Wendy Wen: Founder of Antelope Pets

Episode 512

Wendy Wen, Founder of Antelope Pets, discusses her journey in building a leading provider of all-natural pet care through their brands include Ark Naturals, Bocce's Bakery, Super Snouts, My Perfect Pet and Doggo. Antelope’s buy-and-build strategy seeks to transform the pet industry by identifying and acquiring the highest-quality natural pet consumable brands and nurturing their growth. With a commitment to excellence, Antelope Pets aims to become the go-to family of brands for pet owners searching for natural, high-quality pet consumables. I can’t wait for you to listen to 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. Super excited to have my next guest here we have Wendy Wen who is the founder of Antelope Pets, amongst other things. She’s a serial entrepreneur. Very, very excited. I knew her and her previous venture. And I’m very excited to see what she’s doing today. She’s leading antelope pets is a leading provider of all natural pet care products with a focus on healthy and limited ingredients through their buy and build strategy. Antelope seeks to transform the pet industry. And we’re going to get a lot more into that how they’re doing that they have a commitment to excellence aims to become the go to family of brands for pet owners. And just some of the brands that you may recognize which are under her umbrella are Ark naturals, Boches, bakery, super snouts and doggo. And I’m sure she has plans for a few others that are in the works. But the products are delicious, according to my three labs. And I can’t wait to chat more with Wendy about her experience starting and building this incredible company. So let’s get started. Welcome, Wendy.

Wendy Wen 1:59
Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited to be here.

Kara Goldin 2:02
I’m super excited to to not only have you on but also to see you and you just had your second child. Congratulations. Very exciting.

Wendy Wen 2:13
My second human puppy, my third, baby because my first my firstborn is my dog. Yes.

Kara Goldin 2:21
Oh, very. There you go. That’s, that’s hysterical. My kids all say that. My dogs are just like my children. So and so I totally totally understand that. So. So can you describe Antelope Pets for people? What exactly is it in your words?

Wendy Wen 2:41
Yeah, think about us as a PNG slash, you know, method or Honest Company for pets. What that means is we are an umbrella of high quality, natural chemicals, free consumable products for pets. And that includes food treats, supplements, etc. were run as one consolidated Company. And we do this by going out finding the highest quality founder owned brands that require some help to scale it to the next level. We partner with them by acquiring them. And then we leveraged synergies across you know, distribution channels, marketing and branding, operational economies of scale efficiencies, and better data and reporting to help them scale to the next level. So we’ve partnered with Alpine investors, a private equity fund to raise money, we’ve raised 100 million of equity to basically go out and acquire these acquire these founder own brands. To date, we’ve acquired five brands actually, we just closed a fifth one that you did a name it’s called My perfect pet. It’s a it’s a fresh dog food company. That is just absolutely amazing. Their their food is made in this industrial sized kitchen in Sulphur Springs, Texas, that is cleaner than my own kitchen at home. It’s amazing. My son actually accidentally started eating the spoon, like liked it and it’s human grade like my son, my 23 month old son could totally eat this. And you know, the reason I started antelope is because I have a deep seated passion for high quality, you know, better for you food and treats for my personal dog like I love. Like I mentioned pokey is my dog. He’s my firstborn. I had him before I had any human babies and I was always this obsessive dog mom who was researching the best food for him the best supplements for him because I wanted to live 20 years you know, I don’t want him to live. I want to live wanting to live a long and high quality life because I love him so much. He’s He’s my baby. He’s my first baby and What I learned about the pet industry is that, you know, the big five, a lot of their products are really processed. It’s like, what’s available out there on mass is similar to feeding your pets, Doritos and cereal every day. And the thing is, innovation isn’t really happening at the large places, they’re happening with passionate Mom and Pop owners, mom and pops owners are discovering ailments they’re encountering with their own dog. And then they, they basically try to kind of come up with solutions for them. So they create fantastic formulations, but oftentimes they lack the access to capital, the scale, the team, and the sales and marketing, you know, breadth and know how the negotiating leverage to scale past a certain level. And what we do as we go out, we buy them out, we give the founders liquidity, we allow the founders to focus on a role that they’re truly passionate about. So they’re not doing everything they can just focus on, say, product development, or they can focus on marketing and branding and education. And we take everything else off their plates. And then we we run the brands together as one entity, so that we can leverage economies of scale to grow faster and to cross sell. And to just get these fantastic products into the hands of more and more pet owners and thereby pets. And the name antelope. Ante means to increase the stakes of low means to jump at the bounding stride. And truly together, we believe we can elevate the standards of the pet industry because as these amazing high quality products gain more usage, we’re actually making a difference in the lives of our pets.

