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Longboat Key Thursday, Aug. 27, 2020 4 months ago

Pet care startup makes Longboat Key home

We Nuzzle plans to launch its on-demand pet-care services app this fall in parts of Florida.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

A technology company that connects people, pets and caregivers has made its home in Longboat Key.

We Nuzzle is a mobile app in development that will eventually provide on-demand pet care services, something founder Brian Bennett says is in demand because of a spike in pet adoptions during the COVID-19 quarantines.

 “Now they need care,” he said.

We Nuzzle's offices at 5610 Gulf of Mexico Drive feature a water fountain and tiny dog park. However, the offices are not a pet-care facility.

We Nuzzle's offices at 5610 Gulf of Mexico Drive feature a water fountain and a tiny dog park, but it isn't a pet-care facility.

Bennett is planning to launch We Nuzzle this fall  in parts of Florida, first in a zone from Naples to Clearwater, then expanding.

“Then it goes across the country,” Bennett said. “That’s the goal.”

Here’s how it will work: A pet owner opens the We Nuzzle application or website. The user then selects which kind of pet they have and their service request. The services include walk, play, check in, day care, rides or subscriptions. We Nuzzle then connects the pet owner to vetted gig workers, known as “Nuzzlers.”

For example, a 30-minute walk will cost We Nuzzle users $20. The Nuzzlers would make $12 per 30-minute walk with the company.

“It’s a rule of 12. If they do an hour walk, they make $24 an hour,” Bennett said. “Plus, everybody’s gonna tip you and if [it’s] $24, they’re probably going to tip you up to $30. Thirty dollars an hour? I’ll go out and do this stuff.”

The company is planning to vet and train the gig workers using its We Nuzzle Academy, which will provide an interactive and online learning program. The program educates the providers or “Nuzzlers” on company services, app functionality, customer service, safety, security, sanitation and animal welfare.

Founder Brian Bennett said his goal is to launch the We Nuzzle app by the fall.

We Nuzzle must compete with the pet-care platforms Wag and Rover, which Bennett said are both “multi-billion dollar companies.” 

“The biggest issue with the application with those two companies is they operate dating sites,” Bennett said.

Bennett believes there is an opportunity for We Nuzzle to provide better pet-care services in realtime compared to what Wag or Rover provide.

“When you go into a website, you don’t want to click more than three times to get where you want to get,” We Nuzzle CEO John Myers said.

“Guess what we are? Realtime, on-demand, get it now and pick who you want to come to your house,” Bennett said. 

Upon making a selection, the user will be able to use the app’s GPS feature to track the Nuzzler in realtime much like Uber or Lyft.

The company estimates the pet-care industry was worth $86 billion in 2018, with $6 billion spent on app-based pet care.

How We Nuzzle started 

Bennett earned his Ph.D. in biochemistry and molecular pharmacology in 2006 from the University of Massachusetts. He retired in 2018 and moved to Florida after working in Utah for several years in the medical industry.

“Two years ago, I moved here and you get bored really quick,” Bennett said. “You think you’re retired for a day and you’re like, ‘I gotta do something.’”

Bennett said he knew nothing about the gig economy when he signed up to drive for Uber, eventually deciding to deliver food for UberEats, Grubhub and Postmates.

“When you’re dealing with the gig industry, you are dealing with such a diversity in background in people, ” Bennett said. “You have a guy out there who’s got a high-level education. You may have someone who just graduated high school. There has to be a common dominator. None of them seek it or they just don’t bother.”

Shortly after, Bennett decided to enter the gig space by reaching out to his friend Myers.

Founder Brian Bennett shows how We Nuzzle provides its pet-care providers gear, which includes T-shirts and water bottles.

The company’s color motif is an homage to Longboat Key’s beach.

“It’s supposed to be Beer Can [Island] off the end of Longboat,” Bennett said. 

Before joining We Nuzzle, Myers spent his career as an executive at General Motors and Comcast NBCU.

“I said, ‘Think about it, what’s the dream, John? We live on an island, man. We can ride our beach cruiser bikes to work and hang out all day,’” Bennett joked. “Oh, man, did that go south.”

We Nuzzle CEO John Myers demonstrates how the company uses data in its decision making.

Myers credits his startup success when he helped GM launch a manufacturing plant in Thailand.

“We went in there and we hired 42 GM executives from all over the world and built a manufacturing plant in a country we didn’t even speak the language in,” Myers said.

Bennett and Myers chose pet care for their love of pets. They also believe there is an opportunity in the industry with creating intellectual property.

What’s next for We Nuzzle

Bennett said the company has about a $5 million valuation. Business information provider Crunchbase shows We Nuzzle has raised $888,000 so far.

“This is going to be the hardest startup,” Bennett said. “I built the most powerful microscope in the world in 2011. This is harder.”

The company employs nine people, but there are plans to employ dozens more in the coming months.

We Nuzzle also had to adjust to the economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

Bennett and Myers said the U.S. Small Business Administration loaned We Nuzzle $5,000 on its Paycheck Protection Program.

“We were like full ramped up in February. We had everybody going. We’re spending like crazy [and] freaking COVID hits,” Bennett said. “We’re a startup with no income.”

Before officially launching the app later this year, Bennett and Myers say they must raise $1 million.

“The challenge I see from my side of the business is when we’re trying to attract investors, most of our investors aren’t familiar with the gig industry,” Myers said. “Their basic financial assumptions are built around the typical things that we see in big companies, not the things that we see in the gig industry, where the app runs and drives the business.

“And everything you do is to drive people to that app because that’s where the solutions are.”

While Bennett officially founded We Nuzzle in October 2019, he said he’s been working on it for more than a year.

“I love what we built,” Bennett said. “In the end, I hope that my last project is the one people remember me for.”

Mark Bergin is the Longboat Key Town Hall reporter for the Observer. He has previously worked as a senior digital producer at WTSP, the CBS affiliate in St. Petersburg. Mark is a graduate of the University of Missouri and grew up in the Chicagoland area.

See All Articles by Mark

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