Creature Comforts CEO: A founder’s goal is to hire themselves out of a job

Creature Comforts founder Daniel Attia

Daniel Attia is the founder and CEO of Creature Comforts, a startup building a pet virtual care app available on a subscription.

Founded earlier this year by Attia and veterinary surgeon Russell Welsh, Creature Comforts is aiming to improve the availability and affordability of vet appointments.

The startup claims that with the support of its app, customers will receive round-the-clock support and its vets and clinicians will have the ability to work flexibly from home.

Creature Comforts is gearing up to launch in 2024 after raising £7m in seed funding last month. Its 15-strong team has selected St John’s Wood, London, as the location for its first veterinary clinic.

Attia previously founded online estate agency Yopa at the age of 24, securing $23m from the investment arm of Savills.

In this week’s Founder in Five Q&A, Attia explains why launching a startup “is not for the faint-hearted”, why founders should aim to hire themselves out of a job, and why he’s excited about digital watermarking.

1. What advice would you give to a first-time founder?

Daniel Attia: Nothing will go according to plan, so prepare to be nimble. It’s easily one of the most pressurised environments you’ll ever be in, so find sensible ways to deal with the stress of it. Startup founder life is not for the faint-hearted.

You will be doing 500 different roles at the same time and you’ll always be running out of money, so you’ll have to make operating at that level of stress your normal state of play.

2. What’s a common mistake that you see founders make?

DA: They overestimate their abilities and they don’t like to hire people who are smarter than themselves. The root cause tends to either be a trust issue or an inflated sense of self.

As a founder, your goal should always be to try to hire yourself out of a job. To do that you need to give people autonomy, and steer the ship without sticking your oar in everywhere.

3. What’s a fact about yourself that people might find surprising?

DA: I’ve never had a job. I did try to get a job after university, but all the evidence – a distinct lack of job interviews – pointed to the fact that I was apparently unhireable! So I had to figure out how to make money for myself, and I started up a business at age 24 without any experience.

I made an unbelievable number of errors, very early on. In fact, pretty much everything I did was a mistake. I didn’t know anything at all. I didn’t know how to build a website, or how a website even worked, our product team was non-existent, and we launched a national TV ad without the ability to even take payments.

4. Excluding your sector, which nascent technology holds the most promise?

DA: Digital watermarking. This technology can be applied across so many areas, including recyclables. By digitally watermarking plastics they can be more easily sorted and recycled with a 99% accuracy rate, which is critical in the fight against pollution.

It can also be used to watermark images for provenance, so that computer-generated images and footage peddling fake news can be more easily identified. I’m now an investor in a company called Digimarc that specialises in this technology.

5. How do you prevent burnout?

I burned out when running my first company, to the point where I ended up in hospital with physical symptoms. Today, my health is something I take really seriously. I meditate and journal every morning, I workout, I walk to and from work, and I leap into an ice bath when I can.

I also compartmentalise so I don’t bring work to date night with my wife, or to time spent with friends. This is also a huge part of what we’re doing with Creature Comforts. Veterinary teams are overstretched, burned out and stressed, and their working conditions aren’t helping. We’re building our clinics and our business for happier vets, as well as healthier pets.

Founder in Five – a UKTN Q&A series with the entrepreneurs behind the UK’s innovative tech startups, scaleups and unicorns – is published every Friday.