A company based in Bellevue and Taiwan is putting dog owners’ minds to rest with its treat-tossing dog camera.
Leaving dogs home alone is the norm for many pet parents. As much as we’d love to cart our furry friends with us everywhere we go, obligations often require us to watch their sad, puppy eyes staring back at us as we close the front door. And those hours while we’re gone can be anxiety-inducing, prompting a deluge of internal questions: What if someone breaks in? Is my dog chewing up the couch? Will something catch fire? How is she doing while I’m away?
Victor Chang and his wife, Maggie Cheung, understand these swirling thoughts because they had the same feelings about their toy poodle, Gobi, who suffered from separation anxiety and didn’t cope well with being left at home. They started working with a dog trainer to acclimate Gobi during his time alone. They played soft music while they were out of the home, but they knew some kind of human interaction during the day would help him adjust.
The pair got into the pet technology industry because they believed products were lacking for animal lovers. They decided to do an online poll of 1,000 people asking what their No. 1 concerns were. The results were clear: People were worried about their dogs.
In 2013, the couple launched their company Tomofun in Taiwan — where Chang and Cheung live — and conceptualized the now-wildly popular treat-tossing Furbo dog camera. To test out its likeability, they went straight to their target market: dogs. A woman and her dog were invited to the office, and Cheung and the woman walked outside, leaving the dog inside with Chang. While outside, they pulled up a live feed of her dog and the woman cooed as her pup came into view. Every time she said “pop a treat,” Chang, slightly out of view, tossed a treat to the dog, who happily ate it up.
The woman was overjoyed, and it was confirmation Chang and Cheung were on to something.
In 2016, Tomofun opened an office in Bellevue to be closer to Amazon and has been expanding on the original features of the Furbo dog camera. In late 2017, Tomofun released a new model with AI machine-learning and computer vision to detect the dog’s activity during the day. It’s equipped with a high-definition camera featuring a 160-degree wide-angle zoom lens, night vision, and a treat well that can hold more than 100 pieces. Furbo alerts dog parents when Fido is in “selfie” range of the camera so they can interact with the dog.
“The most important (feature) we’ve heard from all dog parents is the barking alert,” Chang said. “This is the most-loved feature. It alerts you on your phone immediately … Anything could happen at home when our babies are at home, and barking is the first sense that something is up. We can check really quickly to find out if anything has happened.”
A few months ago, something did happen — a Furbo user who caught an intruder in her home with the dog camera was able to record the incident, which led to an arrest.
Chang said another user saved her dog and home from a fire, thanks to Furbo. Story after story of similar happy endings made possible by the camera can be found on the company’s Facebook page.
Chang and Cheung are very dialed into what their customers are looking for. Chang’s very first creation was a social media app that allowed people to track their day with a diary and share it with friends. It wasn’t very popular, which led to the realization that as an entrepreneur, one needs to be very specific about the community he wants to serve and what problem he wants to solve.
“The most important (feature) we’ve heard from all dog parents is the barking alert … It alerts you on your phone immediately … Anything could happen at home when our babies are at home, and barking is the first sense that something is up. We can check really quickly to find out if anything has happened.”
Based on customer feedback, Furbo will likely have some new features in the near future. By and large, people said they want “smarter alerts.” Furbo’s weekly Facebook poll determined dog owners would like the camera to have a barking translation, so they can understand what their dog is trying to communicate — whether it’s a whine or distress call. Another one was a sleep tracker to better understand the dog’s health. And many also said they’d like to have mini cameras stationed throughout the house because most dogs are traipsing through the bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, and living room.
“Most have said their dog goes through every room,” Chang said. “They said, ‘I don’t need a treat tosser in every room, I just need to see and hear my dog.’ This plays into the AI aspect. The more the camera can see the dog, the more it understands the dog’s activity. We’re hoping to roll that out this year.”
Currently, Furbo is sold in nine countries, and the team is working to expand to worldwide availability. Amazon also highlighted Furbo as the first product during its Prime Day in July and it was featured on Ellen DeGeneres’ 12 Days of Giveaways as the No. 1 gift for pet lovers.
“It was a dream come true for our team,” he said of the recognition from DeGeneres. “Our whole team was jumping with joy — we look up to her so much.”
Tomofun has about 50 employees, and is expanding, including in its Bellevue office.
Chang said his team will likely focus on further developing Furbo instead of diversifying with a new product. For dog owners, the peace of mind and assurance that their pets are OK has been life-changing, and Tomofun plans to continue building on that.
We spoke with Chang while he and his wife were at their Bellevue office for a few days, and he said he checks his Furbo daily to see how his beloved pup is doing at his parents’ house while they’re away.
“He’s not missing me as much as I’m missing him,” Chang said with a half-hurt laugh. “He loves when I toss a treat to him. I’m happy to see he’s happy.”