Alex Jarrell is the co-founder and head of strategic execution at Nom Nom, a mission-based pet health company dedicated to improving the lives of dogs and cats everywhere. Nom Nom is at the forefront of the pet wellness industry, committed to helping pet owners make informed decisions about the nutrition they offer their pets. Alex is also a loving parent to the company’s original inspiration, Harlee the Aussie Shepherd.
What does “entrepreneurship” mean to you?
Alex Jarrell: For me, entrepreneurship means taking a leap of faith for something you believe in. It means the willingness to sacrifice sleep, sanity, and stability to create something that is statistically more likely to fail than to succeed but doing it anyways. Entrepreneurship is the opportunity to learn new skills you might have never acquired out of necessity and realizing you are capable of so much more than you ever thought possible while simultaneously discovering you must wholeheartedly trust those around you to challenge, complement, and contribute.
How did your company come to be?
AJ: I have my miniature Australian Shepherd, Harlee, to thank for Nom Nom. She was diagnosed with an immune system issue when she was about a year old. Instead of continuing down the path of antibiotics to treat the symptoms, our vet at the time recommended that we start cooking for her in an effort to boost her immune system naturally through fresh, whole foods and vitamins. Harlee’s health began to improve and we (my co-founders and I) had what I would call both an ‘a-ha’ and a ‘well-duh’ moment. When we eat healthy foods, we feel better and are healthier. The same is true for our pets. So, when the question was posed of who wants to quit their job and work for Harlee, I couldn’t get my hand in the air fast enough.
How has your business changed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic?
AJ: As a vertically integrated, DTC company, we thankfully have not had to change the consumer experience in response to the pandemic. If anything, the pandemic has brought health to the forefront. For those who think of their dog or cat as family that means focusing more on their health as well. We saw and continue to see tremendous growth during this time when many prefer a healthier option coupled with the convenience and safety of delivery.
What is your proudest and darkest moment so far?
AJ: When we opened our second production facility in Nashville, TN, in 2018, it was a huge moment for our business. This meant being able to serve pets nationwide and I could not be prouder of how our team handled that challenge and replicated our process on a much larger scale.
I would probably prefer the word challenging to dark. We are the only pet food company in existence that offers pre-portioned, single serve meals for our customers. This type of portioning takes the guesswork out of feeding and calorie management which is incredibly important considering 55%+ of dogs and 60%+ of cats in the U.S. are either overweight or obese. Figuring out how to maintain this level of physical product personalization at scale was a daunting challenge but one that was achieved through perseverance and the eventual development of our proprietary process and equipment.
How is your company changing the landscape?
AJ: Pet food used to be synonymous with a hard, brown pellet. That is no longer the case. In recent years, pet parents are demanding better for their pet. This includes better food, more transparency, ingredients they can pronounce, and the list goes on. At Nom Nom, we are providing all of that with microbiome-based research to back it up. In addition to offering one of the only fresh pet foods where ingredients are cooked separately to maintain their nutrient integrity, we also have one of the largest pet microbiome databases in the world. We go beyond being a pet food company to being a pet health company.
What advice/credo do you live by as you grow the business / what is your professional and personal mission statement?
AJ: As a mission-driven, consumer-obsessed brand, we make decisions based on what is going to allow us to improve the lives and health of the most pets and by proxy their owners. Thinking in outputs allows us to work backwards to the inputs and decisions that get us there. For me personally, I try to live by the golden rule: treat others – be they customers, team members, partners, investors – as I would want to be treated myself. It makes it that much easier to know if we’re doing the right thing if I can feel good about it deep inside.
Where do you find inspiration when faced with challenges?
AJ: I find my inspiration comes from three key places.
1. Our consumers. We have some of the most passionate consumers who are more than willing to provide feedback, participate in research, and of course share adorable photos of healthy pets. Their input allows for constant iteration on our product and experience.
2. My colleagues. I have the pleasure to work with some of the most hard-working and intelligent individuals I have ever encountered. Everyone believes in the difference we are making and comes with a willingness to do whatever it takes to help more pets. It is incredibly inspiring day in and day out.
3. Harlee. Now nearly 8 years old, Harlee still jumps and twirls in circles every time she hears the phrase “Do you want your Nom Nom?” Her continued health and unconditional love remind me every day that what we are doing is worth it.
What does “success” look like for you? What do you think will help you achieve it?
AJ: My co-founders and colleagues get a good laugh every time I am asked a question like this. For me, success is serving all the dogs and cats across the U.S. because that means we have changed all these pets’ lives and the lives of their owners for the better. While this may be a bit lofty and Nom Nom might not cater to every lifestyle and budget, I believe there is more than one way to serve these pets. That is why at Nom Nom we aren’t just focused on making the best food. We are also focused on advancing the science of pet health through microbiome research, and developing content that can support pet parents as they strive to do the best they can for the pets they love.
Has personal or professional “success” changed for you since the COVID-19 pandemic?
AJ: There is of course another added level of caution and awareness in everything you do, but I do not believe the definition of success has changed.
What’s it like to work alone or with your partners? What advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs about building and leading teams?
AJ: I have been fortunate enough to work with four incredibly talented co-founders since we started Nom Nom in 2015. We all brought and continue to bring different skills and experience to the company. I would strongly advise entrepreneurs to find co-founders or early hires that bring diverse skill sets. You need people who are subject experts but are also willing to get their hands (both the proverbial and the actual) dirty doing whatever needs to be done. Any one of us in isolation would have failed at this endeavor long ago but together we are now in our 6th year of operation which in start-up years (roughly akin to dog years) is quite a long time.
Many entrepreneurs continue to perfect their daily routines to support their work and greater vision; would you mind sharing your morning routine or a regular ritual that grounds your work each day? How has it changed in recent months?
AJ: Even six years in, every day is a little bit different. There are absolutely some consistencies to my daily routine like a review of the metrics and performance from the day before but depending on the needs of the day, each day can change. Being agile is incredibly important in start-up life. The need for constant problem-solving is one of my favorite things.
What kind of an entrepreneur do you want to be known as, as in, what do you want your legacy to be?
AJ: I want to be someone who leads by example, in the trenches if you will. I want to inspire people to give it their everything because they know I would never ask of them something I haven’t done or wouldn’t be willing to do myself.
What is a quote or some words of wisdom that help get you through the tough days?
AJ: “This too shall pass.”
Who are the people who have mentored or influenced you in your life or career? How has their influence changed the trajectory of your entrepreneurial journey?
AJ: One of my co-founders happens to be my husband. Working with him each day has had a profound influence on me and my career. He challenges and supports me every day to push myself and to grow.
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