Dylan Balsz and Tilden Smith had a simple vision: take a product, make it better and sell it for cheaper. For years, the high school friends and Chapman University sophomores had tossed around business ideas, but a personal experience made one idea stick.
It was a problem that Balsz was all too familiar with. His family and their dog Lucy moved from a house to a nearby Orange County apartment. Balsz quickly learned that having a dog adjust to life without a backyard was a frustrating situation and no existing product minimized the mess or the odor.
“All of the products on the market are either really cheap and crappy or either really expensive and crappy,” Balsz says.
The solution they concocted was the PetLawn, a “pee pad” topped with artificial grass that allows dogs to use the bathroom indoors. The key to their design was an improved drainage system and a silver-based antimicrobial compound that helps absorb moisture and eliminate odor. Unlike other products in which the fake grass bastes in dog urine, the PetLawn allows liquid to pass through the top grass directly to the disposable pee pads, which typically last five days.
Initially, the pair projected they would only need $20,000, money Smith had earned from a previous start-up, to create PetLawn. But the pair soon decided to expand beyond their original vision. They created a fleet of complementary products that would separate it from similar competitors, including a cleaning solution, replacement absorbent pads, bags for solid waste, replacement grass and PetLawn Attract, a synthetic pheromone that induces dogs to pee and helps owners expedite the PetLawn training process.
That’s when costs began to skyrocket to nearly $200,000. “Slowly costs just kind of built up,” Smith says. “But it didn’t freak us out. We knew we could deal with it.”
They debuted their start-up, International Pet Solutions (IPS), and their suite of pet care products in September 2010 at SuperZoo, a pet product trade show in Las Vegas.
“We kind of faked it,” Balsz recalls. “We just had samples and acted like we had all this stuff in inventory.”
Numerous stores expressed interest in selling IPS products, and the growth since then has been explosive. Any fears about making their investment back were alleviated.
IPS products are now available in 100 stores in the U.S., Canada, Panama, Venezuela and Columbia. PetLawn retails for $149, and the smaller PetLawn Petite costs $119. Comparable products cost about $300, Balsz says.
“We have a premium product, but we offer it at a middle of the market price point,” adds Smith.
The company operates out of a private warehouse in Santa Ana, Calif., and Balsz and Smith have begun designing custom PetLawn solutions for kennels and dog-boarding companies. They are pitching investors for capital to meet the increased demand, and anticipate selling up to $500,000 in product this year. They project being profitable within two years.