With 65% of the U.S. population still in lockdown, many people are asking: Will schools reopen? Will life ever be the same? How do I make sourdough bread?
Apparently, many are also pondering: What makes my cat tick?
That’s according to Anna Skaya, founder of Basepaws, a 3-year-old startup that tests cat DNA (you read that right) in order to discern breed and health information about your favorite feline.
She’s learned that people stuck at home want to know more than ever about their furry friends. During the week of April 27, Basepaws received 450 requests for cat coaching and DNA kits, which start at $99 each. And yes, you need to take a swab of your cat’s saliva.
“Cats don’t show their problems,” Skaya said from Los Angeles, where her lab is based. “They are difficult to understand for us. They’re still basically wild animals.”
Thanks to orders that are streaming in during the pandemic, Skaya has been able to keep on all 15 of her employees, including five geneticists who produce 30-page reports that show breed information (like Siamese or Maine Coon) and 40 different health markers.
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But what, exactly, about the pandemic is triggering the interest in cat genetics?
“Right now, you’re not able to go to the vet except for an emergency,” Skaya suggested. “So in some way, we give peace of mind around your animal’s health. And on the flip side, understanding the breed usually brings a lot of delight to people, since they usually don’t know.”
“Our sales have actually increased during the pandemic,” she added.
Aside from the kits, the startup also offers cat coaching for $10 a month, which gives customers unlimited access to vet technicians. Skaya said people ask the full range of questions — including how to get Fluffy to love them more (spoiler: this might be harder than you think) and how to get cats to walk on a leash.
But the most common request, Skaya said, “is ‘my cat is overweight’ — that’s the main thing, weight management.”
To put the skeptics at ease, Skaya has brought on Oxford-educated geneticist Damian Kao as a cofounder. Kao oversees the science, while Skaya focuses on branding and sales.
Skaya has raised venture capital for her business, including a round that closed in February. While she wouldn’t disclose how much Basepaws has raised, Crunchbase lists the figure as $251,000 from investors that include Shark Tank’s Robert Herjavec. “We consider ourselves very lucky to have gotten the money in before the pandemic really hit,” she said.
Skaya also wouldn’t reveal revenue but said Basepaws is on track to be profitable. She saw a dip in early March, and then bounced back in April.
She is no stranger to starting a company: Basepaws is her fourth business after she founded, a decade ago, My City Deal, a Groupon knockoff in Europe that was bought — by Groupon — and two other companies in digital advertising.
Basepaws, which was originally conceived as “23 and Meow” after the popular DNA test for humans, was hatched during a lunch meeting with a 23 and Me executive in Silicon Valley. “We were talking about our cats, and he said someone should make a company and laughed about it,” Skaya said. “I went home that night and bought the URL.”
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Unfortunately, cats only have 19 chromosomes, so after some pushback, the name was struck and Basepaws was born.
Skaya recently adopted two new kittens, Sunny, a boy, and Stormy, a girl — but she might not need a personality test to figure them out.
“He is a fun, sunny kitten, and she is more of a ‘destroy the house’ kitten.”