Juls Bindi was living in Los Angeles, working as a massage therapist to some pretty well-known clientele and having trouble solving a problem.
Her dog Russell had bad anxiety and motion sickness in the car. With dogs like Russell, "you're so distracted by them, you can't focus on your driving," says Bindi, 37, who now lives in Austin.
She began developing a bag that you could put your dog in for car rides and for carrying. She wanted it to help keep a dog safe in a crash.
Bindi started looking into patents and testing and launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund the project. That's when Carolyn Shewfelt from Idaho found her. Shewfelt had been working on a similar product; Shewfelt's had passed safety testing but was sitting in her closet in Idaho.
Shewfelt flew to Los Angeles to meet Bindi three years ago, and they started ZuGoPet.
What became the Rocketeer Pack, a car seat harness/backpack for dogs less than 25 pounds, will be featured on "Shark Tank" on Sunday.
When Bindi and Shewfelt met, both of their products-in-development needed work. Shewfelt's was safe, but it wasn't consumer-friendly, Bindi says. Bindi's hadn't been crash tested yet. They had both put in a lot of time into developing their products: seven years for Shewfelt and five for Bindi.
Their combined efforts have paid off. Pet Insider featured the Rocketeer Pack in November 2017, and within 10 to 15 minutes, Bindi says, the video had been watched more than 3 million times. It's now had 115 million views and more than 2 million shares. The video shows the crash tests of the Rocketeer Pack and the crash tests of other car seats or harnesses for dogs.
Bindi got a call from Pet Insider that they were going viral. "What does that mean?" Bindi remembers thinking. It meant that the phones kept ringing, and "Shark Tank" came calling after Pet Insider named the Rocketeer Pack video one of the top 10 videos of the year.
Bindi calls it "the power of manifestation." One of her goals for 2018 was to figure out how to get on "Shark Tank."
"It's exhilarating," Bindi says of filming the show, which they did in one day in June. "Everyone behind the scenes is the friendliest, the warmest, they put you at ease and welcome you into a family. ... Then when it's your turn, you have all the confidence in the world, but when the doors open up and you're walking down the hall, it's like a roller coaster. 'Oh, my God, what did I get myself into? ... This is really happening.'"
She can't give any details about whether they struck a deal.
ZuGoPet has two products right now. The Rocketeer Pack is a harness that locks into a seat belt mechanism that is designed to go in the back seat. It keeps the dog from being propelled forward in a crash; the dog dangles above the bottom of the seat to protect his spine from being compressed or breaking. It's $175 on ZuGoPet.com.
The company also has the Jetsetter. This is an airport-compliant bag that sits between the two front seats and is anchored to those seats. It's for dogs that are less than 15 pounds. Unlike the Rocketeer Pack, it is not safety-test approved. It sells for $199 on ZuGoPet.com.
ZuGoPet also is in the process of testing a Rocketeer Pack designed for more comfort and a booster seat so a dog can ride in the front seat. Everything they are testing is still designed for dogs less than 25 pounds.
Larger dogs, Bindi says, have been tricky because you need to be able to stabilize their spines for safety. She hasn't found that solution yet.
Bindi's mission to create a safe car seat for dogs started with Russell. After he died in April, Bindi didn't think she wanted another dog. Then a Yorkie mix came into her life after the dog was found abandoned in the Austin warehouse where ZuGoPet and her husband's company, ZUGO Bikes, are housed.
They attempted to foster the dog as they were also preparing for their own baby on the way. Her husband, Hunter Bailey, fell in love with the dog first, and soon it became clear that the pup, now called Willow, was theirs.
Last week, their family got another addition, a daughter named Sage.
It's been a big start to 2019 for Bindi: new dog, new daughter and, on Sunday, an appearance on "Shark Tank."
'Shark Tank' airs at 8 p.m. Sunday on ABC.