Kyle Knight is Founder and CEO of Toby’s Treasure Box, a customized subscription box that helps dogs, veterans, and people with Autism. Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price spoke to Kyle about his entrepreneurial experience and the importance of giving back through mentorship and doing social good.

NAN PRICE: Have you always been entrepreneurial?

KYLE: My whole life. When I was four years old, I sold nails to the neighbors. When you look at kids, you can always tell who is going to grow up to be an entrepreneur.

I owned a printing business in the past and I currently own a retail company and two pet grooming companies.

NAN: You launched Toby’s Treasure Box in December 2017. How did you develop the business concept?

KYLE: I already have customers in the pet industry. They kept asking if we could ship products. We didn’t at the time, so some customers started using subscription boxes. They would tell us about their experiences and issues with not being able to customize their orders. There were a lot of complaints because dogs are just like people—they have so many personalities, dietary needs, and allergies.

I happen to do programming on the side. Finally, one day I thought: I should come up with a program with some type intelligence where, once you fill out a questionnaire, it knows what type of products should go in the subscription box for your dog.

My customers told me if I created it they would order from me. So, we decided to do that. At the same time, my goal has always been to create something to give back.

NAN: Let’s talk about the social impact your company is making.

KYLE: I’ve always liked creating opportunities for underdog. With every company I’ve worked for, I hire people who have come out of the prison system or have special needs.

I think the Autistic community is very misunderstood. It’s important for me to give them the opportunity and adjust the work structure so it works for them. I think if more companies learned how to adjust their work environments, they would be able to retain a better workforce as opposed to thinking everybody does everything the same way or everybody feels the same way.

NAN: Everybody is not the same subscription box.

KYLE: Exactly! It’s the same exact concept.

So, I wanted to start working with veterans, those with Autism, and war dogs. I have a place in my heart for dogs that serve our country, they never really signed up for anything. I wanted to make sure veterans and dogs are taken care of once they return.

That’s why we decided to create a company that spends most of its profits on giving back. It’s important to be to be able to produce income I can put back into society. We wanted to give customers something that was truly customized, but at the same time create a business that makes a difference. And with the pet industry being so big, we figured it was a good platform to create a nice business that’s nationwide and can give back.

NAN: It sounds like customization is the what sets your company apart and makes it innovative.

KYLE: Yes. The real differentiator is being very customized. Most of the subscription boxes out there are designed to make money, so all the boxes are the same every month. And that does make good business sense for the owner because you save money when you’re buying all the same products.

But, at the same time, it’s not what a customer really wants. A customer wants something that’s personal for them or their dog. So, we may not make the same profit margin as other companies, but as I feel we’re providing a better product.

NAN: Does being in Connecticut play a role in your business?

KYLE: We do want to produce most of our products here in Connecticut. That’s why I’m working with the state to hire autistic people. I’ve already started talking to the authorities to find out what type of licensing it takes to make our own dog treats.

We’re also working with a local craftsperson to develop our own line of toys. It probably will cost us more than if we bought the toys from China, but at the same time, they’ll be made by a community of people here in Connecticut and provide them with jobs. Our goal is to try and figure out a way to do that without upcharging our customers.

NAN: How do you figure that out? Has your background launching other startups helped?

KYLE: You have to understand all of your costs, including raw material and labor. Putting all those numbers together, I realize things will cost us more than if I buy them from China, but I think I can charge a little more to make up that difference.

Coming from the printing industry, I’ve dealt with manufacturing for a long time. I’ve also got a black belt in Six Sigma. So, I’ve learned how to refine a process. Putting your process in place makes it easy—especially for people who may have special needs. It keeps it organized and makes it much more functional for everybody. It also saves us money.

NAN: How are you building a customer base?

KYLE: That’s what we’re working on now. Our Marketing Director, Rachel Sclare, is doing a lot of the social media and marketing. Our VP of Sales, Shane Robinson, has been selling and getting people engaged. He’s at all the different tradeshows.

NAN: As a cat owner, I must ask—do you plan to provide subscription boxes for other pets in the future?

KYLE: Yes. We plan to add on cats. I don’t think we’ll be adding horses or hamsters or anything like that! Definitely cats because we’ve gotten quite a few requests. We figured we’d start in one area and get it refined before we expand.

Photo: Toby’s Treasure Box Founder Kyle Knight (left) delivers the first donations to the U.S. War Dog Association in New Jersey.

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