Ramon van Meer: Founder & CEO of Genius Litter

Episode 502

In this episode, Ramon van Meer, Founder and CEO of Genius Litter, shares all about the innovative, new cat litter that he has developed that monitors a cat's health and contains an indicator that responds to deviating values in the urine. Ramon shares his personal story and background as an entrepreneur, including his previous venture in the pet industry. He discusses the challenges and strategies of launching Genius Litter, including their go-to-market strategy and the importance of social media marketing. Ramon also talks about his experience appearing on Shark Tank and the lessons he learned from the show. He shares his vision for the future of Genius Litter and the company's focus on health monitoring for pets. So much inspiration and wisdom in this episode. Now on this episode of #TheKaraGoldinShow.

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Kara Goldin 0:00
I am unwilling to give up that I will start over from scratch as many times as it takes to get where I want to be I want to be, you just want to make sure you will get knocked down. But just make sure you don’t get knocked down knocked out. So your only choice should be go focus on what you can control control control. Hi, everyone and welcome to the Kara Goldin show. Join me each week for inspiring conversations with some of the world’s greatest leaders. We’ll talk with founders, entrepreneurs, CEOs, and really some of the most interesting people of our time. Can’t wait to get started. Let’s go. Let’s go. Hi, everyone, it’s Kara Goldin from the Kara Goldin show. And I’m thrilled to have my next guest. Here we have Ramon van Meer, who is the founder and CEO of an incredible brand called Genius Litter, and you may have caught him recently on an episode of that incredible show Shark Tank. And we have him here today to talk even further about the journey not only the journey of Genius Litter, but also the journey of Ramon and everything that he has been doing in this journey. But basically, Genius Litter is a cat litter that monitors your cat’s health. And it contains an indicator that responds to deviating values in the urine. So hopefully, it will help you to determine whether or not if you have a cat, you need to get him to the vet right away to have further analysis. But Ramon is a serial entrepreneur having built 12 other businesses previously, I absolutely love that. So we can’t wait to hear more about this journey and his other journeys. And really, what is a journey to success look like? So welcome, Ramon.

Ramon van Meer 1:55
Thank you for having me. I’m very excited to talk about all these amazing things. Yeah.

Kara Goldin 2:01
Yeah. Very excited to have you here. So first of all, why don’t we start with your personal story and background? You are the founder and CEO of Genius Litter. But would you mind telling us what happened before this brand? Like how? How did you? What led you to kind of decide I’m gonna go and develop a cat? Litter business? Yes.

Ramon van Meer 2:31
Long story short, I had an other pet brand that was more focused on dogs that I bought, actually, in 2018. It was a very small pet brands. I bought that. And was scaling that brand. I added all kinds of other dog related products. And but my son, I have a 13 year old son, he loves cats. So we always had cats here. And one time our cats got sick, got a UTI had to go to the to the vet, everything turned out well, like we were able to give her medicine, but I was asking the vet like Hey, how is this? Like, you know, with a dog, you kind of see if the dog doesn’t feel well or acts different than normal, but with our cat was not acting differently at all. And then I asked like, hey, what, what do people do to know when their cat is sick? And the vet said, like, you know, there’s not a lot you can do besides really paying attention on the cat litter box, etc. And that’s started me like as an entrepreneur, probably you have the same thing. You right away, you start thinking like, oh, has to be something let me do research. Let me Google. Let me go find suppliers. And before I knew it, you know, I was in this rabbit hole of, you know, doing research and I found a supplier actually in Europe that made this health indicating calculator. And that’s how it started. That’s

Kara Goldin 4:09
incredible. So you launched Genius Litter with just one product?

Ramon van Meer 4:15
Yes, yeah, we at that time, we launched with one SKU one bag of calculator. And recently, only recently after, you know two and a half years, I launched it two years ago, we added two new products. One is a topper that’s unhealthy indicating topper that you can sprinkle on top of your existing calculator because majority of people still use clay litter as their calculator solution. But then with our topper you can have best best of both worlds if you want to keep using flutter and the second product is a healthy monitoring pee pads for dogs same concept. Your dog pees on the pee pads hope flea, not on the floor, and it changes color if your dog has potential health issues,

Kara Goldin 5:06
what a great idea. So your go to market strategy when you launched this two and a half years ago? Can you talk a little bit about that?

