Once, I took my two dogs to a vet clinic for a regular checkup. As soon as I opened the door to the clinic, my dogs froze and started shivering. I'd never seen my dogs act that way before. They hid in corners and I had to push them to get them to move. Just imagine going to the dentist as a kid (or even now). You get the idea..
Pets hate seeing the vet. They smell it in the air. They see fellow animals locked up in a cage. So when I learned of VetPronto last year, I knew they were onto something special. It's not a good feeling seeing animals you love in fear. You want them to feel comfortable when they're examined for their health.
Katherine, a veterinarian herself, understands that the overall experience of the veterinarian clinic can be traumatic for both pets and pet owners and wants the experience to be a friendly one; she wants pets to feel like a loving human is visiting with love and care. And that's exactly what VetPronto is doing.
Watch our short update video about VetPronto or read the full interview with VetPronto's Katherine and Joe below:
What's happened at VetPronto since the fundraise?
Joe: We've launched in 15 cities, all told. We've doubled our size of vets and nurses. We've significantly changed our marketing strategies. Previously we were trying to be super clever and tech oriented. We've learned that the lower tech, off-line stuff seem to be working better. So we're doubling, tripling down on that.
Katherine: Just continuing to build out the software and platform, making it more usable for the veterinarians and staff that use it.
Can you tell us more about being "low-tech"?
Joe: Instead of advertising on Facebook and Google, we're now putting up door hangers and taping posters to light poles. For reasons that I don't totally understand, those channels seem to convert much better than online channels. So we stopped trying to be cute and clever; we're now focusing on what works.
Which 15 cities did you launch in?
Joe: So we started off in San Francisco. We've since launched in LA, Orange County, San Diego, Chicago, New York, New Orleans, DC, Tampa, Atlanta, Baltimore, Denver. I hope that adds to 15!
(It didn't add to 15 so we found the three cities: San Jose, Jacksonville and Dallas!)
How did you choose those cities?
Katherine: They were pretty opportunistic. Some of the cities we've launched in we did so with vets that had their own household service so that was easy to scale up quickly Those came opportunistically; they found us or they were friends of friends. Other cities were more strategic, like LA, NY, and Denver. We definitely wanted to be there; they're really great markets. They had a pretty similar client base and we felt like we understood the average customer there.
Who's an average customer at VetPronto?
Joe: Because most of our customers come from SF, they probably skew to a certain demographic, psychographic. They're probably overworked and overpaid so they have extra money than time. One thing that correlates strongly is Amazon Prime. I don't think we've met a customer yet who's not an Amazon Prime subscriber.
Katherine: We're obviously seeing more cats. A lot of cats out there just do not see a veterinarian, because it's too traumatic an experience for them. We're seeing roughly 50/50 breakdown of cats and dogs. Our clients are great cat owners but find the experience of going to a clinic too traumatic.
Joe: A normal clinic will see an 80/20 dogs/cats split, whereas we get about 50/50. So there's a whole category of cat owners out there who are not seeing the veterinarian, and we're capturing them.
How were the funds from the campaign used?
Joe: Within the COGs (cost of goods), our biggest spend is the vet, paying vets for their time by a standby rate. We have to guarantee a certain amount of money regardless of whether they have an appointment or not. Outside of COGs, our marketing and salary are our biggest expenses. And once we get into new cities, we have some startup costs there too.
Katherine: We manage everything centrally. Operations, customer support and marketing are all done in SF. Any grassroots we'll organize with the providers in other cities.
What's been the biggest challenge at VetPronto lately?
Katherine: I'm going to be biased on the vet side. There's always room for improvement operationally, increasing efficiency and making our providers as happy as possible.
Joe: I'm going to be biased but the demand side is the most challenging. It's still a weird thing for most pet owners. Most pet owners actually don't know this is an option. And it's a behavior change. They're used to going into the clinic and we're asking them to invite a professional into their homes, which is strange for most people. So it's definitely been a challenge to have people give us a try.
Can you tell us more about partnering up with a hospital?
Katherine: We found that having a local clinic that we can refer to significantly improves the client experience and the vet experience. It's allowed us to open up a much broader range of services, knowing that if they do need more attention, we can send them straight to the clinic. That means we can do pretty much everything except surgery and imaging. In San Francisco, we organize relationships with clinics here such that they don't charge for the second appointment fee. Clients will go there happily knowing they don't have to pay the second appointment fee.
We don't get the sense that we are losing clients that way. They love the house call experience.
What are your growth plans?
Joe: Our focus is in two areas. One, expanding the scope of our services. Maybe we can do some of the surgical stuff ourselves. Secondly, offering services at different price points. So right now, we're kind of expensive and premium. We don't need to be, as long as we have the liquidity and density in certain areas. I see that as a big push in the future. Getting price competitive and getting cheaper than the clinics.
How are you getting your customers?
Joe: It's mostly word of mouth. We spend a lot of resources in various channels. But people who've used us are pretty ecstatic about it. They like to tell all their friends about it. Now, the challenge is that it's an infrequent purchase behavior. We have to stay on top of people and we're as visible and top of mind as possible.
Can you tell us more about repeat customers?
Joe: For most people, once they get a house call, they want to avoid going back to the clinic at all cost. But it's hard to gauge that because it's an infrequent purchase behavior. Most people need to see the vet once or twice a year. We've been going for about 2.5 years so we don't really have the data for definite numbers. We only have short time frame numbers that suggest it's good.
Can you walk us through the VetPronto experience?
Katherine: Most of our customers will find us on the website. They'll book us online. We also have phone staff 7 days a week. For people who aren't used to using the Internet, they'll call us and our technicians who are vet experts will talk them through symptoms.
We first start off with a triage. "Is your pet super sick? Does it need to go straight to the hospital? Or is it going to be okay for us to come over?"
After that, we get basic info, contact info, and patient details. One really important thing for us to get are previous medical records so we have a clear understanding of the patient's medical history. Our admin team will go through the reason for the appointment and figure out the supplies needed or the assistance required. Often times, we'll have to come prepared for blood work or blood pressure assessment. We normally recommend that clients choose an area the pet and they feel comfortable in. Once we arrive, we run pretty much like a normal appointment- we'll go over the pet's medical history, answer initial questions, do a comprehensive examination, look at all body features, and follow up about the best next steps.
Our vets take good 30-45 minutes, sometimes longer. That's often double the length of a normal appointment in a clinic.
How do pets react to Vet Pronto's services?
Katherine: Most of the time, pets love it. Pets see us as humans with lots of love and don't realize we're veterinarians. Occasionally, we see cats that don't like intruders. Provided we're coming in a relaxed setting and we love seeing clients and pets come over at home, it's generally like having a visitor come over.
Joe: Afterwards, you'll get an email from the vet, detailing what was talked about, what the next steps are. Clients can then respond to the email and have a conversation with our nurses or our veterinarian. You don't often get this with a human or animal doctor.
How can investors help?
Joe: Talk about us. Share us on Nextdoor. Write about us on Yelp. Shout from rooftops! Not necessarily about Vet Pronto, but just get people to think about getting doctors to come to them instead of going to the clinic.
Message to investors
Joe: Thank you very much. We probably wouldn't be around right now if we didn't get the Wefunder round!
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