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Startup Stories: Anna Podolsky, Founder & CEO at Lyka

Lyka Pet Food’s founder & CEO, Anna Podolsky, joins us on Startup Stories to talk about scaling to a 70+ team, closing their Series A round, and recruiting challenges.

by hao-nguyen on February 7, 2022

Anna Podolsky is the founder & CEO at Lyka Pet Food, Australia’s healthiest dog food subscription putting nutrition for pets first.

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Hi Anna, great to have you back with us! You’re becoming a repeat guest with The Nudge Group, first on Balance the Grind then on Give It A Nudge. For those who may not know, can you tell us a little about Lyka and what led you to founding the business four years ago? 

It’s great to be back! Lyka is a direct-to-consumer pet wellness company shaking up the largely unregulated pet food industry. We help dogs to live their best, healthiest and happiest lives by providing high-quality, holistic-led products and services through customer-focused and technology-led solutions. Lyka currently provides human-grade, lightly cooked meals and a curated selection of air-dried treats via a personalised subscription, servicing NSW, ACT, VIC, QLD, SA and WA.

The journey to founding Lyka was an interesting one based on my experience with my own dog, Lyka – and yes, the company is named after her, she was my inspiration after all!

I was working for Bain & Company and travelling the world to various client sites, and of course, Lyka is my best friend, so she was right there alongside me! We had the best time together and Lyka is certainly one of the most well-travelled dogs I know. But whilst she was a great travel buddy, feeding her proved to be problematic – buying her food in many different languages was just one of them!

At the time, Lyka was experiencing some health issues – she was always itching and shedding to the point of having bald patches, and her teeth were terrible for a young dog. In 2015, after researching the industry and the many questionable ingredients listed on the food I had been buying around the world, I decided to start cooking for her at home. She quickly thrived on this fresh, homecooked diet, and from them on, I never looked in the direction of commercial dog food again. There was no need, as it wasn’t offering Lyka anything in the way of health or nutrition, and I just knew that I needed to get the word out there to help other dogs experience the difference of fresh food.

Dogs are more than family, and mean more to us now than ever before. They are perfectly imperfect and have a special place in our lives and hearts that cannot be replaced. It’s clear that the pet food industry is severely lacking in providing the high-quality products that pet parents want and need to help keep their pets as happy and healthy as possible. Whilst the pet food industry is murky and based on inferior products and questionable smoke and mirrors marketing tactics, Lyka is the complete opposite. We are open, authentic and transparent with our customers. We always put pets first and want our customers to know what goes into their dog’s bowl.

You’ve grown the company to a team of 70+ staff over the past few years, can you talk about how your role as CEO has changed as the company has grown? 

When I started Lyka, I bootstrapped for the first year, which meant that I did everything! From running our in-house kitchen, to marketing and customer care, I was across all areas. Essentially though, my role was to crack the business model and product market-fit, which meant being very close to all parts of the business, particularly our customers.

As the business scaled, I aligned myself with specialists, leaders and team members who shared the same vision. This allowed me to slowly step back into a more strategic role, tactically dedicating myself to certain areas. For example, I strongly believe that listening to the customer is the single most important thing in a start-up. This is why I led our Customer Care team up until a few months ago, to ensure that the voices of our customers were heard and acknowledged. This quickly trickled down into the rest of the team.

Fast-forward and my focus has now shifted to building an incredibly strong team and a company that has integrity and longevity. In order to do this, it’s important that we get the right people on board, people that share the same love for dogs, nutrition and a healthy lifestyle – people that are passionate about making a difference.

Although I’m still very hands on as a CEO, I do believe a very important part of my role is having an extremely clear vision, and communicating it often and effectively. This consistency keeps everyone aligned and heading in the same direction. Recruiting is also a huge part of my role, and I spend a lot of time thinking about our organisational structure, team and culture, and the on-boarding experience – all key elements to a successful business.

A few months ago, it was announced that Lyka raised $6.5 million – your largest funding round to date – to scale the business. Can you talk more about that process and how you plan to scale Lyka?

It was very exciting to close our Series A round in June 2021. It was a huge milestone, with the funds allowing us to continue our aggressive growth journey and planning for the future of Lyka. We’re incredibly lucky to have a group of supportive and engaged investors from previous funding rounds, who re-invested in our Series A, alongside some new investors.

This continuous backing really highlighted that what we are doing here at Lyka, by helping dogs to live their healthiest lives, is resonating with so many people. To support our ongoing vision, the funding has allowed us to connect with and reach more customers in Australia by extending our delivery areas, improving our product transportation and adopting more sustainable business practices. We’re also using the funds to continue growing our customer base, operations and product lines to set us up for our Series B round in 2022.

What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve run into while building Lyka, and what lessons have you learnt from those challenges?

Recruiting and building a team has been quite challenging and a huge learning experience. As a first-time founder with a diverse team of highly skilled people, you are often recruiting in areas that you are not an expert in. So, I had to quickly get comfortable with assessing the skills and capabilities of candidates in areas I had little to no experience in!

When you’re building a high-growth start up, it’s extremely important to be conscious of urgency bias. You often need a pair of hands – and fast – which can lead you to overlooking flaws in candidates that may not be suitable for the role or business in the long-term. I’ve found that getting the wrong people in the door, even if it means more productivity in the short term, is never the right answer. Taking the time to find the right people is key. I would rather persist and find those missing pieces of the puzzle that I know will make a positive and constructive impact on the future of Lyka. So, all I can say is thank goodness for freelancers, contractors and agencies. I have found these to be a much safer, smarter and more efficient solution, until the right person can be found to join the team.

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