The Man Behind the West Elm of Cat Furniture

Seven years ago Jackson Cunningham made an unfortunate realization: he hated his job.


As a realtor in the greater Vancouver area, his role relied heavily on meet-and-greet events and in-person networking, something he didn’t enjoy. What he did like and was particularly good at was getting his realtor profile to show up at the top of Google’s search results page.


“I realized that I only liked the marketing part, not anything else about it,” said Cunningham of his past life as a real estate broker. That realization led him to explore the world of internet marketing and launch his first e-commerce business. If he was lucky, he thought, he’d be able to earn a little passive income to help cover his rent.


Within three years of quitting his job as a realtor, Cunningham had devised a recipe for success in e-commerce, but the serial entrepreneur was still looking for his passion project. This time the answer didn’t first come from the internet, but rather from the furry cohabitant in his apartment.



In 2016, Cunningham and his girlfriend adopted a cat, Toshi. The couple lives in Vancouver, where real estate is expensive and apartments are small. “We shop at West Elm, because when you have so little space, you want your stuff to be nice,” he said. “But when we looked at cat furniture, we thought, man, this is so sad.”


After doing some quick research, Cunningham realized that he wasn’t the only one looking for clean-lined, modern cat furniture, but the options out there were uninspired at best and downright ugly at worst. So, together with his girlfriend, Vanessa Koo, Cunningham decided to launch his most ambitious business yet: Tuft & Paw.


Cunningham wanted to challenge the way humans made accessories for cats. “Let’s not just take a bed and make it a little bit prettier,” he said. “It’s more like: what makes a cat happy? Why do cats scratch? Why are scratching posts these small rectangular beams; could you make them pyramids?”



“You don’t want to find the stuff that’s easy to find on Amazon,” he said. Instead, he scoured Reddit threads to find the countries with the best furniture designers. Next, he found himself on Google Korea, searching for the words “cat tree” in Korean.



With a list of artisans from Korea, Japan, Germany, Poland and the U.S. who were pushing the envelope on furniture design, Cunningham created a marketplace to sell their products. Then the couple took the leap and started designing their own cat furniture, with a mission to rethink the way cats and humans live together.


And while Cunningham still has a lot of work ahead of him to make Tuft & Paw a household name, he has plenty to be proud of. Between his three businesses, he makes more than $1 million in sales annually and he’s working on a project that inspires him.


“We think we’re going to change the game with the litter box, cat toys and just general problems that humans have with cat [furnishings],” Cunningham said. “Little annoyances that nobody else has bothered to solve.”

This article originally appeared on ValuePenguin.


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Maureen Dempsey

Maureen Dempsey is a freelance writer living in New York with an ancient, 14-year-old chihuahua and a feisty, young dachshund.

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