The game of ‘fetch’ is synonymous with pets, their boundless energy, and ensuing happiness catching an inanimate object. For Grant Hamill, one evening of homework became too busy to play, but his dog remained persistent and sparked an idea in his owner. What began as a Hamill family project has grown into a disruptive internationally-recognized product in the pet toy industry, continuously redefining the limits of fetching innovation.
Prancer, an energetic ten year old Toy Poodle, who didn’t learn how to fetch until he was four years old, was the ultimate inspiration behind the product. Constantly barking at his family members until they threw the ball, Grant wondered “Why don’t we build something that will throw the ball for Prancer so I can get my work done?”
Grant and his grandfather, Denny Hamill, a retired physicist turned marketer, started brainstorming ideas and building prototypes together, including a deconstructed Hot Wheels set being used to simulate the eventual launching motion. The design and development was handled by a trio of Austin-based engineering consultant firms, known for their iconic designs, system architecture, and electronic capabilities.
The idea was to create an automatic ball launcher for small to midsize dogs, capable of using miniature tennis balls to throw variable distances (10, 20 or 30 feet). After continuous testing and refining, the family created a Kickstarter campaign in July 2013, raising $88,000 from over 1,200 backers, and created the original iFetch. The product was a hit - winning Best New Dog Product and Best In Show at SuperZoo 2013, a nationally acclaimed pet industry trade show - and achieving second in Best New Product at Global Pet Expo 2014.
In lieu of their early success, iFetch understood they were solving a niche problem. “The competition helps bring attention to the market, because most people aren’t aware this product exists,” explains Grant Hamill, Co-Founder at iFetch. “It’s not like someone goes to Google and types in “automatic ball launcher” … they might type in “dog toy” or “fetch” or “my dog has too much energy”, and that’s our target market.” Their concept has been mimicked over time, but they’ve never stopped innovating.
Due to popular demand and recognizing a market for midsize to large dogs, the family created another Kickstarter campaign in April 2015, raising over $117,000 with 23% less backers, and created the iFetch Too, a larger version catering to dogs who prefer standard size tennis balls and further launch distances. The reception was wildly similar - winning Best New Dog Product at SuperZoo 2014 and Global Pet Expo 2015.
The family added a third product in March 2016 - the iFetch Frenzy - geared toward the budget-conscious dog owner. This gravity-driven, compact design accelerates balls in one of three directions at random from its base and requires no batteries or power for enhanced portability. The iFetch Frenzy won 3rd place in the New Product Showcase at both Global Pet Expo 2016 and SuperZoo 2016.
“We want to remove negative connotations of “robot vs. human” interaction,” Grant says, “and we firmly believe in the power of canine mental stimulation from our products.”
Grant’s mother, Debbie Hamill, left her medical career of 13 years to join the business as Chief Marketing Officer to drive branding and expansion. And through her efforts, the company has scaled to 20+ international distributors and over 35 third-party local retailers across the nation, with three located in Austin.
Live product demos and interactive video content are trending for iFetch, as the average consumer’s attention span is dwindling and achieving virality is becoming the key to success. “We’re trying to create a sense of community here in Austin first, but there’s a lot of areas we’d like to reach,” Shira says. “We want to participate in sponsored events and continue getting the word out about our industry.”
The Hamill family offers advice for those budding entrepreneurs seeking to disrupt the status quo:
“Find an unsatisfied need, build an effective team, validate your solution, and pay attention to feedback from early customers to most effectively accelerate acceptance and growth."