Startups

Austin startup Wondercide aims to conquer natural pet care market

Posted March 24th, 2016

Entrepreneurs can get ideas in unexpected ways. The inspiration for Stephanie Boone’s startup came from her beloved dog Luna.  

When the Akita Husky began suffering from skin issues and then liver and kidney failure in 2008, Boone’s veterinarian told her it was the result of prescription flea and tick medicine.  

“It sort of shattered my world,” Boone said. “I thought I was doing what I should to take care of her.”  

Boone, who at the time was a real estate tax consultant in Houston, said the experience made her determined to create a non-toxic flea and tick treatment for pets.  

“I read a lot of EPA and regulatory compliance documents, then I put on my mad scientist hat and started mixing things together,” she said. “Within a few months I was sending sample jars off to friends and family.”  

They loved it, so she sent the formula, which uses steam distilled cedarwood oil, to labs for testing.  

“It came back as as having 100 percent efficacy for fleas, ticks and bed bugs, so we started making it in bigger batches,” Boone said. “I didn’t know what I was doing — I was literally making batches in Igloo coolers and filling containers by hand. Our first sale was at the Pecan Street Festival in Austin.”  

In 2009, Boone filed a patent application, built an e-commerce website and launched her startup, Wondercide. But it was a slow start.  

“The first few years were scrappy,” Boone said. “It was about validating the market, understanding the marketplace and figuring out who I was an entrepreneur.”  

Boone moved to Austin for family reasons in 2012, and about that time online sales began to accelerate. Wondercide moved from Boone’s garage to a 5,000-square-foot facility, and the momentum continued.  

“The last three years have really been where all of our growth is – triple digit growth year over year,” Boone said.  

Today, Wondercide sells 25 products, including flea and tick control for pets, home and yard, indoor and outdoor pest control and personal insect repellent. The vast majority of sales come online, but business through specialty pet retailers nationwide is growing, she said.  

Now, thanks to a March 19 appearance on ABC-TV show “Shark Tank,” Wondercide is taking another leap forward.  

Following the airing, Wondercide’s website received 30,000 visitors, compared to about 100 on an average Friday night. More than 5,000 orders have been placed, compared with a couple hundred the company would usually receive during that time frame. Products sold out on Amazon.com.  

The past couple weeks have been a blur at Wondercide’s headquarters off U.S. 183 in North Austin, as the company’s 21 employees mix formulas, package orders and ship them out.  

Boone said that as the company hires new employees – and new positions are being added across the board – one thing that won’t change is the company’s close-knit culture.  

Employees’ pet dogs roam the offices, which are painted lime green and bright orange, and Boone’s pet Luna, who survived her medical issues and lived six more years, is honored with a portrait in the lobby.  

Boone brings her four-month daughter to work every day. “We’re all working moms here,” she said. “We care about each other, this is a place you want to walk into every day.”  

In addition to the business surge, Shark Tank brought in new funding. Investor Lori Greiner agreed to put $500,000 into Wondercide in exchange for 3 percent equity in the company and 50 cents in royalty for every unit sold.  

That investment gives Wondercide a valuation of $16.6 million. (The company previously raised $450,000 from Austin investor Matthew Bray and BuildASign founder Dan Graham.)  

The new funding will go toward expanding expanding the company’s online presence and retail business. That means hiring a vice president of sales.  

“That’s the really exciting thing — we’ve never had a sales person and we have 350 independent retailers nationwide,” Boone said. “Every one of them came to us asking if they could sell the product.”  

Bray, the Wondercide investor, said the timing is right for the company to take off.  

“It took a while to gain traction, but as consumers are more conscientious about what they’re putting on their pets, what they’re putting on their bodies, that market acceptance is now happening,” he said. “Her customers are fanatical about her products.”  

Kass Foradory is one of those passionate followers. Foradory, who lives in Austin, discovered Wondercide in July after scouring the Internet for a way to treat her dog Gypsy’s skin problems associated with mange.  

“I’d been looking for 11 months and tried everything, and I couldn’t find anything that helped,” Foradory said. “After a week of using Wondercide’s skin tonic, her skin dried up enough so that the medicine from the vet would actually start working. It smells wonderful and works so great. I am a fan for life.”

Comments