Ramon van Meer 5:17
Yeah. The issue with calculator for go to mark for channels is the shipping costs. So shipping costs is pretty expensive, because the calculator by blank is heavy. So instead of doing normally, I go direct to consumer first, then Amazon, then retail, this time I did it the other way around. I started on Amazon, then retail, and slowly into direct to consumer. Just because the margins on direct to consumer are much worse than retail, or Amazon actually for us.

Kara Goldin 5:54
So you’ve built some other businesses, you talked about how the business previous to Genius Litter, was in the pet business and the dog business, I believe it was dog ramp that you were building, probably a different consumer, maybe some crossover, but it’s not like you had a list at that point that you could go back out to these to the same consumers. How have you gotten the word out about Genius Litter?

Ramon van Meer 6:24
Yeah, yeah, good points, only 20% of our list that have bought or ramp actually also owned cats. And then you know, the conversion was not that great of cross selling. Typically, it’s pretty difficult to do. So what we did is building social media community. So we have different Instagram accounts around cats and kittens, and we post viral type videos on on those accounts. Same on Facebook and Tik Tok. So that’s where we initially got the word out. And at that time, we drove traffic to our Amazon store. Because yeah, going back, we were really focusing on Amazon first and retail. Second.

Kara Goldin 7:13
So how have you found getting that initial traffic? Obviously, you’ve built these other businesses, you know, the importance of, you know, what’s your getting it out there and figuring out, you know, who these initial consumers are? Like, how did you figure out? Okay, I’m onto something here. And obviously, you’ve seen other businesses, and you’ve probably, we talked about the 12 businesses that you’ve had. But, you know, there’s probably some other businesses that you looked at that you’ve tried that you’ve said, this one’s not working quite right. But how do you know that a business is really working based on that initial kind of traffic?

Ramon van Meer 7:55
Yeah, that’s a good question. And also 12 businesses sounds way more impressive than it is because most of them were like, either not working well, or working. So So I only had very few, you know, basically, two were successful. But, yeah, it’s a good question. Because I get like, sometimes you kind of know, when things are working well, like in the sense of like, you know, your cost of acquisition, you know, at that time, we were spending money on Amazon ads. So our cost of acquisition was much lower than other products, in, you know, that we had in the pet space, repeat purchase rate was much higher than the normal, the feedback from retailers were all positive, like we were able to get into, you know, one of the biggest pet retailer, within a year, but is pretty, you know, for a very young brand, fighting against all the Goliath like you probably, you know, you know, better than me, like, it’s pretty difficult to fight against these, you know, plummets, so for the fact that, you know, our brand was able to get shelf space, in the biggest pet retailer. All these were like positive signs for us. And it’s also, you know, feedback from the customers that, you know, it’s it’s giving them a peace of mind. They didn’t know their cat was sick until they saw the, you know, the litter change color, and they they brought it to the vet. All these things really, you know, add to your confirmation of like, hey, we have something going here.

Kara Goldin 9:37
Yeah, definitely. I love that. You mentioned consumer feedback, because I always tell people that in the early days of building, the company that I found a tent it was those customers that would write to me, and that was like gold, right? You looked at that and you’re like, I’m actually doing something that is great. Like I don’t No this person that writing to me about how this product has changed their life. And and I can only imagine the letters that you received from consumers and consumers who work loving their cat and how you’re helping them with something that they’ve been trying to figure out for a while.

Ramon van Meer 10:18
Yeah, exactly, yeah, it’s very fulfilling as well. That’s,

Kara Goldin 10:23
that’s awesome. So collaborations and partnerships are often super helpful for brands to grow. You obviously mentioned building communities on Facebook and, and, you know, other places online, but what have you done in this area that you’ve really felt like, has really moved the needle for the brand that has really been helpful.

