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Interview with Emma Harris, CEO of Healthy Pets


Brittany Phillips on August 16, 2017 in Uncategorized

Meet healthypets.io! An online platform connecting veterinarians with pet parents on demand through video chat. From the comfort of home, pet parents can source reliable answers to their pet’s health and wellness concerns.

Tech entrepreneur Emma Harris is the Founder and CEO of healthypets. Emma shares with SB Partners why she is leading a #vettech revolution.

What inspired you to enter the pet health industry? How did you get the idea of developing an online platform?

After finishing my Masters, I began working at a biotechnology company developing apps for people with chronic health conditions. At the same time, my partner and I adopted our adorable yellow Labrador, ‘Bo’ who is also the Chief Inspiration Officer of healthypets. Unfortunately, we quickly realized that he wasn’t healthy; Bo had ear infections, lungworm, kennel cough and allergies. However, the only method to access reliable pet health information is a vet clinic and it can be costly. Last year, we spent close to $10,000 on vet bills and half of those bills could have been avoided had there been a triage system to direct us.

I saw that a telehealth solution could be as applicable for animals as it is for humans. The pet industry is an 8 billion dollar industry in Canada of which $2.5 billion is in vet care. It’s a massive market and yet it’s being ignored. I was so frustrated with this archaic process that I started speaking with other pet owners about their experiences and I spoke with vets about the type of technologies they use, what type they would like to see, and the problems in their practice management. I actually spoke with about 30 vets… The business is now at a point where I have a few vets who are licensing my new platform and now that I’ve developed a reputation in this community, vets are seeking me out.

So, that’s how it started. It started from frustration from my own experience and from validation from the two stakeholders – pet owners and vets.

How does healthypets differentiate itself from its competitors?

I have two direct competitors in the United States. Like myself, they are young companies but both have done well. There are differences working in Canada especially from a legal point of view. First of all, I’m the only company in Canada that provides this service right now. The fact that people connect with services of a local vet is another differentiator.

On average, healthypets is 90% cheaper than going to the vet but I want to be clear; my company is not a replacement for going to the vet. It’s still important to schedule annual examinations and stay up-to-date on your pet’s vaccines. healthypets is an alternative to the vet when you don’t have to be there in person. It’s to be used for the times when it’s 10 p.m. and you’re questioning your pet’s symptoms.

Right now I am hyper focused on the GTA, then Ontario then Canada.

You raised $2,000 through the Haltech BYOB Challenge in cash and in-kind professional services, but also won the online vote for People’s Choice Award at the pitch finale event.What was that experience like?  Do you have any advice for others?

Haltech was a great experience because it gave me the opportunity to pitch in front of a smaller audience.  I’d financed the entire company myself so far, through part-time jobs and debt financing i.e. a line of credit. Pitch competitions are a fantastic resource for entrepreneurs and start-ups because they help grow your network. Everything I’ve accomplished so far has been a result of me doing the work but doing so in conjunction with influential people. That’s the most valuable part of putting yourself out there.

I recently attended another a pitch competition that I wasn’t accepted into. I wanted to see why, and find out who the finalists were. It was a good experience just to be an audience member that time.

You’re going on Dragons’ Den! Do you have any trepidations about venture capitalism?

Venture capitalism is important in Canada because there is WAY less activity here than there is in the United States. It plays a critical role in the growth of businesses. The hardest part is knowing when to actually attempt to acquire it. You have to ask for people’s money at a valuation that benefits both of you. The timing of that is an art. There are a lot of issues around venture capitalism, particularly for women. For instance, did you know that only 4% of venture capitalism goes to women? A whopping 96% goes to men and here are a lot of reasons behind that. In my opinion, it stems back to the way girls were brought up and the characteristics that culturally we encourage. Making the ask, (even if you’re not yet deserving) puts that nugget into someone’s mind to think you’ll be deserving of this in 6 months time. It takes a lot of assertiveness to be taken advantage of. Men dominate technology. It can be difficult to stand up as a woman in an office. -You have to convince them that ‘yes, you do belong here’. It’s hard. You have to ask for a valuation that is fair. This is especially difficult on Dragons’ Den. Anyone who watches the show knows that the most important element of your company to them is your sales. I am going into the den with a low number of sales but with the potential to scale quickly. The timing isn’t perfect but I don’t think it ever is for anyone. As I said, it’s about how you can grow your network from these opportunities that is the most valuable.

As a young entrepreneur, do you have a mentor?

On International Women’s Day last March, I applied to visit the OMERS office in downtown Toronto for the opportunity to have my questions answered by an active venture capitalist (VC). I met Damien Steel, the Managing Director who led OMERS’ investment in Dog Vacay (which has since been acquired by Rover). Our 30-minute meeting has since developed into a strong mentorship. We meet at least once per month, and if I have any concerns or questions in between, I am able to email or phone him anytime. His mentorship is invaluable to a first-time founder like myself, and I am very grateful for his balanced, no nonsense advice. Networking is one of the most important ways anyone, but especially an entrepreneur can spend their time on.

What advice would offer to aspiring entrepreneurs?

Just start, that’s the hardest part. Quitting your job, taking out a loan, not knowing the outcome. There are risks but if planned and acknowledged appropriately, you can mitigate them.

Also, if you’re not completely passionate about the idea that you’re pursuing, don’t do it. Start with an idea that you would do anything to see succeed. Entrepreneurship means a lot of sacrifices and uncertainties.