When entrepreneur Nik Topolovec noticed his new golden retriever puppy, Kitsilano (Kitsie for short), would tear slippers to shreds, scratch at walls, or get into the garbage, he knew the young dog was displaying signs of anxiety.
“As an entrepreneur, I was able to spend a lot of time working from home, so he grew very accustomed to having us around. When we started to be out for longer periods of time, Kitsie would show traits of separation anxiety,” recalls Topolovec.
As a former athlete, Topolovec was familiar with the benefits of cannabidiol (CBD) — a chemical found in hemp and marijuana plants that doesn't contain the psychoactive ingredient tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — for treating injuries, managing stress, and addressing chronic pain. He saw it as a potential treatment option for Kitsie and a safe and healthy alternative to traditional medicines or pharmaceuticals.
After months of research, Topolovec was unsatisfied with the pet CBD options on the market.
"No brand really spoke to me. They were either boring and sterile medical companies selling pet CBD, or brands catering to humans who also happened to sell products for pets too. That’s when I switched from dog-dad mode to entrepreneur mode."
Soon after, he founded the pet wellness company Kitsie with partner Hamza Ayach. “Values are a huge deal to us, and we wanted a pet wellness brand that we can relate to, that reflects what matters to us, and that we can trust,” he says. Their approach has attracted a high-profile list of backers and collaborators, including former NFL star Marshawn Lynch, and fashion icon Christopher Bevans.
Kitsie's CBD products are vegan, THC-free, non-GMO, cruelty-free, use all-natural ingredients and are manufactured in the United States. The products include pet oil, calming treats, and a paw and hot spot balm. All have been shown to decrease chronic pain, inflammation, joint stiffness, and soreness. In addition, Kitsie’s products can be used to treat ongoing issues such as, noise aversion, lack of appetite and more.
In addition to treating separation anxiety, Kitsie’s products can be used to treat ongoing issues such as pain management, joint health, noise aversion, lack of appetite and more. Topolovec says pet CBD is the future of pet care and a key part of overall pet wellness. “Pet owners are looking more and more at ongoing wellness — trying to prevent things from going wrong,” he says.
That’s why subscriptions are a key part of Kitsie’s business model.
"People are using Kitsie as part of a daily wellness routine for their pets. We’re in a unique space to build a subscription offering very quickly because of the nature of the product."
Topolovec's golden retriever, Kitsie
Launching a business in the U.S. with CBD products comes with a particular set of challenges. Hemp-derived, THC-free CBD products — like Kitsie’s oils, bites and balms — are legal federally. However, the laws for selling CBD-products vary from state to state. There are strict rules around licensing, tracking manufacturing history, processing product claims, packaging, and more. In some cases, there are also restrictions. For example, popular marketing platforms do not allow promotion of CBD products, and many payment processing companies are reluctant to embrace the industry.
“One of the biggest challenges in our space is actually getting the payment processor. We knew finding one would be difficult, but we didn't know how difficult it would be,” says Topolovec.
Topolovec spent months exploring payment processors to find the ideal fit. He soon realized another complication.
"Kitsie needed a payment provider that would accept and process payments for CBD products that also worked with a subscription app."
After many exploratory conversations with different payment processors, Topolovec chose Authorize.net, a subsidiary of Visa and one of the most popular options on the market with easy, safe, and affordable processing.
"Learning that Authorize.net integrates with Bold Subscriptions was a match made in heaven, because Bold was the subscription app company we wanted to use the most,” he recalls. “It was one of the biggest moments of relief that I've felt in this entire journey thus far."
Topolovec was set on using Bold Subscription for Kitsie because of his experience with the app at Mieux Digital, a design, development and consulting agency he also founded that builds world-class creative experiences online for clients like Netflix and LeBron James.
"We’ve always been fans of Bold and recommend Bold Subscriptions to many of our clients. The way Bold thinks about subscriptions as so much more than a traditional approach is market leading. It’s about more than a transaction from a product to a subscription. It’s about the entire holistic experience."
When it came time to launch Kitsie’s subscription offering, Topolovec was thrilled at how fast his team could add Bold Subscriptions to their site and get started.
“It was shockingly fast. It took less than 10 days and the process was so, so seamless. The Bold team has been incredible to work with on this,” he says. “They have that entrepreneurial spirit and we love that because we’re seven-day-a-week individuals and having that kind of responsiveness, speed, and efficiency from a large, successful company was awesome.”
A study conducted by the American Pet Products Association found that 39% of dog owners and 34% of cat owners are likely to prefer CBD-based products. However, only 11% of the dog owners and 8% of the cat owners are currently using CBD supplements or treats for their pets — which puts Kitsie in a unique position to accelerate growth, and fast.
Due to marketing restrictions on CBD, Nik has elected to build partnerships with key influencers to grow awareness for Kitsie. This includes one of his investors, Marshawn Lynch.
"We’re fortunate to have Marshawn Lynch as a brand ambassador and creative advisor to the company. He’s been an incredible supporter of ours. Lynch is a proud and loyal dog dad to two Tibetan Mastiffs — Cali and Coco — and an American Bulldog named Beastmode."
Part of his collaboration with Kitsie includes adorable videos where Lynch matches celebrities to their dog counterparts:
As subscription orders start rolling in, Topolovec is already planning to grow the offering. “We’re looking at how to create value in our subscription beyond the product, and we’re in a super unique position to do that. It is important to us to create additional value through content and thought leadership that not only serves the community of pet parents, but also helps to push the industry forward,” he says. “We’re aiming to offer private community groups and offer access to experts for exclusive AMAs for those in our community who want to experience it.
Topolovec is also looking at how to get the most out of Bold Subscriptions. He’s particularly interested in the location-based pricing feature.
"You can price products differently based on customers’ locations, which is great. That’s really complicated to build because it’s highly specialized and expensive to do. It’s amazing that Bold offers pricing capabilities integrated into Subscriptions."
As for his dog, Kitsie, a daily wellness routine of CBD has dramatically reduced his anxiety, says Topolovec. “I’ve seen the positive impact that Kitsie CBD products have had on him, so when I hear a lot of dogs are facing these different issues on a daily basis, I want people to know there’s a product out there that can help them out,” he says.