Kara Goldin 6:48
I love it. I have I have two two year old Labradors. And one who’s going to be 15. Next week, so I’m all about Yeah, yeah, change

Wendy Wen 7:00
is great for Labrador. That’s awesome. You’re

Kara Goldin 7:06
amazing. So this is not your first company? How did? How did you come up with this idea? Like, where did this come from? I mean, obviously, I think whenever you’re in, you know, kind of the Founder World, which you were in, you meet other founders, and I think access to capital, particularly female entrepreneurs, it seems to be that much harder. Not impossible. But how did you come up with this idea that if you could solve this problem and create this platform? What like, where did this come from?

Wendy Wen 7:42
Yeah, yeah, great, great question. You know, I started my career in private equity. So I’m actually pretty familiar with the mechanics of m&a acquisition. And, and I was looking into the industry more from a consumer perspective, because I was just doing some research on, you know, the best food and treats to give to my dog. And I just noticed that the products with the highest quality, for example, bought cheese, if you turn it around to the to the back of the label, you can see all the ingredients and less than two lines. Versus if you go to like a big box retailer, and you look at any other treat, there’s usually like 16 lines of ingredients that can’t pronounce anyway. So in my search for the healthiest, highest quality products for my dog, I discovered that there was sort of this gap in terms of, you know, a, in a conglomerate, or a big umbrella of go to high quality pet brands, like I had to do a lot of my research to find these little brands that I wish there was a one stop shop destination where I can be like, Okay, anything with, you know, the analog stamp of approval on it, I could trust as a consumer. So that’s one like from a consumer perspective. And then to from like, a more business philosophy perspective, I just, I saw that roll ups were kind of coming into vogue back in 2020 2021. If you remember, there was a wave of Amazon FBA roll up aggregators at the time. And I remember thinking, like, I love the idea of a roll up, I didn’t love the idea of having the platform risk of relying just on, you know, an E commerce platforms such as Amazon, where they can screw you over with one change of their algorithm. I also didn’t like that they were, you know, acquiring businesses across all different verticals and industries. But I thought you know, there might be an opportunity to kind of do a roll up in the pet space where I I just focused on pet and I focused on on me channels. So these, these brands that we’re acquiring are online offline, they’re an independent pet. They’re, they’re in you know, Oh, they’re just everywhere, and and basically focus on this particular industry and vertical of pet consumables, because that’s where you can get a lot of synergies. And so my m&a background and getting inspired by looking at what’s going on elsewhere, and my personal passion for high quality nutrition for my pet, really was the, you know, catalyst catalyst for for getting antelope started. And in terms of alpine investors, fundraising. This is where I feel like your life is really, you know, serendipitous, and where it’s meant to be, when I started sunrise, my handbag brand with with my co founder previously, we went around and raised angel funding from our business school professors. So we kind of pass the hat around and got our business school professors to each pitch in some money from, from their own pockets. And one of one of these generous, what I call venture philanthropists was was a man named Graham Weaver, who happens to be the founder of Alpine. So he was an angel investor in Sunrise. And when I was leaving sunrise and thinking about my next idea was, you know, becoming antelope. I try talk to him about this. And he was like, I love the idea. My private equity fund does, you know, high frequency m&a, we tend to specialize in software and services, but we are excited about venturing into consumer, especially consumables. And we’d love to partner with you and back you. And so that’s really, that’s really how I was able to get the funding to get your love started as well.

