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Meet Taylor Cavanah of PetDesk in Banker’s Hill

Today we’d like to introduce you to Taylor Cavanah.

Taylor, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
My cofounder (Ken Tsui) and I started our careers at a company in the nanotechnology space. I am a physicist and he is a computer engineer. We spun out a division from that company and sold it to a company in the valley. We turned 30 and decided it was time to start something ourselves. Together with our best friend and other cofounder (Aaron Bannister) we had the brilliant idea to create a better Foursquare in 2011. We were bootstrapped, in Dallas, with semiconductor experience, and did I mention a physicist and computer engineer? Foursquare had offices next to Mashable, $40M in funding, and a lot of consumer experience. Suffice it to say we failed. Luckily for us we did two things right. We failed fast and we built some great technology. Think WordPress for native apps. Basically, any local business could have their own customized native app experience on our platform and consumers just had one app to download. During this rollercoaster ride we worked from home and had our pets to keep us sane.

My girlfriend’s (now wife) uncle is a veterinarian and he kept telling us to take our technology into the vet space. For a while we didn’t listen and then one day I looked down and noticed Molly (my Shih Tzu) was missing an eyebrow and her paws were all chewed up. She was busy keeping me sane and calm while I was ignoring her healthcare. We realized we had the technology to fix this for ourselves and our pets. We looked into the industry and saw the same problem across the board. In 2013 I attended the WVC and halfway through the first day called Ken and told him to start building Pet Desk. 9% of vets were using text messaging. 65% of dentists at the time were using SMS. When dentists are eating your lunch in technology adoption you know you are way behind. We ran some surveys of pet owners and pet care providers and it was very clear that there was a lot of pain around requesting appointments. We started there with our app and then over the years kept building more features to better connect pet parents with their pet care providers.

In doing this we started to realize that even as a technology company we could impact the healthcare of pets. Molly Sue is my first born and I have no idea what I’m going to do when she passes so I want every month I can get with her. It’s our ultimate goal to extend her life and the lives of all the pets out there by making sure they get the preventative care they need. We’re now working to expand outside of veterinary into grooming, boarding, and other product lines with the ultimate goal of generating 10 million additional years of pet life with the data to prove it. And that data can be rolled back into the industry to help all pets.

Has it been a smooth road?
Definitely not a smooth road. You saw some of it in the origin story but there is more. When we first started in the pet space our plan was to provide an app to clinics and then work with the existing reminder solutions in the space. None of them would talk with us. I remember clearly a tradeshow in San Antonio when I approached one of the large booths of one of the leaders in our space (a multibillion dollar public company). I talked to one of their marketing managers. I explained how I wanted to work together and provide our app alongside their web portal and reminder system, she asked if I knew who they were. I explained I knew they had one of the largest practice management systems in the country and mentioned their reminder system and their diagnostic tools. She said, “Exactly” and walked away. That’s when I realized her first line was literally “don’t you know who I am?” I walked back to our booth and told Ken to start building a reminder system. 3 months later we started competing against that company and all of the others. At the end of last year all of those companies gave their salespeople special discounts to give out if they were in deals against Pet Desk. I wish I had that marketing manager’s card so I could thank her.

A lot of the other challenges revolve around scaling. We’ve grown from 2 of us to over 60 now. The company culture changes so much as you add people. There was one point as we were moving past 30 people that we saw a drastic swing. Things had been great internally and then within 10 days it seemed that we had lost all contentment, stability, and culture. It was like a dark cloud descended on the company. In retrospect we realized it was a ton of small things that all piled on at the same time. Fortunately, the young management team took action right away. We removed some people who weren’t a culture fit which helped. The biggest thing we did though is have a companywide hack lab. The hack lab was something our SDR team did. One member would hack the existing process, show improvement, and then teach the rest of the team how to do it. For the company version we all sat down for a picnic (inside because that was the one-day San Diego decided to have rain). And we opened up the floor to everyone to hack the company. The team had a lot of things that could be improved. We listened and implemented a lot of them. Within ten days it was all sunshine and rainbows again. Nothing as drastic has happened since but we’re constantly managing our culture and eliciting feedback from the team.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Pet Desk – tell our readers more, for example what you’re most proud of as a company and what sets you apart from others.
Most of this is in the origin story. But a few things. Pet Desk is an app and reminder system for pet care providers. So, we send emails, text, push notifications, and even postcards to remind you to schedule your wellness visits, show up to your appointments, and give your pets their medication. We sell it as a SaaS tool to the pet care provider and then the app is free to consumers. We also help these providers with a loyalty plan, website, online reputation management, and messaging to their client base. The app and our technology are one of our biggest differentiators. Probably the biggest differentiator is our Customer Success team and company philosophy. This is a relatively new way to do customer service that has developed from SaaS companies. We’re the only one in the industry who follows it and our customer success team is larger than some of our competitors’ entire team. Part of our mission is to bring enterprise level solutions to the local business owner and a fully built out customer success team is part of that. So, we have a technical support team to handle all of the inbound tickets and live chat. We have an implementation team who deeply understands the inner workings of a vet clinic and how to seamlessly integrate our technology into their workflow. And then each clinic gets a dedicated customer success manager who uses our technology and frequent check ins to make sure they are getting everything out of our software that they can. Technology is like data, it’s useless without someone with domain knowledge to analyze it and implement it properly.

Let’s touch on your thoughts about our city – what do you like the most and least?
San Diego is great for us. The weather of course but to be less cliché and take it a step further, the weather enables us to enjoy more time with our pets and that is wonderful. The city is also the best city for pet ownership in the world. The amount of pet friendly businesses and areas, the pet parent community, and all of the amazing pet businesses here. It’s difficult to raise money here. There haven’t been a ton of tech successes that made a lot of people rich enough to then put money back into the ecosystem. We also lose good talent to our northern neighbors in LA and SF. But we’ve seen that slowly changing and we’ve also seen that as an advantage. There isn’t as much competition for talent and investors who have a preconceived notion that employees in San Diego are too laid back are missing how awesome it is to have a content workforce who gets in at 7AM in the morning and works until 4PM then goes enjoys their life. You can work smarter, harder, and happier here in San Diego. As a pet health company, it’s also great to be in a city that is focused on human health. Having amazing and healthy food options and a strong culture of healthy living aligns very well with what we are trying to do in the pet industry.

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