Brad Baxter is the founder and CEO of Whisker (formerly AutoPets), an automatic litter box maker headquartered in Auburn Hills, Michigan. His father, Jim Baxter, is a serial entrepreneur and one of Whisker's first investors. The company has sold more than 700,000 litter boxes and was ranked No.1,576 on the Inc. 5000. --As told to Zack Miller
As a kid, I saw my dad struggle as an entrepreneur--and I didn't realize that I was on that same path until one day, I was down in the basement, cleaning a mess my cats had made because their litter box wasn't clean enough, and I started thinking, how can I make this easier for myself and better for the cats?
There was a self-cleaning litter box already on the market, but it really didn't work. I'd been thinking about a concept that would work with gravity, using a sifting rotational method, and started making some sketches.
As is often the case, I lacked capital; I didn't have enough cash to invest in the tools needed to make a prototype. My dad, though, was willing to take a bet on my idea and refinanced his home to do so.
We launched Whisker (formerly AutoPets) in 1999, and I sold on Amazon for quite some time, because that's what everybody seemed to do. But I grew to believe that the Amazon sales were seriously cannibalizing our direct sales. Still, I was afraid to cut them off. My dad told me not to delay hard decisions. Eventually, they're going to catch up to you, and they're going to take you down. So we pulled the plug on Amazon--and our sales remained steady. Instead, we saw an improvement in our margins--and we simplified our order flow by selling directly to customers.
Since then, we've grown more than 1,000 percent, and have launched an automated feeder, accessory items--we're even expanding into dogs.
We grew up with very little money in my family, and it's been great for my dad to see the success we've had. My dad taught me confidence--and that the right way is not always the easiest way. But if you do things right, and you build a solid foundation, you can have a great business.