From Dogs to Dragons: Emma Harris from Healthy Pets Makes a Deal in the Den

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Emma Harris is the Founder and CEO of Healthy Pets, a company that connects pet parents to local veterinarians on demand through video chat for a fraction of the cost of traditional care. As the first software of its kind in Canada, Healthy Pets leads Canada’s #PetTech revolution.

You had the idea for Healthy Pets in 2016 so as a company it's still considered a puppy. That said you've clearly come a long way in a short period of time. Tell us about three highlights from your journey so far.

The idea for Healthy Pets was born in 2016 when my own dog, Bo, was very ill. I have learned so much on this journey so far but here are the biggest and most important lessons.

1. I could move as quickly as I could because I quit my job to be 100% dedicated to Healthy Pets.

I spent six years acquiring a Bachelor of Management and Organizational Studies and a Master of Science degrees. In the fall of 2016, I was less than one year out of school when I quit my career in biotechnology. I took a waitressing job, working nights and weekends. I also tutored. This allowed me to keep my days open for meetings with vets and potential collaborators.  I can definitely see how it would be so much harder to do what I did with a family, a mortgage, and substantial commitments. I feel fortunate that I could do what I did and I don't for a minute take my situation for granted.

2. Each time I took a step, I didn't necessarily know it was the right one. But I believed I should keep going and I was confident the pieces will fall into place.

I tried to work as quickly as possible, even in the face of uncertainty. One example: I hired a developer offshore to build my MVP (Minimum Viable Product). As it turned out, it was a horrible experience - the developer wasted a lot of my money, and was difficult to work with. But in the end, it did prove the concept and demonstrated the fact I had skin in the game.

3. I made a conscious effort to surround myself with the right people.

I met so many different people – including coaches and mentors – through conferences, events, and trade shows. I always focused on ensuring the relationships were mutually beneficial. When my line of credit ran dry, and I knew I had to raise money, I was ready because of the connections I had cultivated along the way

We know your yellow Labrador, Bo, helped inspired Healthy Pets.  What else or who else has inspired you the most?

In my personal life…

My grandmother was fearless. She was born in 1924 when women were housewives, moms, and that was about it. Had she been born when I was, she would have been an unstoppable business leader. She always encouraged me to do anything I wanted to. My parents also allowed me the freedom to try anything!

My fiancé is also a motivating force in my life. I travelled to Ethiopia four weeks after we met and spent six months there. He patiently waited for me to return home. That alone is pretty awesome. He was by my side when I was waiting tables at night – and he still is.

On the professional side…

I've watched Dragons' Den since its first season. Arlene Dickinson's tenacity and perseverance are beyond amazing. Having come from poverty, she has shown incredible resilience. She is truly an inspiring business women and single mom (at 26 she was a mother of four).

It was always been my goal to be on the show and make a deal with Arlene – I'm in awe that all this has come true!

You describe yourself as a "Technology entrepreneur leading the #pettech revolution.” Tell us more about this.

To be perfectly honest, I thought of that title, now on my LinkedIn profile, at 2 a.m. one night. That said, I suppose it's quite accurate. Bringing video consultations (also known as tele-medicine) to the vet world is completely novel in Canada. In fact, just two weeks prior to filming Dragons’ Den in April 2017, the College of Veterinarians approved video chatting as a means to serve and communicate with pet-loving families. I'm very proud of the role I had in this decision, along with a vet – we brought the Association the right information and statistics in order to ultimately make their decision. Beyond this technology, I see so much opportunity in the #PetTech space, an $8 billion dollar industry in Canada and $90 billion in North America. Pet wearables alone will be huge. Healthy Pets is just getting started.

We were so excited to see Healthy Pets on the March 29th episode of Dragons' Den! Surely the experience was quite the adventure.  Please share your top 3 insights from your experience.

1 . Network and prepare early.

This one goes back to before the Den. As I mentioned, networking and building relationships have been a huge part of my journey. And the Den was no different. On International Women's Day, March 8, 2017, I accepted an open house invitation to an event hosted by Omers Ventures, one of Canada's largest venture capital funds. I was paired with managing director, Damien Steel. He had invested in a company called Dog Vacay. I met him for thirty minutes that day, during which I told him I was asking for $30,000 in the Den. He asked me to practice my pitch for him, imagining he was the line-up of hungry Dragons. Essentially he told me $30,000 wasn't enough and he couldn't let me pitch for that amount. Since then, he has met with me regularly, giving me at least a couple of hours each month, to coach and counsel me. If I had not met Damien, I would be in a nine-to-five job right now.

As you saw – hopefully! – five of the six Dragons wanted a bite of my business. Ultimately, I'm thrilled to share that I made a final deal (after the due diligence phase) with Arlene Dickinson. Her Fund, District Ventures Capital, has invested $500,000. I'm especially proud of this accomplishment given the current landscape: astonishingly, in North America only 2% of venture capital funding is invested in female founded companies, and in Canada, only 5% of Canadian tech companies are led by a female CEO. I know #movethedial's mission is to change the landscape and you are making amazing progress. I'm thrilled to be a champion for this important movement.

2. Know your numbers and understand how to answer difficult, technical questions.

I was successful in the Den because I knew my numbers and I was able to paint a picture of my company in the future. Investors are not investing in what you've done – they are investing in the potential…and your potential.  You need to be able to justify what you're planning to do in the future – your vision – and how you're going to get there – in other words, how you're going to spend the money and time invested.

3. Be yourself.

Arlene said she is investing in me. Show them who you are and what you're worth. Always be true to yourself and your values.  

Healthy Pets taps into two key lifestyle attributes that aren't going away anytime soon – technology and health and wellness. Can you talk about this combination and why you think Healthy Pets is positioned for success?

Everyone thinks of health and wellness with respect to ourselves; but there is a sociological phenomenon, called the humanization of pets. Over half of pets sleep in their owners' bed. They go to daycare and often eat better than we do. They are literally a member of the family. If you have had a pet, you know what I'm talking about. This trend is not dissipating anytime soon. In fact, millennials are the largest group that Healthy Pets targets. 80% of millennials have pets – and sometimes, pets are replacing children. Or some millennial couples think of a dog as a pre-baby step – as a test for their ability to have kids together.

Regarding technology, well, it's everywhere as we all already know. We are already using our phones for everything and technology is so ingrained in everything we do. I'm very confident that by tapping into this combination – health and wellness and technology – we're tapping into success.  

What has been your biggest surprise as a tech entrepreneur?

No doubt my biggest surprise has been how all-encompassing work becomes, and how hard it can be. When people say it's a lot of work to start your own business, they really, truly mean it! This business has quickly taken over every aspect of my life. That’s not a bad thing - I've never been happier. But I guess I didn't anticipate it. I wake up every morning so excited to tackle the day. Still, it can be draining to work so many hours. But unlike my first year, when I drained by body and my productivity suffered as a result, I now make more of a conscious effort to take care of myself.

What's next for Healthy Pets?

Our true launch is March 29 with the Dragons' Den airing! Everything thus far has been very private with no marketing. We plan to expand across Canada - by end of 2018 we want to be in at least half of the provinces.  We've expanded our team and we definitely see more growth on the horizon. Watch out for big things to come…we’ve graduated puppy school and we’re ready to play with the big dogs…and a dragon!

Guest writer: Jori Lichtman

 
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