Following their appearance on the new season of television series ‘Die Höhle der Löwen’ (the German version of the American business pitch series ‘Shark Tank’), we spoke to WHU alumna Mareile, one of the co-founders of digital pet healthcare provider vetevo and her thoughts on launching a start-up.
How did you meet your vetevo co-founder Felix?
Felix was studying in the Doctoral Program at WHU, while I was still in the third semester of the Bachelor Program. We had some mutual friends, but while I was working on the idea for vetevo for one of my courses, he became very interested in the project, particularly from a process perspective. Despite there being a five-year age gap and the fact that we were at different points in our lives in terms of education, we are very well matched as co-founders. Our motivation, ambition, and drive is very similar and we were both considering potential next steps in our careers.
After you graduated from WHU in 2016, you went straight on to found vetevo – how did you come up with the idea?
During that third semester at WHU, we had a course with Professor Dr. Hienerth from the Chair of Entrepreneurship, which included working on an entrepreneurial idea. My family owns a farm roughly 30km from Campus Vallendar where we have around 300 cattle and agriculture. I often had to work on the farm, as my mother was quite ill at the time, so I chose to work on an idea focused around the health tracking of farm animals. I disliked the tedious medication tracking and thought there had to be a simpler, more intuitive way. From that the idea of vetevo was born, with the goal to make animal healthcare easier.
Tell us a little more about vetevo and how it works.
vetevo is essentially a digital veterinary service: we use technology to make pet healthcare for dogs, cats, and horses simple for their owners. It consists of digital medical records within an app for our customers, a laboratory, and a pharmacy. Every health checkup that you should organize on a yearly basis for your dog, cat, or even horse, is possible from home. We first send a test kit - so for example as a dog owner you collect some faeces and send them back to the vetevo lab. Based on the lab results and the data we have in the digital medical records, we decide what would be the correct medication for the animal and then send the medication.
Not only is it simpler, it’s also a more modern approach from a medical perspective: to first diagnose the animal based on the lab results and then decide on the medication. For example, many dogs and cats are prescribed de-worming medication, without even knowing if they have worms. This can cause a resistance to medication - a challenge where we can see potential for vetevo to counteract. Otherwise, the medication itself will eventually no longer continue to have an effect.
What have you found to be the most challenging aspect of founding a start-up?
A lot of what it takes to succeed is having a good mindset – thinking big, always thinking customer-centric, being positive, and being flexible. If we find something isn’t working, we have to be prepared to change it and sometimes this can happen very often. You have to be ready to see this change as a positive part of the process.
What have you found to be the most rewarding aspect?
The feedback we receive from our customers really does make all the hard work worth it. To receive messages from them that they love what we are doing and to know that we are helping them, is very motivating. Sometimes they even send thank you notes with the test kits when they are returning them to the laboratory! To have that kind of feedback that they love vetevo, is the best feeling you could ask for.
In which ways did studying at WHU help you realize the idea of vetevo?
There is something particularly special about WHU when you consider the large number of talented people there; whether it is the professors or the people you are studying with. That ‘magic’ in WHU’s surroundings helps you to aim high and believe in yourself. That is something I really learnt at WHU: when I think something is possible and I want to do it, I believe I can do it. The support you receive from the WHU network is incredibly helpful.
What advice would you offer to WHU students who are interested in founding their own start-up?
When it comes to founding a company, it is essential to not be afraid to take a risk. Felix and I both invested enough to have the basic capital you need to start a company. That is capital we could lose if it didn’t work, but as we have no kids, no house to pay for or other financial responsibilities, it was a risk we could comfortably take. It was just the perfect step from a timing-perspective: after your studies is the best time to found a company as you normally don’t have these responsibilities.
How did you prepare for the pitch on ‘Die Höhle der Löwen’ and was it a positive experience for you?
Felix and I prepared intensively for the program, putting a lot of thought into the stage design and our performance in order to convey what our vision and motivation behind vetevo is, in a relatively short time.
For the questions from the ‘lions’, we did not plan too much in advance because we have all the numbers, data, and facts about vetevo very clear in our minds. Luckily, we are also accustomed to being in contact with experienced investors like them.
What are your plans for vetevo in the future?
We hope to expand the service we currently offer to our customers, by increasing our portfolio of test kits and improving lab input so that we can support pet owners on a larger scale. We are also looking to improve the vetevo experience overall through the platform that bundles everything together: the app itself, the digital medical records, and the software we use. By focusing on these particular aspects of the business, we can support pet owners with the health and wellbeing of their pets even further.