The DJN speaks with Jacob Zuppke, executive vice president at AutoPets, manufacturer of the self-cleaning litter box, Litter-Robot.
How did you come up with the idea of a self-cleaning litter box?
In 1999, Litter-Robot designer, founder, and president Brad Baxter inherited two cats. Brad experienced firsthand how unpleasant and inconvenient scooping was as a first-time cat parent. So, he set out to never scoop again after seeing how limited the options were in the self-cleaning litter box market at that time, with most units utilizing rake mechanisms that often get jammed or clogged. Brad designed a self-cleaning litter box that would harness gravity to separate waste from clean litter. Fast-forward 20 years and that sifting process and the Litter-Robot design have become the highest-rated self-cleaning litter box on the market.
How long did the process of creating this take?
It took a year of trial and error testing various prototypes before the initial concept for the Litter-Robot was designed. Since then, the Litter-Robot has undergone three major upgrades, the most recent being the WiFi-enabled Litter-Robot 3 Connect. This version of the unit can send notifications to your iPhone or Android, as well as integrate with smart home platforms. We are always refining the product, with our engineers leading us toward continued innovation.
What was it like to see your product come to life over time?
I joined Litter-Robot in 2014 to re-brand a 15-year-old company and position it for the digital age. From a new e-commerce site and a complete overhaul of its direct-to-consumer brand marketing strategy, to the introduction of influencer marketing, social initiatives, and SEO focus, we were able to leverage our continued great return on ad spend and technology investments to catapult the business forward. In the past five years, we’ve increased revenue over five times. Being part of this incredible growth and building out our team to 85+ people has been so rewarding.
Did you ever think you would create a product that would hit the market like this?
With 300,000+ units sold, the Litter-Robot clearly fills a need in the pet care market. Ask any cat parent, and they’ll say the one downside to having a cat is needing to clean the litter box. Pet parents are increasingly willing to spend money on pet tech products, especially one that offers such strong benefits for both you (no longer having to scoop) and your pet (the Litter-Robot provides a clean bed of litter every time, which is healthier for your cat).
What has the consumer reception been like towards the Litter-Robot?
The Litter-Robot is the highest-rated self-cleaning litter box on the market. We have more than 8,000 five-star reviews and countless video testimonials from our customers. We’re also highly praised for our in-house product specialists, who go above and beyond when it comes to customer service.
How did you implement the weight sensing system?
Safety has always been a top priority, which is why we love to tell current and potential customers about the cat sensor in the Litter-Robot. The automatic clean cycle relies on the cat sensor, which is a weight-sensitive switch that detects when your cat enters and exits the unit. If at any time the weight of your cat is detected inside the globe, the globe will not rotate. If the globe is already rotating, it will stop. Pet safety always comes first at AutoPets.
Do you have any future plans with inventions and products?
We’re looking at an exciting couple years ahead. Just over the horizon we’ll be launching Litterbox.com, a go-to destination where cat parents can reliably shop for all their cat’s needs, including all-natural litter, organic catnip, biodegradable toys, cleaning products, and more. There are also other fun developments in the works that I can’t quite discuss yet!
JACOB ZUPPKE is currently Executive Vice President at AutoPets, a company dedicated to the design and manufacture of highly functional, connected pet products. Jacob helped AutoPets scale from 30 employees to its current 85+ employees, overseeing the creation and growth of the engineering, marketing, business development, and manufacturing operations teams. Under Jacob’s co-leadership with Brad Baxter, AutoPets’ revenue has increased from approximately $7 million in 2015 to nearly $30 million in 2018, and is trending toward exciting continued growth. The company’s flagship product, Litter-Robot, is the highest-rated self-cleaning litter box on the market. Jacob is also overseeing the launch of Litterbox.com, an online destination where cat owners can reliably shop for their cat’s needs. His dedication to bringing innovative pet care products to market is partly influenced by his own fur children, a Siberian cat named Lexie and a Yellow Lab named Emma. Jacob is an aspiring at-home chef and a newlywed.
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