According to the American Pets Product Association, Americans spent $99B on their pets in 2020. With the growing popularity of IoT, Americans also spent ~$10B on wearables last year. Fi, the company behind a proprietary GPS-enabled smart collar for dogs, fuses the two. Aside from tracking location, the collars monitor the movement, activity, and sleep patterns of the dog and the company is increasingly focused on using machine learning to address potential health issues that may arise and be detected from the data it collects. Fi’s Series 2 collar, which has a battery life of 3 months without a charge, retails at $149 and the GPS tracking service is $99/yr.
AlleyWatch caught up with Cofounder and CEO Jonathan Bensamoun to learn more about the inspiration for the business, the company’s future plans, experience managing its supply chain during the pandemic, latest round of funding, which brings the total funding raised to $40M, and much, much more.
Who were your investors and how much did you raise?
Fi has raised $30 million in Series B funding led by Longview Asset Management, with participation from Advance Venture Partners (AVP), Gokul Rajaram as well as existing investors RRE Ventures, Lerer Hippeau, and Freestyle.
Tell us about the product or service that Fi offers.
Fi develops a smart collar for dogs. The collar is GPS-enabled and allows dog parents to monitor the location and whereabouts of their dogs from anywhere. It also enables parents to monitor the health of their dogs and compare their activity to other dogs on the Fi network. The Fi collar is also the first low-energy wearable built on the LTE-M cellular network – it can last up to 3 months on a single charge.
We initially commercialized with the Fi in April ‘19 and followed up with the next generation – the Fi Series 2 in Q4 ‘20. The Series 2 integrates a new radio and reinforced structural design – its signal sensitivity is increased by 4x which improves the battery life and reliability of the signal. Its new structure also allows for large dogs as it can resist up to 300lbs of pull force.
I founded Fi with Loren Kirkby in 2017 with the mission to elevate the relationship between dogs and their humans through technology.
I had the idea for the company shortly after I got my German Shepherd, Thor, who is now four years old. I was working a lot and wanted to keep an eye on him and his dog walker taking strolls through the streets of New York, and I could not find any tracking device I would not have to charge every day. I also always felt like I wanted to let him run off-leash, but was worried that he would run away. So, I wanted to remove that constant compromise between his freedom and his safety.
Loren and I both had experience building hardware and integrated software at Dropcam and Square, respectively. After spending over 18 months on product development, Fi was born.
How is Fi different?
Fi is the first fully integrated smart dog collar. It’s not a “thing” you attach to your dog to track it. It’s a replacement for the dog collar that is stylish, customizable, and very comfortable. It analyzes every movement of your dog, monitors his health, his activity level, his sleep, his location, and even the time he spends with you. The Fi collar paints a complete picture of your dog’s life and yes, alerts you if anything looks wrong like him jumping the fence to run after a squirrel. We have helped thousands of parents recover their dogs in just minutes after their escapes.
We use machine learning to interpret every movement of the dog and are making more and more progress toward characterizing health issues. Soon, we will be able to detect events like an injury before the owner can even tell that the behavior of her dog changed.
Fi is also on the absolute bleeding edge of the existing technology – it’s the first wearable for dogs built on a narrowband low energy network, and its battery life is unmatched. Our collar has been proven to last up to three months without a charge.
What market does Fi target and how big is it?
We are currently focused on the United States where there are over 100 million dogs. We initially thought that only technophiles and early adopters would jump on this technology, but we have been amazed by the mass adoption that we’ve experienced. As of today, the average American lives only two miles away from a Fi Collar.
What’s your business model?
Primarily direct to consumer (DTC), but we launched on Chewy.com in November of 2020 and are always exploring the right retail opportunities.
We sell the Fi Collar for $149 and the cellular/GPS service for $99/year.
How has COVID-19 impacted the business?
During COVID, we did not see any massive impact on sales and have stayed on our growth trajectory, both in terms of product development and user adoption.
The one challenge that we have seen is the ongoing worldwide shortage of electronics components due to COVID. The pandemic’s strain on the electronic supply chain extends across industries– Ford, for example, even stopped manufacturing the F-150 due to the semiconductor chip shortage. We see this as a temporary issue that will dissipate as the overall ecosystem of electronic manufacturing ramps back up over the next few months.
What was the funding process like?
In our case, we needed to raise some money for the R&D process, so it was a bit unusual. We really needed to find investors who would take a bet on Loren and me to build an incredible device that had never been built before. Lerer & RRE stepped in on the Seed and the Series A for this.
The most recent round was more metric-based. We could demonstrate what we had done with the business over the first 18 months, how fast it was growing, and how satisfied and repeating our customers were. For instance, a very large base of our existing Series 1 users upgraded to the Series 2 collar and renewed their yearly service subscription from the first to the second year. In this sense, the B round was a bit more conventional: Show your metrics and paint your vision.
What are the biggest challenges that you faced while raising capital?
The biggest challenge for raising capital is that it inherently requires time that can be spent focusing on building the product and growing the company. Luckily every investor that came onboard was very straightforward and made the process as efficient as possible.
What factors about your business led your investors to write the check?
This response is better placed in the words of our investors:
We’ve been tracking Jonathan and the team at Fi for over a year now and have been incredibly impressed with their execution and rapid growth rate. They have established themselves as the clear leader in the emerging category of connected collars, with a device that blows away the competition in terms of design, battery life, and accuracy. Fi recognizes that pets have become “humanized” and true members of the family and will use the billions of data points collected daily to build new products that prioritize and optimize their wellbeing. We at AVP are thrilled to partner with the Fi team and excited to be a part of what’s to come. – Courtney Robinson, Partner at Advance Venture Partners
Fi is setting a new standard for pet parents, creating a new level of protection for our canine friends as well as allowing owners to interact with a community of like-minded people. It is such a great product for our dogs, allowing us to better care for them and enjoy our time with them. – Stuart Ellman, Cofounder and General Partner at RRE Ventures
As a pet owner myself, I see the massive need for Fi loud and clear. I’m excited to support Jonathan and the Fi team as they build a product that will forever change the relationship between pets and their humans. – Gokul Rajaram
It’s been a great experience working with Fi since we led the seed round in 2017. We’ve seen the product go from prototype to launch and now mass adoption by pet parents. We cannot wait to see where this next round of funding will take the company. – Andrea Hippeau, Principal at Lerer Hippeau
What are the milestones you plan to achieve in the next six months?
We know that the product is working and that we are saving dogs. In the next 6 months, we really want to develop new channels and make Fi a household name for every dog owner.
What advice can you offer companies in New York that do not have a fresh injection of capital in the bank?
Every situation is different but this year, hopefully coming out of COVID, is going to be super interesting. A lot of people are going to move back to cities, behaviors are going to drastically shift again. Looking around the corner is always how you can position your company to take advantage of the next big shift.
Where do you see the company going now over the near term?
Up and to the right.
What’s your favorite outdoor dining restaurant in NYC
Lafayette in NoHo – and no it’s not because I’m French. They set up these really cool individual outdoor bubbles where you can safely enjoy your meal.