Million Dollar Idea? Battling Dog Breath
Here's a story about a personal hygiene startup with a sense of humor, which may have figured out the way to big profits is through a dog's mouth.
Orabrush sells tongue brushes for humans using an unappealing mascot called Morgan the Talking Tongue. He's both creepy and hilarious.
The company said most bacteria that causes bad breath is on the tongue, not in the teeth. Tongue scraping is a common practice in other parts of the world, but Orabrush CEO Jeff Davis admits it's been a bit of a tough sell in the U.S. "We still have some work to do."
So the company is going to the dogs.
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After customers suggested Orabrush create a tongue cleaner for dogs, the company started a crowdfunding page on IndieGogo to build awareness, gauge interest, and take pre-orders for what they called the Orapup.
"We had a target raise of $40,000," said Davis. "We were up for 60 days, and earned $60,000, exceeding our target. But most importantly we knew we had consumer demand and high interest from passionate dog owners."
That was last fall. It took several months for company founder Dr. Bob Wagstaff to perfect the Orapup brush and the syrupy paste, which kills bacteria. He needed to make sure the product would be easy to use and enjoyable for dogs.
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How does it work? You don't have to put anything into the dog's mouth. Instead, dog owners squeeze a small bit of paste onto the large brush with short bristles, and then dogs voluntarily licks it for at least a minute.
"It takes what was a disastrous kind of frustrating experience for pet owners to try to clean their mouth and it's like a treat," CEO Davis said. The paste tastes like beef and bacon. "I've tried it myself," he added, "and it's not too bad."
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Six months later, the Orapup has launched with $750,000 in pre-orders. Davis was gushing about it to me. "I have to tell you, if you get a chance to use it Jane, it's an incredible bonding experience with your pet."
I decided to try the Orapup on my two dogs, Eeyore and Princess Leia. Being basset hounds, they have terrible breath. Terrible. Ter. I. Bull.
In the video, you'll see how it went. Eeyore was a little reluctant at first before going to town licking the brush. Leia jumped right in. One day later, their breath no longer triggers nausea, though they don't exactly smell of minty freshness.
Davis said Orabrush is considering developing tongue brushes for other domesticated animals. The company thinks pet products may be more profitable than tongue brushes for humans. "Based on Orapup's metrics today, on our online e-commerce model, Orapup will probably be bigger."
The CEO came to Orabrush after 23 years at Proctor & Gamble, and he said he had to learn to do everything in reverse. Instead of making a product and testing it before launch, Orabrush gets suggestions and feedback from consumers first, then builds a brand and takes pre-orders online before a product is manufactured. Its entire business model is built around social media.
"We are one of the top subscribed sponsored, branded channels on YouTube. I always say I like being sixth or seventh in this crowd because we have brands like Apple, OldSpice, GoPro, RedBull, Pixar, Disney — these are incredibly iconic branded names," Davis said.
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He believes Orabrush could eventually be acquired. "I would expect someone would want to take us to the next level."
But for the moment, the company is focused on building the brand and making new products, in that order. "Proctor & Gamble taught me a lot about strategy and discipline, and in the startups and smaller companies, it's a little bit about creativity and chaos."
—By CNBC's Jane Wells; Follow her on Twitter: @janewells