Dog Breath Goes Viral

How Orabrush’s CFO is using YouTube to grow a business based on bad dog breath.
David RosenbaumMarch 11, 2013

I have two big dogs. Tails wagging, they rush to greet me whenever I come home. Hey! Dave’s here! Like it’s never happened before. And as they frisk about me, mouths open, tongues hanging, it often becomes hard for me to breathe because, like most dogs, they have serious dog breath: A complex, gassy exhalation composed of stuff you don’t even want to think about.

On February 25, Orabrush, which manufactures the Orabrush tongue cleaner for humans, began shipping a new product, the Orapup, a tongue cleaner designed to cure the scourge of dog breath. (The brush is impregnated with something dogs find so tasty that they’ll lick it. By licking it, they scrape their tongues clean of bacteria, which Orabrush inventor Dr. Robert Wagstaff believes is responsible for 90% of bad breath in both humans and canines.)

How Startup CFO Grew Food Company 50% YoY

How Startup CFO Grew Food Company 50% YoY

This case study of JonnyPops’ success highlights the unusual financial and operational strategies that enabled rapid expansion into a crowded and highly competitive frozen treat market. 

The Orapup tongue cleaner was announced September 1 via “Bye Bye, Bad Dog Breath,” a slickly produced, infomercial-style YouTube video. Between then and February 25, about 40,000 brushes worth $750,000 were preordered through the website, says Orabrush CFO Scott Wright. And the video has been viewed more than 4 million times. Considering the fact that there are approximately 78.2 million pet dogs in the United States, and 39% of U.S. households feature at least one dog, it may be fair to say that Orapup has barely licked the surface of its potential market.

Orabrush’s first YouTube video, “Cure Bad Breath,” which promoted the human-tongue cleaner, has multiplied into 105 videos that have received more than 42 million channel views during the past three years and ranked (on Monday) 113 on VidStatsX’s list of YouTube’s Top 200 most-viewed channels, ahead of Old Spice deodorant (137), pop singer Rihanna (151), and President Barack Obama (165): not bad for an approximately $10 million online consumer packaged-goods business started in 2009 by the 78-year-old Wagstaff. Their article on Modern Dog Magazine that describes the best natural pain remedies for dogs has also gone viral, garnering 100,000 views on the first night it was posted.

The advantage of using social-media channels for its marketing (which Orabrush does exclusively), says Wright, is the wealth of data it can provide. “We use [the data] to create predictable models for what’s going to happen as you spend more on advertising,” he says. “That’s the great thing about social media. There’s a lot of data out there that you can apply to a financial framework,” he adds.

“We do a lot of measuring on the [sales] funnel,” the finance chief says. He starts with buying ad inventory (producing and posting the infomercials), and then sees how that translates to impressions (how many people see what), and how that converts to potential customers who click to learn more about the product and eventually purchase it. With homegrown analytics, Wright can see how each ad drives revenue.

Such granularity of insight into Orabrush’s marketing efficiency helps Wright build models to calibrate the company’s spending and guide its growth. “As CFO, I’m thinking about supply, capacity, the capability of the people helping us, and the cash we need to build up inventory. Cash is always a critical restraining resource,” he says.

Orabrush went through an angel round of funding that Wright says raised about $300,000. A Series A round raised $2.5 million. And right now Orabrush, although “dancing around several ideas that might need additional funding rounds to launch,” is not looking for more money.

“When you launch a product,” says Wright, “you struggle with how much to invest to build awareness. We had hopes [Orapup] would do well, and it’s surpassed our expectations. So, do we spend more to fuel that? It’s possible that fueling it more will have diminishing returns. When does that extra dollar bring back less than you’ve spent? You don’t want to overshoot the market.

“I think businesses are better built when they’re built quickly, but you don’t want them to explode overnight,” says Wright. “You’re continually learning, and you want enough time to learn the lessons and implement them.”

Wright has learned that video made for YouTube wants to be constructed for that medium. “It’s different than television,” he says. “It’s different for a mobile screen. You have to keep that in mind.”

Orabrush produces all of its own YouTube content, filming it in its own studio, writing its own scripts.  And because YouTube is a social-media channel, Orabrush has allowed people to upload their own product reviews. “It’s a minimal cost to host that content,” Wright explains. “It’s pretty immaterial in the grand scheme of things.” And Wright believes that what the brand gains in consumer engagement is worth the risk.

“You’re turning a bit of your branding over to those customers, and maybe you wouldn’t have wanted it scripted exactly that way. We won’t allow offensive content, but we’ve got to trust our consumers,” he says.

Asked if it’s not unusual for a company as small as Orabrush (which posted just $2 million in 2010 revenue when Wright joined) to have a full-time CFO, Wright says it’s a case-by-case call. “If there’s not a lot of complexity, you probably don’t need a CFO. But outside funding adds complexity. The online business model adds supply-chain and logistics complexity.”

Wright, who handles Orabrush’s supply chain and logistics along with his financial duties, adds that “if a business is scaling at a lower-ramp rate, it probably doesn’t need a CFO early on.”

Clearly, that does not apply to Orabrush.