out there today as well. There's certainly plenty of cat content. We all have seen cat means and cat videos, and they're hilarious and entertaining, but there's actually not enough content out there that really speaks to, I think the really special relationship people have with their cats. How we think about it is, how do we shine a light on, not just that relationship, but also the pretty wide vast community, and diverse range of folks that are there?

Chase: So not to make too big of a statement here, but it sounds like your brand is mimicking kind of what society is going through right now as a whole. There's a lot of negative stereotypes going around and it doesn't come from the top to dispel those things. It comes from user to user in your case, or a person to person in a society, to kind of dispel those sort of stereotypes and create a more unified world.

Jimmy: Yeah, exactly. And maybe it sounds a bit trivial because we're talking about cats and cat food. But we think it's incredibly important too, because this is an important aspect to a lot of folks' lives. They see their cat as a member of their family and they have a great relationship. We think there are some pain points in that relationship today, which is the food experience is incredibly challenging, it's confusing, and it's cluttered.

When you buy products and goods, it's really hard to find optimal products that are either designed for your cats or are designed for you as a person. Then the third piece is culture of a lot of people feel that how they're perceived as a cat person is just really outdated or incorrect. We're on a mission really to help resolve all three of those pain points. Provide food that's nutritious and designed specifically for your cats needs in mind, and make it super easy and transparent for people to understand. Develop products that are also designed for your cat's physical needs, and designed for your design and aesthetic needs. And then lastly, really to break down a lot of stereotypes that exist, and frankly negative stereotypes of people in this category.

Chase: And you said something really interesting. You said, I think it may be trivial because we're talking about cat food, but I think that's kind of the whole point is that the most successful brands in 2020, and beyond, are not the ones who just have a good product. You know, that's obviously a piece of it, but creating the community and being able to drive value and provide things more than just your product. That's what's going to make brands successful into the future. So I don't think it's trivial at all.

Jimmy: Yeah. Obviously we have to start with a great product.

Chase: Of course.

Jimmy: We got great products, but yeah, really to elevate beyond that too. I think for us, as a brand and as a company, we want to be able to develop that close, personal relationship with our customers, and stand for more than just the food that we offer, and the goods that we offer.

Chase: Totally. Totally. So let's move back a little bit. You said that you are very subscription first in your brand. Obviously being at ReCharge, that's one of the things we like to highlight and talk about the most. So why are you doing subscriptions as a primary force of sales, and how does that play into your overall strategy?

Jimmy: Yeah, so just for a little bit of context. So we offer both subscription ordering as well as manual or a la carte ordering. I think for us, there was a few reasons why subscription made a lot of sense. I don't think it necessarily makes sense for everyone in every category, but for us in particular, it made a lot of sense.

As you think about food is a fast moving consumable. When you think about cat food in particular, and you may know this Chase from your experience growing up with cats, cats can be incredibly picky and finicky.

Chase: Oh yeah.

Jimmy: When you're able to find a food that they like, that you also feel good about because it's healthy and nutritious for them, you don't want to move off that food, right? So we think it's actually incredibly conducive for a subscription. We also know customers value convenience a lot. Especially for a regular consumable that otherwise you would have to go to the store, haul back large bags of food, or trays of wet food.

It's just not a fun experience. Especially these days if you're trying to cut down the number of trips that you're making out to the store. We think there's a lot of benefit for the consumer of offering a subscription service, because this is something that their cat's going to go through on a regular basis, on a pretty regular cadence and quantity. We can offer a lot of convenience versus having to go out to the store. For us as a business frankly, subscription drives higher LTV for us. Subscription customers tend to be more loyal, they've got a regular revenue stream. So we really see it as both as a win-win for both consumers, our customers, as well as for us as a business.

Chase: I love that. There's a quote that you have that says that you're not building a direct to consumer brand, it's just one channel for distribution. What's your take on this whole direct to consumer movement? I know you mentioned up at the front that a lot of the stores that you'll walk into, that are traditional distribution stores, the Petco's, the pet stores, all those kinds of things, there's just small sections for cats. So is that still the best way to go for sales and for distribution, or is your D2C channel the best way to go?

Jimmy: Yeah. How we think about it is we're ultimately trying to launch and build a brand that's centered on cats and strengthening that relationship between cats and cat people. DTC just happens to be a way that we've launched, and we think a great way to launch, because it helps us build that direct relationship with customers. It lets us listen to their feedback and it allows us to really quickly evolve and improve our offerings.

So from that standpoint, DTC has been incredibly beneficial for us. But I think more broadly, our goal is to help solve the needs of cat persons. To help identify and provide solutions to pain points that they have and their experience caring for their cat. Whether that means doing it through DTC, or whether it means doing it through other channels, we want to be where our customers are looking for solutions that work for them.

Chase: I think that's awesome advice. On the topic of advice, you've done this pretty quickly. You've scaled in the past seven months pretty, pretty quickly to a really solid brand here. What is a piece of advice you would give a smaller company who is looking to take that next step to get to where you are now?

Jimmy: Yeah. I think there's a few things. One is certainly being very agile, and being very nimble, and having the flexibility to make changes to your business quickly if that's what's warranted. I think the second piece is just listen to your customers and get data, and get insights, on your customers as quickly as possible. I think that's been incredibly beneficial for us to be able to launch, but very quickly after launch, look at the data that's coming back in from customers.

Actually talk to cat parents that are out there. Understanding what they're liking and not liking about our products and services, and then how do we very quickly iterate on those, and launch new and improved versions. But also having that flexibility where you can move very quickly. You know, for us, I mentioned we've launched the margin. You know, we had to adapt very quickly. Because if you remember back, that was the very beginning of COVID and the pandemic, and needing to shift business plans very quickly was incredibly important for us as the external world was shifting very quickly too.

Chase: Definitely something you can't plan for, but almost being able to plan for the unexpected is a strength of most of these successful companies, for sure.

Jimmy: Exactly. I think inevitably what happens with a lot of young companies and startups is there's always going to be the unexpected, some smaller and some bigger. You've just got to position yourselves in a place where you can get the data inputs very quickly, and you can react to those and pivot to those very quickly.

Chase: Totally. So last question for you. I have to imagine that you subscribe to your own product for your cat, but what other physical products do you subscribe to?

Jimmy: Yeah, great question. Certainly a lot of digital products. Physical product, I think the one that I probably have subscribed to the most and the longest is a company called Freshly. So Freshly as a freshly fully prepared meal delivery service. They sort of sit at the intersection between restaurant delivery and meal kits.

So they're not meal kits, in that they're fully prepared meals. I think the challenge with meal kits is it's great in terms of curating recipes and ingredients for you. But at the end of the day, you're still spending 30 minutes, 60 minutes, preparing and cooking and cleaning up. I love to cook, but the reality is I don't have time for that most of the time.

Then on the other end of the spectrum, you've got restaurant delivery services, right? Which is great and they're super convenient, but I think we all know, getting takeout every single day is probably not the healthiest option and economically not the most sustainable option either. So I've been a huge fan of Freshly for a while. Especially now as many of us are working from home. I don't know you about you Chase, but like I never have time for lunch anymore. I certainly don't have time to prepare lunch and it's been a game changer for me just to be able to have a fresh, healthy, ready meal in three minutes.

Chase: Yeah. Meeting schedule from morning, afternoon doesn't usually lend time well for going to the grocery store and cooking your own meals.

Jimmy: Exactly, exactly.

Chase: Well, thank you so much for joining Jimmy. I love all the conversation about customization, personalization, all that kind of stuff.

Jimmy: Great, thanks. Enjoyed being here.

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