Kelly Ison is the founder of Einstein Pets. She is an educator, a nutritionist, and a pet lover. As a socially responsible, award-winning pet industry leader in all-natural dog treats, Einstein Pets (an online wholesale store), is one of the fastest-growing brands today. It is a testimony of Kelly’s passion for health and her commitment to giving back to the community and planet. Kelly’s extensive research and knowledge in nutrition and global transformation have catapulted her to launch a company dedicated to making a positive difference in a dog’s life.
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Hey, Kelly, thanks for coming on. Hey, Chris, thank you very much for having me on your show. I’m excited to have you on our show because you’ve got such an interesting background. You’re an educator, nutritionist and now you make dog treats. I want to hear the whole story. What’s your journey and how did you get to this point? Oh my God, I’m laughing because I feel like it’s been such a journey. It took me a while to get here, but now that I’m here, on this journey, I absolutely love it. I can’t think of anything better to do than be working with my dog all day long and working with other dogs all day long. It makes me happy.
That’s great. So how did you come to get into this space? I mean, you started out as an educator, like maybe walk us through the journey. I actually was working for quite a few Fortune 500 companies and traveling literally, constantly, right? So as I was doing that, I was always looking for ways to be innovative for the company’s I was working for. And the very last company that I started working for, we would travel a lot and have to go work with different teams across the globe, and it was right at that time we adopted a little Westie, and her name’s Abby. This is going back about 2012 and when we adopted her, I knew that I wanted to treat her right. No pun intended because I make treats. But, you know, we all have had dogs growing up in the sixties, seventies. We weren’t the best animal protectors that we could have been, right? We could have been better. And over the years we’ve all learned that animals are so much like us. They give so much love that you just want to give that back to them, however you can.
And so I literally started because we adopted her. And when we adopted her, we’re walking around a bookstore, and my husband and I both worked for Fortune 500 companies, and we just wanted to start something that didn’t have to go in the office every day. And we could do something that we both truly loved, every minute of the day. And we’re walking around a bookstore and there’s a recipe book, how to make dog treats. I’m like, Oh, this is kind of cool. Look, it has a little shape of a bone that you could do the cut out on the cookies, like this would be fun. And I have my husband in my ear going, that’s a great idea, we could make a business out of this. And I turned to him and said, Are you crazy? I travel most of the time. I’m never home. Your home. When would we do this? We could do it. Oh my God, we could so do it. That’s what started it all, is that little crazy book of recipes and a little bone for a cutout shape and our dog, Abby. And that’s how we started our company is ah-ha! That was the moment I said I could make recipes and I literally started from that moment on and started crafting recipes for our company.
So that was back in 2012, you said. We actually started probably prior to that a little bit. I don’t know. You probably remember all this, but all the dog treat recalls they had right around 2011. It was just really a crazy time. They were starting to recall all the treats and everything was being taken off the shelves. That was anything made with China, right? And it was a little bit of a scare. And then there were some other recalls with some of the meats in the United States. So it was right around late 2011-2012, right when we got Abby and we just started going, Okay, we can make this recipe. I literally started with one recipe, which is our famous recipe. Everybody loves this one. It’s called Peanut Butter and Jelly Time. You start planning it in your head, right? And so it’s our most popular recipe, and I started with one recipe knowing Okay, I have to get this right. And when I started this Chris, it was really more just for Abby, even though my husband is still chirping in my ear that we can make a business out of it. But I really wanted to do it for her.
And when I started it, it’s like, OK, what is so good for a dog? And then through my research, it took about a year of research. Through the research, we found that Chia seed was an amazing, amazing superfood. Really? Yeah, it’s the digestion, the calcium, what it offers. It’s so good for humans. But what people didn’t understand is it was so great for dogs. Canines, cats. It’s the way it’s infused in our treats, what it does is when the dog is eating it, when they’re working out or they’re doing any hikes with their owners or just even a walk. It’s great for them because it helps stabilize their blood sugar, just like a human. So you’re not getting those crazy spikes of energy, bursts of energy, panting at the mouth. It’s because your blood sugar is going crazy. So our treats, what they do is, the benefits they have, is that it helps stabilize the blood sugar. And in order to do that, we always just recommend one or two a day.
