PetKonnect is India’s most comprehensive online pet-services’ community for pets as well as stray animals. PetKonnect was launched on 24th September 2019. We are publishing an interview with Ms. Devanshi Shah, Founder – PetKonnect:
Please introduce yourself and your startup:
Currently, we’re a small team, with me being the driving force behind PetKonnect. I develop and lead corporate strategy, planning and overall execution on behalf of the brand. The thrust of my mandate is to ensure the company is a customer-focused brand, which is user-friendly and that provides clients with top-of-the-line in-class services in the pet and animal-care sector.
I bring with me experience from both the financial and legal services sectors. I began my career at KPMG, following which I moved into my family business, Ishan Industries. Here I managed the implementation of ERP systems, financial compliance, and internal control monitoring mechanisms for reduction in resource waste. To further develop and refine my skill set, I held positions at Deven Dwarkadas & Partners as well as Moore Stephens.
Recently I returned to academia and completed a fulltime MBA at Imperial College Business School, London. Here, the focus of my program was ‘Entrepreneurship and Innovative Problem Solving’, the learning’s of which contribute greatly towards my pursuits today, and I hope will help me lead the venture to become India’s biggest online pet and animal care services’ community.
Q.: What is the problem you are trying to solve? Please share with us any insights that led you to believe that this is a big enough problem?
Ans: It came together as a concept after I realized the gap in pet care services in India. Built on a philosophy of love for animals, PetKonnect champions equal rights and social inclusion for all animals. PetKonnect was launched in 2019 with the motto “for love beyond words”. It offers a wide array of facilities for pets, with many firsts within the Indian subcontinent to its credit. PetKonnect seeks to build an ethos of a strong community that cares, while positively impacting the lives of animals, their owners and service providers in the sector by acting as a nodal network point.
Though PetKonnect has many features to its credit, the main problem that I am trying to solve is in the access to healthcare and emergency services for not only pets but stray animals as well.
A few years ago, I lost my dearest pet dog, Hazel, due to health concerns, which could not be resolved. After being unwell for over one month, she was admitted to hospital for surgery. The procedure was scheduled as an emergency, for a late hour as her condition kept deteriorating. However, Hazel began bleeding internally during the time the doctors were prepping for the surgery. It was then that the hunt for the correct blood group started, which was required to stabilize her condition prior to actually performing the surgery. Sadly, the doctors and I had to wait out the night to find an appropriate donor. Hazel couldn’t make it through that night.
It was during the time of her illness that I realized there is a crying need for many critical services in the animal-care sector, in India. The journey of starting this venture wasn’t an easy one – it took this grave loss to open my eyes to the fact that something needs to be done to plug the gap in the animal care sector.
This venture is my ode to hazel. While I felt so helpless in my feeble attempts to save her, I decided to channelize my grief into Petkonnect. Saving even a single life, and enabling pet parents to give their pets the lives they deserve, would be a pay-off big enough for me to be passionately invested in PetKonnect.
After surveying other animal hospitals in India, as well as coming across similar instances on social media, I realized such crisis are very common for many pets and their owners. This is how PetKonnect was started with the vision of creating a legacy of trust and mutual dependability in this community of and for animal caregivers with a tangible positive impact on the pets and animals we serve.
Q.: List all the names of the core Team Members, along with their Designated Roles.
Ans: Sure. They are:
- Hazel Mehta – Head of Strategy & Media Communications, PetKonnect – As an ex-Ogilvy employee and as the successful founder of her own brand consulting firm, The QWERTY Ink, Hazel Mehta brings a decade’s worth of advertising expertise on board. Hazel runs the creative content and media planning team for PetKonnect, along with providing strategic inputs for UI/UX development of the app and is an integral part of the PetKonnect team.
- Rishi Rathod – Head of Customer Relations – As a pet parent himself, Rishi, helps customers with questions or doubts. Rishi manages all Customer Concerns, thereby, Konnecting Service providers with Users. Rishi & his team of trained operators give users/pet parents the information they need about pet-related products, services, etc. via the Petkonnect App or on call.
- Ruchita Avhad – Head of HR – An animal enthusiast, like any great HR person, Ruchita is the internal backbone of PetKonnect. She takes care of all internal needs and concerns as well as manages to hire for the brand. She has previously worked with Byju, where she handled recruitment as well as training with a focus on marketing and sales personnel.
- Hitesh Avhad – Junior Executive – Hitesh, whilst pursuing his Bachelors’s in Marketing Studies, serves as a key resource at PetKonnect. He is our local man Friday and so juggles many roles at the organization!
Q.: Tell us about the Product / Solution. How did you get your first customer? Explain how you went about the Product-Market Fit Process.
