Telemedicine is becoming more widely embraced by the day -- and not just for humans. With a pet in roughly 65% of U.S. homes, there is now a dizzying number of companies enabling vets to meet with their furry patients remotely, including Petriage, Anipanion, TeleVet, Linkyvet, TeleTails, VetNOW, PawSquad, Vetoclock and Petpro Connect.
One of these -- a two-year-old, 13-person, LA-based startup called Airvet -- unsurprisingly thinks it is the best among the bunch, and it has persuaded investors of as much. Today, the company is announcing $14 million in Series A funding led by Canvas Ventures, with participation by e.ventures, Burst Capital, Starting Line, TrueSight Ventures, Hawke Ventures and Bracket Capital, as well as individual investors.
The pandemic played a role in Canvas's decision, as did a smart model, suggests general partner Rebecca Lynn, who says she has looked at many telemedicine startups over the last 11 years and that she fell for Airvet after using the service for the animals that live on her own small farm. Plus, she adds, "COVID has been a massive accelerant to adoption."
We asked Airvet's founder and CEO, Brandon Werber, to make the company's case to us separately.
TC: Why start the company?
BW: My dad is one of the most well-known vets in the U.S. -- celebrity vet Dr. Jeff Werber. We saw the impact that telehealth was making in the human world and wanted to bring the same access and level of care we get for ourselves to our pets. Since I grew up in the pet space, I know it intimately and recognized a lot of inefficiencies in the delivery of care and how vets have been unable to meet the evolving expectations of pet owners.
TC: How are you connecting vets with their pet patients?
BW: We have two apps. One is for pet-owners to download to talk with a vet, and one is for vets to download to organize workflows and talk to their clients. We do not usurp any existing vet relationships. Instead, we partner with vet clinics and enable them to conduct telehealth visits and simultaneously enable pet-owners to have access to vets 24/7, even if they don't live nearby a vet hospital.
A huge portion of pet owners in the U.S. don't even have a primary vet. For serious health issues like surgery, animals still need to go in-person, and network vets can even refer them. We've also seen Airvet used as curbside check-in, where pet-owners can chat and follow their pet's in-person vet appointment via live video from the parking lot.
TC: I see there is a minimum charge of $30 per visit. How do you make this model work financially for vets?
BW: Vets view us as an additional revenue-generating tool on top of their base income. We don't hire vets. Our network of 2,600+ vets are largely the same vets who use Airvet within their own hospital. They can decide at will, like an Uber driver, to swipe online to be part of the on-demand network and take calls from pet parents anywhere in the country to generate additional income.
TC: What have you learned from startups that tried this model before?
BW: All the startups that came before us are not consumer-first and are just focused on building tools for vets, so their platforms cannot be used by every pet owner. Instead, they can only be used by pet owners whose own vets use that specific platform, which is a tiny fraction of vets and therefore a tiny fraction of pet parents.
TC: Do you have ancillary businesses? Beyond these vet visits, are you selling anything else?
BW: For now, just the vet visits, which range from a $30 minimum to higher, based on the vet and specialty. Over time, we have plans and partnerships lined up to expand into other pet health verticals.
A projected $99 billion will be spent on pets in the U.S. alone in 2020, and for us, telemedicine is only the beginning.
TC: Does Airvet involve specific practice management software?
BW: No. We provide the workflow layer enabling vets to schedule virtual appointments, which will soon be able to be fully integrated with their existing systems and workflows.
TC: When a customer calls a vet for $30, is there a time limit?
BW: There is no time limit and cases will usually stay open for three full days, so pet parents can continue to access the vet via chat for any follow-up questions or concerns.
TC: Are you competing at all on pricing?
BW: Our goal is to work alongside the hospitals, not to compete with them or replace them. You can't take blood virtually or feel a tumor or do a dental. People always will need to go to the vet.
What we want to do is help [pet owners] understand when [to come in]. The average pet parent only goes to the vet 1.5 times a year. A huge segment of users on Airvet have already connected with a vet six times more than that and save time and stress in doing so.
It's not about competing for us, it's about being the provider of care in between office visits [and helping] pet parents who have used our service ultimately avoid an unnecessary emergency visit.