We had the good fortune of connecting with Donie Yamamoto and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Donie, what role has risk played in your life or career?
I think of risk as an inherent part of growth. Every decision I make, whether big or small, might involve risk. I believe trust goes hand in hand with risk as well; trusting that whatever the outcome, success or failure, an opportunity to learn and grow presents itself. Risk has brought me to where I am today; creating and growing a brand based on pet wellness and sustainability. Growing up in the Philippines taught me invaluable lessons about risk-taking and following your dreams. In our patriarchal society, it wasn’t acceptable for young women to become entrepreneurs at a young age. With very little capital or family support, I took a risk and opened a clothing store. Taking risks at a young age taught me that by working hard and believing in myself, I could achieve my goals.

Moving to Los Angeles in 2011 with my husband Kyle was definitely a test of my belief in the wisdom of taking risks. After closing my clothing store and no longer being financially independent, I fell into a dark place, not knowing what was next. I dug deep to reconnect with my creative and entrepreneurial drive to start and build a small family-run business. Now we’re taking on big-box pet stores in the $99 Billion pet industry. The results of developing and selling my first product, Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil include being named a 2019 Tory Burch Foundation Fellow for outstanding entrepreneurship and selling one of the only Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil pet products that are Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified 100% sustainable. Everyday I’m grateful to be fortunate enough to combine my love of animals, sustainability and entrepreneurship.

Can you give our readers an introduction to your business? Maybe you can share a bit about what you do and what sets you apart from others?
I believe every pet family deserves affordable, clean pet wellness products for their fur babies. Just as consumers are inquiring where their organic, farm-grown food comes from, they also want to know the facts behind what their pets are consuming and using. My obsession with clean, transparent, and researched ingredients sets us apart and is why we have a loyal and passionate customer community. As part of my continuing goal to put sustainability first, our company’s hero product Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil is Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), certified 100% sustainable, ensuring it is wild, traceable, and sustainable. The renowned MSC blue fish label is applied only to wild salmon from fisheries certified by a science-based set of requirements for sustainable fishing. My goal is for sustainability to be mainstream in pet wellness, not a trend.

The silver lining of the pandemic for me is the amount of time I spent connecting with customers about their orders, suppliers about products, and our employees about their well-being. Rather than feeling isolated during Covid-19, communicating helped me feel connected and grateful for our tight-knit community of pet parents, thoughtful formulators, and our fantastic team. This sets us apart and is the beauty of being a family-owned business rather than an impersonal big box corporation.

What you are most proud of or excited about. 

Right now, we’re getting ready to launch our Vital Pet Life Plus line, which offers exclusive symptom-focused, proprietary formulated products, beginning with a truly miraculous Mobility powder for dogs. It contains four powerful ingredients with absolutely no fillers. It’s formulated to support joint function, encouraging growth and repair of tendons, cartilage, tissue while promoting collagen formation. The test group of pet owners and their dogs saw remarkable results and improvement in mobility. We take to heart each and every customer success story. We know first hand that our pets are important family members.
Our company has a Slack #Review channel, which runs a constant thread of new 5-Star customer reviews. Employees scroll it like one might Instagram to see adorable pet pix and read joy-filled stories of how our products transform their fur babies. We all know how tough it’s been during COVID-19, and our #Review channel brings us a lot of smiles. Pets have been an essential part of how we’ve coped with grief and loneliness during quarantine & WFH.

How did you get to where you are today business-wise. Was it easy? 

Although I’ve always been entrepreneurial, the way I arrived at Vital Pet Life was purely accidental. My husband and I noticed our dog Tuxedo had dry, itchy skin and fur issues. After trying products from big-name companies, not being able to pronounce half the ingredients, and seeing no results, I started researching my own sustainably sourced solutions. I’m very sensitive to chemicals, so using only clean ingredients was essential. I began experimenting with a specific Wild Alaskan salmon oil, hoping to soften his hair, relieve his itching and inflammation. He responded immediately. We gave it to family and friends for their pets and got rave reviews. I’m a true animal lover and healing our dog. Tuxedo planted the seed that grew into our pet wellness business. In 2017 Vital Pet Life was officially born. Although it hasn’t been easy, especially with the turbulence of the past year and COVID-19, I’m grateful to be able to help bring joy, wellness, and vitality to pets and their pet families.

How did you overcome the challenges? 

The challenges of 2020 overshadow anything that we’ve experienced before. The fear of the unknown at the beginning of 2020 was stressful. Fortunately, our business was deemed “essential” as everyone was at home with their pets and needed supplies. Instead of researching ingredients for our new Mobility product and its formulation, my new normal became solving supply chain and production issues while communicating daily with our customers about order changes. I quickly discovered the silver lining of COVID for me is the beauty of empathy and connection. Talking with stressed-out suppliers and customers; listening to and sharing the pain and humanity of everyone’s struggles. Contacting a customer and hearing about a job loss or a sick family member kept me mindful that we’re all in this together, and we need to support each other.

