1Please provide us with a brief bio of yourself.
Leo Trottier is a unique blend of cognitive scientist, software engineer, product designer and entrepreneur. He is the founder and CEO of CleverPet, a startup that uses smart hardware to teach pets automatically through advanced cognitive and behavioral science techniques.
Leo is an alumnus of San Diego's EvoNexus and the Qualcomm Robotics Accelerator (powered by Techstars). He has a degree in cognitive science and A.I. program at the University of Toronto and started CleverPet while a PhD candidate at UC San Diego. Before CleverPet, Leo ran Scholarpedia, Wikipedia’s academic equivalent, where he worked with Nobel Laureates to "wikify scholarly canons."
2What is your role in the company?
I am the founder and CEO of FluentPet.
3Please tell us more about your organization.
FluentPet designs and creates programmable HexTile button systems that enrich the lives of animals within our homes and create deeper relationships with their human companions through a shared language. We offer a range of FluentPet kits that enable our teachers (customers) to expand their system as their learner (dog or cat) progresses. In January 2022, we announced the next iteration of our product, FluentPet Connect, a new WiFi-connected smart system for advancing communication and deepening the connection between people and their animal companions.
4Describe the industry your organization is specialized in, as well as its main characteristics.
We operate within the burgeoning pet tech industry. We leverage the latest in technology and apply scientific research findings to create automated devices to deepen relationships between dogs, cats and their human companions. By using technology, we can better connect and care for our animals and enrich their lives just as much as they enrich ours. We narrow the communication gap between animals and their humans, enabling us to better care for and connect with them.
5Congratulations! As the winner of the TITAN Business Awards, what does it mean for you and your team to receive this distinction?
We’re honored to be selected as a TITAN Business Award winner. Since our creation in 2020, FluentPet has been dedicated to advancing linguistic research and creating better lives for our customers and their companion animals. We couldn’t have gotten to this point without our researchers and dedicated human “guides.”
6How has winning an international award help promote your organization?
As a young company, we’re excited to expand even more into global markets in the future. Pet companionship is universal, so we hope to reach interested animal caretakers across the world.
7What are the challenges of developing / marketing your winning entry(ies)?
We’re constantly evolving and editing our design as users provide feedback and takeaways from their everyday usage. Even though we’ve seen great success so far in teaching dogs, cats and humans how to better communicate, we’ve only just scratched the surface of what our species are capable of when we work together.
8As a business owner, please tell us more about your ideation process.
Our ideation process is driven largely by the feedback of our dedicated community of teachers and learners. It is from their shared experiences we continue to discover what is possible in redefining lines of communication between animals and their humans. From these discoveries, we continue to explore innovative ways of closing the interspecies communication gap.
9What is your own definition of a successful team / organization / business?
Our team is made up of passionate, outspoken people who believe at their core in the importance and impact of what we’re doing. It’s that shared passion and a willingness to take risks that drive our ability to explore the new and push beyond what we ever thought was possible. To be a company with innovation at its center takes a willingness to be nimble and resilient, which is inherent in the team we’ve built.
10What led you / your organization to become successful within the industry you are currently in?
Our success has arisen from building a strong and meaningful relationship with our community of teachers. Without utilizing their open feedback and incorporating it into our product, we wouldn’t be where we are today.
11How has the country, you are based in, helped move your industry forward?
We’ve been able to tap into such a wealth of linguistic researchers in the United States. A lot of us at FluentPet have backgrounds in communication research and design, and it’s this knowledge that has been instrumental to our success. By being located in the United States, it has made it possible to collaborate with a leading academic institution of higher learning.
12What have you found to be a hindering factor, for your business, during the entire course of the pandemic, and how did you overcome that hinderance?
Since we created our company in the early stages of the pandemic, it’s hard to say that we’ve had any unique hindrances. In many ways, there were aspects of the pandemic that helped bolster our success. Looking for companionship in a time of isolation, many people adopted cats and dogs and needed a way to address their new family member’s needs on basic and more advanced, emotional levels. Many of our users shared their experiences through social media and found a huge follower base who wanted to watch their progress or partake in the HexTile learning process themselves, as well.
13What are the current trends in the business industry that you are most excited about?
Animals have such complex inner lives, and we’re seeing a huge shift in attitude across the industry reflecting that. Now more than ever, people are treating dogs and cats like integral parts of the family, and with that people are spending more attention on their emotional and physical wellbeing. This industry is growing rapidly, and we can’t wait to see where it takes us all.
14What resources would you recommend to someone who is searching to improve their business prospects and organizational success?
Develop a close bond with your customers. Create a community where you can take their feedback and apply it directly to your product or service. Keep lines of communication open and incorporate their thoughts and ideas into your strategy.
15Where do you see the evolution of the overall business industry in the next 5-10 years?
We believe we are still in the extremely early days of a revolution in our understanding of our relationship with the animals we shared this world with. We expect to see the incorporation of software and AI into all aspects of this interaction, delighting and enriching the lives of all involved.
16Who inspired you in your life, and why?
Too many people to count, however, a few individuals stand out. John Vervaeke, a University of Toronto lecturer in Cognitive Science, inspired a sense of wonder in how minds worked. Geoffrey Hinton, also at UofT, inspired an interest in the power of neural networks (especially the deep learning kind), and Marty Sereno, a UC San Diego professor of cognitive science, inspired in me an entirely different understanding of how language works.
17What is your key to success? Any parting words of wisdom?
It’s a cliché, but persisting and pursuing personal growth has been the only thing that’s ever worked in the long term.