Tell us about how your company got started.
PetCoach was founded by two young Spanish entrepreneurs, David Martin and Alvaro Jimenez. Armed with not much more than an idea about building an online expert advice platform, they were accepted into an incubator in Austin called Dream-It Ventures, where they bootstrapped the company in early 2014. They added a graphical user interface designer and a technical architect to the team, and launched the web site and app in April of 2014. In late 2015, they added a veterinarian, who was responsible for developing medical standards and building the expert team. In July of 2016, the company was acquired by a group of investors headed by Brock Weatherup, who had recently left PetsMart after selling another company he founded, Pet360, to that company (which later became PetMD). Less than one year later, PetCoach attracted the attention of pet retail giant Petco as it began its expansion into the veterinary services market.
How many interactions with clients/consumers have you had?
PetCoach has dispensed advice to nearly 200,000 pet parents worldwide.
How many repeat interactions have you had?
About 40% of our users have more than one exchange with us.
Do you employ veterinarians or do you provide a service to them?
In a way, PetCoach does both. We contract with veterinarians, who work on their own time to provide expert advice to over 10,000 users per month. Ultimately, PetCoach will serve as a platform that veterinarians can use to communicate directly with their clients or provide their clients with access to the services of PetCoach veterinarians when they are not available.
Does using your service result in in-clinic visits?
One of the key benefits PetCoach can provide to pet parents is “teletriage” of concerning pet health issues. Pet parents often have questions about what could possibly be wrong with their pets – they know there is an issue, they just don’t understand the severity and urgency. PetCoach experts provide insight regarding the potential problems the pet may be experiencing. In most cases, this means that the pet goes in to see the veterinarian. The difference is that the owner is better prepared for what their experience will be once they get there.
What kinds of patient outcomes have you experienced? Do you have any stories you can tell us?
Once I consulted with a new pet owner in California. She had recently adopted a puppy from a rescue, and the dog had become progressively more lethargic over the time that the owner had her. The veterinarian that the dog’s owner had consulted with had recommended euthanasia, as she felt that the most likely problem (based on blood work) was that the puppy had primary bone marrow disease (either red cell aplasia or cancer). After reviewing the available lab results, I asked the owner if the puppy had ever had any tick bites, to which she replied that yes, the puppy had many ticks when she was brought home from the rescue. I recommended a tick panel, and ehrlichiosis was successfully diagnosed. With appropriate antibiotic therapy, the puppy recovered in a manner of days.
What does the ideal client look like for you? What kinds of problems do they have?
We are willing to talk to and try to help anyone. However, it’s likely that our most productive exchanges with clients occur when they are able to execute on the advice that we provide, and unfortunately that’s not always the case. Sometimes people come to PetCoach looking for the “free an easy” miracle fix to their animal’s problem, and we don’t always have it.
What can veterinarians do to incorporate your technology?
There are several ways that PetCoach can aid veterinarians. The most obvious is by providing an additional avenue for earning revenue, either from existing clients (i.e. reclaiming the revenue that is typically lost during phone and email exchanges, both of which take extraordinary amounts of the veterinarian’s time) or from pet parents with whom no VCPR exists (by serving as a PetCoach expert and earning additional income for themselves). Ultimately, PetCoach will be able to provide veterinarians with a connection to a qualified veterinarian who is available at any time (i.e. outside office hours) for new consultations, rechecks, monitoring of chronic disease conditions, and review of test results. And finally, the easiest way that veterinarians can incorporate PetCoach into their practice is to simply recommend it to their clients as a source of trusted and reliable pet advice and information.
What kinds of questions do they have?
When veterinarians are interested in becoming PetCoach experts, they typically want to know what kind of liability concerns are associated with dispensing advice to patients and clients that they have not met. We have an open discussion regarding the current limits to what we can provide, based on the guidelines presented in the AVMA Practice Advisory Council’s position paper on telemedicine.
What onboarding strategies do you have?
I personally review every resume, and if I decide that a particular veterinarian would be a good candidate for us, I have a phone conversation with them. This allows me to gauge interest, background, and education, and determine whether this is a veterinarian that I feel can optimally perform within the boundaries that we have set. If they are selected, I ask them to complete a short (5 question) sample of questions from our free forum, so that I can see how they write and they can get a feel for crafting answers that are concise, accurate, and again, within the boundaries that we have set. After they are on-boarded (i.e. their expert profile is active) they receive a series of 10 daily emails that answer most of the common questions that new experts encounter as they get started with PetCoach. Then we monitor their activity for a period of time, and provide correction/feedback if necessary.
What suggestions would you have for clinics interested in using your tools?
I would advise clinics to consider crafting an email survey that can be sent to all of your clients with the goal of gauging interest in telehealth services. The worst possible outcome would be to put considerable resources into providing telehealth services to your client base, only to find out that your clients aren’t comfortable enough with technology to engage with you in this manner.
What suggestions do you have for vets interested in telehealth but don't know where to start?
I would recommend looking at your current service offerings and making a list of 10 – 20 items that would be amenable to a telemedicine encounter. Things like elective surgical rechecks, dermatology rechecks, lab result reviews, monitoring of chronic diseases like diabetes and kidney disease, and behavioral rechecks are all relatively low-barrier items that can be offered to clients in lieu of traditional office visits. Carefully consider pricing, and don’t automatically discount these services over the traditional approach – consider the convenience factor for the client, and don’t be afraid to charge for it. Think about using a readily available and proven technology, such as Skype or FaceTime, and then set aside a small percentage of your weekly appointment time for video visits.
What does the business model for the veterinarian look like?
For an independent veterinarian who wants to be a PetCoach expert, the business model is simply for them to sign up with us as an independent contractor. They can extract money from their PetCoach account at any time, and we will send it to them via PayPal. PayPal will 1099 them once per year on that income.
What kinds of revenue do veterinarians tend to generate using your product?
Currently, as a PetCoach expert, a veterinarian can earn money every time they answer a question, and their base rate is tripled if the user who posted the question marks that answer as “helpful.” They also earn 60% of the revenue associated with text-based and phone consultations. Veterinarians who are writers can also earn additional revenue by authoring medical content. Ultimately, I see PetCoach providing veterinarians with a way not only to move the traditional client interchange outside of the clinic, but also to earn revenue for the considerable time that they spend communicating with clients about their pets outside of normal appointments.
When vets use your tool, how are they charging the client? Is it part of an overall package, a one-time fee, an option to be part of a package?
Currently, this type of model doesn’t exist with PetCoach, but it will at some point. I think any of these scenarios are feasible, and ultimately my hope would be that PetCoach would be flexible enough to allow the practice to choose which one (or ones) fits most easily into their current business landscape.
What have you found to be the easiest, most effective, revenue generating?
Based on our current offerings, the easiest way to generate revenue as a veterinarian is to be a PetCoach expert and dispense advice. I think there will be a challenge for veterinarians who have been dispensing similar services to their own clients for free to suddenly ask for money for them. This is a situation that we have created (in my opinion) in our efforts to gain and retain clients in a competitive market. Ultimately, the pet owning-public has to perceive value in these types of one-off interchanges with their veterinarians.
Is there greater or lesser revenue for veterinarians as a result of using your service (we have found that people who use telehealth services first and then go into veterinarians afterwards are more likely to go into the vet and spend more money while there)? I can’t quote any facts here, but my suspicion is that pet parents who talk to us first are more prepared once they do walk into the vet, and thus ready to do what it takes (financially) to take care of their pet. Ideally, we are telling them what should be done for their pet, and when they make the actual visit, they are hearing the same thing from the attending veterinarian, so I think ultimately they will spend more money.