Meet Americat Company's CEO...
Americat Company just turned 5- yay!
To celebrate, we thought it would be fun to give you a peek inside the company and the life of the CEO! The following is an interview with Diane Danforth, our founder and CEO of Americat Company.
Keep reading to learn about:
• Americat Company’s evolution from idea to a growing business
• Diane’s fascinating career journey
• The pets behind the inspiration
First of all, congrats on 5 years! Let’s start the interview at the beginning - why did you decide to become a business owner and why in the pet industry?
I remember wanting to have my own business for a long time. I was the kid who liked selling Girl Scout cookies. But I didn’t have an idea, so I gained different work experiences that could eventually help.
I have also always been an animal lover - we had a ton of pets growing up… dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, gerbils, and guinea pigs. I even thought about being a veterinarian for a while.
I remember so clearly when the idea for this business came to me. It was a late December evening in 2016. I was at my desk searching “Made in the USA cat toys” on Amazon for Christmas gifts for my cats, Penny and Bella. I only found one brand, and I didn’t like its look and feel. So, I started looking for other Made in the USA cat products on Amazon besides toys. Still there weren’t many options. I then “Googled” for hours and same thing… hardly anything for cats was Made in the USA.
That night, I decided to start a Made in the USA cat toys company called USAkitty. The next morning, I told my family!
Over the next few months, the idea evolved from Made in the USA cat toys to the products cats use every day. And I changed the name from USAkitty to Americat Company.
My business started from my own need for my own cats. Then when I talked to other cat lovers, they too seemed interested in Made in the USA products for their cats.
My Penny and Bella. Penny passed in 2019 from cancer.
What were you doing for work before you started Americat Company?Entrepreneurship is my 3rd career. After college, I worked for Wells Fargo in their Restaurant Finance Group underwriting and managing a portfolio of commercial loans. Some of my favorite clients were California Pizza Kitchen, Noodles & Company, and a Panera franchisee. I learned a lot about financial statements and forecasting. As I met founders and heard how they dreamed up a concept that grew from one to hundreds of restaurants, I wanted to be in their shoes… running a business rather than financing a business.
After earning my MBA from Duke University, I worked for Johnson & Johnson in brand management. Working on Tylenol and Zyrtec taught me the importance of developing a strong brand that consumers love. My coolest experience was leading the development of 2 TV commercials. I got to go to Argentina for the shoots!
Then, I got my first taste of entrepreneurship when I became the 2nd employee for my dad’s startup, Pawdentify. I learned how to build a small business and about the pet industry from this experience. My dad and I were better as family than coworkers, so when I got the idea for Americat Company, I left his company and started my own!
What is unique about Americat Company?Americat Company’s mission to create Made in the USA cat products is unique.
Most cat products are made overseas. I wanted American-made for my own cats because I believe it is safer, higher quality, and longer lasting.
We’re also unique by offering more than one type of cat product. We focus on products that help cats’ dining, scratching, playing, sleeping, and potty experiences.
Lastly, I hope our customers feel our authenticity and a different experience when they interact with us. We are not a large corporation and don’t have a large marketing budget. Instead, we are real people who love cats, truly appreciate our customers, and strive to make the best cat products out there.
Do Bella and Lewie come to work with you?
I work from home a lot, and they are always nearby! I love being able to see them throughout the day.
Owning my schedule has also been a blessing as I’ve been able to take care of Bella as I manage her heart disease. I can keep an eye on her, make sure she’s eating, and give her medicine during the day.
But Bella and Lewie don’t come with me to the warehouse. We want to keep your products and orders free of their cat hair :).
Bella and Lewie "working."
Who or what inspires you and why?
I draw inspiration from the shapes and colors in nature. I like decorating and get ideas from home décor. It’s also really helpful to walk store aisles looking at other products and branding to spark creativity.
I'm inspired to create products that fill a need - the need I have for my own cats and also our customers’ needs. For example, we received a lot of emails asking if we could recommend an elevated stand that fit Americat Company bowls. Since we didn’t have one and customers needed it, we created one! This is it.
I am in awe of pet rescuers. I always believed rescue was important, but never knew how much happened behind the scenes until I got to know some local rescues in Pittsburgh. I hope to be an advocate for them, sharing important information about spay/ neuter programs, how to welcome new cats home, and how to create an enriching life for cats. I learned how to trap and have caught 2 feral cats in order to fix, vaccinate, and get them medical care. Americat Company also donates products to rescues as much as we can.
Rescue event where we made winter shelters for feral cats.
The first feral cat I've ever trapped to spay and vaccinate. We named her Poppy. She is now living her best life!
What have been some of the highlights of the last 5 years?
Creating each new product is a special experience… from working on the designs and prototypes to seeing my own cats enjoy them to launching them for our customers.
Also, I was surprised at how emotional I got when I received the registered trademark certificate for Americat Company from the United States Patent and Trademark Office. It meant the brand was official! I love to see people smile when they read our name or see our logo.
I have had some really neat conversations with customers. The day-to-day grind can be a lot at times but hearing how our products are helping your cats or getting photos of your cats using our products really means a lot.
I would be remiss without mentioning that reaching 5 years is an important milestone. I remember reading that 50% of small businesses fail within 5 years. We have not only survived but are growing. And it feels like we’re on the right track for a long future!
Lewie enjoying his bowl stand. The final design was our 10th version!
If you could go back 5 years ago when you were starting Americat Company, would you do anything different?Hindsight is always 20/20.
There have been things (products, packaging, blog articles, etc.) that have taken longer than I would have liked because I was hesitating or being too much of a perfectionist. I wish I had been an earlier adopter of Instagram and Facebook since social media is always challenging for me.
But overall, I’m proud of what we’ve done, and I’ve learned a lot.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?I like going to the gym and am a pilates and yoga class regular. I’ve recently gotten into gardening and indoor plants. And of course, spending time with family, friends, and my cats.
What is your favorite state in the USA?
Do I have to pick just 1? I loved living in California for 5 years in my early 20s… the variety of beaches, cities, mountains, forests, and deserts. Plus, the vineyards and farmers’ markets.
I also loved visiting Yellowstone in Montana and Wyoming. It feels like another planet!
Grand Prismatic Spring, Wyoming
Where do you see Americat Company in the NEXT 5 years?
Compared to other pet product companies, we are still very small and relatively unknown. I hope we change that over the next 5 years!
I’m excited to launch new Made in the USA cat products. We are working on some really neat products to come! So, please stay tuned.
I also want to continue to share important information about cats through our Cat Care Blog.
I imagine we’ll have a bigger team, a bigger space, and be doing more digital marketing.
I love being able to work on cat stuff all day. It’s exciting to think about how many more cats we can help!
Thank you, Diane, for sharing your time and stories with us! We look forward to what these next 5 years and beyond hold for Americat Company!
Have a question for Diane that wasn’t answered? Leave a comment below with your question, and Diane will answer it for you!
Shop Americat Company's Made in the USA cat products here.