Dawn LaFontaine – An entrepreneur who thinks inside the box

January 19, 2021

Cat in the box interview on Enterprise League.

During our quest to find the most trailblazing female entrepreneurs of 2021 we received hundreds of pitches. Some from ladies claiming multi-million revenues, others with hundreds of thousands of Instagram or TikTok followers – a definition of success imposed by the mainstream media.

However, we wanted to promote diversity – not only in race, but in age, background, business models and ideas. Yes, tech is cool, but making cats happy is cool too. 

Speaking of cats, we’re proud to present you Dawn LaFontaine, the founder of Cat in the Box

Her story is one of a kind and so inspiring. Dawn left a promising career 20 years ago to be a full-time mom to her children. But children grow and move out, and time can’t be recuperated. Knowing she can’t just pick her career up where she left off, she steered towards entrepreneurship only to find that’s exactly the road she was destined to be on.

Meet Dawn, the favourite person of cats around the US.

Feeling under-appreciated as an employee, a nonexistent work-life balance, financial struggles, getting out of bad relationships – these are the most common triggers that push women to become entrepreneurs. Tell us about your trigger?

I’m a middle-aged former stay-at-home mom. Prior to my decision to step back from my career to raise my family, I’d been the big “breadwinner” in our family. In the intervening years I’d watched my husband grow in his own career and I realized that I didn’t have enough working years left in my life to achieve what he had in the two decades that I’d been away. I realized that I need to take control over my own working future.

Headshot of Dawn Lafontaine , founder of Cat in the Box

How did you come up with your business idea?

I started this business after a trip to my mother’s cat sitter with her. As I stepped into this woman’s beautifully appointed living room, the first thing I noticed was that it was filled with shipping cartons. She saw me looking around and sheepishly explained, “They’re for the cats.” 

Now, I know why cats love cardboard boxes (there is some serious science to explain it), but it got me thinking: why do their owners put up with dirty, ugly Amazon boxes in their homes? Why not boxes that are clean, cat-safe, fun? 

My boxes are whimsical, environmentally friendly, and imprinted with human-grade, soy-based inks — and cats and their owners love them!

Have you had support from someone, even if just encouragement? Who was that and how did it help you?

My husband is not only emotionally supportive, he has funded my startup with part of the proceeds of a severance payout when he was laid off from his job! He is also my Chief Box Packer. After a full-day’s work, he’s often up late at night packing products so that I can ship them to customers the next morning.

Female entrepreneurs are often underestimated and overlooked. Have you ever felt at a disadvantage?

Honestly, no. There is nothing about this business (unlike traditional employment) where gender matters. If I design a product that somebody wants to buy, then I will be successful.

Some say it’s hard work, others say it’s talent and resourcefulness that play a crucial role for success in entrepreneurship? Which traits have been instrumental for your success so far? And why?

I think persistence is the most important trait. Unlike other jobs that require a specific degree or certification or training, this one is “learn as you go.” And “learn the hard way” is often the only way to move forward as an entrepreneur. So many successful entrepreneurs that I have met failed at something first, or failed along the way. It would be easy – or even reasonable – for them to have given up then. But learning from the failure, and having the personal fortitude to pivot, seems to be a defining trait of successful entrepreneurs.

What excites you the most about being an entrepreneur?

Getting up every single morning!!! No day is the same, no challenge is the same. This is the most intellectually stimulating thing I have ever done. 

The second thing that excites me about my business is the opportunity to connect with like-minded people every day. I’m a lifelong animal lover, and I get to connect – through social media mostly – with cat owners every single day! It was one of the unexpected joys of starting this business.

Share with us some of the worst business advice you’ve ever received?

Don’t do it. Everyone has a horror story they love to share about all the pitfalls of starting your own business. Yes, it’s risky. Yes, you’re missing the opportunity to get a steady paycheck. Yes, it’s exhausting and you work more hours in a day than someone who gets to clock out at 5 PM. But, those people don’t understand the thrill of building something that’s your very own. 

You’ve got a high stake investment opportunity. Pitch your business in 150 words.

Cat in the Box makes whimsical cardboard boxes for cats who think inside the box. 

Cats are crazy for cardboard boxes. Google “cats in the boxes” and you’ll get about 140 million hits, mostly goofy photos of cats squeezing into boxes they have no business squeezing into. 

This is such a universal phenomenon that scientists have compelling research about why cats are so cardboard box crazy.

The question then, really isn’t why cats like cardboard boxes, but why owners put up with filthy, ugly Amazon boxes in their homes. My boxes are fun, attractive, environmentally friendly, cat safe and made in the USA. And cats love them.

My products have been featured in The Boston Globe, Product Hunt, Parade.com and other major media outlets. DesignBoom, one of the world’s leading design publications, called my Mega Milk Carton a “Warhol-esque stroke of genius.”

Come think inside the box with me!

What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to inspire aspiring entrepreneurs?

Don’t reinvent the wheel. Even though ecommerce is a relatively new way of conducting business, there are others who have gone before you and know the way. I have sought out mentors in the entrepreneurial world, and specifically in ecommerce, who have been invaluable to me on this path.

What are your goals for the upcoming year?

I have several new products in mind that I know cats and their owners will love. I’m working on getting them made right now, and I want to be able to sell them in 2021.

Any final words to end this interview?

My products just received the award for “Cat Toy of the Year” by Pet Innovations!

 

Connect and partner up with Cat in the Box on Enterprise League

More must-read stories from Enterprise League:

Create your company page. Discover companies to work with. Get business deals.

Related Articles

Start expanding your business now. Join for Free.