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MEOW MEWS FOUNDER'S STORY

MEOW MEWS FOUNDER'S STORY

I grew up in a Kibbutz in Israel in the 1980s. That was a pastoral experience surrounded by nature, crop fields, vast green pastures and forests, industrial and agricultural facilities and lots of animals all around. All our life and education was around nature, the cycle of seasons, birth and death. Sharing our lives with animals, raising them instilled in us love and care for them.

Years later, after my university studies and during the 2008 recession, I worked in a medical start-up. Our CEO shared an article listing the top recession proof industries. What attracted my attention most on the list was the pet market. It made perfect sense to me. After having such a deep connection with pets and other animals, I knew I wanted one day to create something for animals and their owners to improve their experience with each other, but I didn’t know yet what it was.

Fast forward to the pandemic of 2020. I lived in North Hollywood. My luggage company was in a dissolvement process due to the pandemic and I was working on my next ideas. At that time I met my friend Steven - a cat enthusiast, who lived in Studio City. I helped him, his roommate and their two cats – Jasper and Momo – to move to Pasadena. Steven really cared about his cats and taught me a lot about them and the intricacies of their behavior. Steven built two robust cat towers from scraps of wood and ropes. We used to look at the cats running up the column. It was quite impressive to watch Momo - a 20 lbs cat - “flying” up to his position at the top. On the day of the move we were barely able to squeeze Steven's cat condos down the staircase and on to the moving truck. They didn't fit in the elevator. I figured that Steven might need to repeat such tortuous moves several more times during the expected life of his cats. This again registered with me.

The pandemic changed our way of life. Having to use our living quarters for work, study and daily home routines, we rearrange our homes for different activities within the same day. Some of the beneficiaries of this new world order were pets, whose adoption rate skyrocketed. Dogs were thrilled when all family members were around – just like X-mas! Cats, on the other hand, were not as excited, because the space they used to own most of the day was now occupied by everyone.

Looking at all those changes with the knowledge about cats gathered by that time I decided it was time to enter the cat world and apply my entrepreneurial and industrial experience in a new venture. I shared my thoughts with my business partner and we decided to pursue this idea and build a company around it.

I did not have a permanent home for a long time, because of a lot of work related travel, immigration and separation. When I finally moved to New York, I was able to settle myself down and part of it was getting a four legged partner to share my space with. My Scottish Straight cat Adam became the chief examiner and approver, UX & UI director and most importantly – my companion, teacher and inspiration for all things cats.

 

The Lack Of Development In The Field And The Bigger Picture

When I visit pet stores and look at the assortment of products and in particular  the cat category, I see opportunity. I see that not only is there no focus on premium quality, but there is little thought or attention given to the overall experience of having a cat indoors. When I got Adam - my cat, all the equipment I could order on Amazon was items made of or covered with white or gray silicon or plastic, or stainless steel. All of a sudden, my house, which I kept stylish and decorated, looked tasteless. And when I examined the form and function of the products, from a poop scoop to a food bowl, they had some major flaws that affected both my and my cat's experiences. All this prompted me to turn Meow Mews into an umbrella premium brand of all things cats and expand the products and services to more and more subcategories.

 

A Product For Cats And Their Humans

So, what is so unique about the Meow Mews' product and how did I come up with it?

While identifying the consumer need, the market potential and the lack of options for cat owners, two ideas evolved in my mind. First, I learned that the offering in the market was so poor that even someone having means and the will to spend on something better could not find anything out there. The second idea was the realization of the need to create a product not just serving cats, but one that serves cats, their humans and, in fact, the entire ecosystem around them. It had to be usable and fun, and beautiful, and practical, and sustainable, and solid, and many more “ands” all married together in one product.

I would like to describe in more detail the features that make the Meow Mews system unique:

