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Bark meets byte: How 1871 community members are creating innovative new ways to care for pets

| July 7, 2017

Let’s talk about the intersection of bark and byte. 

The pet care industry is valued at more than $70 billion dollars, and increasingly, tech- enabled companies are creating new, innovative ways to care for the furry friends we love. From financial solutions to medical care to education, Chicago pet care startups have created a unique community committed to changing the industry. 

The subject will be explored in depth on July 11, when FetchFind founder Jamie Migdal — fresh off securing and exceeding $50,000 in the company’s equity crowdfunding campaign — will host a veritable petapalooza at 1871. The event includes adoptable dogs, showcases from some of Chicago’s pet tech startups (including PupJoy, Figo Pet Insurance, Baroo, Pet Boss Nation, Better Walker, GuardianVets Inc. and Pet Gotcha Day) and a panel discussing how the multi-billion dollar pet industry is ripe for disruption and investment.

Ahead of the panel, we caught up with some 1871 community members building their pet tech in Chicago and asked them for their perspectives on the industry and how their products and services are helping pet owners. 

“Broadly speaking pets are now being considered ‘members of the family’ which directly correlates to increased discretionary spending per capita on our furry loved ones,” said John Dillon, founder of GuardianVets.

GuardianVets founder John Dillon.

Dillon said while this is a good thing, he believes the veterinary industry lags behind the human healthcare industry in two ways. For one, he believes there is a growing cost-of-care gap between real veterinary costs and what owners can afford. Secondly, there is a service gap between the regular hours a veterinary practice is usually open and the increasing expectation of services on demand, especially after hours.

That’s where GuardianVets comes in. The company allows veterinary practices to offer after hour care for their clients instead of telling them to just “leave a message or go to the Emergency Room.”

As Dillon puts it, “we act as a concierge for a veterinary practice’s clients after hours, allowing the pet owners to speak with veterinary personnel even when they’re closed.” GuardianVets charges the veterinary practices a subscription and allows the clients of the practice to use it completely free. As for the technology, GuardianVets has created a library of triage protocols, which they have embedded into their decision support software that aids the veterinary team triage calls after hours.

Dillon’s suggestion that cost-of-care in the industry is a concern for pet owners comes as no surprise to Kevin Ludden, EVP of Brand and Creative at Figo Pet Insurance. 

“I think what many people don’t take into consideration is how expensive having a pet can be,” he said. “Veterinary advancements in the past 10 years have now allowed pets to have surgeries that were once only reserved for humans.” 

Figo founder Rusty Sproat.

So, to tackle the problem, Figo offers a two-fold solution. In addition to offering pet insurance that can cover up to 100-percent of veterinary costs for users (which include the 1871 community, who are offered Figo’s services at a discount), it also uses technology to enhance the care process. The Figo Pet Cloud allows users to immediately access their pet’s health records, file claims from a smartphone, find nearby pet-friendly locations and even immediately report their pet as lost and receive a text if they are located. 

Ludden said he feels the pet tech industry as a whole, particularly in Chicago, is very supportive of one another. 

“Although we have different products and services, we have all benefited from knowing each other,” he said. “We all have made some pretty big changes to the pet world through innovation and thinking outside the box. Many times I have used our Chicago pet-tech startup family to bounce ideas off of or find support when things got rough.” 

FetchFind founder Jamie Migdal

That support should be no more apparent than during Migdal and FetchFind’s event at 1871 on Tuesday, which will celebrate both the industry and the new funding for FetchFind. The event encapsulates the spirit of FetchFind, which is all about education in the pet care industry. The platform addresses what Migdal sees as a knowledge-gap throughout the industry, and distributes digital educational programming and training to a variety of businesses in the pet care industry. 

“There are a lot of horror stories out there about what can happen to pets when they’re left with untrained staff,” Migdal said. “The bond we have with animals is a wonderful, beautiful thing, but truly loving them should mean that you want the best for them at all times — and that means an educated workforce. FetchFind is changing the pet industry from the ground up — we’re working with pet care services, shelters, rescues, and private pet parents to make sure that everyone has a basic education. Knowledge is power.”

For more information and to register for the “Come for the pets. Stay for the tech” event at 1871, click here.