Focusing on remaining positive has been instrumental in overcoming the challenges and the stress of the last year. Of course, we worked tirelessly on production, sourcing pumps for our best selling product, but Kyle and I are inherently positive, upbeat people. Our approach involves a lighter touch, especially during these tough times. We started a fun and engaging new tradition with our team for our Monday Slack meeting, where we all post pictures of our weekend.

What are the lessons you’ve learned along the way? 

I’ve learned so many lessons along the way from Vital Pet Life, but the most profound lessons learned are from this past year and the pandemic. The turbulence and COVID-related obstacles I encountered taught me resilience and adaptability. I had to lean on creativity and collaboration in order to keep moving forward, both personally and professionally. During the lockdown, time seemed to stop, and it created an opportunity for me to evolve. I dug deep to maintain my practices of mindfulness, gratitude, and perseverance. I took inventory of my life, slowing down to see what’s important. Simplifying my life has brought clarity. The extraneous fell away and gave me the ability to choose how I spend my time. Moving forward is easier because there’s less holding me back. My path is clear, and I feel the flow. This year has brought me a sense of freedom and solace. I’m grateful to have had the space to do the inner work, and in 2021 I’m moving forward with a new and evolved mindset.

What do you want the world to know about you or your brand and story? 

We started our brand out of love for our dog Tuxedo, and now as a family-owned business, we put our heart and soul into every aspect of it. This includes ensuring every product’s ingredients are clean, mindfully chosen, and sustainable. Our mission is to create a compassionate and socially aware business that makes a positive impact within our community. I’m proud to be a certified WBENC woman-owned business. As the nation’s leading certifier of women-owned businesses and a leading advocate for women business owners and entrepreneurs, the WBENC believes “diversity promotes innovation, opens doors, and creates partnerships that fuel the economy.”

What differentiates Vital Pet Life from big box pet companies is that we create authentic relationships with non-profit organizations that share a common mission of animal welfare, outreach, and compassion. We partner and work closely with Wags & Walk, a community of dog lovers working to promote shelter dogs as the best pets in the world through their unique family-friendly foster and adoption programs. Their mission is to save family-friendly dogs and place them in loving homes within the LA community. Sadly, in the past few months, more COVID adopted dogs are being dropped off at shelters, no longer wanted. It’s heartbreaking, so I’m offering help in any way possible to support their efforts with products and support. Since 2011, Wags and Walks have saved over 7000 dogs from high-kill shelters in Los Angeles.

If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?

Los Angeles is such a dynamic and fun city! When friends come to visit, one of my favorite spots is Guisado’s, for their homestyle braises on handmade corn tortillas. For outings, I love the lush gardens and flowers of Huntington Garden in Pasadena. We’d then cruise by LACMA for the latest exhibit and afterward, The Nomad Hotel is a great go-to for an aperitif and dinner after. For shopping, Robertson Boulevard has something for everyone, although my personal favorite is Los Feliz. Everyone loves the scenic drives in LA, either by the coast or in town. I’d take them on a hike and since I live by Griffith Park, we’d go hiking to catch the gorgeous Los Angeles sunset, which takes my breath away every time.

The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
I’d love to dedicate my shoutout to my husband Kyle. We’ve built Vital Pet Life together. We’re a team. While I’m the visionary and R & D part of our brand, Kyle focuses on infrastructure, technology, and innovative new ways to improve our business. Because our roles are complementary, we’re interconnected without overlapping. Thank you, Kyle! I also have to give our fur baby Tuxedo a shoutout, since healing him is what inspired us to start Vital Pet Life. We’re grateful to now pay it forward and help relieve the stress of other pet families when their fur babies need support. We know what it feels like; we’ve been through it and don’t take for granted how lucky we are.

I love Terrence Mckenna’s quote, and I’d like to give it a shoutout. It sums up my life purpose; being courageous in living my life, dreaming the impossible, and just committing. “Nature loves courage. You make the commitment, and nature will respond to that commitment by removing impossible obstacles. Dream the impossible dream, and the world will not grind you under, it will lift you up. This is the trick. This is what all these teachers and philosophers who really counted, who really touched the alchemical gold, this is what they understood. This is the shamanic dance in the waterfall. This is how magic is done. By hurling yourself into the abyss and discovering it’s a feather bed.”

Website: www.vitalpetlife.com

Instagram: www.instagram.com/vitalpetlife

Linkedin: www.linkedin.com/donieyamamoto

Twitter: www.twitter.com/vitalpetlife.com

Facebook: www.facebook.com/vitalpetlife

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