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A dog’s dinner: 5 questions with the founder of a human-grade dog-food company

Alum Renaldo Webb talks about his experience on Shark Tank, who his Chief Tasting Officer is (hint: he has four legs), and how lean manufacturing concepts helped him keep a clean house.
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How did a former consultant with a degree in Physics from MIT end up founding a dog-food company?

Like many McKinsey alumni, Renaldo Webb (SCA 10-12) took a winding path to entrepreneurship. It’s a move that has paid off – his human-grade dog food subscription company PetPlate recently raised a $19 million Series B funding round, raising a total of $30M for his startup.

PetPlate has become a leading direct-to-consumer business and is also sold in nearly 400 stores across the U.S. Dog owners simply fill out an online survey, and the company personalizes meal plans based on the dog’s health profile.

Here, Renaldo discusses his inspiration for PetPlate, his ups and downs with the business, and his best “only at McKinsey” moment.

What inspired you to create PetPlate?

After my time at McKinsey, I transitioned to private equity and was part of a portfolio operations group for L Catterton. I was spending a lot of time consulting at pet food factories, and at the same time, I had a dog with a really sensitive stomach. The only thing that he could eat was chicken and rice, which my vet said I should cook for him myself. That led me to learn about home-cooked dog food and human-grade dog food.

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One day while I was at the pet food factory I was working at, watching what they put into the food, a light bulb went off and I realized, "Oh, if I'm cooking for my dog and using real, healthy ingredients and it's helping him feel better, I think people around the country would want the same thing for their pets." That was enough for me to get the conviction and start doing more research. A couple years later I launched PetPlate to help improve the health and well-being of dogs around the U.S. We have tried to create a seamless user experience and journey that makes life a little bit easier for pet parents.

What has been the most difficult or challenging time in your business journey? How did you get past it and move forward?

It was right after my airing on Shark Tank in December 2016. (Spoiler alert: I did not get a deal. I teared up on national TV.) After that, I really wanted to take advantage of the nationwide audience that would learn about my business. So I quickly scaled up a national operation.

I had fulfillment centers and had a manufacturer making the food. Unfortunately, I chose the fastest route, and used a pet food manufacturer. They were not able to replicate how I had been making PetPlate at a commercial kitchen in Brooklyn, and the quality just wasn't there to the level that it should've been. Dogs (the picky dogs especially) and their pet parents let me know right away.

So, after launching nationwide and getting thousands of customers, I had to retool the business and find a new manufacturer, this time a human-food manufacturer, hoping that subscribers wouldn’t cancel in the meantime.

We started kettle-cooking the product at the new facility and a few months later were able to bring something to market that pet parents loved. Since then, we've been off to the races. But that was a hard transition as we had already tried to go nationwide. I tried to go too big, too fast – a common mistake for entrepreneurs. It’s the only time I’ll ever make that one.

And by the way, Shark Tank reached out a couple years later and featured an update segment that highlighted the growth of my business, and how the industry had evolved, after we had done really well. I am one of the few entrepreneurs who has been on Shark Tank twice.

On the flip side of that, what is your most satisfying moment with PetPlate so far?

Renaldo Webb image
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We get testimonials daily from pet parents – they email in completely unprompted about how PetPlate has changed their dogs' lives. That for me makes the day-to-day work worth it. It also brings me back to that moment when I was trying to find something to help my dog, Winston, and the sense of relief I got when I realized cooking for him could actually make a difference.

Also, some of the coolest moments have been when we hit milestones, like when we got to 10,000 customers, and when we got over 40 people on staff in New York. Seeing how people have rallied behind my idea and joined the company has been really rewarding.

What is the best piece of advice you ever got from a mentor at McKinsey?

I remember it clearly and I think about it all the time. It was my EM on my first project. He used a term along the lines of "extreme ownership." That really stuck with me in terms of how it was my responsibility to really dive into a workstream – to make sure I fully understood the problems, felt confident on the solutions, and had really spent time thinking about it. Also, if I had open questions, not to wait until someone could hand-feed me the information, but to try to figure it out.

That information not only served me well at McKinsey but has served me well as an entrepreneur. You can’t sit around and wait for answers and solutions; you have to go out and find them yourself.

What's your best "only at McKinsey" moment?

In L.A., I lived with five other BAs in what was affectionately called the BA House. You can only imagine how messy it got.

We were all primarily in the Operations Practice, and one day one of the BAs came up with a really interesting idea. We were all doing lean manufacturing projects. So, we got a whiteboard up and filled in who was supposed to be doing what chores, and when they were supposed to happen. We instituted performance management and had weekly huddles about the chores that were supposed to get done that did not get done. During our first meeting I said, "Wow, this would only happen at McKinsey." I will assure you the house was clean moving forward.

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