But through that research, I found that Chia seed was amazing. And that’s great, how am I going to use it? And what you find is that if you put Chia seed in water, it multiplies and it gets that chunky kind of look to it and taste to it. Almost like a Jell-O. And it becomes a binding agent. And that’s when the ah-ha moment really did come on. Besides getting the book, it’s Oh my God, all you have to do is just create recipes that I can use the Chia seed in. I don’t have to use eggs if I don’t want to, which is a good thing, right, because anything you can do to avoid any kind of recall is what I was always thinking. I didn’t want anything to go into the treat, and if there was something bad with that ingredient, then I’d have a problem with Abby. She gets sick. Something could happen.
So that’s where the limited ingredients came in. I knew it was important that you didn’t need all those ingredients. Besides, it’s a treat. You’re treating with a purpose, but you’re also not giving them all the protein. I wasn’t looking to make it their meal. It was a supplement to what they take on a daily basis, right what they eat. I just wanted something added to that, and that’s what I wanted to give Abby. She already had her daily food that we would give her, and we just wanted something that she liked and enjoyed. And when we started making the recipe, we knew that we wanted to keep it limited, and that’s exactly what we did. We only put peanut butter, blueberries, Chia seed, and oat flour, and we do oat flour because it’s the ease of digestion, and that’s really important for the dogs. We’ve never strayed from that. Most people will try some other kind of product or some other kind of flour. We stick with that because it literally helps with the digestion. And we found that it works because our treats don’t call for a lot of flour. And so you’re not looking at it like, Oh my God, it’s loaded with flour, yeah maybe great for digestion, but it’s still oat. And so, with the first recipe, we decided that we found that other neighborhood dogs liked it. We found that our friends liked them. Hey, we might have a business here and that’s where it sprung. It was through the first recipe and Abby that we started a business.
Wow now, obviously you weren’t somebody that knew how to make dog treats before you found that book. So it sounds like you probably had to do a lot of research and really try and figure out like, How do you take the idea of making a dog treat and turn it into a company? It’s pretty funny. I do realize, like, I just kind of generalized that right, but through the journey of being here, eight years, you realize that you make it sound so easy, and it really wasn’t an easy journey. There were a lot of things you had to learn along the way. I understood how to make recipes. I love to bake. I liked how to cook. At one point in my life, I owned a restaurant, a small restaurant, but owned a restaurant, so I knew how to incorporate certain things to make food. I also knew that the benefits of some of the ingredients. I’m not a certified nutritionist, but through my life learnings, I knew what was good for dogs. And it was through research and a lot of research, and I understood what Chia seed had the benefit of, so I knew that I didn’t have to do all the different things into the recipe.
So the second thing was, what was I trying to make in these recipes? Well, I wanted something that if they were eating their meals during the day and they’re getting their protein, then my treat, my biscuit doesn’t need to be the protein. It just needs to be an added fun, smells amazing, delicious treat, but also has benefits of a functional treat, and that’s what the Chia seed gave. So when I understood how to make a recipe, it literally was putting it together. And I had to do probably, I would say, six months of testing before I actually got it. And the reason it took so long is the Chia seed. I had to keep practicing because I was putting too much Chia seed into the recipe and I’d have friends test it out and the friends would say, and this was in the middle of the winter, mind you, but with Chia seed, it gives you the benefits of giving your canine great poops, like they’re pretty solid. So there was that benefit. Well, in the middle of the winter, they were going outside a lot because of the Chia seeds and they were pooping a lot. And a lot of my friends who were testing up north were not happy with us. They’re like, I don’t know what you’re doing, but you better calm it down.
I’m guessing Abby got the benefit of being the test subject for all of these different tests that you’re trying? Let me just tell you, she still has the added benefit of being the test subject here because there’s days that she knows exactly which treat she wants, and she’ll turn her head to everyone until she gets the one she wants. And that could be different on every given day. So she is pretty funny, so she loves the treats. Then she’s pretty picky about what she will eat and not eat. And through the experience of just doing the testing and research and having my friends test it out and having dogs test it out and one of the big things when you make a recipe, I knew that it had to have great smell because there’s so many treats out there that you open the bag up and it may smell okay the first time, the second time you open up, it doesn’t have that smell. And that’s why we tried to create a treat that smelled freshly baked every time you open up the bag. And I can honestly tell you that that’s exactly how our treats smell and they taste just like that, and they’re human-grade, so you too can eat up. Interesting.
