You heard right: FitBark is a Fitbit, but for your canine companion
"The biggest surprise was really Kansas City," Fitbark's founder Davide Rossi told SPN of the experience. "In terms of being a place not only for us to be strategically, but also that it's just a beautiful place. I continue to say that when I came here from NYC, everybody was just so nice, like, suspiciously
Lately it seems everyone’s sporting a fitness tracker, whether it’s a Nike Fuelband or a Fitbit. But how do you know your canine companion is getting enough cardio?
No, this isn’t an invention of The Onion—it’s FitBark, the fitness tracker designed specifically with your dog in mind.
The company recently graduated from Kansas City’s Sprint Accelerator powered by Techstars and liked KC so much they’ve decided to stay.
“The biggest surprise was really Kansas City,” Fitbark’s founder Davide Rossi told SPN of the experience. “In terms of being a place not only for us to be strategically, but also that it’s just a beautiful place. I continue to say that when I came here from NYC, everybody was just so nice, like, suspiciously nice.”
Rossi and the FitBark team originally began working on their product in New York City, targeting clients of doggie daycares and professional dog walkers as their initial target demographic.
“It was pretty much a reaction to the exasperation of not knowing how your dog is doing, what they’re up to, what’s going on with them, especially when we’re not with them,” Rossi said.
Much like a human fitness tracker, the device uses sensors—a 3-axis accelerometer, to be precise—to gauge your dog’s activity level throughout the day. As Rossi saw an increase in wearable fitness technology for humans, he began to wonder why there wasn’t a product for their pets.
“We were looking around and realizing a lot of cool new products were coming up on the human side of things, but nothing was available for dogs,” he said.
It may sound trivial, but so far, Rossi’s inclinations have been correct: people care about their pet’s well-being and they’re willing to pay. So much so that a Kickstarter campaign FitBark launched in August 2013 exceeded its $35,000 funding goal with an eventual total of $80,806.
Dog owners receive a breakdown of their pet’s day-to-day activity in relation to typical averages.
When the opportunity to apply for the inaugural class of the Sprint Accelerator arose, Rossi says that at first he wasn’t sure. That changed once he learned a bit more about Kansas City and its role in the animal health and pharmaceutical industry.
“In the beginning, of course we were looking at options to grow the company as fast as possible, but the idea for Kansas City didn’t really click to us until someone made us notice that the presence of animal health is just so big here,” he said.
Referred to as the American Animal Health Corridor, Kansas City-area companies account for about one third of all sales in the worldwide animal health market, and it serves as the home to major industry players like Bayer HealthCare Animal Health, Merck Animal Health and Nestle/Purina PetCare, among others. The partnerships FitBark forged, not only through the Accelerator but also from its Kansas City surroundings, helped make the decision to relocate an easier one.
But FitBark’s mission isn’t just improving canine health. In fact, its product’s correlation to human health is one of the reasons the startup was drawn to Sprint’s mobile health-focused accelerator.
“We did a survey and it turns out that owners of dogs in the Kansas City area tend to be way more active than the general U.S. population in that it’s three times as likely they own a fitness tracker,” Rossi said.
About 9 percent of the U.S. population currently owns a dedicated fitness tracking device, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. Regardless of the margin of error in such a survey, Rossi says he hopes the focus on health and fitness is something specific to KC dog owners.
“There’s a market there with people who already have a fitness tracker,” Rossi said. “It’s very easy for them to think of something like FitBark being valuable because they can put the data side by side and chart what’s happening in their life.”
Inversely, Rossi says that for people who may need a little motivation to get active, FitBark is a great way to hold yourself accountable because your health isn’t the only one on the line.
“In our case, it’s not even about yourself. It’s about the health of your buddy, your pet,” Rossi said. “You don’t want to let them down. So it’s really for them that you take them out for a walk, and by reflection, you’re going to be benefiting because you don’t want to let them down by being inactive.”
Over the next couple months, Rossi says FitBark will transition from the product-building stage to product validation. Right now the product has a small private beta with dogs and their owners in the Kansas City area.
As for the FitBark team themselves, they’re pup-less at the moment—Rossi says the accelerator lifestyle isn’t quite conducive to dedicating time to a furry friend. But that could change now that they’ve made KC their home.
“We hope soon enough that we’ll be able to get together with a dog or two,” he added.
Credits: Images from FitBark.
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