Kara Goldin 11:37
That’s amazing. So it is a separate company. It’s not it’s not your company, in addition to that Alpine is totally separate. Alpine

Wendy Wen 11:47
is just a back backer. Yeah. Background.

Kara Goldin 11:50
That’s great. So you talked about sunreef? And what did you learn from that experience? That it I love the the idea that you’ve been an operator, right? There are other people who have done roll up strategies. Some are actual private equity firms who have done roll up strategies, but they haven’t actually been in the seat of being a founder or co founder or an operator. And I love the idea that you’ve had that experience. You have, I know empathy for for that role as well. And which is amazing on many, many fronts. But what did you learn from that experience that you can share with other entrepreneurs? Maybe who are going through it? Or who are thinking? I don’t know what the heck, I was thinking going in here.

Wendy Wen 12:41
Yeah, I mean, I love talking about this, honestly, I think, I think number one, I learned that resiliency, and persistence can get you really, really far. Entrepreneurs don’t fail, they choose to give up. And this is something Graham Weaver had taught me, right when I was starting SunRype, who said, Vince Lombardi who was a quarterback. A while back had said, I’ve never lost a single football game, sometimes I just run out of time. And that’s the same concept for entrepreneurship. If there is a will, there is a way, if you are running into any roadblocks, and you don’t give up you will find a solution. It just might take you a bit longer and truly going through the center of experience and getting getting my nose, you know, bloodied and, you know, trying really hard to get this, you know, luxury handbag brand off the ground, like, taught me this belief in the impossible. This belief that with enough willpower, we can make things happen. I mean, with Sunrun, we were selling $900 handbags, that we’re competing against the likes of Celine and Irma’s and Louie Vuitton. And we did it you know, we did it. We got the likes of Oprah Jessica Alba. Angelina Jolie carrying our bags, which everybody else when we were starting, the company was telling us it was going to be impossible for us to do. And so that’s, that’s probably number one. Number two, I made a lot of mistakes at sunrise. It was my first time starting a company, I would say I was always in firefighting mode. And I prioritize just accidentally the urgent, not necessarily not necessarily the important. Doing it over again. I’m flipping that on its head and really thinking about okay, as a founder and CEO, what are the most important things that I should be focused on? And really, it comes down to three things. It’s number one, people, you know, people in hiring culture retention, like thinking about the best team to get you from where you are today to a multibillion dollar brand is so hard to do and require so much time and investment and strategy and saw an energy and effort from only you, the founder and CEO that nobody else can do. And this was something that I just did on the side at sunrise, my full time job is running the business. And I kind of always deprioritize this one. The second is a very clear vision and strategy. So constantly thinking, Where are we going? What is the what is the 10 year plan? What is the five year plan? What is the quarterly plan? What is the monthly plan, what’s the annual plan, and aligning that with your team is so important, because once you hire the best people, and you give them very clear outcomes to hit, then things will, things will blossom, good things will happen. And the third, the third piece is is capital management and capital efficiency that’s really like cash, cash, cash, you know, capital allocation, that’s also CEOs job. So everything from fundraising, to managing the investors to m&a, like figuring out how to deploy our capital, and keeping a very close eye on our profitability and cash. And then everything else. And obviously, there’s like the external branding aspect, like, you know, doing things like this, only the founder and CEO can do, but everything else, if I can delegate it and empower somebody else to do it, I should do that. And this is, this is a lesson that I I think it’s hard for first time entrepreneurs to grasp. Because in the beginning, when you’re starting a company, from from the ground up every little problem, problem feels like it’s life or death. And as a result, you don’t necessarily carve out the appropriate time and mind space, to focus on these three important but non urgent, strategic priorities that only you as a founder and CEO can do. And so having both kind of the belief in the impossible, as well as this ability to kind of focus then step back and think about the strategy and vision and people and capital allocation, you know, empowered me to kind of be better CEO with antelope that I learned from sunrise. I

