1. The invite

It was on a windy peak in the highlands of Scotland that I was invited into the Toby team.

An old friend – freshly retired from private equity – wanted to assemble a killer squad and provide some funding. He had seen competitors sprout, and believed that we could best them with superior execution and more aggressive marketing. He was convinced of the opportunity:

“Tailor-made dog food is booming. This generic, overpriced crap these brands are selling – no-one wants it anymore.”

Trusty friends in the highlands of Scotland
My muddy shoesMy leather shoes

Just 6 months before, I’d left Hamwells to take a break from the hectic startup life. Having lost a big chunk of my hair getting that company going, I was enjoying a peaceful consultancy gig at a coffee company.

Now my friend wanted me to serve as CMO. Within 3 months, I was to build the brand, the e-commerce engine and the algorithm that compiled the recipes for dog food. He would recruit a chief veterinarian and others for procurement and day-to-day order fulfillment. He said:

After this tour of duty you can get back to Pleasantville, enjoy the peace. But this is too good too pass over.

He was right. I joined the team.

2. The start

Our first meeting was held in a stately office near the Amsterdam Vondelpark. The team my friend had assembled gathered around a designer table, ready to start a business. It felt like a movie about a robbery, except the scenery was too clean, the objective was legal and the crew not gangster enough.

Our CEO to be rose to give a presentation. At 23 years old he was almost a decade younger than the rest, but his confident intensity made up for the age difference. We then sparred over drinks, debating strategy and timeline. Around midnight we settled on an agenda containing everything we had to accomplish before launch. It was very ambitious.

There would be 3 months from inception to launch. Everything had to be done simultaneously, and everything was critical. We had to negotiate and buy the domain name. We had to convince suppliers to take us seriously. We had to find affordable office space. If we stumbled one thing, we’d have to postpone everything.

Building the product however, went without a hitch. We compiled the tool that selected the dog food, the website and our online store in record time. This made me suspicious somwhere, since I knew that building a company was supposed to be constant struggle. Yet here we were. On time. And ready to open the floodgates.

To be continued soon…