While sixty-seven percent of American households have pets, most of us don’t think a lot about the veterinary care industry as a source for innovative practices or customer service excellence.
In fact, over the past decades there has been a trend toward lowering costs and standardizing services. According to a recent NPR report, as Americans have been spending more and more on their pets, large corporations have stepped in and been purchasing what used to be small veterinarian-owned practices. Such businesses are seen as reliable investments as they have low overhead and a stable cash flow. Of the about 6,000 small- to medium-sized veterinary practices in the U.S., I was surprised to learn that 5,000 of them are now owned by big corporations.
But many entrepreneurs and investors are working to bring personalization and innovative services to this industry. For instance, Josh Guttman and Florent Peyre recently founded membership-based veterinary care company Small Door, which aims to solve a number of issues that plague the industry including inconsistent care, difficulty in scheduling visits, and outdated systems.
Small Door opened its first state-of-the-art location in January 2020 in the West Village of Manhattan, and in August 2021 opened an Upper East Side location. I visited the new location to talk to Josh soon after it opened and was impressed by both the little touches to put pets and their parents at ease and also the state of the art facilities. In summer 2021, the team also launched a mobile veterinary unit, which popped-up in Southampton and East Hampton, and will continue to serve new communities in the future.
In early 2021, Small Door announced that it had received US$20 million in Series A financing, from Los Angeles-based Toba Capital. By 2025, the team aims to open 25 locations.
Another unique aspect of Small Door is its mission to be a socially responsible employer and pet-care provider. Small Door was one of the first veterinary care company to become a certified B Corp and the company also obtained AAHA certification, which is a recognition of the quality of veterinary facilities, based on more than 900 strict standards, and only awarded to 15% of veterinary care providers in the United States. Small Door’s commitment to transparency is backed by their decision to provide veterinarians with competitive salaries vs. commission-based pay (Small Door veterinarians provide only the treatments that are necessary), along with benefits that include student debt repayment.
In addition to visiting their Upper East Side location, I also conducted a joint interview with founders Josh and Florent. Both bring a unique set of experience to this venture. Florent was the co-founder and chief operating officer of Placemeter, which used computer vision and machine learning to build products for location analysis. And from 2013 to 2017, Josh served as a partner in the early investment team of Softbank Capital, the US$500 million venture capital arm of Softbank Corporation.
Below is an edited excerpt of our on-line interview.
Christopher Marquis: The tagline on your homepage is “veterinary care reimagined” How so? Why does veterinary care need to be reimagined?Josh Guttman and Florent Peyre: After Josh’s boxer came down with a mysterious stomach ailment, he spent a year in and out of various veterinary practices searching for answers. He was repeatedly disappointed by the inconsistent care, difficulty scheduling visits, antiquated systems, confusing bills and inability to communicate with doctors outside of appointments. In response to this experience, we opened Small Door’s first location in Manhattan’s West Village in 2020 with a mission to reimagine the veterinary care model aiming to address these perceived shortcomings.
Small Door membership is based on a hospitality-led approach to care, including a dedicated member experience team that helps each pet and owner feel comfortable from the moment they arrive at our practice, and beyond. Members get a mobile app for booking appointments, obtaining medical records, and 24/7 telemedicine with access to Small Door’s medical team. Small Door’s locations are also designed by animal behavior experts to provide a stress-free environment for pets.
Small Door ensures members receive a personalized, integrative approach to managing their pet’s health. Our medical team guides members through lifestyle and nutrition choices in conjunction with diagnostics, imaging, prescription medications, and priority access to leading specialists. Small Door is also committed to transparency in pricing, offering clear and easy-to-understand treatment plans.
Small Door is powered by a first-of-its kind approach to employee compensation which provides competitive salaries to doctors and avoids client misalignment issues that stem from commission-based pay. They also provide generous benefits packages including student debt repayment to veterinarians and technicians.
Marquis: Small Door is one of the first veterinary to receive a B Corp Certification. Why was achieving this certification important for you? What did you learn that helped further differentiate your work and services?
Guttman and Peyre: It has been inspiring for us to join the global community of B Corp Certified companies. We're aligned with the movement's mission to elevate companies that put people and the planet before profits. We believe this is the future, and is the only way forward when it comes to becoming a successful enterprise. We want Small Door to have a social impact, not just for our veterinarians who are taken care of in an industry that is rife with mental health crises, but for our pet parents and patients who receive a personalized, integrative approach to managing health that has been lacking with the traditional veterinary standard.
Marquis: I see you have recently raised $20M in Series A funding (congratulations!), what was investors reaction to your B Corp certification (both those that have invested and others you pitched the concept to)?
Guttman and Peyre: Our investors were encouraged, but also not surprised, by our commitment to pursue and receive B Corp certification given our mission to be a change agent in the industry for our employees, veterinarians, and our members and their pets. We are proud to expand that mission and join a community of companies who want to be better for the people and the planet.
Marquis: You plan to open 25 locations by 2025 and you’re opening a new office in the Upper East Side. What are your plans moving forward for expanding the company?
Guttman and Peyre: We're very excited about this summer, as we debut our Upper East Side practice — our second permanent location — alongside a new, mobile veterinary practice which is now offering services in East Hampton and Southampton (for members and non-members alike). Soon we will also be announcing the opening of several more locations toward our goal of 25 by 2025. In every new community, we look forward to providing exceptional care for pets and remain committed to doing it with the promise of transparency to our members.