Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in pet care but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Karen Neola, Founder and CEO of My Perfect Pet Inc., located in Sulphur Springs, TX, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

My Perfect Pet was the first to introduce a new category of pet food, now known as "gently cooked," in 2007. Our process remains unique, blending gently but fully cooked meats with fresh raw produce, offering all the benefits of fresh whole food with the safety of cooked meats.

Our individually wrapped portion control food bars are convenient for storing, thawing, and serving and take the guesswork out of feeding. Our products are in independent pet food retailers across the U.S., and we offer direct overnight shipping to customers who do not have a local retailer.

Our primary target customers are home cookers who would like the convenience of a ready-made product but will only buy from a company they can trust, consumers buying prescription or veterinary diets but looking for higher quality ingredients or any pet parent who understands the health benefits of fresh whole food over highly processed dry or canned.

Tell us about yourself

After learning that my beloved lab, Hunter, had died from contaminated pet food in January 2006, I decided to make my own pet food, using only fresh whole foods and baked meats and following FDA guidelines for human food safety. As the pet food recalls mounted in March 2007, a growing number of people begged me to make food for their pets, and I decided to turn my home cooking into a business. That was the start of "gently cooked," which is now the fastest-growing category in commercial pet food.

My mission from the start was to "Improve Pet Health through Education and Nutrition." The more I learn about what goes on in the pet food industry, the more committed I am to being an activist for truth in labeling pet food and educating pet owners on how to make healthier choices for their pets. Labeling guidelines require all companies to use the same basic terms, but the reality of what is being put into most pet foods would horrify most people.

Pet parents want the best for their 'kids' but are bombarded by marketing claims that are misleading and even false. They are understandably confused, and our pets are the ones who suffer. That is what drives me to demand accountability and transparency from commercial pet food companies and to put pet health over profits. Company profit is essential to staying in business, but not at the expense of the health and lives of our pets. I am on record as saying I will walk away from the business before I compromise the quality or integrity of our products.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

I feel that maintaining my personal integrity, as well as the integrity of our products, has been the most challenging and, therefore, the biggest accomplishment. Our facility is licensed for human food manufacturing, and we operate to USDA human food standards, which is significantly higher cost than pet food standards. We own our own facility, so we have 100% quality control over every step of every operation. And we are privately held, which means we are accountable to our own conscience and not to an investor's profit goals. But that also means we have limited budgets.

Consumers are hearing a lot of brilliant marketing claims and comparing prices, and we are competing with some very deep pockets with big advertising budgets. For 15 years, our challenge has been to remain competitive on the shelf while making zero compromises in the quality of ingredients or the quality of our operation. When I hear someone say their pet made a miraculous recovery or is full of energy like a puppy again, it warms my heart, and that is why I do it. When someone says it has made a difference in their own life because they started eating healthier after seeing the difference it made in their pet's health, that to me, is the ultimate success.

What's one of the hardest things that comes with being a business owner?

While being your own boss may sound attractive, the reality is that you are personally responsible for literally every aspect of the business. Many of the responsibilities have very little, if anything, to do with the passion that drove you to start the business in the first place. In the food business, lives depend on the decisions you make, and regardless of how many employees you have or how loyal they are, at the end of the day, the responsibility is yours to make sure your company is living up to its commitments, which in our case includes the lives of families and their pets. When I started the business, I underestimated the weight of that responsibility.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. Have a well-defined mission statement. Be very clear about why you want to start the business, what you want to accomplish, and what will drive you to get there. There will be numerous opportunities along the way, some to expand your business and others that could take you off track. I make sure critical business decisions support our mission for education and nutrition to improve pet health.
  2. Expect to become an expert in every aspect of the business. Have a budget for hiring or retaining experts to the extent you are able, but don't expect them to share your passion or to independently make the best decisions for your business. I have had to become an expert in areas I previously had no interest or knowledge whatsoever. I previously worked for a large corporation, but I found myself suddenly being my own department for IT, accounting, finance, legal, marketing, customer support, construction, facility operations, etc. This doesn't mean you have to be an expert when you start but do have a plan for how you plan to support every business need.
  3. Business is all about finance. I excelled at math, and Excel is my language of love. But I did not start the business with any love of finance and quickly discovered that running a business, and staying in business, is all about finance.

Where can people find you and your business?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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