From 2014 to 2019, Mumbai-based consultants Aneesha Pillai and Deepak Gupta provided consultancy services to companies such as L&T and Reliance Group to help them adopt emerging technologies. However, the couple, who are electronic engineers by training, wanted to get into designing and creating products because it was their true love. But little did they know that they would soon be designing and creating shoes for dogs.
“We had done prototyping and product development. We had built a service business in the past and wanted to build a D2C product business. We were looking for an engaging and thought-provoking problem statement that would truly make a difference in the lives of the people we serve,” says Aneesha.
It made them talk to different kinds of people. And one of those people was a dog parent. One conversation led to another and soon they ended up talking to over 200 dog parents. As they talked to them, the couple realized the pain points that dog parents face when caring for their pets.
The questions that particularly interested Aneesha and Deepak were those relating to dog paws. Their paws were injured by rocks and broken glass while walking on the road. They also often got dirty and made the house a mess.
The duo wondered if the shoes would help prevent these problems. But when they asked some dog parents if they would buy shoes for their dogs, most of them seemed skeptical.
However, that didn’t deter the couple and they decided to go ahead and make dog shoes for two reasons. First, they felt it was a real problem that dog parents faced, and second, they loved the idea.
Aneesha and Deepak used balloons around the dogs paws as they were waterproof and kept the paws from getting dirty. As a concept, it seemed to work. So the couple designed the first prototype of dog shoes, called Zoof Boots, using natural rubber. These boots kept paws from getting dirty or injured, which was a top concern for dog parents.
In July 2019, the duo created the startup ‘Zoof Pets’ which, according to the founders, is the only startup in India to design and manufacture shoes for dogs.
The first trots
Deepak and Aneesha designed and handcrafted 100 Zoof boots in July-August 2019 and tried to sell them on Instagram. They were sold out in two days. That’s when they knew they had found a winning idea.
Building on the initial response to their shoes, the founders began making more shoes by hand in one of the rooms in Aneesha’s mother’s house. Three months after selling shoes through Instagram, they created their own website to sell their products.
When the duo began to receive a large number of orders, they decided to rent space in a factory. They purchased the necessary equipment and materials and were all ready to recruit staff when the lockdown happened in March 2020. “We had two options. First, shut down our operations. Two, find a way out. We chose the second option,” says Aneesha.
They split production between themselves and their R&D manager, Hatim Saifee. Aneesha’s parents helped them with packing and shipping, once lockdown restrictions were lifted. The team eventually moved all production to the factory in November 2020.
They also built their own machine in March 2021 to automate the manufacturing of their flagship product, Zoof Boots. The rest of the shoes are made using industrial sewing machines.
Today, the startup sells five types of dog shoes, one type of raincoat, waterproof collars, leashes, and dog paw balm.
Deepanti’s pet Glado was Zoof Pets first customer and owns/has owned 25 pairs of shoes!
Suitable for paws and parents
Deepanti Garg, a Mumbai-based entrepreneur and founder of two companies, was desperately trying to find dog shoes for her pet, Glado. “I had heard that a neighbor’s pet had been injured and I didn’t want the same for Glado,” says Deepanti.
Her search for dog shoes on Instagram led her to Zoof Pets. She immediately placed an order for a set of Zoof boots for Glado, which she loved. Since then, she has purchased 25 sets of dog shoes from Zoof. It seems that Glado is the proud owner of all Zoof Pets products.
Nidhi Goyal, a textile designer who runs a business, came across Zoof Pets when the company ran a competition on Valentine’s Day a few years ago. She won the competition and received a set of Zoof boots.
“I had never seen anything like this before in India. The main reasons I like Zoof Pets is that Aneesha helps you with all the details you might need, especially the size of the paws, which is difficult to measure and, secondly, the shoes are very affordable,” she says.
By her own admission, Nidhi is a “paranoid mom,” but it’s hard for her to control where her pet Champ goes. Therefore, the shoes are very useful, she says.
Meet Nidhi’s baby Champ wearing a limited edition Zoof Boots
Once, chewing gum got stuck on Champ’s paw and his entire paw had to be shaved. Shoes help prevent such incidents, says Nidhi, who has so far purchased eight sets of dog shoes from Zoof Pets. “In addition, Champ goes everywhere (outside) and is everywhere (inside the house), including the sofa. Shoes help in such cases.