  1. Durability:  I decided to use solid Beech wood. It is a hard wood that ensures the components are durable and built to last.
  1. New Unique Ropes:  I picked thick non-shedding cotton ropes that last much longer than traditional ropes. I also designed a special mechanism that allows the ropes to be fully replaceable.
  1. Innovative Columns geometry: The columns are specially designed to always keep the ropes taut when a cat is climbing them. The usual solution to keep the ropes from shifting and loosening on cylindrical shapes is to nail them. However, I wanted to make all ropes interchangeable. So, I came up with a better solution, developing a very specific column geometry that keeps the ropes tight.
  1. Modularity:  At the core of the Meow Mews system is a unique joint that allows for complete modularity. The users can easily add and remove sections, disassemble them for easy transporting. With additional modules the functionality of the system can shift with the changing needs of the household and the cat. My goal is to establish and maintain a long-lasting relationship with the customer beyond the original purchase. Short of the subscription model (the “holy grail” of recurring revenue), the best way for a physical consumer product to keep the customer coming back is to make the system infinitely expandable, just like LEGO. In the coming years I am planning to expand the system by adding more parts and features, including digital components and content.
  1. Stability:  I made sure the weight and shape of the system make it stable for all cat sizes. For larger cats, weighing more than 20 lbs., expansion packs offer even greater stability.
  1. Timeless design:  It was important for me to not chase short term fashion trends, but to create a piece of functional sculpture that would transcend any particular style. I designed the wood with organic curves to soothe the eye and enhance the wood's natural beauty. The furniture is also designed to maintain a “see-through” environment, so, if placed by the window, it does not block the view or the light.
  1. Assembly:  The unique connector makes the assembly easy and fun, requiring no nails, screws or glue. Putting it together is very intuitive and is easily understood by watching video tutorials.
  1. Cleaning:  One of the important issues for me was to make the system easy to clean like any other piece of furniture in the house, to maintain a dust- and hair-free environment.
  1. Surface traction:  For non-slip traction, I developed uniquely patterned grooves for excellent grip by claws and paws.
  1. Sustainability:  Our wood is sustainably harvested and turned into long-lasting pieces of furniture that will not end up in a landfill.
  1. Safety:  We only use certified pet and human safe varnish to highlight wood's natural beauty.
  1. Premium product, pricing and quality: As the saying goes: “Cheap is expensive”. I agree. Every inch of our furniture speaks quality. We pulled out all the stops to produce a premium product for the most demanding customer.
  2. Manufacturing:  We use modern automated technologies alongside traditional methods. We employ wood CNC lathe machines for accuracy and efficiency. Each part is finished by hand, with careful sanding, polishing and varnishing. Since wood is a natural raw material and there are no two identical pieces, a lot of human decision making goes into cutting, jointing and preparing the wood chunks for machining.

The execution: From Idea To The Final Product.

After conceptualizing, designing, pricing, testing, and market-testing the product, the bigger challenge is to turn all that into commercial reality. I had to turn a concept into a mass-produced, LEGO-like product, that will function all the time as intended. A component that was made in year one in July (hot and humid), would have to fit precisely with another part, made in year three in February. For that I needed an amazing manufacturing partner who understands the product and the vision, is familiar with American and premium consumer quality requirements, and most importantly - understands wood. That was a very hard task. After exhaustive searching, I found one.  

For several months I stayed in a factory in Turkey, drank lots of coffee and ate a lot of bread, and chip by chip, part by part, learned with them how to build my product. The process of developing a product with a factory requires lots of patience, dedication, and deep understanding of the process. On one side there is the vision, form, function, and the user interface I would like to achieve. On the other hand, there is a factory, with certain machinery, technologies, and their production capabilities. While developing the product, I have witnessed how joining the efforts of smart and skilled people transformed the final product into a much better version of what I envisioned. Together we made a product that makes them very proud and can finally bring financial reward for them. I believe that, as an entrepreneur, I create opportunities not only for myself, but also for all the parties I partner with. Opportunities to grow, create something new and exciting, to overcome new technical challenges. 

 

DESIGNED BY  HUMANS APPROVED BY CATS

Designing and creating a product for humans is one set of skills. There is a method of development and there is a language to deliver feedback. Designing a product for animals requires a lot of observation and non-verbal communication.

The challenge for Meow Mews was to design a product for both cats and their humans. That meant I needed to create a product that cats will use, and humans will use too and will want to purchase. First, we tested with cats all the parts and parameters of the system: the columns, ropes and joints in different widths, lengths and heights. For example, I needed to determine the distance between platforms, so every cat would be able to jump from one to another. Then I made sure that the system was scalable and usable for humans as well. It had to be easy to transport and assemble by anyone. I had to optimize the production and delivery process. All the measurements of every detail are calculated to function with cats’ physique and with the most cost-efficient production in mind. For example, the grooves in each platform are of the exact depth that cats can properly grip with their paws and claws. The parts had to be strong enough to hold a cat and the whole structure without deformations, but not too heavy to produce and deliver. I remember a moment at the factory in Turkey when I was in the midst of testing various depths and sizes of the grooves for aesthetics and strength. One of the local cats came by and sat on a sample in front of me and started to play with it for a good few minutes. I saw right there that the design was working, and I had nothing to add to it.

Building the cat owners community

I believe in community wisdom. The purpose of engaging with the community is to build trust and gather feedback, embracing their needs,  ideas, thoughts, and wishes. We, as entrepreneurs, still need to remain the “fathers” of the product and take responsibility for decision making and the end results. I would like to hear from real people as soon as possible and decide how to incorporate the feedback. That also allows us, the creators, to become “enablers”, rather than directors. It’s a new mindset and it’s a privileged position to be in.

With love for cats and humans,

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