Imagine, there is a small aluminum cube which can entertain your pets and even understand how they feel. Sounds a bit fantastic? It does. And what if we say that this invention already exists, and the idea appeared back in 2012 because of one noisy dog called Rocky?
The startup, which is now included in almost any list of successful Ukrainian inventions, was founded by just three people, and the idea appeared… due to a small Chihuahua Rocky. Neighbors of Oleksandr Neskin, a technical director, were always complaining that his dog was barking. First, Oleksandr found on Google a quite popular way to calm down a pet when it stays alone at home – a special collar which electrocutes a pet every time it starts to bark.
However, this solution is quite cruel. So, Neskin tried to do it another way: he decided to find out what Rocky does when he is alone. The camera showed that the dog is simply bored. With the help of tape, Oleksandr put a camera and laser controlled remotely together. This is how the problem of Rocky’s loneliness was solved. The neighbors were grateful, but more importantly, the idea of Petcube appeared.
The first launch of Petcube required about 300 000$. Most of the money was raised on KickStarter due to a powerful promo. Raised money was used for developing and producing gadgets. Even though the first version wasn’t perfect, the authors believe: it was a fine product. Finally, a pilot version improved lives of at least 50 000 pets. And evidently, of their neighbors.
Yaroslav Azhniuk, the CEO, says that the idea hasn’t been dramatically changed during the years: the mission of the team is still to connect pets to the Internet and give them a voice. However, the inventors went on inventing after producing the camera-laser.
“Then we made Petcube Play. A new version has a better quality of the video, sound, laser and so on. Later, we created Petcube Bites: a camera which allows flinging treats to pets. We are the company which not just makes cameras for pets and creates soft which connects them to the Internet. Actually, we invented this category, we are a global leader in it.
We have also launched Petcube Care. At first, it was a service to keep the video in the cloud. For 5$, 10$ or 25$ a user could save video for the last 3, 10 or 30 days in our cloud. Last spring, we expanded functions of Care, and now all subscribers get perks from our partners. It concerns, for example, pet food, dog walking services or pet insurance. We have many partners, they are big players in the world market. And now they are our partners, who give exclusive perks to Petcube Care clients,” the project co-founder says.
The idea of Petcube lies in filming moves of pets. Today, there are hundreds of thousands gadgets which watch pets. It allows using collected information to understand your pet better. The authors call it “behavior diagnostics”. It may seem to sound quite ambitious but everything gets clear when you find out: due to artificial intelligence, Petcube can even understand if a pet is ill and why it behaves this way or another.
In fact, this idea isn’t a startup already. A startup is associated with something new, not implemented enough, “raw”. It is different with Petcube as the project already functions and develops. However, the founders have another opinion. They believe that a startup is not a business with some people in the team. And it is not about any limitations. Vice versa, it is about the potential of extreme growth, a tech company which makes innovations real.
“That’s why digital-marketing agencies or kebab stalls aren’t startups according to common definitions. At least unless they make kebab produced out of emissions by molecular generators and put robots instead of people all over the world. And this kebab stall earns a billion in three years – only then it will be called a tech startup.
Petcube is still a startup because we go on growing fast and we have a consistent plan concerned our future dramatic growth. Our goal is to connect all pets to the Internet. Only the USA has more than 80 million houses with pets. There are much more purchases ahead,” Yaroslav Azhniuk believes.
The team which originally consisted of three people, now have more employees. At least 70 people now work in Petcube. Most of them work in the Kyiv office. Others are based in San-Francisco and Shenzhen. But despite the fact that the project is quite famous and is targeted on the USA, the gadget hasn’t been copied yet.
All attempts to make an analog of Petcube died on the level of conception. To make something more you need to try harder. At least, take the gadget to pieces, copy hardware and develop software, as you can’t just install Android on a copy: you have to write everything on your own. These difficulties are accounted for not just a desire of the authors to be monopolists; it is virtually the most important thing investors pay attention to: Petcube has to be safe and hard to copy.
“But frankly speaking, it is possible to copy it. If three guys from Kyiv have done it, others also can do. The point is that today we have not only the project and software but a strong famous brand, the team, and a network of world partners in Petcube Care. Besides, we have a huge database which we can and will use in the future,” the Petcube CEO says.
However, the history of the project doesn’t include only wins. At the very beginning of the startup, there was a problem which could make the company disappear before they presented their product. Then about seven people were working on Petcube and clients from Kickstarter were waiting for the gadget for several months.
At the time the team was waiting for press-forms from China, one of the key details, a factory director called Azhniuk and said his partner was arrested. Together with all the press-forms for Petcube. In fact, it meant they had to start from the very beginning, the team thought it was the moment to give up. However, due to the support of partners and the team, a solution was found. One of the most famous Ukrainian startups got the second chance.
Today, the CEO says: he doesn’t regret his choice of business. However, if he could start it all over again, he would choose another path as now he knows better how the world works and what business-ideas can be like. Azhniuk says that Ukraine is one of the best countries to launch startups in, however, there are certain problems as well.
“Today, Ukraine is one of the best places to build a tech startup. We have many great engineers, a big power potential. People want to prove the world they can do it. The problem is we are lack of entrepreneurs’ expertise and experience in developing products. Consequently, we have no professional managers,” the inventor says.
The idea, which appeared due to one noisy chuhuahua, is winning over the international market, raise investments and keeps on developing. The startup of three people from Kyiv is the story that makes us understand: it is not that difficult to market a concept. At least, when you have a team where each team member knows their business but can also listen to others. The main, long-term ambition of Petcube is to commit to understanding pets and connecting around the company all people who want the same. It seems to work because the Ukrainian company went on working even despite arrests in China and the world market which didn’t even think before what it was like – to understand your pets.
Text by Dmytro Zhuravel