This startup could be a dog owner’s best friend as it uses machine learning to help guide key decisions - GeekWire
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Patrick Opie, founder of Scout9, and his dog, Orin. (Photo courtesy of Patrick Opie)

After adopting his first dog last year, Patrick Opie was struggling with figuring out what Orin, his mini Australian shepherd, needed and when.

The struggle went beyond coping with normal puppy stuff, like when a dog chews up a favorite pair of shoes or pees where he’s not supposed to. Opie was buying products that were irrelevant or unfit for his dog and he was spending too much time researching what to get each month.

“Those things add up,” Opie said. “That’s where I realized I really wished there was a product or something that could help navigate or work with you to help you find what you need to get going.”

Opie’s new adventures in dog parenthood led him to create Scout9, a Seattle startup that offers an intuitive and economical way for new dog owners to prepare for each step of their dog’s development through the use of an autonomous “Personal Pocket Scout.”

It’s a timely venture considering reports that the COVID-19 pandemic has led to a national surge in pet adoptions and fostering. As the pet industry heads toward $100 billion in annual spending, pet tech and web-based services are right in the mix, especially in dog friendly Seattle.

Screen grabs showing some of the ways in which the Personal Pocket Scout communicates with a pet owner. (Scout9 Images)

Opie was frustrated by his own mess-ups when it came to buying the right food and the right type of kennel as well as milestones he missed including when to start socialization and training for Orin.

“Think of it like if I’m Batman and I just got a dog,” Opie said. “I would want to have an Alfred who can kind of help me figure out the baseline: ‘These are the things you need to think about, these are the things that I suggest you should do.'”

Opie’s “Alfred-the-butler” vision is instead an online platform that relies on machine learning technology to create a dynamic timeline for milestones in the dog’s life. It’s not breed specific, but is instead based on some parameters given to the tool, such as the dog’s initial age and size. Scout works by scouring the internet for relevant information and learning along the way what the human user accepts and rejects.

Scout will surface food choices, for instance, and do the shopping if given permission, by searching for the best available deals. The user has the ability to set their budget, so that Scout avoids overspending and gets the most out of the money it is allotted. Purchases can be automated so food shows up on time and Scout will learn and grow as your pet does.

A user can also take Scout’s recommendations and go find food or other items on Amazon or somewhere else.

Scout9 will make money a couple different ways, either by collecting a commission from retailers whose affiliated links show up in the tool, or by charging users a service fee on transactions that are made by Scout on the user’s behalf.

Patrick Opie using his Personal Pocket Scout alongside his puppy, Orin. (Photo courtesy of Patrick Opie)

Using Orin as a test case for the first year, Opie said he went from spending $1,700 on supplies down to $1,100 using his tool, for a 35 percent savings.

Opie, who is working on the new company with two friends, was previously a consultant at Boston Consulting Group and he spent more than three years at Accenture. He also worked as a developer at DevHub, and in April teamed with DevHub co-founder Mark Michael to create a virtual ‘Gumwall” to raise money for restaurant workers during the early days of the health crisis.

His goal is for dogs to be the jumping off point for Scout9 and the Personal Pocket Scout, and he envisions it being applied beyond raising puppies to such scenarios as raising a baby or buying a new house.

“It definitely is an idea that will be across all life transitions,” Opie said. “My team all loves dogs. We’ve been through that experience. It’s easier for us to execute on that vision.”

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