The veterinary clinic startup expanding during the pandemic ‘puppy boom’
This is an installment of Startup Year One, a special series of interviews with founders about the major lessons they have learned in the immediate aftermath of their businesses’ first year of operation.
Pet care and pet food brands have typically been considered recession-proof businesses, given that these products and services are always going to be needed. Most responsible pet owners agree that they would rather make sacrifices in their own diet or personal care, for better or worse, than cut back on any necessities like kibble or shots for their pets.
Pet ownership skyrocketed to unprecedented levels over the past year, fueling a “puppy boom,” as more people spent time at home with not only more time to take care of a pet but also looking to fill a void through the companionship offered by dogs and cats (maybe to the latter’s chagrin).
Among the first stops any new pet owner should make is to a local veterinarian for a checkup and shots. Bond Vet runs a number of technology-enabled veterinary clinics in New York. Unlike some vet clinics and animal hospitals, Bond Vet specializes in urgent care and also offers online booking and walk-in visits for medical care. The pet health company just announced that it is opening four more clinics in 2021, signaling that pet care brands are not only recession-proof but are also among the businesses that saw profits rise during the pandemic. (Editor’s note: As a disclaimer, I’m also a Bond Vet customer, and I have brought my pet in for checkups and treatment.)
Fortune recently spoke with Dr. Zaynab Satchu, Bond Vet’s chief veterinary officer, and CEO Mohamed Punjani—both cofounders of Bond Vet along with chief product officer Lukas Keindl—to learn more about how the business adapted to COVID-19, how it handled a rush of pet adoptions, and its expansion plans for the near future.
The following interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
Fortune: At first glance, Bond Vet evokes an atmosphere similar to that of health care startups like One Medical, but for pets. What inspired you to launch Bond Vet? What makes it a different kind of veterinary clinic?
Satchu: We started the company with two main goals. First, to nurture and foster the human-animal bond. Animals are phenomenal for human beings and our well-being. They help humans overcome ailments, feel less lonely, and increase the overall quality of our lives. Especially during the pandemic, people have realized how important that relationship is. With our walk-in urgent care model, we are there for people and pets when they need us, 365 days a year, with no membership required. We feel fortunate to support that bond and help pets—and, by extension, their humans—live longer, better, happier lives.
Our other goal is to create a healthy workplace in the veterinary industry—to prove it can be done. With such high rates of burnout and unhappiness, it’s clear the industry hasn’t done enough to make it better. We are building a healthy workplace culture, one where team members truly look out for one another. Whether it’s covering a shift or assisting with a simple task, I want to make sure every member feels supported and trusted in their daily role and in their overall career path. Team members are the most important people in an organization—a happy team translates to a happy client experience.
At Bond Vet, we are driven by a core set of values and a mission, comprehensive training and continuing education, and a clear toolkit to help our team handle various situations and communicate with one another and with clients. I am proud to watch the company grow and to see the thousands of pets we’ve treated. Additionally, what keeps me going is seeing how our team members grow, personally and professionally, during their time at Bond.
While Bond Vet originally opened in New York City with a neighborhood community feel—hosting adoption events, open houses, and even dog yoga [yoga with one’s dog present]—all of that obviously had to change amid COVID-19. A major change was drop-off appointments only. What has the past year been like inside Bond Vet? How have pet owners responded to and dealt with the changes? When do you expect some of those restrictions to be lifted?
Satchu: We very much see Bond Vet as a community, and it’s been a major change to move to drop-off appointments and virtual events and not be able to have as much of the face-to-face interaction we started with.
As a brand, we really celebrate the bond between pets and people, and like everyone, we’ve adapted to stay true to our mission in a safe way for all parties involved—we’re all navigating this together, so there’s been a lot of understanding and compassion, with the occasional moment of frustration. We are looking forward to getting back to some semblance of “normal” and welcoming clients back into the clinic and hosting more events soon.
Speaking of the pandemic, fundraising has always been a major challenge for founders, only more so during an economic crisis. Bond Vet has gone through a number of multimillion-dollar fundraising rounds in the past. What kind of effect has the pandemic had on that part of the business?
Punjani: We’ve all heard about “pandemic pets”: The past year has really proven how essential the bond is between pets and people. More pet parents in places like New York mean there’s more of an opportunity for better veterinary care, especially in the urgent care niche that we’ve created. We hope that our growth and the standards we set help to turn the tide in this industry to provide better care not just for the pets, but also for the people who care for them.
Bond Vet is continuing to open new locations within New York City this spring. Any plans to expand to other parts of the U.S.? What else can we expect from Bond Vet over the next year?
Punjani: For now, we have a few more locations in the New York City area that we’ll open later this year. We’re certainly exploring other markets for the future. Our main goal over the coming months is to ensure that we can live up to the high quality of care that the pets of New York City deserve.
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