Fuzzy Pet Health has lived more lives than your cat
Fuzzy is the evolution of his career path from financial services to mobile tech, and its thread of solving big problems while creating new opportunities
Officially, CEO Zubin Bhettay got the idea to start Fuzzy Pet Health after a bad vet visit with his sick dog.
More broadly, Fuzzy is the evolution of his career path from financial services to mobile tech, and its thread of solving big problems while creating new opportunities. Beginning as an insurer of both pets and humans, the company has steadily—though not linearly—developed into an all-in-one site for pet health, providing televet services, comprehensive resources, and e-tail pet goods.
Though Bhettay and Fuzzy have changed course more than once, their North Star through it all has been a more accessible, affordable, and practicable pet healthcare experience. Their evolution is a learning example for startups beginning on their own voyage—you should plan to make big adjustments, so have a plan for big adjustments.
Ask: Is the customer buying the same product you’re selling?
Back to that poor pooch: a half decade back, Bhettay had to ask himself if he had just shelled out $2500 to illustrate vet care’s shortcomings. He realized the experience would be even more trying for pet owners for whom time and money are concerns. Despite the dedication of the caregivers, he was certain that tech could solve for common gripes.
“This isn't just a me problem,” he realized. “This is a societal issue and it's actually creating a lot of barriers to people. Pets have brought us so much joy and emotion and care. There are all of these indicators around a better quality of life, but we're making it really hard for people” to give pets the level of care that they’d like. He co-founded Fuzzy to improve the vet experience, mitigate its high costs, and improve reimbursement rates from insurers.
At its inception, the company sought to provide affordable insurance—for people as well as pets. But the deeper he waded into the murky waters of responsible pet parenting solutions, the more he felt Fuzzy would need to solve for more than just time and money.
At the same time, there was the less-pleasant reality of the market.
“Selling [pet] insurance is painful,” Bhettay says. “Nobody really wants to buy it.” A mere 1.3% of U.S. pets are insured (approximately 2.16 million out of America’s 163.8 million dogs and cats), while in Europe the numbers hover around the halfway mark.
While Americans love their pets, insuring them simply isn’t attractive math for most pet owners. Fuzzy was attracting interested users, but the window of sales opportunity was thin, usually just before a checkup. Bhettay realized Fuzzy’s insurance offering had less to do with savings of time and money, and a lot more to do with peace of mind: users wanted to know how to take the best care of their pets and avoid the vet in the first place.
He decided that Fuzzy would play an additional role: making trustworthy information available so that users could be knowledgeable caretakers of their animals. And maybe, in the process, reduce the need for additional vet visits.
React: Pivot everything in pursuit of the purpose
According to Bhettay, 60% of pets don’t have access to vet care because it’s unaffordable or inaccesible. Though it had initially looked into insurance to ease the first problem, Fuzzy’s site and app were getting traction by solving for the second, making it easier to meet up with vets—or find answers that might preclude a visit.
The company bet on its users’ interest by dialing in on shortwave frequency: keeping owners invested in their pets’ health by increasing access care and information throughout the year, not just checkups and emergencies. Fuzzy made information on common inquiries and ailments more accessible, so owners could find answers day or night. If they still had questions, the service also made vets more available.
While televet channels are a growing aspect of Fuzzy’s model, one of its most eye-catching initiatives in this regard was to arrange at-home visits with veterinary partners. This makes pet parents likelier to arrange check-ups more frequently than once a year. It also opens up care to animals who can’t or won’t leave the house.
Skipping the trip proved to be a huge boon for cat owners, whose pets are often stressed by carriers and car trips—so much so, the visit often throws tests like heart rate and blood pressure off-kilter.
Prompting pet parents to monitor their animal’s health more closely laid the path for Fuzzy’s larger mission: getting them to invest that knowledge in a healthy, daily lifestyle.
Expand: At the intersection of success and ambition
Ask the average cat owner to brush their pet’s teeth, and prepare to hear a snort of derision. But tell them that this single act extends kitty’s lifespan a couple years on average, and many will gladly suffer a sulky feline.
Bhettay says the cumulative health benefits from measures like early spaying and neutering, or a more judicious administration of antibiotics, have the potential to greatly increase animal longevity. To find the hidden signifiers of a healthy pet and better connect the recognized ones, Fuzzy has gone all-in on insights. The business is partnering with leading veterinary schools like UC Davis and Cornell to gather and organize data for Fuzzy’s algorithm.
Additionally, Fuzzy’s site sells products for a healthier pet lifestyle, addressing common ailments such as dental health and animal stress levels. It’s a modern all-in-one access point for Millennials, who recently became the biggest percentage of pet owners, the first generation to be raised on virtual interaction even while the humanization of pets became a documented phenomenon. Bhettay figures that Fuzzy was growing 150% month over month before the pandemic struck in March. These days, it’s closer to the 200-250% span. Whether that will continue as the world eventually reopens is anyone’s guess, but for now, quarantine has definitely affected Fuzzy’s growth.
Do: The Best Version of Your Mission
The momentous sea change that can result from a watershed need is something Bhettay is eager to talk about in this summer of civil rights. As Fuzzy attuned itself to increasing access to pet care, it became apparent that there were underlying access problems with pet care entrepreneurship.
“The pet industry has done a really shocking job of addressing for diversity,” Bhettay says. “People speak to it being a pipeline problem, but I think that that has been debunked enough times for us to recognize that that isn't the issue, they're just isn't enough opportunity being created.”
Growing up in South Africa, he saw plenty of the same specters that haunt America’s racial divide. It’s plain from the outset that equality and equity are fundamental passions of his, and that his work as a corporate leader strives to address them—as he did recently in Leap Venture Studio’s diversity roundtable this July.
“I'm using the platform that I have to be able to communicate and engage with executives at the biggest companies around in our industry,” he says, hoping to “start to create a playbook and framework to really address for this.”
It’s obvious that if Fuzzy is really going to increase access to pet care, it will have to increase access to pet ownership...and the jobs that emanate from there.
“Exactly why we exist,” he says, is “a lot of the reason why folks from some communities do not have pets, is because of the lack of access to care.” By solving for that, he expects more people of color to enter the field, citing the familiar refrain that so many veterinarians chose their career because they grew up caring for animals. And in fact, pet ownership is already exploding among non-white populations within the United States, with a much higher rate of growth.
You have to be an optimist to start your own company. And if you’re a techno-futurist who wants to make information readily available, you’ve probably got ideas to make veterinary care less expensive. Bhettay, already used to partnerships and consultancy, speaks passionately about his intent to do so: “And so we really democratize that, and really reduce the barriers to how folks get to care for pets. I think that the opportunities are really exciting longer term.”
Our in-person Coalition event is currently slated for Spring / Summer 2021. Until then, we invite you to be inspired, informed, and delighted by this series of thought-provoking and insightful conversations, featuring luminaries such as Dr. Zay Satchu, Co-Founder and Chief Veterinary Officer at Bond Vet; YuJung Kim, President at the Dodo; Brock Weatherup, Co-Founder and CEO of Metamorphosis Partners, and many more.