The Tech Industry for Dynamic Learning with Leo Trottier
The Tech Industry for Dynamic Learning with Leo Trottier
California-based cognitive scientist Leo Trottier is a unique blend of cognitive scientist, software engineer, product designer, and entrepreneur.
His knowledge and connection led to creating a software that helps dogs and cats communicate through sound buttons to express themselves.
He is founder and CEO of CleverPet, that launched Fluent Pet, a now becoming popular pet kit in the marketplace.
Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:
- Leo shares his background that stirred his interest to the pet tech space
- Tips on how to launch a brand from a great idea
- Leo explains how he was able to bring FluentPet into the market
- COVID’s positive effect to the brand’s growth
- Branching out and joining the Amazon game for brand awareness and governance
- Leo advises to follow your gut to avoid any issues in the future
- Insight into the pet tech industry from a pioneer
In this episode…
Your expertise in a certain subject matter can lead you to innovate something that will make a difference in a space not yet explored by a lot of people.
Leo Trottier began got his interest when a speech pathologist trained her dog to talk. Though he wasn’t able to collaborate with her, TikTok and Facebook helped him connect to the right people that skyrocketed the popularity and success of his automated mass produced, dog and cat interaction and training software.
Join Martin Zerrudo on this episode of What Do You Do Next?, as he sits down with Leo Trottieer, Founder of CleverPet/FluentPet, to discuss how to become a successful start up in the pet tech space and their new program that aims to train kids in become junior teachers for dogs and cats.
Resources mentioned in this episode:
- Seller Universe Ecommerce Group
- Martin Zerrudo on LinkedIn
- Leo Trottier on LinkedIn
- Christina Hunger on LinkedIn
- An Interview with Alexis Devine
- FluentPet Junior Teacher Program
- Misha Beatty on What Do You Do Next?
- Brian Nwokedi on What Do You Do Next?
- Mike Jackness on What Do You Do Next?
- Daron Burke on What Do You Do Next?
- SellerX on What Do You Do Next?
- BBG on What Do You Do Next?
Sponsor for this episode:
This episode is brought to you by Seller Universe Ecommerce Group.
We provide essential Amazon and NetSuite service solutions for brand growth.
Seller Universe Ecommerce Group provides essential service solutions for brand growth and scale. We position brands for success through cost-effective growth initiatives and operational efficiencies. Our synchronized approach allows brands to dominate in today's complex, multiplatform ecommerce marketplace and ecosystem.
Our team at Seller Universe not only helps your brand on Amazon but we also do Netsuite implementation and anything that gives you a headache around inventory management.
To learn more about what we can do for you and your brand, visit selleruniverse.agency.
Martin Zerrudo (00:00):
Hi, I’m Martin Zerrudo. I'm the host of the “What Do You Do Next?” podcast. Whether you're just starting your e-commerce journey, finding ways to grow your online brand, or can't seem to find the right tool or partner to help you breakthrough. We're here to help, we interview experienced sellers, top strategic service providers and other seasoned e-commerce experts that will help you answer the question: What do you do next?
Past guests include Misha Khan, account executive from Pacvue, Don Pablo himself, Darron Burke from Don Pablo Coffee, Mike Jackness from EcomCrew, and we also spoke to some aggregators like SellerX, BBG and so much more. Today’s episode is brought to you by Seller Universe Ecommerce Group, that’s us. We're a global e-commerce agency providing essential Amazon, NetSuite, and Shopify service solutions.
So, let me give you an example, we had one client in the past that was selling on Amazon but needed a little bit of help in terms of sales so we started handling their PPC and DSP ads. By the way our ads team is run by former Amazonians, then what we were able to do is take them from a 2 ROAS to 8.3. So in layman’s terms in about 6 months they spent 300K in ads and we were able to convert it to 2.4 million in sales.
If that sounds interesting, please visit us at www.selleruniverse.agency
But today, I am talking to the one and only Leo.
Leo Trottier (01:15):
Ultimately it's a French word. So there's no correct English pronunciation, but I say Trottier
Martin Zerrudo (01:21):
Trottier,perfect! Today, I'm talking to the one, the only Leo Trottier, California based cognitive scientist, who has a unique blend of cognitive science experience, software engineer experience, product design and of course is an entrepreneur. He was trained at University of California, San Diego in close collaboration with the canine AAC test pilots, a group of people based in the US, Canada, Sweden, Netherlands, and Australia. He's made incredible progress teaching their dogs to use sound buttons, to express themselves, and is exactly the reason why he's the founder and CEO of Clever Pet, a startup that uses smart hardware to teach pets automatically through advanced cognitive and behavioral science techniques.
Hello, Leo. Thank you so much for joining us today. How are you?
Leo Trottier (02:02):
I'm great. How are you?
Martin Zerrudo (02:03):
Not too bad, Leo. I'm gonna be completely honest with you. When we started working together, I was absolutely ecstatic. I had seen videos on TikTok of pets, pressing the button, telling their owners they want to eat, or they wanna play, or they wanna hug, or they wanna go out and go for a walk. And it was just that moment seeing that connection between and I know we don't, I guess what's the correct terminology. Do we still call them pets or do we call them like our fur babies or however we relate to them? That connection was just so amazing to see.
