The Melbourne man had been part of the glamorous fashion world but he decided to throw it all in. No one expected his next move but it’s paid off.
Mike Halligan admits he did the “full Millennial thing” when he threw in his high paying job to look for something with more purpose.
But no one would haven’t have expected his next move – from the general manager of a fashion brand to making dog food.
“I had been working in marketing and at the heart of it I was selling things that people don’t need, it was a fun, easy to buy world,” he told news.com.au.
The 33-year-old wanted to make a difference but it wasn’t until his beloved cocker spaniel called Brandy fell ill that he started to pay more attention to what she was eating.
This was his light bulb moment.
“I looked at dog food and the deeper I got in the more I thought how is the industry operating? It’s unregulated and it’s essentially impossible to know what is in the food,” he said.
“I ended up deciding on putting my energy into making a dog food brand that was worth trusting and transparency-led and health-led.”
He saw the launch of Scratch in 2018, a brand he co-founded and funded with $120,000 from savings as well as some backing from investors.
On the first day, Scratch received 25 orders but the next day only a few trickled in so Mr Halligan realized he was in for a hard slog.
But he had lured his business partner away from a big player in the industry and said it was extremely lucky as there were only five to 10 people in Australia who are experts in pet food and production.
The Melbourne man said a beagle named Snoop, who was owned by his business owner, “thoroughly enjoyed” being one of the main testers of the brand’s food.
It was important for Mr Halligan that Scratch’s food was made in the country from 99 per cent Australian ingredients, using human grade meat, but this meant he had to fight hard to open up a new way of manufacturing, he said.
“When dog food is made what usually happens is a company will go to pet food manufacturer, choose from all the ingredients that everyone else chooses and put a new label on it with a picture of a dog and get a celebrity vet to endorse it, ” he said wryly.
Scratch offers three types of dry dog food – the most popular is the grain-free kangaroo, which Mr Halligan said put them “on the map”.
“It’s the go to for problem child dogs that struggle to eat many foods and that end up with the runs or really itchy skin … It’s fixed the gut health and immune system of dogs that have struggled with food from pet stores,” he said.
“So many dogs had tried 15 to 20 foods and people were looking for that magic fix and that’s how we got our early start. We got a lot of word of mouth that our food was the one that fixed Lassie’s skin issues.”
In fact surfing legend Mick Fanning’s dog Harper had skin issues until she started on Scratch and he has since become an investor in the brand.
The other options available include turkey, lamb and beef or lamb and ancient grains.
The personalized subscription service, which starts from $77, has been used by 10,000 dogs across Australia, according to Mr Halligan.
In the last year, Scratch has sold 160,000 bags of dog food.
The company’s revenue has also doubled in the last year and is expected to tip more than $10 million by the end of this financial year.
But Mr Halligan said it’s not about the money.
Scratch has become the first B Corp Certified dog food company in Australia, where it has committed to producing and delivering ethical dog food that puts dogs and the planet first.
“We are not trying to be the biggest dog food company in Australia,” he noted.
But having an ethical focus was important to Mr Halligan as the company battled with soaring ingredient prices.
He said staff salary increases at a minimum based on the rising cost of living.
“It’s about treating people fairly and … not being a purely for profit business. With a year like last year there were so many cost pressures and if we just worried about profit, we wouldn’t be able to help as many dogs,” he said.
“The cost of ingredients have gone up with the fires and floods and the amount of cost price rises that we have incurred as a result of the changing world could hurt but being a B Corp you have a different set of intensives and alignments.
”We are aligned to look after planet and are donating 2 per cent of our revenue no matter if we are having a good or bad month.”
Sadly, Halligan’s cocker spaniel died a few months before the launch of Scratch but he has been fostering dogs and is on a waitlist for a new puppy.