Davide Rossi was working as an investment banker in New York City when the idea occurred to him: What if there was a fitness tracker for dogs?
At the time, Rossi, 37, was a dog lover who was too busy to actually have a dog — his family’s beloved Yorkshire terrier lives with his mom in Italy. But he knew a lot of other New Yorkers who treated their canines like kids and hated to leave them cooped up in an apartment.
“You go to work and you spend a lot of time wondering what your dogs are up to,” Rossi says.
Rossi quit his banking job and used his savings to start a company called FitBark. It was a risky decision, but Rossi, a graduate of MIT’s Sloan School of Management, believed that the growing prevalence of human fitness trackers such as Fitbit, Jawbone’s UP and Nike FuelBand was a good indicator that people would want a way to track their pet’s fitness, too.
He was right: Last summer, FitBark raised more than $80,000 on the crowdfunding site Kickstarter — $45,000 more than the project’s funding goal.
When FitBark is ready for distribution, donors will get a bone-shaped device. It attaches to a dog’s collar and uses an accelerometer to track sleep and play. Dog owners can use the free FitBark mobile app to chart their pet’s activity over several days and compare it to that of similar breeds.
The activity monitors — which come in blue, gray, green, pink and red — can be ordered in advance for $69 at fitbark.com.
For $109, you can get an activity monitor and an optional Wi-Fi base station capable of transmitting data from multiple devices. Fitbark can upload a dog’s data to the cloud, where it can be accessed from anywhere by smartphone.
Kickstarter helped FitBark build buzz and, in March, the fledgling company secured one of 10 spots in the Sprint Accelerator.
Hundreds of companies applied for the three-month Kansas City business incubator for mobile health-themed products and services. It’s run by Boulder, Colo.-based Techstars.
The accelerator gave FitBark and nine other startup companies a place to work in the Crossroads Arts District and access to mentors, investors and other industry experts such as engineers and designers.
Rossi moved to Kansas City with a team of four employees, including FitBark co-founder Sara Rossi. She previously worked in Italy as a brand manager for Hawaiian Tropic and Schick razors. She is Davide Rossi’s sister.
The small FitBark team, assigned to develop a hardware device as well as the software to go along with it, spent countless 18-hour days at the Sprint Accelerator office, a cool and creative space with pingpong tables, shuffleboard, a Red Bull fridge and conference rooms named Mickey Mouse and Candy Coating.
The main working space is open, with large tables instead of cubicles to encourage collaboration among the 10 startup companies.
“If they had a coding question or wanted another company to give some feedback on an app they were building, they were right there,” says program manager Alisha Templeton.
During the program, Rossi crashed at a house in the Kansas City Startup Village, a community of entrepreneurs in the Hanover Heights neighborhood of Kansas City, Kan. When he wasn’t working on FitBark, he made a few friends and started exploring Kansas City.
Kansas City is known for its high concentration of animal health companies, which is why Rossi has made the decision to open FitBark headquarters here. The company is already recruiting software developers.
FitBark isn’t the only startup company that came to Kansas City for the Sprint Accelerator and ended up staying. The entrepreneurs behind Salt Lake City-based Symptomly, an asthma management platform, decided to open a second office here.
“It’s a huge win” when startups stay here, says Adam Arredondo, a leader in the Kansas City Startup Village.
“One of the big opportunities that Kansas City has right now is to change the perception from flyover country to an innovative, tech-savvy startup community that the top talent wants to come to,” Arredondo says. “Stories like FitBark are very important for people to hear.”
These days, Rossi says his team is working around the clock to ready FitBark devices, and distribution should start in a matter of weeks.
When it’s released, FitBark will have to compete with at least two other activity trackers for dogs: Whistle, a $129 device produced by a company in San Francisco; and Tagg, a $99.95 GPS tracker produced by a San Diego company that charges a $9.95 monthly service fee.
Between working out bugs in the FitBark mobile app and readying the device for distribution to more than 40 countries, Rossi has been fielding requests from dog sled teams and police canine units who want to use the device to keep their animals in top shape.
Rossi has also heard from people who want to use the device on their horses, cows, rabbits, falcons, penguins and, of course, cats.
But before he even starts to think about FitBark for cats — FitMeow? — he has to focus on getting his growing Kansas City-based company beyond the puppy stage.
“Startup life is pure craziness,” he says, adding that once things slow down, he’d like to get a canine companion of his own.
“We need dogs in our life,” he says.