CASE STUDY

How tails.com built
a new cat food
subscription business
from kick-off to MVP
in under 3 months

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Group 2734-2
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INDUSTRY
eCommerce
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COUNTRY
uK
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PARTNERSHIP WITH STX NEXT
ongoing since June 2020
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client
tails.com

Table of contents

About tails.com

Launched in 2014, tails.com is a nutritionally tailored pet food service that creates a unique recipe for every single dog it serves based on his or her age, breed, needs and preferences. Such was the success with customers, Nestlé Purina made a majority stake investment in tails.com in 2018.

By creating unique recipes for every single dog from a million combinations, the platform provides a level of personalization that is unprecedented in the pet food market.

The subscription-based service helps dog owners target their pet’s specific health improvements through their diet. It offers a complete, balanced nutrition plan that also adjusts with the dogs as they age.

The service became a hit in the UK and it expanded to another eight European markets in 2020. More than 10 million unique tails.com meals are fed to over 200,000 dogs every month.

The product: Republic of Cats

Building upon the success of the dog food platform, tails.com decided to launch a parallel service for cats, called Republic of Cats.

It works in an analogous way to tails.com’s main line of business by providing subscription-based feeding plans for cats that have been tailored to each pet’s unique nutritional needs and preferences.

Users can register up to four felines with the service. They can do so by filling in data such as weight, breed, health conditions and age, and selecting specific health goals for their pet, for instance losing weight, reducing hairballs, or managing allergies.

After filling in the upfront cat quiz, users will receive a taster box with a bag of nutritionally tailored dry food, and a variety of wet food flavors to help them find out which ones their cat loves the most. They can edit those flavors each month as the cat’s tastes evolve.

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tails.com’s business challenge

Republic of Cats, tails.com’s new business line, operated almost as a startup within the company. The project’s managers faced the challenge of launching the product within a short timeframe and growing it towards a positive ROI that would warrant the continuation of the projects.

They were looking to build three apps from scratch:

  • 1A user application to help customers manage their subscriptions
  • 2A back-office application to support the management of their customers
  • 3A backend, factory application to streamline order processing.

The customer products had to be delivered on a very tight schedule, with the factory app following in 2021.

At the start of the project, the project managers were armed with initial product research and business hypotheses. However, most branding elements and feature specifications were not available at that stage.

As a result, tails.com needed flexible, scalable design and development teams to help it refine requirements and produce the full service in a timely manner.

How tails.com chose STX Next
as their partner

Before tails.com started its cooperation with STX Next, the company got in contact with about a dozen other software providers. The firm worked with another software vendor, but the time difference and insufficient technical skills soon proved to be a challenge.

As a result, tails.com continued looking for an experienced software house that could meet the following criteria:

  • proven and long-term experience on the market,
  • being able to work on both short and long-term projects,
  • having supporting functions such as QA, DevOps, or user research,
  • having a number of highly-skilled developers on board to support the project throughout all phases of growth,
  • being in a similar time zone to the UK.

After initial research, tails.com found that STX Next met all the criteria they were checking for: a sense of quality, positive customer reviews, and a client-centric approach.

“They were the only company that ticked all the boxes.”
Joep Mario Behrendt

Head of Engineering @ tails.com

Mario also noted that our sales representative was very fast to respond to his queries, and this reassured him that he was dealing with a “well-structured, well-organized company that made each day count.” He also found our Clutch reviews to be a good source of information about our cooperation with other partners and the projects we completed.

tails.com and STX Next began working together in June 2020, building the Republic of Cats applications from scratch. In the space of two weeks, we provided an entire Agile team (except a Product Manager, who was employed in-house by tails.com): five developers (including two Team Leads), a Scrum Master, and a Manual Quality Assurance Specialist.

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How we helped tails.com build Republic of Cats

tails.com approached STX Next with the request to build the two applications for the Republic of Cats project.

Being able to assemble a complete team and start working within two weeks was an important factor as tails.com was looking to release the products on a very tight schedule. Just as important was striking a balance between producing high-quality code and delivering it fast.

New functionalities have been added incrementally, and each sprint new versions of the app are released. Included in these features were subscription management tools, improved sign up pages and features to help move off the third-party subscription management portal.

Throughout the whole project, STX Next teams have helped tails.com verify their hypotheses and suggest alternative solutions.

The cooperation was going so well that in September 2020 tails.com invited STX Next to work on another project.

The development process

The initial challenge facing the STX Next’s development team was to begin working on the user facing site and the customer management application without specific guidelines from the client.

“From the architecture perspective, they had to start without a clear idea
of what the end version would look like.”
Franki Lake

Digital Product Manager@ tails.com

Due to Republic of Cats’ startup-like culture, the STX Next development team worked at an intense pace to deliver the MVP and add required functionalities each sprint. Even though many decisions were made mid-sprint, the developers were quick to accommodate the changes.

The STX Next developers decided to reuse some of the client’s existing components and build other ones from scratch.

To ensure readability down the line and future-proof the product as we were building it, we suggested implementing clean architecture, a recommendation that was accepted by the project managers.

The design process

Similarly to the development team, the designers didn’t have all the input they needed to start work. Some of the missing elements included branding guidelines.

However, to keep up with the startup-like pace, we produced a black-and-white sign-up interface and architecture flow using their previous experience in similar projects. It was met with positive feedback, even though some of the initial work was based on hypotheses that were verified at later stages.

