Editor’s note: Startland News selected 10 Kansas City firms to spotlight for its annual Startups to Watch list, now in its seventh year recognizing founders and startups that editors believe will make some of the biggest news in the coming 12 months. The following is one of 2022’s companies. Click here to view the full list of Startups to Watch — presented by sponsors Husch Blackwell and the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation.
Ambition knows no age, said Jonaie Johnson — the 21-year-old founder of Interplay and youngest-ever founder to be featured on one of Startland News’ Startups to Watch lists.
Looking to be the “Apple of the pet tech industry,” Interplay’s premier product is the PlayTach — a dog crate attachment that allows a pet parent to virtually dispense food and water; see and talk to their dog; and open and close the crate through a smartphone app.
Elevator pitch: Interplay creates remote crating for dog parents with their product, the PlayTach. With the remote dog crate attachment, pet parents can interact and care for their dog from the click of a button via the Interplay app.
- Founder: Jonaie Johnson
- Founding year: 2019
- Current employee count: 1
- Amount raised to date: $60,000
- Noteworthy investors: Digital Sandbox KC, bootstrapped
- Programs completed: AfroTech Young Founders pitch competition, Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization pitch competition, Center for Black Innovation accelerator
“Interplay went from developing a crate to a crate attachment because we wanted to expand our market,” Johnson explained. “The great thing about that is now our product grows with our target customer. Usually when people crate, they start with a puppy; as the dog grows up, maybe they outgrow the crate or don’t use it anymore — but the owner still has a functioning stand that they can set anywhere in the house.”
With the new design and 3D models already completed, Johnson is looking forward to her prototype reveal in Spring 2022, she shared.
To launch the marketing for her redesigned product, Johnson is working with The Market Base.
“I love working with [The Market Base] because we really feed off each other,” Johnson said. “The marketing strategy that I’m looking to incorporate is going to be fun and energetic because this is a fun product.”
Click here to learn more about The Market Base, which was featured in Startland News’ Startups to Watch in 2021 list and honored with the 2021 Emerging Business Award from the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce.
Also in Spring 2022, Interplay is set to launch a Kickstarter campaign for pre-sales of PlayTach, Johnson said — noting that her goal is a $100,000 raise.
“With that, I’m hoping to see 400 or more [PlayTach] units,” she said. “Then, I can use that pre-sale money to fund the manufacturing process.”
As a Business Administration Master’s student at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Johnson views growing her startup while in school as a strength.
“I’m really able to apply myself in class because I see the relevance of what we’re learning,” Johnson explained. “I can ask professors about certain scenarios that I see upcoming or that I’ve experienced, and then I can take that knowledge and apply it to Interplay.”
Click here to read about how Jonaie Johnson was honored as the Henry W. Bloch School’s Student Entrepreneur of the Year in 2020.
Although Interplay is currently a one-woman team, Johnson credited her vast network of mentors and experts as the reason she has been able to grow as an entrepreneur.
“Blake Hodgson with KC Proto has been working with me throughout the entire process of building out the prototype,” Johnson noted. “He’s really been a mentor for me throughout the development process. Because as a solo founder, my skill set is more toward entrepreneurship and business. But he’s gone out of his way to explain the process and really help me grasp that technical knowledge.”
With its headquarters in Kansas City — and more than 800 attorneys across 25 U.S. locations, including its virtual office, The Link — Husch Blackwell’s industry-centric approach and commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion work give the firm a deep understanding of what its clients face every day.
For more information on what Husch Blackwell can do for your business, visit www.huschblackwell.com/capabilities
Startups to Watch is now in its seventh year, thanks to ongoing support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.