Leo Trottier (02:38):
Yeah, no, it's been a wild, wild experience. So we originally started, Clever Pet. Years ago, 2013 was when things really got moving. Since launching the Fluent Pet brand, it's been quite the crazy wild ride and that was just a couple, couple years ago. It's been really exciting and things have gone far better than we could have ever hoped.
Martin Zerrudo (03:05):
Absolutely. Can you explain to the audience the difference? Or what is the connection between Clever Pet and a Fluent Pet? Is Clever just the parent?
Leo Trottier (03:12):
Yeah. Clever Pet is the parent company. Fluent Pet isn't some company, it's just a brand.
Martin Zerrudo (03:19):
Got it. Fantastic. And the idea for starting this, is it just from your love of pets, from your experience in school and kind of creating the research that goes into that cognitive connection between the owner and the pet? Where did the idea come from?
Leo Trottier (03:35):
My original background is in cognitive science and AI. I was at the University of Toronto in the cognitive science program, and I went straight from there into the PhD program at UC San Diego. So one of the kinds of things that you learn when you're doing cognitive science is the differences between humans and animals are not quite as big as people might have thought they were. A lot of the times when you're studying vision or memory or hearing, the things you're looking at, are fairly generic from one mammal to the next, or even from one animal to the next. We have photoreceptors in animals, probably all have it, but the exact same photoreceptors in their eyes.
Martin Zerrudo (04:25):
Some even more.
Leo Trottier (04:27):
Yeah, they have the same kind of auditory neurons. They probably do the same kind of cool tricks with respect to the way they're wired in order to make smart calculations about what's going on in their environment. So really what ends up being looked at is a lot of aspects of behavior and the brain that are not really particular to humans, which means the kinds of things that I've been interested in, tend to transcend from one species to the other. The original idea for Clever Pet was okay, you've got hundreds of millions of dogs and cats alone all day at home. They had nothing to do. They're bored, they're anxious, couldn't we use some software and hardware to make their time at home, not just more interesting, but maybe make it educational, maybe make it something that was inspiring for the humans that are involved. Maybe something that could help them, help dogs and cats or people connect to the other animals that are in their lives.
Martin Zerrudo (05:39):
Now, this question that you're asking, did this come in the midst of your research? Or was this something you always wondered growing up?
Leo Trottier (05:44):
My research was only tangentially related to this area. I mean, the inspiration was noticing that the connect, this depth camera from Microsoft that was popular in the late, was the first animal friendly computer interface.
Martin Zerrudo (06:03):
Wow. I never even made that connection. I remember playing, I think it was like bowling or just dancing or something like that with it. It also recognizes animals.
Leo Trottier (06:11):
Well, through software, it can be made to recognize animals. Every other interface, their keyboard, mouse, joystick, DDR pad.
Martin Zerrudo (06:25):
Leo Trottier (06:26):
All of them are made for humans.
Martin Zerrudo (06:30):
Leo Trottier (06:31):
But with the right algorithms, you could turn the Microsoft connect into probably a quite capable interface for dogs and cats of any size. And what's more, the connection is pointed at the living room. It's connected to a really sophisticated audio visual, interface display and sound system. It's got a fast computer associated with it. Thanks to some people's game consoles. It’s also usually got a fast internet connection. So over the course of the last 150 years, we've been taking our homes and kind of turning them into Skinner boxes of a type. Which little things that can do operant conditioning and there's probably some nefarious reason why that's the case, because, that's a way for large corporations to make money.
Martin Zerrudo (07:30):
Of course manufactured consent.
Leo Trottier (07:32):
Exactly. But the side benefit of it is that we've basically got almost all the pieces in place to provide really interesting and enriching interaction for the dogs and cats that are alone.
Martin Zerrudo (07:47):
How did you go from recognizing the abilities of adapting that connect interface into these buttons now that dogs and cats are able to press?
Leo Trottier (07:58):
So we launched the game console for dogs, which was the Clever Pet hub. And that was a device that had these three touch pads that light up and colors that dogs can see. And it was, we sold it for 300 bucks and we learned an enormous amount in the process. I learned a lot about hardware, design and manufacturing and went to market. But we also learned a lot about dogs and cats. Mostly dogs. But what was really cool is the dogs just kept surprising us. They kept on showing us, we kept on being really pessimistic about what they'd be able to do with the game console, with the Clever Pet hub. And they ended up being able to do a lot more.
Leo Trottier (08:49):
I think we developed this way, you know, we shipped in 2016. And then we kind of discontinued it in 2018. And so we were in a little bit of a hibernation mode, kind of figuring out what we were gonna do with the company. And it was in 2019 that basically this one woman, she's a speech language pathologist, fresh out of her speech language pathology training. And she wanted to apply all that she had learned to basically, teaching the dog that she had recently gotten. So this woman, her name's Christina Hunger, let's take the techniques that I've learned, and I've got a puppy, let's see if they work with this puppy. And she started documenting that. And in the fall of, 2019, she blew up on Instagram because her dog was doing some really cool stuff.
