There’s one thing pet lovers all have in common: they want the absolute best for their four-legged friends. In March, the American Pet Products Association announced the industry reached over $100 billion in annual sales, the highest level in industry history. Thirty-four billion was spent on vet care and product sales, a 7.2% increase. According to Spots, 67% of American homes include a pet, with 53% owning dogs and only 35% owning cats. With more households owning dogs, there are more products on the market to test a canine’s DNA than feline DNA kits. On Chewy’s website alone, it’s a 10-to-3 ratio. However, as technology advances and interest increases, companies such as Basepaws make DNA kits for cats more accessible and accurate.
Anna Skaya, CEO and founder of Basepaws, is pioneering feline genetics while helping cat lovers better care for their pets by providing breed, DNA and dental health reports. With an ever-growing genomic database, she and her team are on a mission to improve the lives of cats around the world by understanding, genetically, what makes each cat unique.
Regarding the number of sequenced genomes from canine versus feline, the goals and available research funding for the two fields look completely different. For example, the 99 Lives project has approximately 200 domestic cat genomes sequenced, compared to the Dog10K project, which aims to sequence the genomes of 10,000 dogs and wild canids and all known dog breeds. At Basepaws, it is correcting this imbalance between the two fields. It is building the world’s largest feline genomics database, currently containing tens of thousands of feline genomes sequenced at either high or low depth.
“The idea of genetics really spoke to me,” Skaya stated. “It was based out of a need that I had from my own cat, an interest that I found absolutely fascinating. … I got a chance meeting with the CEO of 23andMe. She had just invested in a similar company to Basepaws but for dogs. She was very passionate about consumer genomics for humans and animals. And her passion rubbed off. I watched her speak to our group and it just clicked. I had a cat. I really was passionate about the idea of doing something in science. I’m not a scientist, and I had to find a cofounder. I heard her say someone should do this for cats and call it 23andMeow. We all laughed. I went home that night and bought the URL. That was the beginning.”
Skaya’s startup career began at Bazaarvoice. She started at the bottom and worked her way up. Eventually, the leadership extended her an opportunity to build out Bazaarvoice U.K. Once the office was up and running, she decided to go back to school to earn an M.B.A.
While presenting at her last conference on behalf of Bazaarvoice, an investor approached her, asking if she would be interested in a position on a four-person team to build out the idea of City Deal. She put her master’s on hold, and within a week, she met the others on the team. In 18-months, Groupon started the process to acquire the company. She then became CEO of Russia Groupon.
“I arrived there at twenty-seven,” Skaya explains. “There was a 200 person team, and the mandate was to get to 600 by the end of the year. We were halfway through the year. I’m the CEO, and I’m totally freaked out. I go from running a part of City Deal in the U.K. to running the whole thing in Russia. … My experience with that company really toughened me up. I got there and lots of big burly men were raising their eyebrows. I had a lot to prove. I exited when the company went public.”
Skaya then went on to launch two more companies, VisualDNA and breakupbuddy. “My claim to fame is that I can sell things online,” she smiles. “I can get people to look at ads. … By the time I was done with breakupbuddy, I was done with advertising. I was tired of chasing you around the web trying to sell you things. You could say that I had a little bit of an identity crisis of whether or not it was all worth it. I wanted to do something that was meaningful.”
She was accepted into Silicon Valley’s Singularity University, now Singularity Group. At that time, the program was backed by Google and based at NASA’s Research facility in Mountain View. It focused on the challenges and opportunities presented by exponential technologies like robotics, artificial intelligence and genetic sequencing. During the year-long program, she built out
Without having any revenue, Skaya was able to raise $300,000 in pre-seed funding. She’s been on Shark Tank and has even faced investors telling her they didn’t want to invest because they were dog people. She and her team are now about to close out a Series A round in the upcoming months.
“Had this been a dog company, anything dog, I think it would have been much easier,” she comments. “Investors that I think would have been absolutely perfect for us did not identify with the problem that we were solving. I remember a very famous investor flew him and half of his team to Los Angeles to meet with us. A perfect fit on every level. Everything was great. It came down to him not being a cat person. … I have it in writing, ‘I’m not a cat person.’”
As Skaya continues to transition and expand Basepaws, she focuses on the following essential steps:
- Onboard advisors. They will help you navigate uncharted territory.
- Go for it. If you think too long about a situation, you’ll never start.
- Ask yourself if you’ll regret not doing something. If the answer is yes, face your fear and give it a try.
Skaya concludes, “Helping others and seeing them grow is such a great feeling.”