Post-Holden redundancy: Founder takes out Best Start-up Pivot at Startup Adelaide Awards

Jo Shanahan, founder of Animal Therapeutics Online, overhauled her business model in 2011 and was recognised for her successful execution of this transformation last week at the Startup Adelaide awards held by co-working space Majoran Distillery.

Shanahan launched her business of high end performance products for competitive animals such as horses in 2008 after taking a voluntary redundancy from Holden, where she worked as a mechanical engineer.

“I launched the import business in 2009, with all my financial modelling done on the last 10 years. In between placing and receiving my first order, the dollar crashed and so I was selling products and effectively making no money,” Shanahan says.

With unworkable margins, Shanahan kept the business ticking over through a network of agents but focused her attention on supporting her mother’s consulting business until 2011, when her contract with her final agent wrapped up.

“As it hadn’t been a focus, the agents had moved on as a matter of natural attrition. I also noticed I was losing the consistency and quality of our service. I felt I’d lost touch with my customers, and didn’t know what they wanted so couldn’t make the right decisions,” Shanahan says.

Shanahan decided to pivot away from the classic agency selling model of high end animal products, invest in her online presence, marketing and induction resources and systems and go it alone.

“It was a bit scary because there was a lot we had to do and now the whole onus was on us. We had to do a lot of work in the background turning the whole business inside out,” Shanahan says.

Animal Therapeutics Online is based in South Australia, but most of its customers are scattered across the country and beyond, with over 30% in New Zealand. Shanahan says this meant creating good introduction materials and processes became their number one focus in the overhaul.

Rather than the hour-long, one-on-one demonstrations agents would carry out with clients, Animal Therapeutics Online created a series of online tutorials, video and booklets and created a 14-day money back guarantee.

“The compulsory training sessions prior to the money back period ensures our future clients know exactly how to use it, and why the products are helping them,” Shanahan says, adding no one has asked for their money back yet.

“We’re getting much better feedback, I know what they want and care more, and our sales have increased by 200%, so it’s working!”

The new model also means the team of two no longer have to pay agents a 20% commission, so they have extra money to reinvest in the business.

Shanahan’s focus will be on scaling the business across Asian markets and into new segments of the racing and equestrian markets in the coming year.

This article first appeared on StartupSmart.

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