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Austin From Scratch, Episode #21: Michael Landa, Founder of Nulo Pet Food

Austin From Scratch is our favorite series on the blog and involves Owen (age 11) and Malia (age 9) interviewing local entrepreneurs who have created a thriving business here in the heart of Texas.  For this session, we sat down with Michael Landa, Founder of Nulo Pet Food.  We choose Nulo because our puppy, Izzy, loves her Salmon & Pea recipe and we can see her getting bigger, faster and stronger every day.  We hope you enjoy!

Owen (our 11-year-old son): What were you favorite things to do as a kid?

Michael: As a I kid, I was really into sports.  I did a lot of swimming and gymnastics and track and field…

Malia (our 9-year-old daughter): Gymnastics?!?!

Michael: I did gymnastics including a lot of tumbling, especially floor exercises.  But I was really a swimmer.  In fact, by the time I was in high school, that was all I did.  Three times a day, I got up at 4:20 in the morning and when I was graduating from high school I qualified for the Olympic trials in the 200 Butterfly.  So it was kind of fun but it was a lot of work too. And my favorite thing to do when I came home was to lay down with my Boxer, Max, and eat a half gallon of ice cream.  (Everyone laughs…)

Malia: How did you go about learning as a child?

Michael: I spent a lot of time listening and taking good notes and I always asked questions if I didn’t understand what I was hearing.  I think listening is really important but doing is just as important so once you learn something by putting it into practice, that’s how you learn.

Owen: How would you describe your company?

Michael: We are a pet nutrition company.  I often like to say that the world didn’t need another pet food but we needed a better pet food so that’s something I think about every day.  Our mission is really to inspire pet owners like yourselves to think about what you’re putting into their bodies because it’s really important to how they feel and how they perform every day.  We think a lot about the food and the science behind it but we also like to inspire people to feed their dogs better food.

Malia: When did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?

Michael: I was 35 years old when I first figured out I wanted to be an entrepreneur and I had a dog named Max II – he was also a Black Lab – and I was trying to take a trip to Colorado from Los Angeles and I needed to find somebody to care for Max while I traveled and it was a painful experience.  I couldn’t find anybody that I was comfortable with staying with my dog so I drove to Colorado with him and somewhere along the way I thought, “Wait, I live in Los Angeles and I’m not comfortable finding anyone to watch my dog?  Maybe there’s an opportunity to create a company where people could watch your dogs and you would trust them.”  So I started a company that became the largest pet-sitting and dog-watching company in the U.S.  And that’s when I first became an entrepreneur and then I noticed the situation with pet food and that’s how I got into Nulo.  And I still own the pet-sitting company too.

Owen: What is your favorite thing about being an entrepreneur?

Michael: My favorite thing about being an entrepreneur is controlling my destiny.  I think that when you work for yourself you can stick to your own ideas and beliefs about what you’re trying to do as opposed to working in a system where you may not believe in everything you’re trying to do.  I think it’s a great opportunity to have a lot of say in what you’re doing and how you get things done.  And the fun thing is to work with other people who feel the same way because you get a lot more done.

Malia: What is the most challenging thing about being an entrepreneur?

Michael: I would say trying to stay ahead of what you’re doing, because a lot of entrepreneurs run their business by looking in the rear-view mirror and it’s a challenge to see what’s in front of them.  For example, what’s going on in the industry, what’s the new up-and-coming food, or how consumers are changing how they’re looking at pet food.  It’s a challenge for a lot of entrepreneurs who’s don’t realize they’ve got to be one or two steps ahead of where they are at today or they’ll become obsolete.

Owen: What would you be doing if you weren’t the CEO of Nulo?

Michael: I probably would be a Strategy Consultant because I like to understand issues and I like to tackle problems.  I also like to work with people to help make things better and to understand them better so I’d probably do that full-time as a Consultant.

Malia: Do you have any advice for young entrepreneurs?

Michael: The thing I would recommend for young entrepreneurs is to make sure you get a great foundation first.  Now there are certainly people who dive right in to be entrepreneurs – and I probably took a lilt longer than necessary – but I feel that my experience in working for companies like GE and Universal Studios taught me really valuable things about running the company I run today.

Owen: Where did you come up with your company name?

Michael: So the technical word for what Nulo is, is portmanteau.  Like if you think of the word brunch, it’s actually the combination of the words breakfast and lunch scrunched together.  So Nulo is similar in that it’s Nutrition meets Love, or Nulo.

Malia:  What’s your favorite ice cream?

Michael: I’d have to say anything with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup in it.  Give me chocolate or vanilla, whatever, but put Reese’s in it and that’s my favorite.

Owen: Did you start with one flavor of Nulo or a bunch of different options?

Michael: When I first started the company in 2011, we had a very simple product line.  We definitely started very streamlined and then eventually you start to expand when both consumers and retailers give you permission to expand the brand.  All these products you see here are new and we’ll start shipping them in the upcoming weeks.

What a fun interview.  And the icing on the cake was that our dog, Izzy, got to join us for the team photo.  Yay Izzy!

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