The Journey from Passionate Cat Lover to TV Star and Celebrity Licensor

Jackson Galaxy is the Host & Executive Director of Animal Planet’s hit show My Cat From Hell, New York Times best-selling author, and has over 20 years of experience as “The Cat Daddy”. He first found his calling while spending the better part of a decade on staff at an animal shelter.

Jackson has come a long way since cleaning cat boxes at the Humane Society in my hometown of Boulder, Colorado. I first met Jackson in 2010 through mutual friends and was immediately impressed with his knowledge, passion, and commitment to cats. He had some innovative, unique ideas for cat products and we discussed ways to get those ideas from his head to pet store shelves. I’m happy to say that he has accomplished that and so much more! I recently sat down with Jackson to learn how he launched his multi-million dollar licensing business with Petmate:

I heard you speak a few months ago at the Humane Society of Boulder Valley fundraiser. Your story of how you went from working as a shelter employee to being a TV star is incredibly inspiring. Can you share the abbreviated version with my readers?

It was actually 20 years ago this month that HSBV hired me to help out around the shelter. My boss at the shelter listened to my crazy ideas. I was passionate about animals, and I had the imagination of an artist, so there were a lot of them. We need to be like my boss was then: If we want to get to no kill, we have to listen to the guys who might be scooping litter.

I left the shelter to start my own cat, body-mind consulting business called Little Big Cat and I worked together with holistic vet Dr. Jean Hofve on Spirit Essences. Back then, flower essence therapy was just as fringe as cat behavior therapy!

I moved to California to live near the beach, and while I was scoping out the animal scene I stopped at an adoption events. In no time, I had a crowd around me, listening to me talk about cats. A guy who worked at a production company saw me in action and called the next day. I had a show within a year when Animal Planet caught a video clip on You Tube. That’s what started the whole TV thing.

How did you connect with Petmate?

I was in Austin for just two hours doing an Animal Planet event at South by Southwest. Someone from Petmate came up to me, said he was a huge fan, and gave me his card. Four months later I called him.

What are some advantages of licensing your name and product ideas?

The product line has been a lot of work. One of the great things about the partnership with Petmate is they know that this is a fluid experience. As the cats give them feedback, they change the product. The worst mistake they could make is not listening to the cats. Petmate has been very flexible about the changes. I won’t be happy until the cats are happy.

If you have strong ideas and can present them in a concrete manner, you can use them to solidify your brand. I’m so excited that some of my ideas for helping cats have come to fruition.

I’d love to be seen as the trusted messenger between cats and cat guardians. When people think of doing something great for their cat, I’d love them to think of me.

You have to be aware that in order to make the brand what you want it to be, it’s a LOT of work. If you aren’t overseeing every aspect of it, and aren’t careful, all of a sudden there will be a bad product with your name on it!

People are under the impression that cat people don’t spend money. But the fact is, they just haven’t had as many products to buy! I’m out to change that.

Why do you think there are so many cats with behavioral problems?

There are more cats than dogs in America. Therefore, there are more cat problems. Plus, cat behavior problems are more documented than dog problems. If the cat pees in your shoe, you will hear about it. But if everyone understood the basic intrinsic needs of their cats, there wouldn’t be nearly as many problems.

What are you favorite products that can help ease behavior issues?

Some of my favorite products include Comfy Cocoon, Comfy Cabana and Comfy Clamshell. But all of my products should increase mojo. My products go one step beyond environmental enrichment. I honestly believe they will keep cats out of shelters.

What are some steps that pet industry leaders can take to enhance the quality of life for pet cats?

Now that it can be proven that there is an ROI on pet products, I’m looking to further the cat movement. The audience is there! Part of the problem has been that we can present toys to cats – but we must work to get their attention and people didn’t realize that. Few people who have cats really know cats. Let’s ratchet up the cat culture! Dog people demanded more products, and they got them. Cat people can do the same.

What’s next?

We’re constantly revising our products. Over the next year, we’ll also have a lot more new products targeting both the environmental enrichment and behavior niches. I’m also working on a number of different TV shows and am busy with public appearances, all with the larger goal of helping fund my foundation (jacksongalaxyfoundation.org). The Jackson Galaxy Foundation works to make real changes in the rescue and shelter world.

From my first day at HSBV, it’s been all about making changes to the quality of life of cats, it’s about the welfare of the animals.

What advice would you give a budding pet industry entrepreneur with some creative ideas but limited resources?

Make your theories rock solid. Make sure your products work. We’re in a very unique time right now. The demand is there. We’ve barely scratched the surface – it’s an exciting time!

Carol Frank of Boulder, CO, is the founder of four companies in the pet industry and a Managing Director with MHT Midspan, a premier middle-market investment bank, where she specializes in Mergers and Acquisitions in the pet sector. She is also a principal at BirdsEye Consulting. BirdsEye advises in the areas of M&A, strategy, and licensing. She can be reached at birdseye@carolfrank.com.