Kara Goldin 17:08
love it. So you’re, as you were starting analog pets, what was the first acquisition that you made? Yeah,

Wendy Wen 17:16
the first one we made was Bob cheese bakery in October 2021. It’s a limited ingredients natural dog treats brand that I kind of talked about a little bit earlier. And Boches bakery was founded by these two sisters. 16 years ago, they started baking the treats in their West Village apartment. super high quality, homemade treats. And we’re really fortunate that they picked antelope to be their forever home. It fits our all of our criteria. Our criteria for acquisitions are number one, the product needs to be high quality, all natural chemicals, free fillers free, you know, really better for you. And two needs to have demonstrated Phanatic sort of customer love, and repeat purchase, such that we can pour fuel on the fire and help them expand to the next level. And Bochy has checked both of those boxes very well.

Kara Goldin 18:15
I love it. So you mentioned this before, but you just made a recent acquisition, you have three others that are part of the strategy all in consumables. So that’s really what the focus is that you’re doing.

Wendy Wen 18:30
Yes, yes, yes, we have. We have five companies under our own umbrella right now. Four of them are CPG consumables, the fifth one doggo is a little bit off to the right field, but we think it fits. It’s an insurance company. It’s a dog insurance, a pet insurance company with an on demand training component. But our main bread and butter focus is sort of CPG consumable. So we’re looking at various food trade supplements, grooming brands for both cats and dogs.

Kara Goldin 19:05
Have you seen a significant change? You talked about, you know, less ingredients and more natural, obviously, but especially with the fact that you’ve got information on insurance for these pets, which I think is brilliant on on many fronts, but can you share any insights on this consumer? Do you think that they’re changing and evolving even more? So?

Wendy Wen 19:33
You’re, I mean, if you look at the generational shift and attitude towards our pets, it’s tremendous. Historically, there was this term called urine the dog house right like that’s, that’s when you’re in trouble. How many dogs today do you know live in dog houses outside the house? None. Why? My dog lives on my pillow. He gets better He gets a better spot in our bed than my husband does. He especially like pushes my husband aside. And that’s like a shift in mindset. Pets are no longer companion animals, their family member, right, their family members and I, I have employees who tell me when do I skip, you know, dinner out in New York, so that I could spend more money on high quality dog food for my dog like people are willing or willing to sacrifice their personal comfort and personal like lifestyle to give the best to their dogs. And lastly, I think another big trend is that consumers are demanding more transparency, and health and wellness. They’re we’re smarter now. We’re savvy we are now we want to read up on ingredients, we want to do our own research, we’re not just going to accept whatever you know, is pushed to us on the shelves of a store. And that’s that’s happened in the human space, right? There’s been a revolution on the human side with increased focused on, you know, ingredients transparency, and health and wellness. And that trend is trickling over into the pet space. And so I think antelope is really poised to deliver on this pent up demand in terms of pet parents wanting better for you products for their pets.

Kara Goldin 21:19
Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. So what is the biggest challenge that you are facing in growing this? I mean, I guess what I see as you’ve got the antelope, pets brand, and then you’ve got smaller brands that are underneath it. Lots of brands. So what how do you prioritize any of those?

Wendy Wen 21:42
It’s a really great question. And you know, the hardest thing right now is building our integration playbook. Okay, we’re focused on a playbook to codify and replicate a process by which any brand under antelopes umbrella is more valuable than standalone or acquired by anybody. That is our that is our number one challenge. And that includes things like what is the integration process? What are the lower hanging low hanging fruit levers we’re going to pull to drive increased synergies upon acquisition? What is our plan for people? How do we retain a plus talent from the acquired brands and allow them in their careers to flourish under the antelope umbrella more so than if they were standalone? Because we’re acquiring a lot of great teams? Right? But how do you have a integration plan to fit them into this broader organization? And then lastly, how do you simultaneously allow each brand to reach their fullest potential and that fullest potential may be very different for a supplements brand, like super snap, like a holistic supplements brand, like Super Snacks? And a food brands like my perfect pet? Right? They’re just, they’re gonna have different channels that they play and they’re gonna have a different messaging component, but how do we simultaneously prioritize the respective unique, you know, journeys for each of our brands? And we are we are developing we’re doing it one at a time like Bochy is, is a great example. We bought this brand at the end of 2021. And, you know, in the last two years, right, because it’s been about two ish years, they’ve tripled in size under our ownership. And so it’s a matter of how do we keep replicating that for every new acquisition we acquire? And how do we scale it so that we can do it faster? Yeah, codifying the integration playbook was the hardest thing. Yeah.

