Sydney startup Nuzzl is tapping into the lucrative market of puppo owners and cat people, with a platform offering vet services on demand. And, while they’re happy to ride the wave of the ‘fur-baby’, the co-founders are also considering all animal-based avenues.
Nuzzl is designed to act as a kind of triage, giving pet owners 24/7 access to experts — including vets, vet nurses and other specialists — via video chat or phone consultations. Those experts can tell them what to do, or advise whether they should take their pet for urgent treatment.
Co-founders Erin Corcoran, Erin Soll and Kiefer Enriquez, met through the first Antler Australia startup generator program, and bonded through their mutual love of animals.
Initially, they sent out a survey “trying to nail down the major pain points” for pet owners, Corcoran says.
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Three main themes emerged: people didn’t know what to do with their pets when they went to work; they didn’t know what to do when they went on holiday; and they were concerned about vet and medical bills.
The first two concerns are being, at least partly, tackled by other startups in the Aussie market, and there are also large players in the US, “so to come in as a newbie would be a little bit tough”, Corcoran explains.
But, the team saw very few players in the vet and medical bills space.
“That’s where we felt we could come in.”
As it turns out, they had the team to do it. Enriquez is a full-stack engineer, “so the data science piece is going to be really good”, she says.
Soll is a chartered accountant, which will likely come in handy, and Corcoran’s background is in branding and marketing.
“The three of us together, we felt like we could be the dominant player here,” she says.
As one of the final 12 startups in the Antler program, Nuzzl secured $100,000 in seed funding and took to the stage at the first Antler Australia Demo Day, pitching in front of 1000 investors and other startup folk.
More than a trend
Eventually, Corcoran sees Nuzzl as a fully fledged pet wellbeing platform, with the ability to diagnose issues and even prescribe treatment. And it won’t only be for house pets either.
“The people we could actually reach and help are the farmers,” Corcoran says.
For example, if a sheep was giving birth in the middle of the night, and something went wrong, Nuzzl could offer immediate access not only to a vet, but to a sheep specialist.
It’s partly why the founders incorporated old fashioned phone calls into the platform — WiFi isn’t always reliable in the bush.
“Australian towns are a long way from anything,” Corcoran notes.
At the same time, the startup is tapping into the ever growing ‘fur baby’ market, a movement that is showing no sign of slowing down.
“I don’t see it as a trend,” the founder says.
More and more Australians are starting to consider their pets as family.
“As we work longer hours and have more demanding lives, it’s more and more expensive to have a big family. But pets are family,” she adds.
“The amount of money people spend on their pets increases year on year.”
Equally, people recognise the health and social benefits of having animals around. It gets people walking more, and creates a sense of community with other dog owners.
“Even in the workplace, when you see someone who has a dog, it makes you feel a more human connection to the person,” Corcoran says.
And, while the humanisation of puppos may be “a little overkill”, people do form deep connections with their pets.
“I couldn’t imagine my life without my dog. I take her everywhere.”
Ultimately, this trend is a global one and the Nuzzl founders certainly have their sights set overseas.
“We need to get the model right here in Australia — it’s a mature market, just like the US — then we can take it overseas,” Corcoran says.
The team is planning on tackling Asia first, heading to China, Japan, Thailand and the Philippines, where co-founder Enriquez has family ties.
In Asia, “disposable income is rising, and having dogs is seen as a luxury thing”, Corcoran says.
“There’s a lot of opportunity.”
So, when it came to tapping into such a crowded, but lucrative, market, the trick for Nuzzl was really to get interested — to talk to the community and, crucially, listen to them, too.
It’s about one-on-one chats, focus groups and surveys, as well as chit chats in the dog park, Corcoran says.
“It’s you on the street understanding what is the pulse of the environment.”
And then, “test, test test”, she advises.
“Quickly get something up and then see if there’s traction. See if there’s a need, see if people want it. If there’s not, take a step back and reevaluate.”
StartupSmart was invited to Antler HQ as the official media partner of Antler Demo Day 2019.