“Don’t be afraid of things you don’t know”: Interview with Oli Bristowe, Pets Purest CEO and Co-Founder

Pets Purest was founded in 2017 by husband and wife duo, Oli and Evie Bristowe, when Evie’s family dogs suffered from itchy and dry skin. They discovered the only product that could significantly help was salmon oil. Observing how effective it was and seeing how happy their pet was, Oli and Evie set out to improve the lives of pets through an ever-expanding range of natural health products. Their products are nutritional, chemical-free, and made in the UK.

2021 was the best year yet for Pets Purest with over 500,000 loyal customers and £6 million in revenue. They recently closed an investment round led by Fearless Adventures that will enable them to scale and pursue international expansion. The pet care space continues to be a growing segment. In the UK, 3.2 million Brits have acquired a pet since lockdown, and there are now 34 million pets in the UK. The pets’ foods segment is expected to grow to more than £3 billion by 2026.

We caught up with their co-founder and CEO, Oli, to hear more about Pets Purest’s journey, building an e-commerce business, what it’s like to start a business with your significant other, trends to watch out for in the pet care space, and what’s upcoming for Pets Purest as they are growing quickly.

Tell us about what the early days of your journey launching Pets Purest was like? What challenges did you face?

When we started Pets Purest, we had by then a bit of experience in selling on Amazon. The main problem we faced was not the product ideas, we had loads of ideas on that front. But it was about finding the right suppliers who could make the products we wanted, because the supply chain wasn’t well set up for 100% natural products.

We had a number of products we wanted to create and tried different manufacturers and suppliers to help us make them. Literally, we were Googling at one point to try and find them, but these manufacturers had impossibly big MOQs (minimum order quantities) and lead times and the like.

So finding manufacturers and suppliers to make the products was the biggest challenge for this new type of product. The way we got over that was patience and persistence, just tirelessly looking until we eventually found the right partner. When you start out you can’t commit to anything more than a few 100 units due to costs, and manufacturers don’t really want to do that.

We found a supplier for our first launch product, which was salmon oil, and that gave us confidence. Life got a little easier in that we had a clearer idea of what we needed from other suppliers for other formulations, but it was still a battle to get it moving.

What advice did you wish you had known when starting Pets Purest?

I think the main bit of advice would be: don’t be afraid of things you don’t know. When we started, I remember thinking “wait a minute, we don’t even know how to import products from China?” That was one of the most basic things we needed to do but I had no idea to begin with! At that time, there wasn’t much information on selling online. Today, anyone can Google how to do that. But when I started, it seemed like such a big hurdle to me. In retrospect, I know now that everyone starts out not knowing stuff. You just have to accept it, know that you’ll figure it out, so just go for it and keep trying.

I really admire the story of how you and Evie founded Pets Purest. We notice that there is a handful of founders starting a business with their significant others. Could you tell us more about the advantages and disadvantages of starting a company with your partner?

My wife, Evie, and have different skill sets. Evie’ is the creative one. She says that she’s the brains and I’m the one who gets things done. A complementary skill set is productive. We might come up with product ideas together, but she will then lead on the creative and brand side, and I’m the one who makes it work operationally. But being on the same wavelength, having harmony, – and having the same high standards – I think makes things work really well. Also, you can’t always have maximum energy 100% of the time, so having someone who is as passionate and knowledgeable about the business able to drive forward when you’re not feeling it temporarily is great.

The disadvantage is going from a romantic relationship where you’re both equal, to work where you have to have more of a hierarchy which can feel unnatural. Also, as we’re both entrepreneurs, we can be a bit stubborn and anti-authority, so we have a healthy debate about things.

We had our first child two years ago, so Evie has moved into more of a big picture role and less of a day-to-day hands-on role. But being a mum, she’s definitely got the hardest job!

How does Pets Purest approach product development and expanding your product range?

This is one of the things I get most excited about, the strategy and new product development. Being so immersed in the market, I know what sells well and what our competitors are selling: I understand good product/market fit. I instinctively have a good feel for new ideas, be the little tweaks that we could do, or completely new products we can bring to market. Trade shows are also a good place for us to find new inspiration, so being able to visit them again is great. So, it starts with an idea.

Once we’ve got the product, it’s a case of trying to find the manufacturer or supplier to develop that product with us. And that’s something where we’re really lucky with the suppliers we’ve got, but we’ve fostered a great relationship with them for four or five years. If no one can make the idea a reality for us, we know how to find someone who will.

I saw that Pets Purest started distributing through Amazon as a sales channel. Now you’re working on expanding your own D2C e-commerce platform, could you tell us more about the process of expanding your sales channels for scale? and what challenges do you think you’ll face?

We’ve always been an Amazon-first brand and that’s the main thing we were looking to improve on and grow our D2C site. The reason we chose to take on investment wasn’t for the money because we’re profitable. It was to gain a strategic partner that can help us with the areas of the business that we’re not great at. At Pets Purest, we know Amazon really well, and it’s a brilliant platform. But we don’t know much about growing the D2C side, as it’s very different from doing business on Amazon. Our investors, Fearless Adventures, will help us grow that channel.

Amazon’s very much a kind of product-first website, their customers have an idea of the product they want. It’s a case of being at the top of that page, the search engine, or have the best reviews. With D2C, it’s about being more of a content-first brand, where customers are coming to us not purely for the product, but the community and a bunch of other advantages our own platform will enable us to do.

One of the main challenges is going to be competing with Amazon. I don’t know if the two channels will work well together, that remains to be seen. Amazon’s platform puts everything on a plate, I could run Pets Purest single handily from my kitchen table, whereas a D2C offer requires Evie and me to run a bigger, multi-faceted team.

Congrats on your recent funding! One of your plans with the fundraise is to grow globally, can you tell us more about how you are approaching growing globally? Any specific geographies you are eyeing first?

Growing internationally is going to be a huge part of our growth over the next few years. We’ll look at Germany first, it’s close, it’s a big market, and we’ve learned how to do post-Brexit business from using Amazon Europe. Initially, we’ll look at five products that we think will do brilliantly and establish them as our hero products in that market.

A native language country manager hire is also in the plan. Once they’re embedded and we create a successful blueprint, we’ll look to that out across Europe, with France, Italy and Spain following hot on the heels of Germany.

Additionally, the US is a market we’re keen to get into, but the market is more competitive so down the line we’ll have a precise, strategic plan to enter it. China is also a possibility, particularly given the strength of British brands in that market.

What trends or predictions do you have for the pet care space?

Consumers are more knowledgeable about animal diets and which ingredients are good for their pets. They’re not willing to accept the kind of run of the mill products that have won previously, where high volumes and low costs ruled. Now, premiumization and better quality, healthier products are in demand.

Pet ‘humanisation’ is huge. Our go-to generic products, for example ‘for dogs’ are specialised products for specific needs or health care issues. Birthdays and Valentines are celebrated as they are for humans, with special meals and gifting – people are baking cakes for their pets. Foods like peanut butter are coming into play. Extending this humanisation trend, people want their pets to be social media influencers, so there are more TikTok and Instagram channels dedicated to them.  So we’re looking at how to integrate treats and supplements together in a natural and healthy way, and that will drive huge growth.

Aside from international growth and expanding your own D2C e-commerce platform, anything else you would like our readers to know about what’s next for Pets Purest?

I’m really excited about Pets Purest’s new focus on community and content. And that’s going to be a huge thing that our customers and potential customers will love over the next few years. Our new platform will give us access to more data, so we’ll be able to personalise our marketing and really engage with our customers. We’ll be able to go beyond products and go on an exciting journey with our brilliant customers and their fantastic pets.