Ans: PetKonnect offers its services to users both through our website as well as our apps. In our efforts to enact our mission of “building India’s most reliable and trustworthy community of animal care-givers with measurable positive outcomes for all our paw-fect friends” we give users access to the following sections on our digital platforms:
- Social Petwork: A social media platform for pets that enables users to identify pets around them through their geo-tagged locations. By creating a pet profile, users can search, add and make pet friends. The service enables them to share photos, make plans and arrange play dates with other pets.
- My Pets: An in-app pet management system, that allows pet owners to create a pet profile for complete health-care. Not only can users store their pets’ medical records and online prescriptions, but they also receive recommendations and reminders on necessary vaccinations. This section also allows pet owners to register their pets with government authorities.
- Emergency: This section allows access to a variety of emergency services. Users can access the platform created by PetKonnect to reach out to partner NGOs/ ambulance taxis that provide on-the-spot treatment to strays, perform rescue operations, etc. PetKonnect also allows users to request for blood during emergencies through its user lead bloodline service.
- Service Providers: This section brings service providers and service seekers onto one platform. Users can enjoy easy access to all pet service providers like trainers, walkers, lodgers and boarders, vets and groomers, to name a few.
- Pet Affairs: This section serves as a knowledge center for PetKonnect. Users are given access to relevant content including informative articles, training tips, health tips, food tips, relevant laws, events and much more. Users will also be able to share their own personal stories and learnings in this section.
We faced several challenges in creating brand awareness for the niche market that we operate in. In order to build credibility and image of Petkonnect initially, I would personally go to meet service providers in the pet industry, speak to them about the community portal, to explain the vision and mission of the brand so as to make it more relatable to all the animal enthusiasts. There was certainly a lot of resistance to be able to get that initial opportunity to present the idea of Petkonnect to our potential customers. However, once people started listening to what we had to say, we received immense support from the Service providers.
This activity of building relationships with service providers and pet parents had commenced way before the actual launch of the Petkonnect portal. Our very first customer/service partner was associated within this manner itself. I visited their place of work, a couple of weeks before the actual launch and after hearing my personal journey and the vision of Petkonnect, they were delighted to be a part of the Platform.
As mentioned earlier my journey with Petkonnect started with a personal tragedy. I knew then, that there was a dying need for the integration of the pet services in the Indian market. However, as a business student, I was certain I cannot be only emotionally driven before starting out a venture at the level that we envisioned. We decided to perform primary due diligence of the industry, and get reactions from the actual target users. In the process, we spoke to over a hundred pet owners, to understand the gaps in the services and the problems that they have faced while raising their pets. We also got in touch with several vets and other service providers like groomers and trainers and took several inputs from them, to improvise our initial model at every stage, and add and deduct services that, we concluded, would be offered in our Phase – 1.
Q.: What is your USP?
Ans: Most of the competitors in the industry provide scattered services in the segment, with a large focus on selling products over providing services to pets or animals. PetKonnect keeps its focus towards having a positive impact on the life, health and safety of pets, pet owners and animals in many different ways. We act as an aggregator of a wide variety of service providers from those you may need on a daily basis such as a dog walker; to those, you may need in an emergency situation such as a pet ambulance operator.
Our USP is that, as the most comprehensive online pet-services’ platform, we enable pet parents with the easy management of their pets through a single platform that provides them with all the services they could need. With PetKonnect you can make friends for your pets, manage their healthcare in our in-app system, access service and emergency service providers and learn how to be a better pet parent! Our strength lies in reducing the time you spend in managing your pet’s life so you and your fit furry have more time to play!
Not an insight that no one else has, but the one that keeps our focus, is that of the disorganization of industry participants that administer emergency and healthcare services to animals. PetKonnect has managed to aggregate a large number of these service providers onto our platform. To me, a critical factor has been the support I get from these industry participants and the animal care community at large. There are amazing people out there doing amazing work, and with their support, I hope to enact my vision of creating a legacy of trust and mutual dependability in this community of and for animal caregivers with tangible positive impact on the pets and animals we serve.
Q.: What were your assumptions when you entered the market, learning that you have? Who in your mind is your ideal customer? Do you have at least one of them signed up?
Ans: There were many assumptions we had during the early stages of development. To touch upon one, and maybe even the biggest, was that of service providers. Initially given a large number of listed service providers that one can access through Google, we were under the impression that creating a special section for them would not be required. We couldn’t have been more wrong! Now, our service provider section of PetKonnect is one of the most active areas of the platform. What we learned along the way, through many conversations and interviews with pet parents, was that even though there are a large number of listed service providers online, there is almost little to no user feedback on their quality or experience. In most cases, users are almost frightened to hire a service provider from a random Google search and then leave their beloved pets in their care. What ends up happening, is pet parents reach out to their friends and fellow pet parents to get references, etc. that can take many days at times to go through. We have simplified this pain point for users through the service provider section of PetKonnect, which brings you a list of the best, trusted and verified service providers in the industry at your fingers tips.