Kara Goldin 23:51
And would you keep those brands all underneath an umbrella or eventually might you spin them out? We

Wendy Wen 23:59
are not going to send them out. We see antelope as a consolidated Family of Brands. And we plan to always stay together. It’s very deeply integrated now with each other. I mean, we have one sales team, okay, one sales, selling, you know botches to personnel, it’s Ark naturals, my perfect pet, rather than, you know, just for sales teams, because we believe that’s where the synergies happen if you have a really strong relationship with independent pet distributor, it makes a lot of sense for you to leverage that relationship and sell multiple brands rather than have, you know, a different salesperson for each brand. And I think there’s power and scale. So we would be hurting ourselves and our value by kind of separating things out the sum of the parts should be greater than the whole.

Kara Goldin 24:48
Yeah, absolutely. So what strategies have you deployed to build an even stronger community around these brands? So obviously We antelope pets has multiple brands, as we just talked about underneath this umbrella, but how do you see social kind of impacting the growth of all of these brands that maybe have already built up some communities?

Wendy Wen 25:17
It’s so important for us to reach our consumers. I just talked about how our consumers are different now. Right? They’re, they’re desiring more information. They’re seeking out information. They’re online, offline, everywhere. And so Instagram, tik, Tok, blogs, you know, all of these podcasts like this one, YouTube, it’s so critical for any new age CPG company, any consumer company, to be masters at delivering their messaging, and educating customers across all these platforms, I think from from a foundational perspective, our vision is to be educators, okay, through social media, through these channels, we want to educate our passionate pet parents on how to become the best caretakers for their, for their human or for their furry, furry kids. And so all of our content kind of has that ethos. And then at the same time, we’re telling the messaging of why our particular brands can meet their respective needs. And so we’re really investing in in Tik Tok and YouTube and Instagram influencers in a way that, you know, traditional, larger conglomerates and companies may not just have a focus on Yeah,

Kara Goldin 26:39
definitely. So best advice for any founders that are thinking about starting their own company based on what you know, I feel like you’ve, you know, gotten incredible experience, as we mentioned, just with being an operator, but now you’ve, you’re actually taking these brands and putting them under an umbrella and you’re seeing a ton about what is working, what isn’t working, and really how to set yourself up for success. What do you think is the key message that you want to leave with people?

Wendy Wen 27:14
I think, number one, just do it, you know, if you have an itch, to scratch that itch, there’s not a lot of downside to pursuing that journey. Besides your time, and your energy. And the experience you’re going to have from drinking from that firehose of trying to figure out how to get a company off the ground is going to be so, so valuable no matter what you do next, even if you fail, even if you invest four or five years of your life, in a venture that you’re deeply passionate about, and it fails, you can always get another job, you would have gained so many, you know, badges of honor scar tissues, from that experience that you can conquer any future challenge, whether as an executive at another company, whether as a VC investor, whether as a second time entrepreneur, like you’re gonna It’s just such a valuable experience. And so my advice to people who have that itch is to just go and scratch it. People never regret trying things. They always regret things they never did. Yeah,

Kara Goldin 28:19
I totally agree. So Wendy, when thank you so much for joining us, founder of Antelope pets, with all of the terrific brands underneath that umbrella. We’ll have all the info in the show notes as well. But thank you again for joining us, and best of luck with everything.

Wendy Wen 28:37
Thank you so much for having me. Take care.

Kara Goldin 28:41
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.