Ramon van Meer 10:45
So having a pet product, you have the advantage that there’s a lot of content and content creators, there’s so many dog or cat influencers out there, like you will not believe, you know, I know several people where their dog makes more money than, you know, the owners at their job. So there’s literally, you know, cat influences, and when we the key is, like really finding the right influencer, that moves that needle for you. And as you know, sometimes you’re gonna have to go through 20 3040 influencers, where the results are bad or so, so are okay. But you’re gonna find that one that suddenly, like, you get your return on adspend of like, six or seven megabytes. So we found, you know, couple key influencers that were creating content one was a, you know, talking cat like so they, they had a cat, they recorded it, and then they they edit, if the cat was talking and people love the cat, like it was it’s a huge influencer. And you know, we were lucky to find this influencer in the early stages of their career. And yeah, that’s, that’s that’s bike still today, our biggest you know, needle mover as far as partnership and you know, influencer so,

Kara Goldin 12:21
so I bet as your as you’ve been growing Genius Litter I mean, I can just only imagine the, the sort of founder mindset of you’re so excited, you’ve figured out the kind of the technology the science behind what you want to do you get the product launched. How do you balance kind of the the technology advancements and meeting the needs of you know, pets and pet owners? How are looking at ask it another way, I feel like so often founders are trying to figure out when do I launch this product, because you could just sit there all day long, and add on an add on an add on and at some point, you just got to stop and get it out there. So was there any stories like that where you felt like, you know, should we wait for this? Should we add more? Maybe it’s going to be more expensive for us to do this? Is there anything along the way where you felt like that was a good example of you know, I’ve we’ve just got to get the basics, right, and then get it out there and see what happens.

Ramon van Meer 13:31
Yeah, it’s a very quick question. And it’s, it’s also like, you know, like me personally, I try to get something out as quick as possible and improve along the way and I’m saying this is the right way because I have friends that do the opposite where they first work on you know, making sure the product is perfect and the branding and they are successful in their way. But me personally, I like to get as quick as possible landing page up as quick as possible product and test along the way and improve along the way. Because you know, I’ve you know, I’ve launched products in the past while I was like working for six months on something thinking this is like you know everyone’s gonna buy this and then I launch and then you know, you get to sales nobody wanted to buy it and so you know, the market is always the most honest. How you say you know, if you have a product market fit, you know, you can ask all your friends or family and they always gonna say yeah, this is a great idea. But you know, you don’t know until you actually get customers to pay not you know, pre list or waitlist signup, no people to pay for your product. So I you know, with with genius After I found the supplier, you know, we we, we improve the product, I did hire a vet tech here, because it’s a health related product and wanted to make sure it’s it’s, it’s, you know a good quality and safe. And it’s a huge supplier. So, but we didn’t overthink it, we you know, we ordered a test batch graded, you know, the pictures and videos and everything you need to launch. And then we launched, the whole process was maybe two, three months from, you know, the idea to getting the first batch of inventory.

Kara Goldin 15:45
I love it. So appearing on Shark Tank, as I mentioned at the top of the episode, that’s a significant milestone, we’ve had a few other guests who have been a guest on Shark Tank, but can you share the story of how that opportunity came about for you? And how did it go? Yes.

Ramon van Meer 16:06
Well, for me, it was a bucket list item, because I moved to the States 14 years ago or 13 years ago. And when I came here, I was obsessed with the show Shark Tank. And for me at that time, and still today, Shark Tank is equal to the American dream. And, you know, the American Dream is Shark Tank. And so I always, you know, even back then I made my friends, like every week, listen to me pitching a different, you know, product idea, you know, just pretending that I’m going to be on Shark Tank. And but, you know, up to four years ago, I did not had a products that could potentially be on Shark Tank. So four years ago, I applied for the first time made it to round two or three, but then you know, got denied, it’s alright, to have to wait another year. So it took me four years and four tries to finally make it and so for me, it was really like a bucket list. You know, accomplishment to finally make it. And, yeah, the whole process. It’s everything that people are that you can expect, once you’re there. It’s very intimidating. And it’s very overwhelming. And it’s like, you know, you’re I was there over an hour, maybe one and a half hour, I don’t even know it’s a little bit of a you know, I don’t even remember a lot. Because I was so nervous, too.

Kara Goldin 17:41
That’s, that’s awesome. So what key lessons did you take away from the actual experience? And did that experience change how you thought about your business overall?

Ramon van Meer 17:53
That’s a good question. Yeah, I was lucky that the sharks were very nice to me. They didn’t ask a lot of tough questions. I think the show made me they made me look pretty good. And but, you know, I did think like, you know, the power of branding, or the power of having a shark, you know, or name tied to your brand is, you know, opens so many doors, you know, especially retailers. You know, it’s just so much easier for me instead of me cold emailing a big retailer. You know, I can, you know, you know, having a big name tied to your brand is so much easier.

