Dealing with an unruly family pet is never a fun activity. The pet doesn’t understand what is being said most of the time, and the owner can’t exactly interpret what the barks or meows may mean. Now, bump that up a notch and bring in the times where the pet is sick. Getting the family dog or cat into the car and through traffic to get to the veterinarian’s office can be downright painful.
One company looking to remedy this solution is U.K.-based on-demand company, Pawsquad. Whenever a pet owner wants to find out just what is wrong with their animal, Pawsquad mobilizes the vet experience through its service. People can use Pawsquad to get doctors to visit their home or help via video. We sat down with Pawsquad’s CEO, Francesco Cardoletti, to get more insight into the company’s history and where it hopes to move toward in the future of pet care.
PYMNTS: In your own words, what is Pawsquad all about, and how did it get started?
Cardoletti: A couple of years ago, my 14-year-old Silky Terrier Giambi was diagnosed with spinal arthritis, and our vet prescribed him one daily tablet of a steroidal drug. He also advised us that his quality of life would worsen considerably, due to age and this degenerative condition. Coming out of that appointment, my wife and I had more questions than a 10-minute consultation could provide. And we were quite concerned about our ability to support our aging dog — the veterinary industry is set up with a break-fix mentality and is not geared up to provide round-the-clock advice and support.
So we did extensive research online (a rabbit hole for this sort of things), looking for alternative solutions and potentially for advice on how to support an old dog with spinal arthritis, but to no avail. It then dawned on us that if we wanted to get medical opinion from a doctor, we could do so online with services like Doctor on Demand (we had already lived for many years in the U.S., so we were quite familiar with those services). However, for pets, we could only rely on a 10-minute visit at our local vet clinic. This is how the idea for our first iteration of the product came up.
Providing 360-degree care was always part of our vision, and we saw the video as the first part of that — giving pet owners access to a vet wherever they are. Launching the home visit offering gave us the opportunity to provide end-to-end veterinary care, with the ability to diagnose, treat and prescribe, but doing so in a way that is digitally supported and meets the needs of the modern pet owner.
PYMNTS: How does the pricing model work, and how does Pawsquad get paid?
Cardoletti: Customers pay £48 for a home visit. We don’t charge a call-out fee. Any medications and additional procedures are charged on top at the time of the home visit.
We take a proportion of the revenue we generate and handle for the vets we work with, in exchange for the technology, business, operations and marketing support we provide.
PYMNTS: Who does Pawsquad see as its competition, if any, and why?
Cardoletti: The vet industry is dominated by corporate groups (40 to 50 percent of the market is corporate), and we expect this consolidation to keep growing. At the moment, our competition comes exclusively from traditional brick-and-mortar vets.
PYMNTS: Do you employ vets on your platform, or are they essentially freelancer/contractors offering services?
Cardoletti: Our vets have their own registered veterinary practice, but we provide them with all the support they need to run their practice (business, operations, marketing, out of hours support, etc). This gives them a new, accessible and affordable way to own their own practice. Compare it with the fast vanishing opportunities to become a joint venture partner with one of the corporate groups (the largest being Vets4Pets, part of Pets at Home) that are very costly and involve large amounts of debt. More than that, though, we attract the many vets who just want to practice their own way, in their own areas, on their own terms (away from the stress and politics of a vet practice) — and we give them all the tools they need to do that.
PYMNTS: How many rounds of funding has Pawsquad received?
Cardoletti: We have raised equity from GeCad Ventures (which recently exited Vector Watch to Fitbit) and, more recently, additional funds from one of the top three insurers in the U.K.
Our focus has been on creating a sustainable business model and ensuring that we balance great service, product innovation and great returns for our investors. On the home visit side, we’ve been growing 20 percent month on month. We expect this number to go up as we scale up our geographic launches this year. To date, 60 percent of our customers have seen us twice, with 22 percent seeing us twice in a 90-day period. We expect this trend to continue.
Our video service has been growing steadily and is now a standard part of the policy for all Direct Line Pet customers through a new partnership.
PYMNTS: What does the term Uber of X mean to you, and how does Pawsquad fit that mold?
Cardoletti: Our home visit service doesn’t necessarily fit the “on-demand” or “Uber of X” model that many tech startups use. With food delivery or taxi services, you often get a different person who turns up each time, and it’s very transactional. With us, your PawSquad vet lives close by or in your area, and they become your point of contact for all health-related issues. You see them every time you have a problem. We’re using technology to facilitate a local relationship — and bring about a return to the good old days when you had a trusted family doctor for your pets, available whatever you needed them. Both the human and pet health care industries have moved away from this personalized, local care in recent years (the veterinary industry has seen large scale corporatization), and we feel it’s important to bring it back. Technology has helped us do that — but internally we identify as a veterinary business, not a technology business.
That said, we can be likened to Uber and similar platforms in that we’re empowering individual vets to set up on their own, with minimal fuss, supported by a strong tech platform. On the consumer side, the only similarity is that people can book a professional to come to their door using the app or our website — but from then on, it’s a totally different kettle of fish (British expression!).
PYMNTS: As most startups have their fair share of hiccups, can you share a few lessons-learned anecdotes?
Cardoletti: The one thing we’ve kept having to learn and relearn is to talk with our customers. There is nothing more important than engaging in direct dialogue with your users about their pain points and how we can help. We do this mainly through Facebook now, but also email and face to face. Whenever we’ve strayed away from this approach, that’s when our growth has slowed. Using our customer base as a sounding board makes them feel involved and part of our growth, and they are more likely to spread the good word about what we do.
PYMNTS: What are Pawsquads 2017 goals?
Cardoletti: We want to launch about 30 new vets in mostly urban areas, and keep expanding our base of loyal customers who entrust us with their fur babies!