So eight years ago you started with one, once kind of perfected that and then you decided, Hey, we’re gonna make a whole line of treats, and we’re gonna do it better than anybody else. That’s exactly what we did. And I knew from my past companies that I worked for, there was something to be said for creating something that was standard, there’s a standardization of a lot of things. Templates, emails. So we both knew, my husband and I went into this together, after we, I created all the recipes, what we knew is we had to create something that would allow us to just pull something and reuse it. So we created standardization in our company. And so from the recipe, yeah, that’s part of the company. But the other part is creating those templates of the emails, creating standardization in our recipes. I had to be able to take a recipe and carry it through to the seven other recipes that we created. And it had to be similar enough that I didn’t have to worry about the formula, right? Because once you get the formula down of how much Chia seed you need into ratio water, then the next step comes in. How many cups of flour do you need to make that batch of cookies because, literally, that’s what I’m making, is cookies. So you’re creating a recipe that you can take and transfer to each other recipe that you have in your cookbook. And that’s what I did. I created components that I could be like the other one, and then I just transferred it to the next recipe and then added in the different flavors that I wanted.
That might change, but it created the recipe for me, and I was able to use that base formula to help me move forward and grow the business. And the next step from growing businesses, well, you need to be able to get clients, and it was literally taking our first recipe and starting to go door to door, asking people if they would put it into their pet stores. How did that go? The first ones that you tried? Well, not so well. It wasn’t as exciting as I thought it was going to be. I thought I’d be able to just knock on the door and they would accept me and take the treats in because they smelled so good and they taste so good. But there’s a lot of marketing that goes behind this and there’s a lot of lessons learned, which is, you have to have the right marketing. For example, when we created the bags, they were in a standard, what you call a pouch. But it was standard and with a label. And those customers would tell me, Look, we’d love to take them in, but you’re missing a lot of things. You don’t have certain things on your label that are required by law. Secondly, your bags just won’t stand out against other bags that are on the shelf because they’re pre-printed. So we really did take that feedback to heart and understand that with that feedback, what it did is it forced us to create pre-printed pouches, the kind you see in the stores today, that look really pretty. We decided to take that leap, and we created pre-printed pouches that made our bags stand out. I went back to those stores, and it was a couple of years later, we had stores in between, but it was, you know, when you’ve considered a homespun, everybody wants you to start out at the farmer’s market, and we knew that working in the corporate world, that we were not a farmer’s market type of company, that we were going to make it bigger. And we knew we wanted the boutiques. We wanted the online stores. And the only way to do that is to brand yourself that way and stay away from the farmers market.
So what we did, Chris, is we worked with the local communities in different states that I started networking with. I’d go to some events that I get invited to and I started networking with some of these different organizations and rescues. And by making those connections, I would work with them. I would give them our treats. They would use them for their rescues, to help the pets, you know, be happy and have a healthy life as they are in, waiting to be adopted and at the same time, they then would take our bag treats and do them as giveaways. So it was kind of two-fold. It allowed us to get our name out there with little money, right? We didn’t have to do a lot of money to do it. It allowed us to do this. Get our name out there. Yes, we’re the ones who were giving the free treats along the way, putting them in a bag. But at the same time, it’s given us free branding. They’re marketing it because they’re doing some marketing. They’re giving away our treats to winners, contest winners. And they’re still giving the treats to their dogs in the rescues or the shelters. And we also work with Greater Good. And they helped us get our name out there through Einstein To The Rescue. And we did a grant under Einstein Pets that gave to local shelters or rescues.
So over the eight years, it took us about six years to get where we are today because it was a lot of community effort. It was giving back to the community, working with the rescues. We know how important that is. You go to adopt and a lot of those adoptions, those dogs don’t get treats. And if they get treats, they’re probably getting the ones they can get cheaper, because why wouldn’t you, right? You’re not gonna really give them something really healthy because it’s expensive, so we wanted to give back that way, too. And through the company, as you can tell, there were a lot of different things we tried to do, and then went with what worked, and that’s what worked for us to grow our company. It wasn’t about the boutiques, it really was about starting with the community and getting our name out there. And that’s how we started growing Einstein Pets is through the community and our partnerships, and they really, really help promote us without social media. They did it for us and we didn’t have to do it.
That’s really cool. And I really like the focus on community and giving back. I mean, you’re doing this full time, I assume now? Yes. So it is a certified woman-owned business, which I’m really proud to say, and my husband also works for the company, and we do this full time and we’ve been doing it full time, I have anyway, probably for the last five years. And he’s been doing it full time since we started because we had to create the marketing behind it. We had to create the logo and he self-taught. He taught himself how to do the Adobe Illustrator, to create the logo, to create the bags. So we did everything on our own, so we didn’t have to go and shop to pay somebody to do it, which was helpful. So he and I do it full time and I can’t say that I would ever change it because I love what we do and we’ve been busier than ever.
