When Ivan Loh’s two Labrador retrievers ran away from home two years ago, he “couldn’t eat and sleep.”
While he found his dogs after two weeks, Ivan wanted to prevent a repeat of this “traumatic” episode. He started developing a NFC (Near-field communication) and QR code-enabled pet badge that was launched in March this year.
By scanning a QR code shown on the badge, one can obtain the owner’s contact details, the pet’s allergies and medication needs. Alternatively, the badge shows an alphanumeric code that can be entered on Pet Widget’s website.
With about 1,000 badges sold in Singapore, Ivan’s team of five is now aiming to stock the item in pet shops in North America, Europe, and Australia by April next year.
“We’re currently talking to government agencies and pet retailers in these regions,” said Ivan, 37, who is also chief executive of Bugis Street Online, an online store for a popular local shopping street.
“We hope to be in as many countries as possible, but we’re taking it step by step,” he said.
“In the U.S., for example, we are starting with California as pet ownership is high. We will start with strategic partnerships for market entry and then potentially set up regional offices in key markets.”
According to the National Council of Pet Population Study and Policy and the National Humane Society in the U.S., a family pet is lost every two seconds and over 10 million pets are lost annually in the country.
The bootstrapped startup is also exploring grant options with International Enterprise Singapore, a government agency that helps Singapore companies go global. Ivan has invested an estimated US$72,000 of his own in Pet Widget so far.
Apart from the badge, which retails at US$18.13, another key feature of Pet Widget is its free app that can be linked with the badge to trace its last scanned locations. It also allows users to review pet-related businesses such as pet cafes and interact with one another.
There are 1,500 active users of the app in Singapore.
The app is what differentiates Pet Widget from its global peers, such as Australia’s PetQ and the United States’ PetHub, which sell similar pet badges but do not come with an app, said Ivan.
“The badges may function the same way, but with us, pet owners can get a different feeling – the sense of belonging to a community,” he said.
Challenges that Ivan foresees in expansion include government legislation and understanding the pet cultures of different countries.
“In Italy, I’ve seen golden retrievers in a Zara store. We definitely don’t see that here. Understanding these differences is necessary for us to bring Pet Widget overseas,” he said.
In Singapore, the badge is sold on its website and at lifestyle stores. It is also sold at shelters, which can keep half the revenue from every badge sold.
One such shelter is the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) Singapore, which has been selling the badge in its physical and online store since June this year.
Noting the badge’s advantages over the conventional microchip, the SPCA said, “To obtain the microchip number, a microchip scanner is required. As microchip scanners are not readily available, when someone finds a pet, they will have to approach a vet to scan for microchip details.”
“On the other hand, many are familiar with and have downloaded QR scanners onto their smartphones,” they said.
For healthcare professional Pearlene Lim, Pet Widget’s badge gives her extra assurance in looking after her three dogs, which are microchipped.
“One of my dogs is a wanderer and would likely run off if he had the chance so I wanted more forms of identification,” said Pearlene, 32, who purchased the badges in March this year.
Juggling work as chief executive of two businesses means only three hours of sleep a day for Ivan. But he is determined to ensure Pet Widget is here to stay.
“It is extremely rewarding when people come up to me at pet fairs, telling me that Pet Widget is a meaningful startup. Two of these clients are now my employees. I hope we can create a global community of pet lovers in time to come.”
Converted from Singapore dollars. Rate: US$1 = S$1.38.
Feature image via Tech in Asia.