Leeds-based ITCH aims keep flea care for the world’s pets up to scratch

Jonny Gould, co-founder and CEO ITCH Picture: Circe Hamilton
Jonny Gould, co-founder and CEO ITCH Picture: Circe Hamilton
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The YORKSHIRE entrepreneur Jonny Gould’s new business venture aims to stop pet lovers around the world from having to worry about fleas, writes Deputy Business Editor Greg Wright.

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EUREKA moments can happen in mundane places.

Jonny Gould had the inspiration for his latest business venture as he watched his dogs playing in the garden. They looked the picture of health and happiness.

But he was struck by a dark thought. Had he remembered to give the dogs their medication to kill off fleas?

Mr Gould has a deeper interest in pet welfare and nutrition than the average consumer. His business, Monster Pet Supplies, can supply pet food to your door.

He recalled: “If I couldn’t remember to flea my pets, then other pet owners didn’t stand a chance. Fleaing was confusing when it should be easy, and time-consuming, when it should be done quickly.”

Never a man to let a bright idea float by, he has joined forces with a number of experienced business leaders to establish an enterprise which could help pet lovers around the world do battle with fleas.

The new subscription-based brand ITCH (itchpet.com) aims to disrupt a UK pet care market which is expected to reach £2.1bn by 2023. Alongside, his brother Adam, Mr Gould is creating jobs in Leeds by establishing a business which combines cutting edge technology with old-fashioned Yorkshire grit. To say nothing of its determination to kill lots of fleas.

Co-founded by James Cox, who established the sleep tech firm Simba and marketeer Charlotte Harper, who is the former UK MD of Match.com, ITCH is initially launching with a flea care subscription service.

Developed with support from vets, ITCH’s tailored monthly subscription service aims to revolutionise pet care at a time when consumers are worried about spiralling costs.

The brand has initially secured a £5m investment from Seedcamp, Nigel Wray and Cox’s YYX Capital among others, with a further injection of £10m planned for the fourth quarter of 2019.

This will support the brand’s roll out to the US market in early 2020.

ITCH will also extend into the wider pet care market with personalised skin, joint and dental products.

There are also plans to use curated and user-generated content to create an online platform and community, in collaboration with its team of veterinary experts, which will answer pet owners’ questions.

Mr Gould said: “The pet market has traditionally relied on the middle man to provide the services needed to care for pets. ITCH has been created to respond to a gap in the market and give pet care some real personality by providing pet owners with direct access to the best wellbeing products, personalised just for their pets’ needs, along with consumer advice”.

“In the coming months, we’ll be launching the ITCH Care platform which will harness the power of data to connect pet owners to our network of world-class content, both curated and user generated. This will provide pet owners with access to the answers they need to the wide range of wellbeing questions which can arise on a daily basis.”

Mr Gould said his experience in the pet care sector has given him a feel for market trends.

He said: “One of the interesting things we have found is that people are happy to share profiling of their pets.”

These profiles make it easier to create a service that is tailored to each pet’s needs.

“Everybody wants to get up close and personal with their pets,’’ he said. “We send the right product to the right pet every month. We have tried to make it a very consumer friendly product. Our branding is very soft.”

The fact that itchpet.com’s management team has such a strong track record helped it gain a foot in the door with potential investors.

“Within weeks we had a number of people interested,’’ Mr Gould recalled. “I spoke to five or six potential investors. They want a return on their investment but they understand the challenges. They saw there was a lot of credibility in the team. “

Historically, pet owners have had little guidance, beyond going to the vet, about day to day questions related to their pet.ITCH’s AI (artificial intelligence) powered platform has been built to simplify this process, providing pet owners with access to easy to understand guidance.

Mr Gould’s mission is to ensure busy pet owners around the world will never need worry about fleas again.

They will receive tailored flea treatment kits for their pets, through their letter box at a fraction of the cost of over-the-counter treatment. Using the ITCH app, pet owners will be sent a reminder when it’s time to administer the treatment.

Mr Gould added: “Flea products are just the start for us. There could be other therapeutic areas that we could move into. We’ve been live for two weeks and have already been outperforming the model we have set for ourselves.”

“In terms of where we are looking to take things next, we are looking to scale up in America, Europe and China.

“I keep a very close eye on the market. China has a very serious issue with flea infestation. It doesn’t seem like anybody is serving the market in the correct manner. You could have a business in Leeds servicing China.”

The company, which is based near Leeds United’s Elland Road football ground, has 10 full time employees. Within the next year it could have between 40 to 50 staff, according to Mr Gould.

“My message to anybody who wants to follow in my footsteps is to never give up,’’ said Mr Gould. “True entrepreneurs keep going. Margin and market size are also critical for any business.”

His commitment to Leeds is unshakeable. Monster Pet Supplies was among thousands of Leeds businesses that faced a prolonged clean up after the Boxing Day floods of 2015. But the company simply moved to larger premises in Leeds and continued to grow its sales.

He said: “I love being in Leeds. There are huge opportunities here with a great pool of skilled people. The cost base is also very competitive. An office in Leeds is a lot cheaper than an office in the South-East.

“There are a lot of emerging tech and data businesses in Leeds. It’s a really exciting place to be.”

The world’s flea population should be living in fear.