5 Questions with: Justin Miller, co-founder Zookies Cookies

Raleigh entrepreneur pitches his pet treat company to ABC’s Shark Tank
As told to Catherine Currin

When we heard that a Raleigh entrepreneur would be pitching on this week’s Shark Tank on ABC, we talked with Justin Miller, co-founder of Zookies Cookies, for the story on his time with Mark Cuban, Kevin O’Leary and the like. He was tight-lipped on whether the healthy pet treat company landed a deal, but we learned more about what he and co-founder Tom Simon are bringing into the pet food market. Tune in Sunday, March 3 to ABC to see them in the tank!

(ABC/Eric McCandless)

Can you tell me a little more about your product? How’d you get into this industry?
Zookies Cookies is a new way to treat your pet! We’re talking dog treats here. Sure, there are plenty of dog bones to choose from today, but we wanted more—we wanted delicious and also healthy. We wanted a simple way to create our own cookies for our dogs. Who doesn’t love homemade cookies? Zookies Cookies combine simple, wholesome and delicious ingredients we know and trust (and eat ourselves) into two insanely tasty flavors: Peanut Barker and CocoMutt.

Each jar is 100% plant based, preservative free, corn free, soy free, GMO free and grain free (CocoMutt). So what do you have to do to enjoy Zookies? Add 1/2 cup of water to the mix and bake, and voila!

When you scan the pet aisle at most stores today you see option after option of treat, but almost all of them are filled with some truly scary stuff—the “big red box”, America’s go-to-treat, has ingredients that are used in disinfectants and others that are “not fit for human consumption.”
We refer to our pets as our best friends, so why aren’t we treating them that way? So we came up with a solution and to be honest, we’re newbies in the pet arena but we’re both super passionate about our pets, and we’re bringing an amazing product to market with Zookies Cookies!

Justin Miller (left) and Tom Simon (ABC/Eric McCandless)

Have you always been an entrepreneur? Even though you’ll be sharing your product on a national scale, how would you say this product can fit in with our local community?
Always an entrepreneur is debatable. I’ve always had an inclination to make existing ideas better. This product is built for the masses, yet thrives on the personal touches – and for us, community has mattered most in getting the idea off of the ground. Literally in our early days we would bake the treats ourselves and give them out to neighbors to try. We didn’t tell them what they were (Aside from dog treats made from “people food”) and we waited for the reviews. Each and every time we got the same answer “my dog goes crazy for your treats!” … one went as far as to call them “Critter Crack”. We knew we were on to something. So the next step was deconstructing the cookies and making the experience of baking them as fun and rewarding as the treating part. The best part about the community we’ve established, both locally and nationally, is everyone’s enjoyment around sharing photos and videos of their dogs’ Zookies experiences!

What the experience of auditioning/being selected onto Shark Tank? The whole thing was surreal. The audition started with a cold call email to someone at the show who reviews possible companies. He liked what he saw (we used our Kickstarter video from earlier last year as the ice breaker) and followed up with a series of questions. Things snowballed and the next thing we new we were selected to pitch. We’re under lock and key about what we can share, but rest assured it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience and every bit as incredible as imagined!

Can you tell us if you got a deal? Is being on the show as it seems when you watch the show at home?
We cannot. But you can tune in on Sunday, March 3 on ABC to find out if we baked a deal or came home with no bones. The pitch itself is actually much much longer than shown on TV but obviously this has to be trimmed for air.

(ABC/Eric McCandless)

What’s are your goals/what’s next?
Our number one focus is growing the business, making Zookies Cookies a household name, a name that’s synonymous with TREATING RIGHT! We’re continuing to experiment with new recipes, methods and ideas around products to bring to market. We really feel like we’ve just begun to scratch the surface and are stoked to see where this goes! Our goal last year was to succeed with our Kickstarter and get on Shark Tank, and we checked both of those boxes. Bigger goals are now in store for 2019!