You Need to Meet: Jacqueline Prehogan, Co-Founder of Two of the Pet Industry’s Most Influential Brands, Open Farm and Canada Pooch
She loves the open-ended, creative hustle of entrepreneurship
Jacqueline Prehogan is the Chief Brand Officer and Co-founder of Open Farm, a premium and ethically sourced pet food brand where she leads the brand’s Mission & Impact programs and guides strategic brand direction. Jacqueline is also the CEO and Founder of Canada Pooch, a leading pet lifestyle brand that designs premium functional gear for pets and their parents. In this role, Jacqueline drives the company’s strategic direction, with a focus on brand and innovation strategy.
Passionate about the environment and animal welfare, Jacqueline has made it a point to redefine industry standards around sustainability. She has led the Impact programs at Open Farm since its founding, and more recently instituted major, industry-leading environmental programs such as its Science Based Targets commitment, Zero Waste to Landfill program, and ambitious regenerative agriculture goals. A recognized entrepreneur and leader in the pet industry, Jacqueline has been awarded the Ernst & Young Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2015, the Pet Age Women of Influence award in 2021, and the Pet Age Power 50 Award in 2022.
What inspired you to start your businesses, Open Farm and Canada Pooch?
Canada Pooch and Open Farm have different founding stories, but both have a common thread of identifying and filling white space with exceptional brands and products. For Canada Pooch, I realized that people were drawn to trusted, premium brands for their clothing and accessories, but nothing like that existed for pets. I knew that we could fill that void with high-quality, functional and fashionable products, and with a brand that pet parents could trust. I was 26 years old at the time and ready to hustle, so I went from store to store in Toronto with a bag full of my designs on dog mannequins, trying to close my first sales. I had never sold anything in my life, but I faked it until I made it — the stores loved the product, and I knew I was onto something.
For Open Farm, my husband Isaac and I had started to think about food differently. We wanted to connect the way ingredients were grown and raised with quality. We started to become more selective, searching for food that was humanely raised and sustainably sourced. Naturally, we wanted to feed our pets the same way. Realizing that pet food with these types of standards didn’t exist, we saw an opportunity to raise the bar on delivering wholesome and nutritious meals and products for our pets. We had to move mountains to make this vision come true — we built an entirely new vision for what pet food could be, and then an entirely new supply chain to go along with it.
Where did your passion for animals, service, and sustainability come from?
I am a lifelong animal lover — it is the one passion I’ve had since childhood. My parents kept presentations and scripts I made as a child to advocate for adopting more family pets — a monkey, hamster, dog, cat, turtles — I wanted them all. I have always felt deep compassion for animals and wanted to build my life around them.
My interest in sustainability came later. I have always been cognizant of keeping our planet clean and minimizing waste, but it wasn’t until I started our businesses that I became passionate about making better products with less impact. I wanted to prove that consumers don’t need to choose between great products and sustainability and to show that having a sustainable mindset can be the catalyst for creating exceptional products and brands.
What were you doing before you became a business owner?
I studied business at university and went on to qualify for my Chartered Professional Accountant (CPA) certification. Accounting was not a great fit for my personality, so I wasn’t very good at it. That said, I’m glad that I studied accounting because the financial literacy I gained has been invaluable to running a business. When I was nearly qualified for my CPA and sorting out what to do next, I decided to apply to law school (this seemed logical as the daughter of two lawyers). In retrospect, the law was also a terrible fit for my personality! This was around the time that I started Canada Pooch in parallel, and I immediately knew that I had found my way — the open-ended, creative hustle of entrepreneurship was the perfect fit for me.
What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned as an entrepreneur? How has this shaped how you conduct yourself in business?
I’m proud of the way that Isaac and I have built our businesses. We have always acted with integrity and had a clear set of values guiding us. That is the lesson, and we’ve put it into practice since Day One. You can operate with a high level of integrity and build a great business; I attribute our success to this mindset. One of the values we operate with daily is to “raise the bar,” which is all about continually pushing for better and not being afraid of doing the hard things to get there. With both businesses, we entered crowded landscapes and had to differentiate ourselves — we would never have succeeded if we hadn’t taken risks and pushed ourselves at every opportunity to chart new paths. In business, you make so many decisions every single day, and being guided by a clear set of values ensures that you’re building the business you want, and in a way that you believe in.
Can you share an obstacle you experienced in your business and how you overcame it?
At Open Farm, we have the highest standards for our ingredients. Going to the ends of the earth to source the best ingredients is at the core of how we deliver exceptional nutrition. For example, we are the only company in our industry with a strict animal welfare program covering 100% of our meat ingredients. This means that we can’t simply purchase our meat ingredients from anywhere. We have had to build an extensive network of the world’s best farms, across proteins, to supply us with our specialized meat ingredients. Many of these farms have never worked with a pet food company before, and we’ve had to build our own proprietary supply chain, farm by farm, to meet our current needs and create a runway for growth. Since Day One, This has been a herculean task that we continue to be focused on every single day.
What is one of the most important things you’ve learned about yourself in your time as an entrepreneur?
Being an entrepreneur is a rollercoaster ride, with the highest highs and lowest lows. The last 12 years of running businesses have been an exercise in creativity, problem-solving, and leadership. As an entrepreneur, I’ve had the opportunity to build a great deal of muscle in those areas, which has also allowed me to help the talented people I work with to build their own. Ultimately, my most important job in a high-growth company where the team is evolving so quickly is to build an organization that is hell-bent on delivering on our mission, standards, and quality every single day. I’ve learned to be resilient and to methodically overcome obstacle after obstacle to meet our goals, but my job is to embed that mindset into the core of our culture.
What do you love the most about what you do and why?
I love that in running a business, I will never “figure it all out,” I will never get through my to-do list, and I will keep learning every single day. I feel like I am still growing so much as a leader and entrepreneur, and I love that. At every stage of each of the businesses and as they’ve grown from small to large, I’ve had to reinvent myself and figure out how to add value at the next stage. We have built incredible teams at both companies, true leaders who have taken on the vision and mission of the businesses. That has allowed me to continue that growth and evolution as I’ve taken on new challenges at every stage.
What advice do you have for aspiring entrepreneurs?
Sometimes we tend to be our own worst enemy, to negotiate with ourselves and talk ourselves out of things. I am a person who goes with my gut. I do rely heavily on data and insights of course, but I always marry it with instinct. So much of what I’ve done right has come from listening to that voice in the back of my head (and much of what I have done wrong came from ignoring it). I am a firm believer in following your gut and having the confidence to take the leaps of faith you believe in.
What about you surprises people?
I’m outgoing and friendly, and I joke around a lot, but I am also an extremely passionate person. I can get very intense when the situation calls for it. I think it catches people off guard quite a bit; they don’t expect it.
If you had an extra hour in your day, how would you spend it?
With two little kids (and being eight months pregnant with a third on the way), two dogs, and two businesses, an extra hour of sleep would be a huge luxury!
What excites you about the future?
The businesses have grown so much and they’re at a great stage where we can have a major impact. At the same time, I feel like we are just getting started. I am very grateful to work with such incredible leaders and teammates, and I have all the confidence in the world that we will be able to accomplish spectacular things together. We are a very goal-oriented company, and we thrive on setting big, ambitious goals that nobody has ever achieved in our industry. This aspirational culture is the reason a lot of people come to work at Open Farm and Canada Pooch. For example, at Open Farm we have three massively ambitious goals around the environment for waste, carbon, and regenerative agriculture. Not only are our goals industry-leading, but their ambition puts us in the same league as sustainability leaders across industries. It’s these types of goals that keep me and our team motivated, focused, and inspired every day.