Martin Zerrudo (09:44):
Leo Trottier (09:45):
Millions of people saw what she was doing. She got a lot of media attention and all of them were basically DIYing their own interfaces.
Martin Zerrudo (09:55):
Version of it. Yeah.
Leo Trottier (09:56):
Their own version. So they were going to Home Depot, presumably, they buy some Velcro on Amazon. There was a very, very obvious product that was needed. You've got a community of people who are struggling and spending a lot of other time and money to make a thing that's inferior this is what mass production is for.
Martin Zerrudo (10:17):
How did you feel like this kind of grab, swell and grassroots approach to your idea was happening?
Leo Trottier (10:25):
Fluent Pet entered the scene in the spring of 2020. I actually chatted with Christina about it in the fall and she happened to be in San Diego. She ended up getting this amazing book deal and we didn't end up working together. But I did end up going to these Facebook groups that had been started up. Which, where there were thousands of people who were all trying to do the same thing that Christina was doing. And a lot of them in the span of a few months had already been having a huge amount of success.
Martin Zerrudo (10:56):
Leo Trottier (10:57):
So it was there. I said, “Hey, I've got a new product that I'd like to test out. Would you be interested”? And everyone was super. They're like, “Yes. Oh my God. I need something like this for my, like I can't keep doing this by using plywood.” So we got all the people that were not the originator. And we started meeting with them on a regular basis. I had one on one interviews with them and so we created a little community and I started shipping them prototypes. And within, that was probably in April or May and we started shipping mass produced versions of the Fluent Pet kit at the end of August.
Martin Zerrudo (11:50):
No, that's fantastic. Were you bootstrapping this whole thing yourself? Did you have people helping you out? What was the financial situation?
Leo Trottier (11:56):
Yeah, it was all bootstrapped. This whole brand was bootstrapped.
Martin Zerrudo (11:59):
Wow. So for those who are listening, that, they have a great idea. They're ready to go. You wanna bring this thing, mass production to market. What are some of the tips that you would give them if they have a great idea? And they're just trying to line up their ducks to make sure that they can actually launch?
Leo Trottier (12:16):
It's a refrain and people say it all the time. When I started out as a founder, guess what's important is start with customers, start with people that already want your thing and keep looking for the customer until you find someone that is willing to pay you good money for what it is you're trying to make.
Martin Zerrudo (12:41):
To sell or make.
Leo Trottier (12:43):
To sell, exactly. If finding the customers and identifying who they are and making a thing for them and then iterating with them, first of all, depending on what you're doing, but there's a lot of things you can bootstrap that way. If you're willing to do things yourself by hand, Etsy-style or whatnot at first. So find those people and then don't give away anything at first, we never gave away anything, even with these early test users.
Martin Zerrudo (13:16):
Leo Trottier (13:17):
Yeah, we charged them now. We weren't trying to make any money. We said, “Look, we're just trying to not lose money”, which was true.
Martin Zerrudo (13:25):
Just break even
Leo Trottier (13:26):
We were just trying to break even, this was a lot of effort. We share videos of us making the hex tiles, in the maker space that we were in. They were gung ho about the whole thing, just like we were, because they all recognized that they were already spending money and this would probably save them effort and money. They didn't mind chipping in, 40, 50 bucks.
Martin Zerrudo (13:50):
Plus they were invested at that point.
Leo Trottier (13:52):
Yeah, they were invested and they knew us and they trusted us. Find those people, make the thing for them. And maybe it's only five people, but work with them and then figure out how to find more of those people and give them more things. that's bootstrapping, right?
Martin Zerrudo (14:08):
A hundred percent, do what you gotta do. You know, I had this question pop up in my mind when you were testing it, the early stages with different dogs and cats, was there a certain species of cat or sorry, certain species of dog that really took well, like really, really was super quick to pick up on the interface?
Leo Trottier (14:26):
We definitely see participation from a lot of doodles, so poodle mixes, like designer breeds.
Martin Zerrudo: (14:33)
Leo Trottier (14:35):
I mean Alexis's dog Bunny is a Sheba doodle. So it seems like, and poodles are reported to be quite smart. I suspect intelligence might not actually be the most important trait for being able to be good with buttons. Intelligence is not nearly as important as I think, like motivation and having a particular thing that you're interested in learning about and getting good at, right? If you're excited about some subject matter, your intelligence isn't really gonna hold you back. Until, or unless you're competing on the world stage and you're like, okay yeah, well that person's maybe got more intelligence, they're gonna do better.
Martin Zerrudo (15:25):
More certificates than I do.
Leo Trottier (15:27):
Yeah, who knows a few more IQ points or whatever. Intelligence isn't nearly as important as the drive, and maybe particular unique predisposition. I suspect I'm not sure, but I suspect that one of the reasons why Bunny is so successful and maybe this is the reason that kind of transcends poodles is they might have the right balance of curiosity and a desire to experiment and desire to communicate. If the dog, for instance, is not very experimental, is very cautious and isn't only wants to do the thing that they're very confident about, then they might not go and press all the random buttons and figure out how the buttons work.
Martin Zerrudo (16:09):
Yeah, for sure.