A smaller assumption was one around the registration of pets with local municipal authorities. We at first thought people would jump at us for the stress-free management of this activity. Turns out, most pet parents are unaware of the fact that they need to register their pets with authorities. PetKonnect is now driving awareness around this topic along with associated benefits that follow from proper registrations.
Our ideal customer is an animal lover or a parent to a pet that is willing to learn and give their pets the best upbringing and life. Adopting a pet is in many ways like bringing a child home. The responsibility lies in the hands of the parents who choose to make this decision. We aim to work with these great souls, to make their lives easier, better, safer and healthier. It’s with great pleasure that I say we have signed on many customers like this. Not only are they active users of PetKonnect services, but also my most important sounding board for the platforms future and growth trajectories.
Q.: What has been your biggest failure as an entrepreneur and what did you learn from it??
Ans: As the cliché goes, one cannot achieve success through success; success is always achieved through a series of failures. This has been my experience as well. I have been a professional, always engaged in the consultancy sector, with little exposure to entrepreneurship. During my full-time MBA at Imperial College Business School, I was introduced to the subject of Design Thinking. We designed a prototype of an online market place for buying and selling of sealed food items prior to its ‘best before’ date. Upon the successful creation of a prototype, we decided to take the project beyond the classroom, into the city of London. We worked relentlessly towards the design and development of the portal and invested a fairly large sum of money (Especially given that we were on student budgets). Upon going live with the online portal, we realized that we had not strategized our market entry appropriately, and reaching out to our target customers was easier said than done. Furthermore, we skipped performing a detailed market study of all the different segments that our potential customers belonged to. We identified a problem statement and made the mistake of believing that the problem we faced was actually the problem people face, in general – without taking adequate feedback from potential users.
Furthermore, we erred in believing that the solution designed for a classroom project was a solution sufficient enough, after having spoken to only a few fellow students for feedback, prior to finalizing the product model.
This initial level start-up, which was my first experience as an entrepreneur, gave me some lessons that I would never have learned without actually erring in them the first time. The most important of all the lessons was that I realized that identifying the different segments of your target industry, and taking their feedback is extremely essential to building a strong foundation for any start-up that aims to solve an existing problem.
Q.: How are you pricing the Product? What is the logic behind it? What is the model you are following – Free / Freemium / Premium etc. ? Explain your thought process.
Ans: We have launched as recently as September 2019, and currently our focus is to bring a large number of people, both service providers, and users onto the platform. As a launch initiative to boost service provider registrations, we have kept the first 6 six months from launch free of any transactional charges to service providers. We will, possibly, be introducing a charge on service providers for services booked through our platform towards the end of February 2020. The use of our platform is free for customers, along the lines of an Urban Clap. Since inception, we have signed on over 200 service providers and close to 400 customers in a matter of less than a month.
Still being internally debated, we would introduce a charge of 2-5% on service providers by Feb 2020. Ideally, the platform hopes to not charge service providers any fee and make its revenues from other sources. The aim is to build the platform to the largest in the country; as such our freemium approach is as aggressive as possible. Once we develop a larger user base, we plan to inculcate more innovative revenue models, as follows, to ensure the venture fuels its growth to map out across India.
- Fees for assisting registration of dogs with the BMC: We would charge a fee of INR 50 per registration + government taxes. Government authorities require pet registration every time vaccinations are done, usually once a year.
- Vet On-Call Service: Here we will provide users access to vets that they can easily call through our platform. The first 10 calls will be free, to entice users to check out this convenience feature. Post the initial 10 calls, users will be billed INR 600 for 10 calls on a top-up basis.
- Advertisements: This would be leveraged as one of the most aggressive tools to fuel PK’s revenue. The platform aims to have over 100,000 users by 2023, of which 80% would be active. We plan to run ads for ethical brands, events and more that are in line with the values of our platform.
- Priority Listing Services: Our platform will charge service providers and partners for sponsored posts and listings.
Q.: Please tell us about the investors
Ans: No investors currently, we are bootstrapped.
Q.: Is there any interesting success story of your startup? If yes, please write about it. ?
Ans: Currently our successes lay in having formed our industry partnerships with various participants from emergency services, spot treatments, etc. We have signed on more than 400 users in less than a month and feel that’s a great achievement! In terms of what true success means to us, is to have a positive impact on the lives of pets and animals in need of our help. With our user lead blood bank taking shape, we hope in the near future users will depend on PetKonnect for the supply of emergency blood for their pets. It is from saving these lives that our real success stories will emerge.
