Telemedicine has taken the human world by storm, and Joe Spector thinks the next frontier is pets.
Spector is the founder and CEO of Dutch, which offers telehealth services for pet owners — connecting them with veterinarians virtually. He has some experience in this space as Spector is a co-founder of Hims — another DTC telemedicine startup best known for its balding and erectile disfunction over-the-counter services.
According to Spector, there’s a huge white space for pet care. “I just realized all this innovation that I was a part of on the human side [with Hims] just has not translated at all on the pet side,” he said on the Modern Retail Podcast.
So, he decided to bring some of his expertise to the pet care space. Dutch launched this year and is still relatively limited in its coverage. It is available in eight states and offers support for behavioral issues like anxiety and skin issues like rashes for both dogs and cats. “We’ll be growing to having national coverage pretty soon,”
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One of the big hurdles he’s overcoming is red tape and protectionism. One may think that pet health regulations are more lax than those for humans, but Spector says that’s just not true. His mission, he said, is going state by stating and “changing that red tape.”
It’s a playbook he’s familiar with, but that doesn’t make it easier. Right now, his focus is on making both customers and pet health professionals trust Dutch and understand the brand. “The ethos of the company is health care and actually solving the problem,” he said.
Here are a few highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.
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On overcoming red tape
“Health care is regulated at the state level in this country. [Human health care and pet health care are] similar, but they’re actually entirely different. So pet health is regulated entirely different than human health. And there is red tape. But there’s also just a lot of protectionism. This was very similar to the human world — many people are scared of change. And it is still going state by state in changing that red tape and then addressing those issues of protectionism. And for us, it’s all about showing that this is resulting in better outcomes, better access, better affordability.”
Why vets shouldn’t be worried
“There are so many pets, there’s so much demand. When you talk to the big players, I would say, generally speaking, they’re in support of telemedicine, because they see that this is a tide that lifts all boats. I saw that with Hims — at the end of the day, more people come into the fold. Even in our own data today, we see that 30% of pet parents don’t have a vet. And another additional 30% — even if they say they have a vet — they’ve never dealt with this issue before. That couldn’t be more of an expansion story of bringing people more into the system. And, inevitably, they’re going to need primary care.”
Why brand ethos is important
“At the end of the day, with any business, you have to take a step back and be true to your mission. If you’re going to launch things simply because this is another way to make money, the customer is going to feel it and see it — because the innovation is going to be so trite, cliche, obvious. I think that if you’re going to have a pet health care company — and your mission is actually solving pet health care — you [need to] think about creating a business, creating products, creating an experience that actually leads to better outcomes and solves the problem. If your goal is to just [say] ‘I want to launch services,’ then those services are going to just simply kick the can down the road.”