Martin Zerrudo (16:12):
It definitely could, to your point, we recently got another kitten last Friday, as a boy named Oliver. We already have a cat, a female. Her name's Luna, two years old. And of course all pets and species have different, like you said, dispositions and personality traits, right?. But I just find that for all Oliver, he just has so much more motivation to explore, to jump around, to be curious with the things that he's eating with. These things that he's playing with the people around, whereas when Luna, when we brought her home, was totally, I don't want to do any of that. Like, I'm comfortable here. I'm gonna eat, leave me alone. I'm just gonna sit here and watch. And I think to what you're saying, it's so much more nuance than just, oh, he doesn't like to be touched and she likes to play or vice versa.
Martin Zerrudo (17:01):
There's something intrinsic in their personality. And I think you're tapping into that if the Olivers out there in the world, whether it be cat or dog, are able to interact with an interface that taps into that curiosity and drive to figure things out and have the energy to invest in that, because it takes energy to move around and press the button to look up and see, are we gonna do this and then move on to the next activity? So I think that's fantastic. So you're bootstrapping this, you're talking to these Facebook groups. What would you say was the biggest turning point for Clever Pet?
Leo Trottier (17:34):
When we had started this, I wasn't all that confident that we'd be able to necessarily sell all that many. I was saying
Martin Zerrudo (17:42):
Why do you say that?
Leo Trottier (17:43):
We had a small number of users, these test users were enthusiastic, I thought that, over the long term this would build and we were trying to get our foot in the door and be the real first to market in this space. I thought, maybe the first day will sell like 50 kits or something like, or not on the first day, like the first quarter we'd sell like 50 kits. It was bootstrapped, it didn't really matter how many we sold. But, we did try and put ourselves in a position to take maximum advantage of any enthusiasm that there was.
Leo Trottier (18:25):
And, if there were any really other famous dogs, like we tried to make sure that all the people that were involved in our community were the ones who had been, who were super successful. We wanted to be building on a strong foundation. And if we just had people who were just starting out, you know, that's, you're not gonna be able to learn that much from them so we wanted the people who had already, in the spring. They are, oh, I have 7, 10, 20 buttons for my dog, 30 buttons for my dog. Those were the people that we focused on.
Martin Zerrudo (18:53):
30 buttons. And they knew?
Leo Trottier (18:56):
Yeah. So these people were already, we focused on the people that were already doing really well.
Martin Zerrudo (19:00):
Leo Trottier (19:01):
Yeah. And we got them to chat with each other. I mean, it can be kind of isolating to be trying to communicate with your dog.
Martin Zerrudo (19:05):
Leo Trottier (19:08):
They were very happy to have other kinds of nuts to absolutely bounce ideas out.
Martin Zerrudo (19:13):
How much variance is it per button? Is it just like a slight change in the phrase? Or are these 30 completely unique phrases?
Leo Trottier (19:19):
The way the buttons work is they’re just key important words that would be relevant to what we call, your learners, what we call it, your dog, or your cat.
Martin Zerrudo (19:35):
Learners. Got it.
Leo Trottier (19:36):
Maybe people are trying to teach cows and horses, you know.
Martin Zerrudo (19:39):
You never know, rabbits.
Leo Trottier (19:42):
Rabbits, I dunno about rabbits. These are just simple phrases like outside is usually a first word and a good second word is, play. You want these to be words that you can identify your learner from benefiting, if they had it. So if there's a key thing, that your dog or your cat does to say, oh, I want X, or I want Y that X or that Y is what you should make a button for.
Leo Trottier (20:19):
So if you know, your dog wants to play, maybe they grab a ball from the toy bin and they bring it over to you and they drop it at your feet. That's your dog saying, I wanna play. So you can easily label that, play. You make a button play, you say the word play. Oh, you wanna play. And then you use the word bunch in that context. And then, sometimes dogs will like to run to the door and wag at the door and pop the door if they want to get outside, that's an opportunity for an outside button. It's really about letting your learner, your dog, your cat, your horse, tell you which buttons that they need. And so actually you really need to be able to read their behavior quite accurately, if you wanna be successful with the buttons.
Martin Zerrudo (21:11):
Since we're on the topic. So they purchased a Fluent Pet, they set it up. Can you walk us through what is the initial orientation between the learner and the owner?
Leo Trottier (21:22):
Yeah, you buy a kit, you get your kit, we have a whole online curriculum that takes you through all these steps that you will wanna take in order to be successful with your dog or your cat. You'll an email sequence that's fairly time based that helps you learn. And there's also a page on our website, that's got all of the best practices we've been able to find, kind of laid out in order, in an engaging way. Typically, it's just one or two buttons that have to do with something your dog or your cat is very motivated by, but then subsequent, you wanna learn about them a lot and figure out what would be useful. Maybe water is a good word, maybe scritches, if they really like, having their ears scratched
Leo Trottier (22:18):
Yeah, that's a good one. You can have person words, so you can associate a word with a person in the family, that can be a good one. Like mom, dad, Susie.
Martin Zerrudo (22:30):
If they're looking for someone.
Leo Trottier (22:32):
Well, yeah, if the person appears in the room, that's Susie, “Hey, Susie!”.
Martin Zerrudo (22:35):
Oh got it.
