Meet Nathan Perry and James Lacy the co-founders behind dog treats Denzel’s . Denzel’s make healthy snacks for dogs based on human health trends and launched in 2018. Nathan and James met university studying Animal Science and Nutrition before moving to London. After a couple years in the industry the guys came together to create Denzel’s. To get off the ground the guys (and Denzel the dog) moved into Nathan’s family garage so they could focus solely on their product. The hustling paid off because now they’re sold in over 600 stores across the UK and Europe and are seeking their first round of investment this year. The guys give us a look into creating an edible product not for humans
Nathan Perry & James Lacy
Ages at time of interview:
Nathan Perry (29) & James Lacy (27)
Making healthy snacks for dogs
If you went to university was it a clear-cut path what you were going to do?
This is where we both met! We went to Nottingham University where we studied Animal Science and Nutrition, which are both big passions of ours.
What is Denzels and when did you launch?
Denzel’s make healthy snacks for dogs based on human health trends. Denzel’s educates the whole family on proper dog nutrition and ownership. We launched in August 2018.
How did the idea for Denzels come about?
We could see a huge rise in healthier food & drink options for adults and kids. It had become easier to eat snacks with lower calories, no added sugar, salt or grain. But we couldn’t find these for our own dogs. Using our knowledge of animal nutrition and our time in the pet industry we decided to create a way to make products that could tick all of these boxes… but for dogs. Denzel’s healthy snacks for dogs were created.
What were the initial challenges in getting the ball rolling for Denzel’s?
We wanted to make a product that hadn’t been done before. We didn’t want to just pick a product ‘off the shelve’ that could easily be copied. So finding a way to make semi moist products with NO sugar, salt or grain whilst keeping it super yummy and palatable took it’s time. But it was worth the wait. Just to add another barrier – we wanted to make sure this was done in the UK! We also had a clear vision for how we wanted our branding to look – but neither of us can draw ANYTHING. The search for our designer was a long process.
When anyone starts something there is an element of sacrifice. Can you share what this looked like to you?
All three of us (including Denzel our dog!) had to move back to my mum’s house, where we lived and worked from the garage. We planned to do this for 2/3 months, but due to launch delays we were there for a year. Thanks Mum! For that year we put all our time and money into Denzel’s – so we didn’t really do much else or see anyone else.
Unlike a standard food and drink startup, you can’t taste your goods. What is the process for ensuring you had a taste that would be appealing to animals?
We get asked this question a lot. Short answer… Denzel has eaten A LOT of snacks. He is one lucky dog.
The longer answer is that we only use ingredients that we know dogs love – this is always the starting point. Firstly, we worked super hard to find a base of ingredients that was perfect to bake in this process. Once we have this base, we can add different ingredients to create different flavours. Lucky, we know a lot of dogs, so they all did a lot of tasting (they are low calorie – so it’s all ok).We also work with some of the best nutritionists to make sure everything is perfect.
We also get asked if we have ever eaten the snacks ourselves… the answer is yes ha
How did you go about getting money for Denzels?
We put money in ourselves and have taking a Loan from Virgin Start-up. This is always a hard subject to talk about. But I think the best piece of advice I can give is:
- Do what feels right for you
- Ask yourselves what you need the money for (do you really need it!)
- Don’t be afraid to look at all your options before giving equity away – there are lot’s out there.
We personally didn’t want to give any equity away right at the start. This was for two main reasons:
- We wanted to wait until our valuation was slightly higher
- We wanted to know exactly what we wanted the money for, so we made the most of it!
However, we are growing very quickly so needed a small amount of money (mainly for stock). So, we turned to Virgin Start up – as it was also a community that we wanted to be apart of. For us this was the best move! We will be going through our 1st round of investment later this year, to help us with some very exciting opportunities.
Have you got a mentor?
Yes, we have a mentor. Lou Harris, who is great. This is so valuable to us. We think it is important to understand what we need help with (lots) – so will always look to ask experts in their fields for advice.
What do you believe is the hardest thing about running a startup?
By far cashflow management is the hardest. As a fast growing FMCG business we are constantly producing products and buying packaging to supply more stores, which means we spend a lot of time looking at excel spreadsheets. Also switching off and taking time out can be tough.
Have you experienced self-doubt along the way?
Yes – I think this is totally normal and something that keeps us both driven. There are days where nothing seems to be going your way. But these are quickly forgotten when they do
Can you share with our readers about some of the places that Denzels is sold. What 3 pieces of advice would you give someone when trying to get into supermarkets?
We are currently sold in over 600 stores across the UK and some in Europe. We purposely made a multichannel product. So, we sell in pet shops, convenience stores (Budgens, Spars), Farm shops, Forecourts, Pubs, bars and cafes. We also sell on Ocado, Amazon and through www.denzels.co.uk We also sell in some major EU markets.
3 pieces of advice
- Innovation: Make sure you are offering them something different and clearer show the buyer this!
- Persistence: Don’t give up chasing and give the buyer a reason to get back to you.
- Investment: Make sure you have enough margin so that you can invest once you get in! It is important to get the product moving off the shelf through promos, instore marketing etc.
Any fuck ups along the way that you can laugh about now?
A lot of them will be minor – for me (Nathan) they normally revolve around spelling – something sometimes even a Google app can’t help me with.
What has been your best moment so far as a result of setting up Denzels?
Getting messages from customers and seeing them come back week after week. Seeing dogs loving them. Getting customers thanking us for the product and saying how much their dog loves them. Also we have had some kids send in drawings of some of Denzel’s cards.. that was great.
What advice would you give other twenty-something’s who are thinking of setting up a business?
There are lots of opportunities out there to help you succeed – from support groups to funding. Once you are in it, it isn’t as scary as some people will make it out to be. So, don’t be afraid to make the jump and always ask for help
What do you think is next for Denzels in the next year?
Investment -New products-More growth and bigger launches
What’s the dream?
We would love for Dwyane ‘The Rock’ Johnson to feed them to his French Bulldogs!
Just for fun
Startups U 30 I admire are.. Pip & Nut, Dope,
The Twenty Mile Club is…. An awesome community of inspirations people
Want to learn more head to Denzel’s website here