Waiheke Island resident Todd O'Hara, 29, discusses his plans for his pet care business Little Green Dog and how he hopes the idea will clean up the environment.
What does your business do?
Little Green Dog is a plastic-free and compostable dog poop bag company. We produce bags that are made out of corn and potatoe starch and break down through composting rather than biodegration. I started looking into things in January and by the time we found a supplier it was February so it's been about six months now since our first initial trial. The bags are manufactured in China.
What was the motivation for starting it?
We started looking into being more conscious about our waste in general, especially living on Waiheke, we wanted to make sure we were doing the right thing and it wasn't until we started looking at bin liners as being biodegradable and the difference between a compost and biodegradable bin liner that we became aware of what biodegradable actually means. I started looking at the plastic bags I was using for Sven, my dog, and they felt plastic, but they all said biodegradable on the box so I thought it was fine, which turns out not to be the case. I'd stock up on bags every time I was overseas, do the right thing by buying the expensive biodegradable ones but once we realised that biodegradable is just plastic with additives I felt cheated, so I started looking into it and no one here was really doing it properly.
What's been the response to Little Green Dog?
The response we've been getting from people trying the bags has been acknowledgement that this is a better product than the plastic alternative. The bags are obviously more expensive than plastic ones but we try to price them exactly the same as biodegradable ones so it's not so difficult for people to make the switch. We can't make enough bags, which is such a cool problem to have.
Every production run we do has been double the size of the one before hand and I'm still running out of stock before the new ones arrive. It's exciting, it's inspiring. In terms of boxes sold were at about 2000 boxes now which is 250,000 bags.
Where are the bags sold?
We're trying to avoid the big chains for as long as possible, we're trying to use this as a tool to help small and independent pet stores be able to reach out to their own communities and encourage repeat customers. We sell online at Pet Connect and we have a whole bunch of offline retailers who are dog daycares, dog groomers and independently own stores.
Your six months into running the business, what do you hope to achieve in the remaining six months of the year?
My goal is to kick plastic out of the dog industry but in terms of six months growth we hope to be at least 10 times the size of what we are now. If we can get two million bags out to the world that would be a good way to end the year. It's tough changing people's mind sets when for so long they've been thinking they are doing the right thing by buying biodegradable, and so it is going to require a bit of time and education. People don't want to feel like they've been doing the wrong thing so it's a case of leading through example and not leading through shaming.
What are your plans for expansion?
We'll start with poop bags - I want to make sure we dominate this market first and achieve our original goal of making sure we remove plastic bags from the dog market, but once we've done that there's scoop for expansion throughout the rest of the pet industry to look at what we're doing, how we're consuming, to look at how we pack. Every dog eats and every dogs poops so that's a good place to start. There's a bunch of opportunities for improvement that we can tap into.
What advice do you give others thinking about starting their own businesses?
Make sure you plan properly. Be prepared for the month of setting up the business properly and be prepared to run up against bigger players who are super well-funded and super competitive. Focus on why you are starting the business and hold true to that.