Leo Trottier (22:38):
It's really valuable, the way we teach buttons is not, it's not like you hold up a card and you're like X, thing that's what this means. They're not gonna get that. That's not how you would teach a one year old or a two year old. I mean maybe certain things, but for the most part, that's not how they learn language. They learn language by noticing what's happening in the world and hearing what words are happening and then associating their normal environment with the language, cues and stimuli that they're getting right. Humans have learned language way before we even had an idea of what teaching was, the way that we currently think of teaching.
Martin Zerrudo (23:23):
Of course. Oh, are you still there? Oh, there we go. I think it froze a little bit. You can still hear me. Fantastic. That's super interesting, when you were launching, was it off of a.com? Was it off Kickstarter or Indiegogo or what was the approach to getting it to market?
Leo Trottier (23:43):
To come back to the earlier thing, we wanted to position ourselves to take maximum advantage of any good luck that might be out there with other learners, with other social media dogs. And so one of the dogs, one of the pairs that stood out was Alexis Devine and her dog Bunny.They were very after it, they had a lot of buttons. I think they had the most buttons of any of the people that we were talking to at the time. We really started working together quite quickly. After joining the AIC test pilots group, which we started in the spring, the Augmentative Interspecies Communication is what we call it now, AIC.
Leo Trottier (24:33):
After we started that test pilots group, she heard from the other people in the group about how amazing TikTok was for these videos. And so she didn't even have a TikTok account when she was working. She had no TikTok account, but she was like, “Hey, the other people were like, Hey, I put up a video of my dog communicating with these buttons and it gets like 300,000 views very quickly”. So she created a TikTok account. And I think she has like the fastest account apart from Beyonce. This is what the TikTok people told her to get to a million followers.
Martin Zerrudo (25:09):
The follower velocity was...
Leo Trottier (25:11):
Yeah, three or four weeks just like a crazy rocket ship.
Martin Zerrudo (25:17):
Wow. Take that, Jason Derulo, I'm just kidding.
Leo Trottier (25:20):
A lot of of the success, the early success that we achieved was thanks to the awareness that that generated. There were a lot of people who saw Alexis’, beautiful home and beautiful dog, and their amazing communication that the dog was able to do. And they were like, that's the thing I want, I wanna try this out. They also saw that it was a journey. I mean, we got very fortunate in being able to work with Alexis and people that really spoke to them. Now, we had a bunch of other people too, that were also being successful on social media with their dogs. I think we could have made it, even if Alexis wasn't involved, although I wouldn't want to do that. I'm super glad she's involved. It would've been a lot slower of a process, probably.
Martin Zerrudo (26:15):
And you launched on your .com. That was where people were able to purchase.
Leo Trottier (26:19):
We launched on fluent.pet on June 24th, 2020. I think COVID probably helped us a lot because people are at home with their dogs and their cats, which meant that they were able to capture those meaningful moments and label them with their soundboard. It's the way this learning works, it might happen like once a day or something. Your dog presses the button to go outside, cause they're experimenting. And like may kind of have some inclination to go outside if you're not there to like capture that, maybe they're not gonna try again.
Martin Zerrudo (26:56):
Leo Trottier (26:56):
for another week
Martin Zerrudo (26:58):
Were you guys watching these videos during the pandemic and tracking how people were using them, reading the comments?
Leo Trottier (27:05):
We were talking to the test users and customers a lot. We continue to meet with these advanced groups every two weeks. They have amazing insights. They help each other out. And that's the way that we learn as much as we can from them.
Martin Zerrudo (27:26):
And so full disclosure we’re the ones that are helping manage your Amazon account. When did you decide it's time to branch out past your .com and into another marketplace? And why did you make that decision?
Leo Trottier (27:36):
Our strategy with respect to Amazon is, we don't want to not be there. So how can we make sure that we are on Amazon and that people who are looking for Fluent Pet on Amazon can find Fluent Pet on Amazon, learn as much as they can about Fluent Pet on Amazon. So that's the thing that we need to be able to do, that's the reason. If you've got a brand, our brand is nice because we've got all these different SKUs, which means we can make an Amazon SKU. That is tailor made for that particular market. And so, if you feel the need to have a presence there because there's a lot, cause someone else could eat your lunch by just kind of showing up, then you know the reality is a lot of people search for things on Amazon. It's still the case that Amazon is only maybe 10% of our .pet or.com as you would call it, e-commerce sales. But it's growing and I'm excited.
Martin Zerrudo (28:59):
I see the numbers. It is.
Leo Trottier (29:00):
And we're excited for it being the foundation that allows us for flexibility in the future. We develop a strong brand there and then maybe there’ll become a time when, we just need more growth and we figure out different aspects of product market fit. And we say, “Hey, we really wanna blow up Amazon” when that happens the store will be ready, the brand will be ready. The rankings, etc. will be there
Martin Zerrudo (29:27):
Exactly. You know, we've been working together now, I think this is gonna be the six or so months together. I just launched my Yeti as it might sink. We've been working together for about half a year now. When we met initially Leo, you said, Amazon we're doing great on our.com it’s just the cost of doing business. I just wanna protect my brand and make sure that we have a presence there, because if you're not a voice in the conversation, then the conversation's gonna be happening without you. And that's very, very detrimental in terms of your long term, brand awareness and brand governance play, right? I said, “Wow”. That's a hundred percent true. Not many brands have that foresight to be perfectly honest with you. I'll give you an example. Two weeks ago, I was in a discovery or pitch call with a brand who was on Shark Tank.
