BBC Semi-finalist Profile: Emily Lagasse, Fedwell Pet Foods

Like many entrepreneurs, Emily Lagasse’s business idea began with a problem. Little did she know that problem would start with the livelihood of her dog Fenway, whom she adopted when she was serving as a Peace Corps member in Africa. While there, Fenway ate what Emily ate. When returning to the States though, Fenway quickly became ill from eating a traditional American dog food diet. As his health worsened, Emily took matters into her own hands, learning how to cook for Fenway and ultimately nursing him back to health. That’s when Fedwell Pet Foods began.

First, I have to ask, how’s Fenway doing?
(Laughs) He’s great! He’s going to be 8 this fall, which is kind of the perfect age. He’s still game for a big hike but likes to sleep in late and cuddle on the couch too.

You have an inspiring comeback story. Mind sharing?
Sure! Manufacturing our food is tricky because there are so many special requirements. I had a manufacturing partner but soon after we started working together they were acquired and, while the plant had the right equipment to make my product, they decided they weren’t interested in working with me. I flew out to meet with the CEO, tried accomplishing a number of goals they had given me in order to continue the relationship but ultimately they just said no. 

The real problem though? They dragged it out for six months, which meant I ended up having to keep my customers engaged for even longer without being able to make product. Finally, I discovered a new manufacturer and they’re great. Not only do they have all of the right equipment but they’re excited about innovating on product with me. 

Outside of manufacturing, what’s the biggest obstacle you’ve encountered?
(Laughing) Hmm… Needing cash and building the right team at the right time. You can’t build a team without cash, you can’t execute marketing initiatives without cash, you can’t do much of anything without cash. And building a team is challenging as an entrepreneur because the things that need to happen each month constantly change. You may need digital marketing this month but someone who’s a tech expert next month. 

Best part of being an entrepreneur?
Hands down, the experiences you get to have, the people you get to meet, and all of the things you get to learn. As an entrepreneur I always have to learn things and excel at them to be successful. I have to be the expert on everything from investment and digital marketing so that I can make the best decisions for the business - that means always investigating, learning, and implementing.

Any advice for entrepreneurs?
Just get your product out there and learn as much as you can, as fast as you can. Fail fast if you’re going to fail because what takes the most energy is the uncertainty and the waiting. 

What about some advice for pet owners?
There’s a lot of information out there coming in from vets, from family, and from friends. I think it’s important to do your own research and make the decisions that you feel are right for you and your pet. Make sure you’re your pet’s best advocate.

Can you give us any hints on what’s coming next?
I’m looking at creating product using crickets actually. It’s an incredibly healthy protein that can be put into a dog’s diet while having very little negative impact on the agriculture industry and our food system. To make a pound of cricket based protein takes and half gallon of water while making a pound of beef requires up to two thousand gallons.

We’ll be looking at cat food and other formulas for small breed and senior dogs too. I get a lot of requests for different diets and want to be able to fulfill those requests as soon as I’m able. 

Would you do it again knowing everything that you know now?
You know, it’s funny. I think that when you imagine what an entrepreneur’s path would look like, you can logically understand and envision the issues that one might face, even if you’re a non-entrepreneur. But you have no sense of how emotionally and mentally challenging it is until you’re in it. Even still, I would definitely do it again.