Q.: Since inception, give us a sense of the value of business done by your venture? Please explain in detail.
Ans: Already answered in Q8 -> We have launched as recently as September 2019, and currently our focus is to bring a large number of people, both service providers, and users onto the platform. As a launch initiative to boost service provider registrations, we have kept the first 6 six months from launch free of any transactional charges to service providers. We will, possibly, be introducing a charge on service providers for services booked through our platform towards the end of February 2020. The use of our platform is free for customers, along the lines of an Urban Clap. Since inception, we have signed on over 200 service providers and close to 400 customers in a matter of less than a month.
Q.: What is the big picture of your startup? Is this Product/service leading to something bigger? If so, how?
Ans: I would like to make PetKonnect India’s premier, one-stop solution and hassle-free service provider for all kinds of pets and animals. Over the next year, I’m looking to expand the networks to other cities starting with New Delhi and Hyderabad.
As we grow, I do plan to get into my first round of funding in the near and foreseeable future. I am hoping in the interim that the brand receives a great welcome from stakeholders and celebrities who are passionate about animals at large. Their voices hold great impact and can be used to benefit our animal community to promote social inclusion and reduce violent acts.
I also plan to introduce some interesting features on our platforms such as a vet on-call service, direct messaging service between pet parents to promote pet friends, an adoption section that promotes the adoption of animals and more! As a brand we strongly stand against the sale and purchase of animals through breeders.
Q.: Who do You Perceive as Your Competition? How do you differentiate yourself from them?
Ans: Our closest competitors currently are “Doggie” the app and “Petbubs”. Some differentiating factors are that at PetKonnect, our focus is largely on providing services to pet owners. We give them access to the most comprehensive list of service providers whether it be vets, emergency, groomers, lodgers, walkers and more! Furthermore, an external verification company vets all our service providers. This ensures that your loved ones are in safe hands when you use our platform to help you manage your life. Through our Social Petwork section, pet parents can also make friends for their pets and set up play dates in their neighborhood. This promotes communication between pet owners and pets themselves. The importance of socialization for animals has many benefits for their health and mental wellbeing.
We also provide spot treatment and rescue operations for strays. In my early stages researching this business, in many interviews, it had become clear to me that this is a service we had to put in place. If you parent a pet, then you most certainly love animals. If you love animals, your care for animals goes beyond just those that live in your home. It is very important to be able to help the ones on the streets and we give our users this power.
PetKonnect also enables its users to register their pets with local government authorities, a required yet uncommonly known fact with many benefits. We also, plan to introduce an adoption section on our platform to promote the adoption of pets and demote the buying and selling of animals, especially through breeders.
In consideration of the above factors, I would say PetKonnects key differentiator is that we’re a company focused on improving the lives of animals at large through increased social inclusion.
Q.: What would be your goal to accomplish in the next six months? Any other information you would like to share?
Ans: In the next 6 months our goal is to sign on a large number of service providers and an even larger number of users. The Platform works better when there are more people on it. As mentioned, we aim to build and become India’s largest online community of animal lovers and so what we really want is for everyone to talk share and participate with PetKonnect, to improve the lives of the animals around us. As we like to say, “Come express your love, for love beyond words”
Q.: What message do you want to convey to fellow entrepreneurs?
Ans: My message to fellow entrepreneurs would be to be persistent in their journeys towards building a successful company. They need to hold on to their grit, and never stop believing in themselves and their goals. During this journey, one will meet several people with different backgrounds and experiences – some of whom have the potential of being great guides and mentors, while the others would do their best to discourage you from their own unsuccessful endeavors. My message to all my peers is to look out for the former and beware of the latter. By that, I, in no way, am saying ignore the experiences of the people you meet. Listen, learn, evaluate, and accept what relates to you, and carry on with your personal journey. An unconventional career, a path less traveled, is certainly going to be tougher than the others, but that’s what makes you, you! With the right amount persistence, perseverance and determination, your efforts will always be recognized eventually.
Here, I would also like to add that it is very easy to get emotionally attached to the start-up that one is pursuing, with a sense of misguided passion. I can say this because I have made that mistake first hand. I would encourage my peers to learn from the mistakes I have made, and always stay objective and focused on the actual goal envisioned, instead of getting distracted along the way. Conducting thorough initial market research, getting constant feedback from current and potential customers about their requirements, and staying focused on the target plan is extremely crucial, especially at the initial stages of any start-up.
Thanks Devanshi. All the best!