Martin Zerrudo (30:16):
So I can't disclose the brand, but they were on Shark Tank. I think they made a deal. They have a huge play on their .com ready to go, but they said, we wanna have a presence on Amazon is like dejavu, because we got a lot of traction from our Shark Tank episode. But then when people who watch that episode go on Amazon, they type in our brand name and we're not on there. There's already competitors on the Amazon marketplace that are spending ads targeting that brand name because they know that they're not on the marketplace. So it's literally to what you said, that for brands who are doing very, very well on .com and that's great because obviously you have better margins there, you control the entire space, the entire customer journey that is a hundred percent, having a Shopify plus account is definitely needed.
Martin Zerrudo (31:07):
But to your point, and to the discovery call that I had two weeks ago, you can't ignore the 500 pound gorilla in the room. That is the Amazon marketplace. Because if you do that 10% could easily be 20%, 30% of missed opportunity because you're just not in the game. And like you said, even if you develop a specific SKU, that's meant for that marketplace, doesn't need to eat into your entire .com play. You just gotta be playing in the Amazon game. Can you speak a little bit to that and why you were able to come to that conclusion a little bit sooner?
Leo Trottier (31:37):
We just proceeded as though, this was an easily copied thing that we're doing. The fact that I could bootstrap with relatively limited resources from prototype to shipping in like basically six months, meant that even a firm operating at half, our speed would, it could have something shipping in like a year or two. And as soon as we demonstrated that we could make good money by selling these kind of communication kits, we knew that there would be copycats out there in no time. And the copycats have been kind of amusing, honestly. Some of them will have copied these puzzle pieces. They copied it to the millimeter so that you can actually plug our hex tiles into theirs.
Martin Zerrudo (32:49):
You know, it reminds me of Lego and Megablocks, totally competed, but you can connect the two, even though they were different.
Leo Trottier (32:58):
That's hilarious. We just expected that there would be copycats, that this was just coming down the pike. I guess the reality is we just saw, what's the world gonna look like in 18 months time and two years time and how can we really be ready for that world? And that was, I think, the motivation for Amazon.
Martin Zerrudo (33:27):
In terms of, sorry, go ahead. Go ahead.
Leo Trottier (33:29):
Yeah. I was gonna say we were, our principal constraint was inventory.
Martin Zerrudo (33:34):
As was everyone’s
Leo Trottier (33:36):
So for us, it was about planting a lot of seeds, for the brand and for our position in the market, making sure that in a year's time, we'd have trees where those seeds were. And that we wouldn't have to be reactive, like, oh shoot. And now that we have a ton of inventory, we don't have the marketing machine in place to actually take advantage of it. We wanted to make sure that the underlying structure of the business was in place to take advantage of what we believed would be significantly increased demand as word of mouth increased around this whole area. Also our competitors are now gonna be helping to build awareness of this whole phenomenon. We just wanted to make sure that was all there.
Martin Zerrudo (34:30):
As the founder and the CEO, what would you say was the biggest pitfall or mistake that you learned the most from up until this point?
Leo Trottier (34:38):
During Fluent pet or prior to fluent pet?
Martin Zerrudo (34:42):
Let's say during
Leo Trottier (34:43):
During, what was the biggest mistake? Probably the biggest mistake was, and I made a lot more mistakes prior to Fluent Pet actually. But during Fluent Pet, we had some inklings of potential issue with a subset of, basically slightly higher defect rate in our product. And I had my spidey sense was going off, this is a thing that I should look into and I went to the engineer. I'm like, oh, I think there's something we should look into. And he's like, oh, don't worry about it. And I'm like, okay. And we should have looked into it. And so it ended up probably costing us millions of dollars in lost sales
Martin Zerrudo (35:40):
Did you recall them?
Leo Trottier (35:42):
No, there was no recall, no need for recall. But it was not like there was no safety issue or anything. It's just like the thing, if it stops working, we have to return it and then replace it and it's fine. I think this is a distinguishing feature but we have a great warranty policy, I mean anyone, and if any, we will take care of you. We will make sure that you're happy, that's a hundred percent what we're interested in. Honestly, we don't necessarily win with the first purchase. We win when you become a customer for the long term and we wanna get your dog to a hundred words. That is very good for both of us.
Martin Zerrudo (36:17):
Wow. And how many do you have at that point already?
Leo Trottier (36:20):
Oh, not many. I would say, probably you can count them on one hand at the moment, but we have a number of dogs that are over 30 or 40.
Martin Zerrudo (36:28):
Leo Trottier (36:29):
Yeah. It's crazy. It's bonkers.
Martin Zerrudo (36:32):
What's the timeline usually that it takes to get from zero to maybe 30 plus words?
Leo Trottier (36:37):
Like a year. If you're consistent and you've got a precocious dog and all that.
