Anne Carlson, founder and CEO of Jiminy’s, spent two years building her new sustainable pet food business before she could tell the story of why she started it. It turns out that the story was too emotional for Anne to share publicly. It was a classic “target story” that began with a disturbing conversation Anne had with her adult daughter about the future of our planet. The talk was the “incendiary incident” in her story that led the former director of Del Monte to tackle climate change by identifying new protein sources for pet food — starting with crickets. Since the company’s inception, Anne and her team have raised $6 million in seed money, secured distribution in 1,100 Petco stores, built a direct-to-consumers business, and generated millions in annual revenue. Now that Anne is looking for a Series A to dramatically grow the business, she has a new challenge in storytelling.
But this startup story starts with Anne’s origin story.
At Del Monte, Anne helped merge and sell her pet food assets and rebrand them as Big Heart Pet Brands. In 2016, the JM Smucker Company bought the new pet brand and Anne moved on to her next thing. Around this time, Anne had a conversation that most parents end up having with their adult children about whether they ever want to have children. Anne’s daughter replied, “no.” She wouldn’t want to bring them into a world that was changing because of climate change. Anne was heartbroken. She wished her daughter would experience the same joy of raising a family. And she might also feel a little guilty for not doing enough to change the story. Looking back, Anne says, “I realized I couldn’t just do a normal job after that – building a better future for her was everything.”
Through Anne’s experience in animal nutrition she knew that estimated 25%-35% of domestic meat production was used to feed dogs and cats. Dogs alone consume 32 billion pounds of protein annually. The environmental impact of pet feeding in the US is huge, due to the sheer amount of land, water and feed required to raise cows and chickens. While researching alternatives, Anne found that insects, especially crickets, are a great source of protein that require a fraction of the resources to produce traditional meat products. For example, cricket production generates 99% less greenhouse gas than chicken production. Jiminy’s was created to address this macro problem. In Anne’s early pitches, she focused on this big story.
But this is where things get more complicated and the real challenge of storytelling emerges. The story that inspired Anne to start the company is a memorable way to introduce Jiminy’s, but to bring a Series A to market, she also needs to convince investors that there’s a huge market of pet owners who want their want to feed dogs insect-based food. This is a common challenge for the founder who has a great story about the origin of his company. They told us their story, but they have yet to introduce the real protagonist in their product story. There has to be a customer with a range of needs that only Jiminy’s can solve.
The good news for Anne is that millennials and Gen Z owners are extremely aware of — and suffer from — the causes of climate change; and they are knowledgeable about emerging solutions. They also make up nearly half of dog ownership in the US. Now Anne has the protagonist for her new story.
Anne tells the story of Lauren, a millennial Jiminy customer whose dog Mordecai is “her baby.” Lauren, like Anne’s daughter, is so concerned about climate change that she chose to use the “greener” peer-to-peer video conferencing solution Crewdle instead of Zoom to broadcast her wedding during the pandemic. That’s the big picture. But when it comes to Mordecai, an adorable deaf rescue puppy, Lauren worries about her dog’s gut health. Mordechai isn’t very nice to be around, if he suffers from stomach ailments. Laura also wants meals that she can feed her pet throughout the day. Customized meal services are expensive and have way too much packaging. She would like to try a more sustainable pet food if it was healthy for the dog and available in different sizes. Lauren has heard that insects are an emerging source of protein and she is willing to try something new.
Jiminy’s answers the call. Jiminy’s is a sustainable pet food use of insect protein. For example, if Lauren switched from traditional meat-based pet food to Jiminy’s, it could save 200,000 to 2,000,000 gallons of water each year, depending on the size of the dog and whether the food had been eating chicken or beef ( Jiminy’s offers a eco calculator to find out). The food is nutritious, prebiotic and hypoallergenic. It contains fiber, iron, vitamins B2 and 12. And finally, Jiminy’s offers a wide range of products, from wet food to treats that can feed a dog all day long.
For her roadshow, Anne will lead with her emotional origin story and quickly switch to Lauren’s story. Potential investors will find out why Anne is so passionate about creating a new pet brand to fight climate change, and why customers like Lauren are buying it. Now Mordechai is a healthier dog and more fun to be around; and Lauren feels like she’s doing her part for the planet. It’s a powerful one-two punch that Anne hopes will help her raise an $8 million Series A to expand her business and promote a healthier future dog for dog.