In addition to preventing paws from getting dirty or injured, shoes also help prevent ticks and infections (especially during monsoon season), paw burns during summer, dysplasia of the hip joint (hereditary and common in large dogs) and arthritis.
“There are also monetary benefits for dog parents, as the cost of treatment outweighs the cost of dog shoes,” says Aneesha.
Will wearing shoes affect the dog’s natural ability to walk or run? Anisha explains, “Like toddlers, dogs take a day or two to get used to shoes. If the shoe fits properly, it does not interfere with the dog’s natural ability to walk or run. We can get most dogs used to a properly fitting shoe using positive reinforcement – treats, praise, a game of fetch, or a brisk walk outside (for outdoor shoes) .
Spoiled for choice
The startup makes five types of shoes – Boots (the flagship product), Casuals, Plops, Grips and Ethnic, each serving a different purpose.
The casual shoes are made of soft textured canvas with a non-slip sole and double velcro closure. “These shoes are breathable and help keep the dog’s paws cool, especially during scorching heat,” says Aneesha.
Zoof Grips are non-slip indoor shoes that provide traction on slippery surfaces. “In modern homes, puppies and dogs tend to slip and fall on marble or tile floors. This can lead to injury and could turn into a mobility issue. The handles help prevent this,” says Aneesha. Zoof Grips shoes also help dogs with conditions such as hip dysplasia and arthritis.
The price of the Zoof boots, which are sold in a set of eight pieces, starts from Rs 799. The price varies according to the paw size. Plops, Casuals and Grips cost between Rs 1,499 and Rs 1,999 and are sold in sets of four.
Discover the Glado shoe collection!
Designing dog shoes is not an easy game
Getting the right material, design and fit, keeping dog comfort and parent convenience in mind, is a difficult task. The design team must also ensure that the shoes they design work for different breeds.
For every type of shoe Zoof Pets decides to make, it relies on two primary sources of information: research papers on dogs and hands-on experiences with dog parents and their pets. For each type of shoe and each iteration made, the prototype is sent to at least 25 dog parents.
Dog comfort depends on factors such as gait, leg structure and dewclaw position. From a parent’s perspective, here are some of the things considered: Is it easy for the parent to put the shoes on their dog’s paws? Do the shoes fit well and do they not come off easily? Are they easy to wash?
Zoof Plops – its water-resistant outdoor shoes
Zoof Pets has sold approximately 10,000 sets of shoes over the past three years. The startup currently sells 400-500 shoes per month, on average, and is seeing monthly growth of 20-25%. Repeat customers contribute 19-25% of sales each month.
Majority of Zoof Pets customers are parents of breeds such as Shih Tzu, Indies, Labrador, Golden Retriever, Beagle and Lhasa from metropolitan cities in India. Bengaluru contributes 35% of sales, followed by Mumbai, Delhi and Chennai. Most Zoof Pets sales come from social media and word of mouth, while a third come from paid channels.
The Mumbai-based startup is started and generating enough revenue for the founders to pour money back into the business to make more products and iterations. “We are comfortable with our finances at the moment. We may raise capital in the future,” says Aneesha.
The Zoof Pets team has 23 members, 17 of whom are engaged in production and three in the customer experience team. One person leads R&D. Seven freelancers contribute to marketing efforts.
What do I look like?
What’s the next step on the trail?
When the company’s first client, Deepanti, got married earlier this year, she asked Zoof Pets to make five sets of ethnic shoes for her dog Glado that would match her outfits. A video of Glado wearing ethnic shoes at Deepanti’s wedding went viral (she had over 4 lakh likes on Instagram), and soon Zoof Pets launched another footwear category.
After ethnic shoes, next on the list are adventure shoes. And Zoof Pets has a very specific plan for that. “Every dog walks and runs differently. We plan to attach sensors to the prototype of the adventure shoes to understand where the pressure points are. The data will help us come up with good designs,” Aneesha says.
Is Glado ready to add another set of shoes to their already massive collection? Do you hear a “woof-woof”?