Pet Entrepreneur Interview: Emily Dong | Pawprint & SnoutID
Like many successful entrepreneurs, Emily Dong started out just trying to solve a problem.
While boarding her dog, she was asked for proof of vaccination. Her vet offered to fax her the records, but she didn’t own a fax machine. When the vet couldn’t figure out how to digitally send the documents, she realized there had to be a better way to manage her pet’s health records.
Thus, Pawprint was born. Five years later, Pawprint is the most popular pet health app in the Apple app store, storing medical records for over 65,000 pets spread between 13,000 vet clinics.
I spoke with Emily shortly after she sold Pawprint to Metamorphosis Partners and announced the start of SnoutID, another pet care company.
MyDog: Did you receive any funding to start the business?
Emily Dong: I raised a little bit of money from friends and family and then every couple of months I would get some angel investors to contribute. After some time (2016), I got financing from 500 Startups, Muse Capital and Boost VC.
MyDog: You taught yourself to code in order to build the first version of Pawprint, correct?
MyDog: How did you get your first 50 customers?
Emily Dong: This is a funny story, actually. I made these cards that explained what the app does and how it works in very simple language. Then I drove around to dog groomers, boarders, other pet service providers – basically anyone who needed vaccine records before they could provide their service. Because they were turning away business from customers who had trouble accessing their pet’s medical records, it was easy to get them to hand out the cards. That is how I got the first few thousand customers. After awhile the app started ranking high in the App Store for pet health and we started getting great customer reviews.
MyDog: How do you get the medical records into the app?
Emily Dong: Once a pet owner enters their vet clinic info into the app and requests their pet’s records, our staff contacts the vet clinic. Either through phone, email, fax and sometimes using a direct integration. When we receive the medical records, one of our vet techs will review the documents to make sure everything is accurate.
MyDog: Did any vet clinics refuse to send you pet records?
Emily Dong: Very rarely. Out of the 13,000 vet clinics, we have a list of about 10 to 15 clinics that refuse to send records. Legally, these records belong to the pet owner and we collect the owners signature in the app. So technically, we could sue to force the clinic to release the records, but we are not trying to start any wars here.
MyDog: What is the business model for the app?
Emily Dong: The app is free and so is the gathering of basic vaccination records. We charge $10 to collect a pet’s full medical record. We also started partnering with some pet insurance companies, listing them within the app. The users of Pawprint care a lot about their pets. People that carry around their pet’s medical records are keen to learn more about pet insurance.
MyDog: Who are some of your competitors and how is Pawprint different?
Emily Dong: PetDesk and Vitus Vet also have pet health apps. The biggest difference is that those apps only manage your vet records if your vet clinic subscribes and pays a monthly fee to those companies. We designed Pawprint to work with any vet clinic and the clinic doesn’t need to pay us for anything. We also can get the records from clinics that are paper-based or have older, legacy systems.
MyDog: Why did you sell the business to Metamorphosis Partners?
Emily Dong: While we were gathering medical records for pet owners, we discovered that vet practices had this huge need to streamline their workflow. From checking in clients curbside, getting the proper forms filled out, gathering medical records from previous vets, etc. So we started to pivot our business to focus on helping the vet clinics. This new service is SnoutID.
We didn’t want to shut down the consumer app because that’s what we are known for and our customers love the service. But as a small team we didn’t have the resources to both maintain the app and start this new service for vet clinics.
So we looked around for a buyer for the consumer app and we had 5 or 6 companies interested. But in terms of the deal, how quickly they could close and what their plans were with the app going forward, Metamorphosis was clearly the best fit.
MyDog: You sold your startup. Why aren’t you retired to a beach somewhere?
Emily Dong: The reason for selling was to refocus our team. I think the opportunity with SnoutID is very clear and much bigger. It’s hard to leave the pet industry once you are in it. And it’s kind of cool doing it the second time around in a way, because you have a much clearer understanding of the landscape and where the opportunities are.
MyDog: You mentioned curbside appointment checkins – do you think that will still be in demand post-COVID?
Emily Dong: I do. Some pet owners want to be within the vet clinic for the entire appointment, holding their pet if possible, and be very involved. But there are other pet owners who prefer a concierge service, where they can drop off their pet, go get coffee, and then come back and pick up their pet. I think its best for practices to offer both options.
MyDog: What is the business model for SnoutID?
Emily Dong: The vet pays us a monthly subscription fee. Much more predictable.
MyDog: Is there any connection between Pawprint and SnoutID?
Emily Dong: Yes, we are retaining the backend and technology, so Pawprint is actually one of our customers. When a pet owner requests pet records through Pawprint, the SnoutID team will still handle the record retrieval and review process.
MyDog: How are you marketing SnoutID to vet clinics?
Emily Dong: We have launched a partnership with MWI (MWI Animal Health) as a distribution partner. They have a bunch of sales reps on the ground who visit vet practices on a regular basis.
MyDog: Any tips for entrepreneurs in the pet space?
Emily Dong: At first it seems like a very fun space to be in, but you quickly realize there is a ton of competition. A lot of things have been tried, so you need to make it clear what sets you apart from the other pet products and services.
MyDog: Any tips for women-led startups?
Emily Dong: Find other female founders. When I started it seemed like a very lonely journey. Since then I have found a great group of female entrepreneurs and we talk frequently. It’s nice have other folks who you can connect with share your problems with – it’s very important.
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