Kara Goldin 18:46
But yeah, they’re calling you now. Right? And yes,

Ramon van Meer 18:48
yeah, exactly. So yeah, it is actually it is game changing. I love the concept of Shark Tank, because it’s a win win for everyone. It’s a great show to a lot of viewer ships. But it’s also game changing for entrepreneurs like myself, it’s like it opened so many doors and exposure.

Kara Goldin 19:08
We had, actually last week, wild wonder, the founder of wild wonder it’s a drink that was on there as well. And she actually did a deal with a guest shark who was the CEO of, of DoorDash. And so it was it was very interesting to to hear her experience as well and how it’s really changed things enormously for her brands, too. So who was the shark that actually participated in your round?

Ramon van Meer 19:46
Yeah, it’s actually were three sharks. So it was Mark Cuban, Laurie and Robert and the cool thing was, and my guest shark I was Emma, the founder of skin So she went out pretty quickly, Mark went out initially as well, pretty early on. He said, you know, great business, but it’s not something for me. So he was even in the negotiations. And then I started negotiating with Kevin and Robert and Lori. And that took very long, until mark just had enough and said, like, you know, what, I will give you this for this. And, you know, he opened up like, a whole, you know, craziness of new negotiations, and then, you know, ended up with three sharks.

Kara Goldin 20:33
That’s, that’s amazing. So I don’t know if I’ve ever seen Mark Cuban do that, where, you know, he says no. And then he says, Yes, I mean, there’s some valuable lessons just in that point. And no, is not necessarily a No, right, you have to just keep focused. And, and if somebody’s going to come back, they’re gonna come back.

Ramon van Meer 20:55
Exactly. And also, when it’s a no, I was not trying to persuade him at the moment. Like, I was, like, you know, okay, let’s focus on, you know, my pitch and the people that are still interested. But during the pitch, and me talking to all the sharks, something, you know, I should actually ask him like, what did you know, what triggered him to change the mind? was, uh, so I will be curious. But yeah, just keep focusing on you know, the people that are interested, your pitch your story, and then yeah, after he he jumps back in, and he saved the deal, because I was very close of losing the deal. The So, Mark, save me.

Kara Goldin 21:39
And if anyone hasn’t seen the episode, you have to go back and check it out? Because it’s, it really is a great one. And you did an unbelievable job. So you should be very, very proud.

Ramon van Meer 21:52
Thank you. Well, it’s part editing, to be honest.

Kara Goldin 21:55
No, you did it, you did a great job. I’ve seen people I’ve seen sadly, I’ve seen entrepreneurs just get crushed on there. And it’s, it’s very sad. I find when I watched that, and I see entrepreneurs kind of really fall apart, for lack of a better way to describe it. i It’s hard for me to watch that show for it’s almost like I have to take a break for a while because my empathy is. Yeah, but you did an awesome job. So you talked about some of the new developments that you’re working on even, you know, potentially outside of cats. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Ramon van Meer 22:43
Yeah. He because when we were working on on Genius Litter on the litter brands is like, hey, actually, we’re not a litter brands, we’re actually more in the health monitoring space. And I think you’re gonna see more and more innovation, not just in pets, but also humans, where what can we do to alert people sooner for potential health issues, and it’s going to be in humans, it’s going to be in pets. So I was really like, you know, now, you know, we’re working on new developments, even in a litter of where we can detect, you know, if a cat is pregnant, because also that is sometimes not easy to detect until the cat is, you know, like, almost is about to burst. And so the Sharon’s have other diseases that we want to work on that we can detect early on, especially pets that you know, you don’t, you cannot see their behavior change. And then dogs Zaim like, that’s why we developed the pee pads. Because dogs also have a lot of issues and RP pets also can detect if your dog is dehydrated, you know, or has too much water or too little water. So we’re pivoting the company more intune health monitoring company versus just a linear print.

