Stacee Santi, DVM, CEO/Founder Vet2Pet
He said “You’ll have to become an Apple Developer”.
I said, “I have no idea how to do that, but it can’t be harder than veterinary school”.
And so the journey began.
As a practicing veterinarian, working tirelessly to help animals be healthier, I was becoming very frustrated at the fact that the majority of my clients weren’t giving their parasite prevention monthly. The big reveal always came when I prescribed their summer 6-pack of parasiticide and they would disclose they still had some from last summer. I’m no infectious disease specialist but I do know that most medications don’t work if you don’t take them. I’ll be honest, I was bitter about it. If you’re a veterinarian, you know what I’m talking about.
I started to examine the facts of the situation and realised that my clients weren’t being ‘bad’, they were just being forgetful because let’s get real, giving something monthly almost never happens. And the current method of reminding them by applying a sticker to a calendar as recommended by the manufacturer, was pretty hard to do on my smartphone. I knew what I needed to do. The answer was right in front of me. I needed to be able to automatically send a reminder to my clients on their smartphone each month letting them know it was time to give their parasite prevention. I needed an app. I did what any normal person would do….I googled it.
To my surprise, there were no apps available for veterinarians to turn my idea into a reality. I stumbled upon a company in San Francisco building generic apps for small businesses like hairdressers and realtors. I reached out and asked them if they could help me. That’s when I learned that I would need to become an Apple Developer to host an app in the App Store.
Fast forward a few years later. By this time, my little app was solving lots of problems for me in my practice. I had added some new features to improve efficiency and loyalty. Clients could order medication by snapping a picture of the product, earn rewards for spending and share a pet selfie with us. I was sure there were veterinarians like me looking to connect with their clients more efficiently and effectively that would like to have an app too. I decided to start Vet2Pet in 2013. Looking back I was pretty naive. You have to understand that I knew a lot about running a veterinary practice and absolutely nothing about starting a company.
I started my business by turning on the website right before I went to bed one evening. I woke up in the morning and I had a customer. I could not believe it! I began working on apps when I would get home from my veterinary job (nights and weekends). The first year, it was a steady flow of about one customer per month. The second year, it doubled. The third year, I had to quit my veterinary job. Now, in 2018, 600 apps in nine countries later, I am the proud leader of an all-girl tech company dedicated to improving the lives of veterinary teams. Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way about core business principles that don’t seem to change much as you move into another vertical.
- Have your purpose. Every good employee I’ve ever had cares about making a difference, in addition to making money. If you can find something to believe in and communicate that vision and purpose to your team, they will be engaged on a whole new level.
- Listen. By listening, you will discover the secret to whatever you are working on, whether it be a happy customer, a sick dog, a motivated employee, or the direction for your business. The answer is almost always right in front of you if you can stop talking long enough to see it.
- Stay in your lane. It’s impossible to make everyone happy. It’s an assured outcome of disappointment if you start trying to make your product or service fit everyone. Find your lane then stay in it. And if you get lost temporarily and take the wrong road, stop the car, assess the situation and turn around to get back in your lane. You can’t afford to be distracted from your purpose.
- Enjoy the ride. Stop thinking happiness is yours just after you close the big deal, reach a money milestone, or worst of all, retire. The fun starts now. Be sure to take time to reflect on what you are doing and where you have been. Find the little things in the daily grind that inspire you and bring joy into your life.
- Surround yourself with good people. Team culture is the most important part of a company whether you are a leader or an employee. Hire SWANs (smart, work ethic, great attitude and nice) and be sure to resolve any “bad apple” situations quickly.
Dr. Stacee Santi (pictured) is a 1996 DVM graduate from Colorado State University and the founder of Vet2Pet, a technology startup that builds personalized custom apps for veterinary practices. With over 20 years of clinical experience in small animal and emergency practice, Stacee brings an “in the trenches” approach to innovation and solutions for veterinary teams. She has also served as a medical advisory consultant for NVA for 5 years, medical director for AAHA general/ER practice in Colorado as well as a member of the Executive Committee and Chairperson for the Telehealth Task Force for the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association.
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This blog represents the first of a series of blogs on how the investment community views and assesses businesses in the veterinary industry. It is intended to be informative at a high level but also thought provoking. The aim is to help veterinary professionals to understand how the broader investment community functions whilst dealing with its vast idiosyncrasies.
From an investor’s standpoint, veterinary businesses are rare and predominantly hidden gems. Thus far, few relatively specialised corporates have ventured into this space. The consolidation of operational structures for existing vets aiming to centralise services that are often seen as “getting in the way of taking care of the animals” appears to be a big driver. Realising locked values of relatively small businesses is often also sought. Larger scale sales, such as those of Specialist Referral practices are arguably very palatable to those corporates wishing to own more sizeable assets and goodwill (embedded expertise) directly.
Setting aside for now the substantial services associated with the pure veterinary world such as pharma, pet food, equipment/toys etc. which are arguably better covered in the investment world due to their respective sizes, the decade-long consolidation of veterinary practices does introduce the uninitiated investor to greater nominal (i.e. size), larger aggregate investment metrics (measurable profitability) and certainly access to what remains a very granular market.
Investors define attractiveness of an industry through the analysis of data and its characteristics. The characteristics of the veterinary industry are pretty straight forward to grasp. This however is greatly contrasted by a near complete absence of any meaningful publicly available set of performance and profitability data.
In the absence of long term aggregate data, investors can retrench to a bunch of assumptions based on those specific characteristics to understand how attractive an investment can be. The substantial barriers to entry such as qualifications required, technical equipment, knowledge, geographical targeting and relatively high margins, can be seen as hitting quite a few of the buttons that would make any investor very excitable.
One important characteristic is the industry’s relative insulation to financial crises. There is very little that suggests that pet owners / pet parents would stop entirely taking care of their pets in cases of equity (stocks and shares) market falls. Anecdotal evidence does suggest the opposite, if anything. Ironically, the same appears to apply to pubs and alcohol stocks. There could be something there!
Beyond the profitability aspects of the industry, that perceived lack of correlation to equity markets is of huge value to investors. Any asset that continues to perform whilst other parts of the investment spectrum fall is THE prized asset.
Investors can be seen as obsessively driven by profitability and therefore relatively fickle with short term objectives and little appetite for poor or sub-par performance against expectations. Set against highly ethically minded veterinary professionals with a long-term view of their personal careers, there is little doubt that this has and will continue to create frictions. A new reality of constant commercial pressures and the search for returns from investors, coupled with these caring ambitions of veterinary professionals, can make for uneasy bedfellows.
One attractive option, is for the entire veterinary industry to adopt policies and standards aligned to ethical or Socially Responsible Investment (SRI) principles. This could open the door to a rare breed of investors who have accepted that the sole search for profit and short timeframe may not be entirely beneficial to society and have accepted some of the perceived financial drawbacks associated with this view.
The fact is that these apparent financial trade-offs associated with ethical investments have not been fully verified and in some cases quite the contrary is true. Therefore, going forward, this type of investment approach could potentially make for a more suitable companionship between the two industries.
Rafe is the Head of Investments for Investec’s Private Office and has well over 20 years’ experience in Investment Management in London, Switzerland and Jersey. Rafe started his career as an Economist for the European Commission (Science Research Funding – DGXII-B) in Brussels.
Rafe is a Chartered Wealth Manager (Chartered MCSI), holds a number of professional investment qualifications (including as a US advisor) and undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in Economics from two of Scotland’s ancient universities.