“The interface is an extension of branding, so we had to design something that would be consistent with the client’s tone of voice, which we didn’t know at that stage.”
Marcin Siemieński

Product Design Team Lead

Due to the Republic of Cats’ startup-like culture, some of the business needs were being defined as the work progressed, leading to a number of changes to the workload. However, our design team was just as flexible as the developers in accommodating them mid-sprint.

Marcin added: “The pace of work was quite fast. The client wanted to build a product that would prove its value and drive conversions as soon as possible.”

Thanks to these challenges, Republic of Cats allowed our designers to showcase some of the key strengths of working with a design team within a software development agency. Unlike freelancers, at the STX Next design department we have a wide range of competencies to utilize within one FTE. And, unlike a “standalone” design agency, we work closely with the development team to make sure no time is wasted on reworking screens and features.

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What tails.com appreciated about working with STX Next

Less than three months after starting the cooperation, STX Next and tails.com launched a brand new business line, jointly built from scratch.

Thanks to mutual openness, transparent communication, and trust, we were able to build a remarkable partnership that went from strength to strength despite fast speed of work and changing requirements.

tails.com pointed out a few aspects that made the collaboration so successful, some of which are listed below.

Smooth cooperation and easy scaling

At the beginning of the partnership, we jointly worked out the most suitable ways to cooperate by setting common frameworks, agreeing on the best practices, and scheduling regular update calls.

This allowed both parties to understand each others’ preferred way of working. It saved us time to focus on the tasks at hand rather than the choice of tools or methodologies.

The flexibility of our teams helped tails.com scale up whenever necessary and meet their business objectives.

“It’s very easy to work with Norbert Lehmann [Head of Service Delivery at STX Next]. If I need to add more people I just send him an email and he gets the job done. He is very proactive. He always keeps an eye on every single engineer at STX Next and knows about their availability and skills. Norbert is also very good at reacting to whatever challenge we throw at him. I don’t need to worry at all because I know things are in safe hands.”
Mario Behrendt

Head of Engineering @ tails.com

Technical capabilities and attention to detail

tails.com was keen to point out the technical skills and experience of our design and development team.

“The quality has always been good. In fact, I often have to tell them to rein it in and stop worrying about the details. They’re so keen to make every little detail perfect. We actually had a lot of discussions in the early days to make it good enough and move on.

STX Next engineers show how much they care about their craft. They take things into their own hands, see it as their own project, and take pride in what they do. Developers show they enjoy working with good code so they make it better.”

Franki Lake

Digital Product Manager @ tails.com

Proactive attitude

“Once the developers have started the sprint, I very rarely have to discuss tasks with them, which is amazing. The developer tend to ask me yes-no questions. They suggest solutions at the same time.”
Franki Lake

Digital Product Manager@ tails.com

Rather than just flagging a potential challenge, STX Next development and design teams took the initiative to suggest possible courses of action.

This was welcomed by tails.com as, on many occasions, the company’s employees received ready recommendations from STX Next that only needed vetting or refining.

Mutual trust

One of the key pillars of the cooperation has been mutual trust. Norbert Lehmann, the Head of Service Delivery at STX Next, believes:

“Transparent communication helped us create mutual trust, and this has been the foundation of everything else.”

For Mario Behrendt of tails.com, knowing how much STX Team values quality has provided reassurance. He noted:

“Having worked with you for nine months and not being let down even once builds that trust.”

Franki Lake, Digital Product Manager at tails.com, said:

“I realized early on that the more detail we gave on why the business needed it, the better the technical solutions were. The developers have to understand the context. In December, I told them what was going on with the business and it really changed their focus. I’d never done it with a development team before. But it’s been great with them.”

She also pointed out that any difficulties have been dealt with quickly and efficiently:

“We got to this place of trust because every time something has gone wrong, it’s immediately been resolved and talked about.”

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The future of the cooperation

The Republic of Cats team started shipping the products to customers at the end of August 2020, only three months after starting the cooperation with STX Next.

Between November 2020 and January 2021, the project doubled its conversion rates (customers buying a second box).

Its base of active customers has grown steadily since it launched and that rate of growth continues to increase. Republic of Cats has grown its customer base tenfold since the end of its initial 12-week pilot in December 2020.

Republic of Cats’ Trustpilot score is 4.3 and its members community has over 1,000 active members.

As the project has been growing at a very fast pace, there are still many milestones to look forward to, and the STX Next team, which now includes nine members, is working hard to provide additional functionalities.

Now, customers who are looking to order nutritious food for their cats can do so on the Republic of Cats website.

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Can we help you the way we’ve helped tails.com?

We have built marketplaces, internal deployment tools, community platforms and more for clients such as Mastercard, Unity, and Decathlon.

As the largest Python software house in Europe, with plenty of design, QA, DevOps and ML professionals on board, we’ve worked with clients such as Mastercard, Decathlon, and Unity.

We have:

  • 17+ years of market experience
  • 700+ projects delivered under our belt
  • 200+ clients served from all over the world
  • 500+ professionals on board (including 400+ developers)

We can help you refine your idea and turn it into a fully-fledged product that generates profit for your business.

You can start with a small team: we’ll be ready to support you with additional professionals as you scale up. If you’d like to discuss your project, feel free to get in contact—we’d be happy to hear from you!

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Matthew Harris

VP of Sales
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Marta Błażejewska

Director of Sales
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