Kara Goldin 24:19
I love it. So what’s the most difficult part of building a company you’ve built a few companies? You’ve you’ve definitely worked in different industries and spaces, but is there a consistent thread about that? That goes through about building a company what is the most difficult part of being a founder and an entrepreneur do you believe

Ramon van Meer 24:44
Wow. Outside of the personal emotional roller coasters we all go through as intrapreneurs I think you know, ecommerce have different issues than content, or SAS and I’ve done all three worry. But I think finding the right people and putting them in the right position is very difficult in my opinion. And it’s needed for doesn’t matter what you what kind of business you run, it’s, you know, even in brick and mortar, finding the right people, and putting them in the right position, and also making sure that you give them all the tools so they can excel and flourish. And you know, so yeah, if you if you have any tips for that, let me know, like, I think it’s something that, you know, it’s very difficult to do.

Kara Goldin 25:40
Yeah, definitely. I always tell people, especially first time founders, and especially ones that have worked in other industries that, you know, the buck stops with you. Right. So I think, you know, if you have an employee that leaves for example, you know, it’s important to really understand what everybody does, so that you don’t have a hiccup in, in your business of any sort. But also, you know, you’re, you’re trying to balance this crazy puzzle, right? Where, you know, as soon as one thing seems to break, then another thing seems to take off, and it’s just this constant to your point juggle. And, you know, it’s definitely it’s, it’s exciting and exhilarating, and probably lots of dopamine. And it’s, you know, it’s not for everyone, for sure.

Ramon van Meer 26:32
Yeah, no, no, I agree. It’s, and it’s also people think, I thought that too, is like, oh, once you hit this milestone, whatever that is an accident or dollar amount of revenue, then it’s going to be easier. No, it’s never, it’s all like, you know, the problem is just move with your goalpost. So, it’s, but you know, I love it, to be honest, because I love solving problems. And you know, I get bored very easily. So I love the struggle.

Kara Goldin 27:06
So one piece of advice to share with other founders looking back on what advice would have been incredible for you to have prior to launching your first company or somebody’s got a great idea. They’re thinking, Should I do this? Should I do this? What what do you what kind of advice would you give to those founders out there?

Ramon van Meer 27:29
Yeah. Or myself when I was started, like, I think progress is much more important than perfection. I think get started. Get started today. Don’t wait till you have the perfect idea. Situation environment just get started. You’ll be surprised how many businesses are were started with, just to get started? Like, actually, I saw a tweet yesterday. It was a tweet of Joe the one of the cofounders of Airbnb. And he emailed his co founder, Brian, you know, I think in 2005, like, hey, in order to let’s make some extra money, let’s rent out our the extra bedroom and call it you know, designers Bed and Breakfast. They didn’t start idea of like, we have to build, you know, the largest, you know, you know, rental house company in the world. They started like, hey, let’s make some let’s just rent out our own apartments, right, like, so you never know. A small idea can always lead in a big idea. But you have to get started. If you would do the other way around, they probably would never have launched Airbnb. So it’s the same with you know, my biggest exit was an blog about soap operas. When I started it, I just made a, you know, logo in paints. I hired a writer from Upwork. And that was it. I was not planning to make a huge website that will make millions of dollars, I was just like, hey, let’s just get started. And it was you know, launch it in a couple of days. And then along the way, you’re going to test and see what works what doesn’t work. Oh, let’s improve the logo. Let’s hire another writer. Let’s oh, let’s add this. Oh, this isn’t you know, this idea didn’t work. Let’s try something else. And along the way, you’re gonna you know you’re gonna improve on your product or service or whatever you do. So don’t overthink get started and pivot also be don’t have shame of pivoting like I’ve felt way more times than I succeeded. And you know, pivot is also not failure. So you can always pivot to another idea. So that’s my

Kara Goldin 29:58
I totally Arrays. So, Ramon van Meer, founder and CEO of Genius Litter, thank you so much for sharing all your wisdom and lessons and what a great product, what a great company will definitely be watching. You will have all the info in the show notes as well. And thank you again for coming on. Have a great rest of the week. And thanks, everyone for listening. Thank you. Thanks again for listening to the Kara Goldin show. If you would, please give us a review and feel free to share this podcast with others who would benefit and of course, feel free to subscribe so you don’t miss a single episode of our podcast. Just a reminder that I can be found on all platforms at Kara Goldin. I would love to hear from you too, so feel free to DM me. And if you want to hear more about my journey, I hope you will have a listen or pick up a copy of my Wall Street Journal, best selling book undaunted where I share more about my journey including founding and building hint. We are here every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Thanks for listening and good bye for now.