While this country braces for a battle over the Affordable Care Act, a Wayne-based start-up is staking its future on health care for a consumer sector that doesn't hold much sway in Washington. A constituency that has more bark than bite, more meow than scratch, if you will.
PetCoach's goal is to become the go-to source for pet care.
"At the end of the day, I want to transform the pet-health industry," said Brock Weatherup, chief executive officer and cofounder of PetCoach, himself an impressive breed of serial entrepreneur.
Right now, the company operates PetCoach.co, a technology and health-care platform attracting 150,000 visitors and 13,000 questions a month and growing. The site offers personalized answers to questions, articles and educational information, and access to experts, including veterinarians, pet nutritionists, and trainers. The philosophy behind the business model is that getting more pet parents to ask more questions will lead to healthier, happier, and preferably longer lives for pets -- and more confident owners.
Launched in 2014, PetCoach was bought by Weatherup in July from founder David Martin, a native of Madrid, Spain, now a resident of Wayne, who continues with the company as chief digital officer, one of 10 employees. They met through a mutual contact when PetCoach was enrolled in a DreamIt accelerator in Austin, Texas, and Weatherup was CEO of Pet360 and mentoring a DreamIt company in Philadelphia.
When PetCoach left DreamIt, Weatherup recruited it to Plymouth Meeting, giving it office space and valuable insight on the pet industry. At the time, PetCoach's strength was technology.
They're a long way from knowing whether PetCoach will become the kind of blockbuster endeavor Weatherup's last one became -- a rebranding and scaling that led to the sale of Pet360.com to PetSmart for $160 million in fall 2014.
In November, PetCoach announced that it had raised $2 million in seed funding, led by Comcast Ventures, a private venture-capital affiliate of Comcast Corp. Maveron, a consumer-only venture-capital firm based in Seattle and San Francisco, also put up money, along with DreamIt Ventures.
"I was surprised and frankly humbled by their response," said Weatherup, 45, of Wayne. "I've raised money around ideas when there was a highly defined business with lots of metrics, like Pet360. In this case, it was more theory around an idea. I've never done that."
Though there are a variety of online sites offering information on pets and pet-related services, such as mobile vets and equipment enabling vets to consult with customers via phone and internet, nobody was bringing it all together or providing customized answers to questions. Growth potential is especially strong for exotics: birds, reptiles, rodents, rabbits.
"If you're not involved across the board, you don't own the trust of the consumer," said Weatherup, who also is president of Philly Startup Leaders, a support group for early-stage companies.
In funding such young businesses, the selling point for investors is often "about the team, secondarily about the market," said Sam Landman, managing director at Comcast Ventures. He identified Weatherup as a primary reason for his firm's investment, the amount of which he would not reveal as a matter of policy.
"I've been building a relationship with Brock six or seven years, and I've come to believe he's an extraordinary entrepreneur by any standard -- New York, Silicon Valley, certainly a special entrepreneur in the Philadelphia region," Landman said.
Weatherup's pet-industry expertise was a big draw, too, Landman said, calling it "a very large market that has not evolved significantly over the many decades I have been a pet owner. Not only is it a very large market, but I think the experience for the pet owner and the pet is suboptimal."
Landman, who lives in Penn Valley, said his 8-year-old golden retriever, Jackson, has "gone to the vet enough times he knows he doesn't like it. And so, to the extent you could deliver excellent care in the home, not only is it less stressful for the pet, it's also less stressful and more convenient for the pet owner."
Being a source for in-home care is among the additional services PetCoach plans to provide. Weatherup did not want to reveal other considerations, but made a point of saying vets should not feel threatened by PetCoach. Getting pet owners to ask more questions will drive more people to seek a vet's help, he maintains. PetCoach.co offers help in finding vets.
"I think the veterinary community is split on whether telemedicine is a good thing or not," said Len Donato, a vet at Radnor Veterinary Hospital who has been in practice 20 years. "I do not feel threatened by it. This would only augment what I'm doing."
He doesn't expect it to reduce the times he treats Weatherup's 5-year-old English retriever, Boulder.
"I don't typically hear from Brock," Donato said. "His sister is a veterinarian [in Arizona]. He just texts her, probably."