Martin Zerrudo (36:43):
And is there a certain age when they should start?
Leo Trottier (36:43):
The right home environment.
Martin Zerrudo (36:44):
When they’re puppies?
Leo Trottier (36:48):
I think it helps if they're younger, for sure. Because you're just creating a reality for them. It's not like they know what the world is like, and if you just say, oh, like, this is how we communicate in this household, the dog's gonna be like, okay, I'm down. Whatever you guys are doing, I'm into that. That's a very doglike thing. They're like, what's going on guys? So with this defect, we could have investigated it, probably six months before we did. And it ended up being the case that, we had to delay buying more inventory until it all got sorted out. We had all of these bad reviews from people who were like, “Oh, my thing stopped working”. And so it's one of those things where you gotta go trust your gut, trust your instincts.
Leo Trottier (37:40):
If you've got something, some little bell that's rigging around a thing, don't ignore it. And this was also the case, even prior to the launch of this brand, there were so many times when people would give you advice. But it's no skin off their back if you screw up. You gotta trust your gut, stick to your guns. If you fail, you wanna be failing on your terms, not the terms of someone else, who thinks they know better than you. It doesn't mean don’t get advice. You get as much advice as you can. Listen to it carefully, consider it carefully, but then absolutely make your own decision. Don't ignore your spidey sense.
Martin Zerrudo (38:32):
Was there a moment where you listened to your spidey sense? What was the situation in the past where you went with your gut and it led to a significant, boon or a positive for Fluentpet?
Leo Trottier (38:44):
Yeah. Good question. I would say that the origin of Fluent Pet was, I saw what Christina was doing with her buttons and I was like, this is going to be a thing. And I was like, I just gotta do something here.
Martin Zerrudo (38:59):
Were there people trying to dissuade you? Like, no, that's never gonna work.
Leo Trottier (39:02):
No, no, no. People were encouraging. So there wasn't any particular discouragement there. People thought it was a good idea but like actually, when she initially declined to work with me, I was a little dejected and put the thing down for a few months. It only came up again when one of my collaborators sent me it's TikTok video of another dog that was using buttons that was not Christina's dog and was on TikTok. And that was the one that got like 300,000 views. And so I reached out to her and she was very business minded and like “yeah, let's collaborate” And she's the one who let me know about, “oh, there's this Facebook group”. But as far as, sticking to your guns.
Leo Trottier (39:52):
There is a thing that's particular to our brand. In terms of the way that we talk about, we talk about learners, right? We talk about dogs and cats. We don't tend to use the word pet very much.
Martin Zerrudo (40:10):
Leo Trottier (40:11):
In our language. And there are people that really push back on that. They're like, oh, it's so difficult for us to describe what's the product and the guide and the instructions, cause we can't use the word pet. How are we gonna talk about this thing
Martin Zerrudo (40:25):
What's the correct terminology?
Leo Trottier (40:26):
We dance around the world. So we say, dog or cat, the animals we live with, we say learner or them. I think that has given us a unique brand voice. That really is quite differentiating. Go on Amazon, and if you want look at Fluent Pet, look at other brands then I think it’s fairly clear, who stands out.
Martin Zerrudo (41:02):
Yeah, who's speaking from a place of authenticity and real love for them. Before speaking about our love for pets, I'm gonna throw something completely left field, Leo. I was on your Instagram and I saw you in a picture holding a lamb in your hands. What is the story behind this picture of Leo, CEO and founder of Fluentpet holding a baby lamb in his arms?
Leo Trottier (41:33):
There's a great restaurant in….
Martin Zerrudo (41:38):
Leo Trottier (41:40):
There was a great restaurant I got invited to in Guadalupe that I was visiting years ago. And we had parked and, as we were walking to the restaurant, a bunch of sheep, they may have been goats, might have been a goat, might have been a baby goat.
Martin Zerrudo (42:02):
Leo Trottier (42:03):
Could've also been a lamb. Let's say sheep went in front of us and this was one of the stragglers and was unbelievably cute so we picked it up and it was just, such a happy moment. That’s the story.
Martin Zerrudo (42:25):
So, you found the lost sheep. That's what you're saying.
Leo Trottier (42:27):
Yeah, basically. Yeah.
Martin Zerrudo (42:29):
Wow. That's awesome. You know, I was researching for the lack of better term, the pet tech space and I'm just reading articles about how it's a really booming industry. Your brand name, as the company name Clever Pet was mentioned in this market report about these tech companies in the pet space that are really exploding. How do you feel, as first of all, do you consider yourself a pioneer in that space? And when you look at that pet tech space, where do you see it going in the next couple of years?
Leo Trottier (43:04):
I do think that we have in many respects helped set the agenda of this industry. Certainly, we were the first to bring to market the idea of automated mass, dog and cat interaction and training that's enabled by software. And since then, there have been a few companies that have decided to do the same thing. Even Cleverpet, there were also total copycats, people who like, oh yeah, we're gonna have a thing, the three buttons that dogs can touch and they're gonna get food for touching the buttons. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, right?
Martin Zerrudo (43:57):
It is, also cuts into your margins.
