This month we spoke to André Jordão, Founder & CEO at Barkyn.
Barkyn is a subscription service for pets, changing the pet market and reshaping the way the ecommerce experience should feel — human, seamless & beautiful. They have developed a world of nutrition, from pet food to supplements, delivered to your home, so that you never have to worry again if you’re giving the right thing to your dog. It’s true happiness in a box: food, goodies, vet support and personalized care all-in-one.
*This interview has been slightly edited for reading ease.
First, can you tell us about your professional background and the path that led you to Barkyn?
Prior to Barkyn, my professional background includes experience in consulting and corporate roles. I previously worked in consulting for a large corporate entity, and I also co-founded a successful company based in Germany that operated in a completely different industry. During that venture, we were able to secure significant funding and experienced substantial growth. However, I had a desire to return to my home country of Portugal and embark on a new entrepreneurial journey. This led me to start Barkyn, driven by both rational and emotional factors.
The rational aspect behind Barkyn was recognizing the vast potential of the pet market, which is often underestimated. It is a sizable industry that continues to witness remarkable growth. Moreover, the average expenditure per customer is increasing, and there is a significant amount of untapped innovation within the market. On an emotional level, I wanted to solve my own issues as a customer in this market. As a lifelong dog lover, I encountered challenges with my own pets, such as their particular food preferences. They also hate going to the vet, so I didn’t have any specialized advice with regards to nutritional care. So, from the beginning, our aim was to create a service that addressed these concerns, catering to fellow dog owners like us.
We always understood our target market because we our customers’ pain points and unmet needs. We also realized that this market was super standardized and fragmented, so our objective became to offer a highly customizable basket at an affordable price point.
What is your personal experience with pets, what’s been your most meaningful experience with your pets?
I’ve always had dogs and one could in fact say that dogs have been a longstanding passion of mine even before my involvement with Barkyn. I possessed considerable knowledge on dog nutrition and behavior, to the extent that, at the age of 16, I aspired to become a veterinarian. However, I eventually realized that my talents and inclinations were more aligned with management and technology.
Barkyn, for me, connects the dots between two significant aspects of my life: my personal interest and expertise in dogs, and my academic background. The inspiration behind Barkyn comes from my two beloved dogs, Misty and Loopy. They are both Czechoslovakian Wolf Dogs, who are both very large and also very picky with their food. As the first beta testers for everything we develop at Barkyn, they continue to play a pivotal role in shaping and refining our products and services.
What has been the most crucial moment in the history of Barkyn so far?
It’s very difficult to name only one crucial moment, but one of them occurred when we clearly defined and established the business purpose of Barkyn. This purpose not only encapsulates the experience we aim to deliver but also the reasons behind our endeavors and the transformative impact we seek to create in the market. This purpose can be summarized into one simple sentence: “a greater life together.” Since then, I’d say two years after we started our business, we crystalized our purpose. Everything that we do is really around the idea of providing a much better life for our pet families.
It is important to note that our focus extends beyond merely serving pets or dog owners; instead, we are dedicated to serving pet families as a whole. Our objective is to help people realize how lucky they are to have a furry companion while striving to make every aspect of pet care convenient, seamless, and personalized. In essence, we are solving all of the pains of pet care and making everything very simple so that pet owners can enjoy all the small moments with their beloved pets.
Do you have any tips or advice for someone who has a business idea and wants to get started?
Sure, if I were to give only three pieces of advice, they would be the following. Firstly, focus on structuring your execution really well, clearly defining, both for yourself and for your team, your vision, your strategic drivers, and a system to define priorities ranked by level of impact and complexity. So, build a system that enables you to define where you are adding value, why you are doing so, and maximizes the efficiency of your time investment down to the granular level of each task. Execution is a key element of startup growth. Secondly, focus on your differentiation. This is probably one of the main reasons why startups fail, because they are fundamentalists or purists around their product, and they don’t realize that they don’t have a strong enough differentiation. It should be very clear for your customers that you are selling something very different, something that they cannot find anywhere else, and something that solves a pain they can relate easily to. Lastly, and this is very important, don’t neglect your personal performance. As founders, we tend to focus 100% on the business, serving the team and individuals within the team, while operating at a high pace. However, many aspects also rely on your personal performance, as your role as a founder and CEO primarily revolves around making high-quality decisions. Achieving this depends on your personal well-being, encompassing both the mental and physical aspects. Therefore, I personally place great emphasis on personal performance, which includes activities such as working out, maintaining proper nutrition, ensuring sufficient sleep, nurturing curiosity, and having time to explore and research.
You mentioned the importance of managing your time as a founder. If you could go back in time, is there anything you’d do differently?
I would do a lot things differently, probably, because this is a learning process and what I know today I would apply a lot of lessons to the past retroactively. If I had to highlight one I would say recruitment, because people are what dictate the level of success that you will have. Today, I would weight context over experience, meaning always recruiting people that needed before a certain speciality or area in your role, over the number of years of experience and their perspective on their previously held roles. We always weighted culture in our recruitment process but today I would weight culture way above skills. Instead of 30% culture and 70% skills, I’d flip those weights the other way around, because that’s the long term return that we have from a team member in a startup. If they have the right traits they will learn anything, they will always be curious and find ways to solve problems, and that’s the most important long term asset that we can get from someone and not necessarily their current absolute skills.
What was the role of Indico on Barkyn’s journey?
Indico was our first institutional VC, that helped us make the bridge from a very early-stage seed company to a scale up. This bridge is very critical because it makes the connection between having good signs of product market fit to really proving the product at scale. So, Indico was absolutely critical for the ramp-up phase of our company. Also, Indico was always with us for the next phases of growth, including where we are now, together with other international VCs.
What has been the most challenging part of growing a startup? And also, in contrast to that what has been the most fun part?
The most challenging part is always managing our own speed and uncertainty. It’s like building a train while travelling in that same train at high speed. This is very necessary for a startup because ultimately your most fundamental competitive advantage is speed, which means both learning and deploying innovation much faster than the corporate world. However, managing at this high pace is always very challenging. On the contrary, we are doing this because it is also enjoyable. We are building what we envision, which is tailored to our customers, and building without the need to seek permission at every step of the way. Almost being a bit provocative, we aim to shake the market by introducing something that is truly beneficial for the customer and continuously iterating on that offering. The outcome is always satisfying to witness because it represents a highly democratic process. It’s not solely determined by us, the founders, as we do not possess all the authority. Instead, it is shaped by the opinions and perspectives of the wider consumer base, reflecting what they perceive as valuable and intriguing.
If you had the chance to talk to your dog, knowing that they would understand you, what would you tell them?
The first thing that comes to mind is what makes dogs truly special. Unlike humans, you don’t necessarily need to communicate with them verbally. Dogs possess a remarkable sensitivity and have the ability to perceive various signals that often elude us, allowing them to understand messages on an emotional level. However, if I were to tell them one thing, I would express my profound gratitude for their importance during crucial moments of my life. I would quite simply thank them to the best of my ability.
*Interview by Álvaro Furtado