Entrepreneur Q&A: I think turning down the Dragons was the right decision

Andrew Nowell, founder of PitPat, talks about appearing on Dragons' Den and declining their investment offers.

Appearing on Dragons’ Den is an ambition for many small business owners, but few would imagine coming away with no investment.

After being on the show in 2018, PitPat – an activity tracker for dogs – had nothing but a couple of sales, even though it received multiple funding offers.

The company’s founder, Andrew Nowell, talks more about his business and how it felt to turn down the Dragons.

How did PitPat come about and what is its USP?

In my previous job as a technology and innovation consultant, I had the opportunity to learn about a lot of different industries, but being a dog lover, the pet care industry took my heart.

I was surprised to learn that a staggering 50% of dogs are overweight or obese causing severe health problems – in some cases, shortening their life by two years. We may be spending more and more money on our pets, but our love for them is sometimes misguided, meaning too much food and not enough walkies.

At this time, Fitbit was becoming a household leader in creating a fitness community and motivating people to get out there and hit their step goals. This got my attention and I thought, “Why is no one doing this for dogs?” A dog activity monitor could be a great way to help owners keep their dogs fit and healthy while having fun at the same time.

Having identified a gap in the market and with the opportunity to combine my two passions in front of me, I quit my job and set up PitPat.

PitPat is now the most popular and best-rated dog activity monitor in the UK. In the two years we have been on the market, we have sold over 40,000 PitPat devices and our Pack has achieved a staggering 1 billion minutes of activity with PitPat.

The tracker has a battery life of over a year (compared to days or weeks for other wearables) and has been completely designed for the dogs – from the algorithms that recognise dog motion to being completely waterproof.

What made you decide to go on Dragon’s Den?

I always loved watching the show growing up and some great products and household names have been created because of it. We were both looking to raise investment and awareness of the product, so it seemed like a great way to be able to do both at the same time.

How did it feel going on the show?

It was exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. I had great confidence in the product, but the Dragons always put up a tough negotiation, so I knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Fortunately, they loved the product (Nick Jenkins bought two after the show, even though we turned his offer down!) and could see the benefits and market opportunity.

Why did you turn down the investment?

We’d already been through a seed round and the dilution at the valuation they were proposing was just too much. Nick Jenkins and Deborah Meaden offered us half of the £150,000 we wanted for 12.5% of the business – we only wanted to give away a 7.5% share.

We also knew we had some great partnerships in the pipeline and that our sales were on the up and that once we had these, the company would be a lot further along.

How do you feel about the decision now?

While it would have been great to have a Dragon on board, I think we made the right decision. The show really raised awareness of the product and opened up new opportunities.

‘The show really raised awareness of the product and opened up new opportunities’

Since the show, we have raised over £2 million of investment from industry giants such as RSA (a FTSE 100 insurer) and Neovia (a global food manufacturer), increased our turnover by over ten times and have grown ourselves from a team of three to 16.

What lessons did you learn from your experience, especially when it comes to intellectual property?

Believe in your idea and never back down. Rather than being negative, it spurred us on to prove the potential of the business.

The intellectual property discussion was actually a lot longer and more complicated than what was aired on the show. We’re confident we followed the right approach and the failure of some of our competitors has proven that the technology involved is anything but easy and ‘off-the-shelf’.

What are your business goals for the next five years?

We’re going to continue our mission of creating a nation of happy healthy dogs and building the biggest community of passionate dog owners.

Our goal remains to get a PitPat on every dog’s collar and to expand globally into other countries. We’re also launching the world’s first dog wellbeing club – PitPat Life – that rewards owners for keeping their dogs fit and healthy, whether it be money off pet insurance or an extra squeaky toy.

We genuinely believe that over the next five years this will change how pets are insured, how dogs are fed and how medical treatment is administered.

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Dragons' Den