Now it says here that you guys are still making these in small batches. We are. So we grew and we grew so much that we couldn’t do it out of our kitchen anymore, right? That’s where we started. We went from our kitchen to a local commercial kitchen where you could rent out space and I hired a couple of people to help me make the treats. What we realized quickly is this wasn’t gonna work, and I only realized that because I went to a couple of those pet exposes that they have. One in Orlando and the other ones in Vegas. And I went the first couple times to see if people would if I ask them questions, would they answer them? And I went to some of the bigger companies that I liked, that I admired. For example, Polka Dog and I don’t know if you’ve heard of them, but I like them. I have to tell you, the owners were so nice. They said to me that if they had to do it all over again, they probably would have taken their recipes that they had and let somebody else make them. I don’t know if they truly believe that because they went off in a different arena. But their advice was such a great piece to take away because I then started looking for someone who could take our recipes and make them commercially.
And so today, that’s exactly what we do. We have three bakeries that make them for us because I’m so concerned about having only one bakery, in case anything happens, like a pandemic. No laughing matter. But it’s true. We kind of got stuck with our treats and they couldn’t make them because they had to close down and we were completely out of treats, and it was right at the time everybody was ordering like crazy online, and we missed the boat because we didn’t have the treats. So anyway, we found a couple of bakeries, and these bakeries, we’ll do some with one. We’ll do our holiday treats with another. Maybe a one-off with another kitchen, and we get it in high volume and they ship it to us in Florida. And then we do all the fulfillment in house, and then we do co-packing and we do private labeling now. You’d be amazed at how many customers come to us that we fill their bags with our treats and they sell them on their own and they love them. They’re very happy with our product.
That’s really a really interesting story. For eight years, it sounds like you’ve learned a lot of lessons along the way. Lots of lessons. One is that no one ever really tells you the truth because they feel like you might be a competitor, so they don’t want you to really know what you need to know. You can’t just get the information by asking someone. you really have to do the research, is key. Because if you don’t really do the research, if you don’t do every piece of your business, you’ll never understand what it is to run a business, right. And I’m not talking 24/7 and you know I’m working hard, it’s not always about working hard. It’s about looking smart and having things in place that make you smarter by having those.
And the third piece that we learned is you have to put standardization in place. You have to have templates available. You can’t recreate the wheel every time you try to write an email. You have to have some of those that you can just copy and paste and treat them enough that it goes to that next customer. You have to have sales sheets. You have to have bar codes. And I learned that just by, I made Google my friend and it is a very good friend because when you don’t know something and you don’t want to sound silly cause you’re just starting out in the business, you just Google it and it tells you what it is. I usually Google it twice, just to make sure that Google is right. Yeah, there’s a lot of information out there. You can learn a lot on Google and on YouTube and just all the information that people before you come to share on their websites.
Yes, yes, and there’s a lot, and I think the best advice I could give anybody is it can seem overwhelming. Just pick a piece and start and you can start by saying, OK, what is it that I want to do? And then just go from there and decide, Okay, if I’m going to do this, what do I need to do? And it might be 20 to 30 things that you’re gonna need, but just focus on three because three is a lot easier than 20 right? And by doing that, you then get the three done or you go, OK, I can’t do the 3rd one because I need the 5th one to do that. And it gets the ball rolling. And I would just go back to there’s no easy answer. Even if you don’t know how to bake, like I did, and you don’t understand nutrition, you research it. You do your research so you understand what you’re giving your customer. In this case, what you’re giving a dog because you can’t just hand them something, expect them to eat it. And say, okay, my days done. You really have to understand why you’re giving it to them and what are those benefits? Because when I start talking about small batches and I start talking about super nutrients in every bite for optimal health, what does that really mean? So know that and then everything else can come together.
Nice. I think that’s really good advice. And it sounds like you’ve learned a lot about yourself and about the business and just everything along the way. I mean, is there anything else you want to share with us today before we wrap up? No, I totally enjoyed talking to you. This was a great conversation. I feel like I did all the talking, but I enjoyed it. I would just say that I think it’s just to do your research. Do it. Understand it before you ask a question because it will be a lot easier for that person to answer your question, knowing that you have some knowledge behind you. I love that Kelly, and I really appreciate what you’re doing and giving back to dogs and people, and people can go out to Einsteinpets.com and they can order them on their own or they can find a store near them. And I really appreciate you coming on today to share and to talk with me. Well, thank you so much. I enjoyed talking to you, too, Chris.
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