Basepaws’ Anna Skaya: The Joy of Building a Startup That Matters

I love being a founder. I love working hard, having fun and getting things done—and having done this a few times, I know first-hand how exciting it is when momentum builds for your product and the world starts to take notice.

But I can truly say that excitement is 10x-ed when you know your product is creating meaningful change in the world.

Anna hugging cat

How I got here

I’ve lived all around the world and have had companies in Russia and the U.K., but after three startups and a stint as the CEO of Groupon Russia, I’d become a bit distracted. After years of putting in long days (toothbrush in my purse, years of weekends forgotten, terrible diets) I wasn’t happy getting more followers, more deals sold, or more clicks on ads. I slowly started to reach a point where I needed to put my skills toward something more long-term and impactful.

During that time, I guess you can say I had a “23andMe moment.” Both of my parents are scientists and when genetic testing became available for the consumer, I was excited to learn all I can. Most of my results were standard: my eyes are green, my coffee consumption can be astronomical, but I also had a 13x higher risk for a very serious disease. Thus started my (very personal) story with genetics. With this as the backdrop, I arrived at Singularity University, where the idea for Basepaws was born. It came out of the need both from the consumer end (23andMeow, and no one has done it?!) and from the science end (using companion animals as models without all the FDA red tape). I am still very much committed to both parts—driving the company to succeed as a D2C business and create strong science to drive innovation.

A purr-fect fit

When I arrived at SU’s Global Startup Program (GSP) (formerly known as the Global Solutions Program) in 2016, everything clicked into place. The offices for 23andMe were literally just down the street from the SU campus, and that prompted many discussions about genomics and what was already done in that space, and what was missing.

We soon realized that with a 23andMe-like product for pets not only could our pets benefit from this type of information but so could humans. Did you know cats are the mammals most closely related to humans outside of primates because their genes are arranged in the same way as ours? Thus, cats provide an almost perfect genetic model to study human DNA.

We quickly realized that we could initially focus on collecting feline DNA and build a database that will help owners, veterinarians, breeders, rescue organizations, and pet food companies understand the link between a pet’s DNA and its traits, nutritional needs, and likelihood for developing common disorders and diseases. And then the information gathered could ultimately be used to eradicate genetic disease in pets and humans.

Kitten Scottish Straight isolated on white background

Product development on the exponential curve

We knew we had an interesting idea, but we weren’t sure how it was going to work in the real world. From the GSP, we immediately moved on to SU’s Incubator to validate the idea, further define the market need, collect customer feedback, prototype the solution to the minimum viable product (MVP) stage, and start building a business plan.

We went from idea to first product in five months, which is 3x faster than typical biotech startups— an incredible feat that we owe to SU and all our mentors there. You can read the SU case study about us to get a more detailed look at our journey from idea to impact.

The world's first cat DNA test

Where we are now

Two years in, we have much to celebrate. We have closed $1M in funding with investment from various angel groups, and we are planning another round of fundraising to kick off in summer 2019.

And…did you hear the big news? We were on Shark Tank LAST NIGHT! I am excited to say we were able to reel in two of the biggest sharks on the show and there was almost a catfight for the deal. It was such a purrfect way to showcase what Basepaws is all about, and to tell the world about our work in feline health.

Anna at SharkTank

The “joy” part

I’ve been here before. That stage when your startup kitten is poised to leap up that hockey stick handle and grab the attention of deep pocket VCs. Already in 2019, we attended CES with a complimentary booth, funding, and tickets; won the Purina Innovation Prize; and earned great coverage in Fortune. Even more exciting is our planned trip to Mr. Wonderful’s Founder Summit in Miami Beach in May and nabbing a shot to pitch on Shark Tank.

It’s a stage that lets you know that your product has merit and your hard work is paying off. But I can tell you that this time it’s different. This time, a larger purpose is baked into the product. The end game isn’t to sell off the company to the highest bidder and walk away. The endpoint is to help the pets and people we love to live healthier, longer lives. And knowing that makes this moment in time exponentially more meowgical and satisfying.