Leo Trottier (44:01):
If they're successful. If they're not, then it's actually great
Martin Zerrudo (44:04):
It can be great. Absolutely.
Leo Trottier (44:07):
I think the kind of unique perspective that taking a cognitive science, view on this market has really been a huge boon for us. For better or for worse, probably largely for worse, you know, people who jump into the, I'll say this people who, if you look at the history tech in general, often the most successful companies have a founder or multiple founders with subject matter expertise, right?. It's not just there's like an MBA and I just got an MBA, I wanna start a company.
Martin Zerrudo (44:58):
What industry needs to close your eyes and pick at a product?
Leo Trottier (45:00):
Where is there an industry need? You could do that for a lot of different businesses. But I think if you're in tech or if you wanna really innovate, it's pretty challenging, I think to do that without really heavily investing in subject matter expertise or that is differentiating. Like Google founders, they were really good at the whole computer science thing. So in the pet space, I think it's just because of a quirk of the way that we think of pets. We don't really take seriously the fact that they are beings just like us. They are not that different from us, they are not just like things that humans use
Leo Trottier (45:53):
There are these other animals, they are our cousins quite literally on this planet. I think just see it as just like, “oh, this is like another market”. As a result, we don't see that much of real innovation, or we haven't over the last 10 years seen that much innovation from companies that aren't bringing real subject matter expertise to the table. Thanks to this cognitive science approach that we've brought, I think that's been a huge, huge help to us.
Martin Zerrudo (46:33):
No, no, absolutely. A hundred percent. We're joined here with Leo Tottier from Cleverpet/Fluentpet talking about the wonderful things that he and his company do for our dogs and cats in creating a dynamic environment for education, fun and love. Honestly, that we haven't seen, in my lifetime up until now. So thank you so much for that, Leo. Lastly, I wanna touch on the junior teacher program. Tell us a little bit about that.
Leo Trottier (47:03):
We are excited to be launching what we're calling the Fluent Pet junior teacher program. We think that young people, kids, like let's say 8 to 12, might actually be some of the best teachers out there. They don't have a lot of preconceived notions about what dogs or cats might be thinking or interested in. And they have a lot of interest and time in interacting with dogs and cats in a way that busy adults often don't. We've launched the junior teacher program and we've tried to make it a lot easier for younger people to learn how to teach their dogs or cats to use buttons. So if you just google the Fluent Pet junior teacher program, we have an ebook that we've made that people can download that has like worksheets and it's all tailor made for you to have a really fun thing for your kid to do on their own over the course of the summer, they can learn about behavior. They can learn about dogs and cats. They can learn about what it means to track data. They can get a bit of STEM education there and they can have a lot of fun with their dog.
Martin Zerrudo (48:21):
Leo Trottier (48:22):
Yeah. We're really excited about this. We're just launching it now. We'd love to see people try it out. We wanna see how it goes and get feedback on it, cause it's totally new.
Martin Zerrudo (48:33):
No, that's amazing. Again, thank you so much, Leo. I wanna be respectful of your time, but we definitely gotta get you back on the show, talk more about Fluentpet and the other seeds that I'm sure you're planting in the background, trees to grow in the next coming years. Lastly, what we do with all of our guests is we ask, who would you like to thank any mentors or strategic partners or family members who was there since the very beginning that's really helped you along the way in your entrepreneurial journey?
Leo Trottier (48:59):
I’d like to thank, Galmer’s been a huge help with the Fluent Pet brand. You know, early in Clever Pet, we had co-founders who were amazing people with the clever pet hub thing. We ended up, they ended up doing their own thing when the Clever Pet thing went into hibernation mode. And then, it's been great being able to work with Alexis as well. I've been very, very fortunate for that collaboration. I'm just filled with gratitude. I feel very, very, very lucky.
Martin Zerrudo (49:35):
Oh likewise. Thank you so much for being on our show, Leo. Man! My wife and I love our cats so very much. And seeing owners introduce something into the space, they always say like, for lack of better term pet owners, pet lovers, they will do anything for their fur babies. And, I totally am invested personally, not just as somebody who helps you with your Amazon, but also invested in the mission and the goal. My best friend actually, and his wife recently sent their dog to obedience school. He's half German shepherd, half poodle, super smart, but he's so big. And because he's so smart and is almost a hundred pounds, is able to outsmart and get his way around the house. Sometimes it's a little too rough and it can kind of cut skin and his kids get scared and so they love, his name's Charlie, they love Charlie very much. But, what are they gonna do? They're having a hard time communicating with him. For people like you Leo, introducing these kinds of tools to help, it's a wonderful thing at the end of the day, you can make money in a lot of different ways, but at least the way you're doing it is helping families all over the world. I want to thank you personally. I really, really appreciate it as somebody who has a cat and has friends who own dogs, who can totally benefit from these things. Thank you so much.
Leo Trottier (51:04):
Yeah, absolutely. It's been great chatting.
Martin Zerrudo (51:06):
Absolutely. That's Leo Trottier from Fluent.pet. How can they find you? Is it just fluent.pet?
Leo Trottier (51:11):
Martin Zerrudo (51:12):
There you go. Thank you so much, Leo.
Leo Trottier (51:15):