This is an interview with Dr Claire Jenkins, CEO and founder of Vetchat. Dr Claire was accepted into the Blackbox Connect two week program in Silicon Valley to connect with and learn from some of the best entrepreneurs in the world. Dr Claire was able to travel to San Francisco thanks to our partners at Google for Startups who awarded Claire a scholarship for her travel and participation. And what did she learn? Find out below.
Tell us about your startup and your journey since being in the inaugural SheStarts program in 2017?
Vetchat is Australia’s largest online marketplace that gives families peace of mind for their pets by instantly connecting them with trusted veterinarians via video and text chat.
Our mission is to improve access to care so that every pet is living their best life every day. We empower pet parents to act confidently, rather than be left guessing. Because of our services, pet owners can rest assured they have early intervention, collaborative care and lifelong prevention.
Since the SheStarts program I have learnt how to best help pet carers through telehealth and these learnings have shaped Vetchat in 2019. We have been growing rapidly since mid last year (2018) at 24% MoM. In January this year (2019), we partnered with one of Australia’s largest pet insurers which opened us up to 10,000 new customers in the first three months. Helping pets at scale is very exciting for us!
Why did you apply to Blackbox Connect?
I was aware of the Blackbox Connect program after my trip to San Francisco with the SheStarts cohort in 2017. I was very impressed by how they operated through hand-picking founders from diverse backgrounds to form a group who could add value to each others experience and seemed to help rapidly propel their personal and business growth.
My initial interest in Blackbox Connect was to learn best business practices for my startup from around the world.
I was interested in customer experience and engagement, leadership and scaling a team, and effective monetisation of marketplaces. In addition, I wanted to be challenged and inspired.
What I came back with was so much more than what I expected.
How would you summarise the two weeks in San Francisco and the Silicon Valley area with Blackbox Connect?
Hectic, inspirational, confronting.
The two weeks were a whirlwind of intense learning, where much of the materials and interactions could only be digested and processed after the fact.
Like many female entrepreneurs, I had to push past the fear that I wasn’t enough, and perhaps didn’t deserve a place with such talented entrepreneurs, and believe in the value that I could contribute to the group. The experience certainly pushed me out of my comfort zone.
Overwhelmingly, now I just feel gratitude, for the unique experience, the people and the many learnings.
Dr Claire at an event with Blackbox Connect.
What did the days at the Blackbox Connect program involve?
The Blackbox Connect program is really a founder accelerator which goes for two weeks with a free weekend in the middle (much needed!).
Blackbox is a content heavy program. Time is allocated for your individual work or meeting times during the day, but the expectation that you are present for all the speakers and workshops.
The time away from my startup was actually a positive in that it added confidence that “I’ve got this” through learning that my team could deliver without me being there in person.
It also allowed me to examine our strategy by allowing the space and time out of the day to day operations.
A typical day would start late at 930am. This allowed time for a morning run, email catch up, priority tasks and a great breakfast. Mindfulness and meditation was a part of every day (10 deep breaths, and a gut check with the cohort), then dive into carefully curated sessions with alumni Blackboxers, as well as experienced mentors and subject matter experts.
There’s usually around 30 minutes for lunch that is brought to you, then more sessions until around 6pm, time for a short break pre-dinner, and we often had speakers and mentors joining us for dinner sessions as well. A very memorable meeting was with Adam Cheyer, founder of Siri. He spoke about his strategies to deliver when many things are going on, one that I’ve since adopted myself, a carefully crafted calendar by design.
After a game or download with the cohort at the end of the evening, thanks to the Aussie / SF time zone difference, I found this to be a great time to liaise and catch up with what’s happening back home and with Vetchat. Then bed, and ready for the next day ahead.
Dr Claire speaking about Vetchat and getting advice from mentor and founder of Blackbox, Fadi Bishara.
What was the most valuable thing you learned?
The most valuable learning was to:
Always bring everything back to my mission, and be deliberate about growing my business in a meaningful and compelling way.
And with this, the importance of understanding my communication style, so that I can strive to be a better external communicator with clear messaging (to my team and to our pet carers), a better listener and also notice what is being communicated nonverbally. I make sure I now put more time aside in the calendar for communications.
Who did you meet who inspired you the most?
I was inspired every day by the incredibly amazing cohort of entrepreneurs, the team at Blackbox, and also the expert speakers and mentors.
I continue to refer to my learnings and inspiration from one of the excellent speakers – Shivani Siroya of Tala. Shivani is very clear about her mission (to expand financial access and choice for the underserved globally), and about the opportunity that it brings. She has rapidly scaled her company and maintained an amazing culture that is centered around their founding principles, and her discipline towards her communications. I loved being reminded by Shivani the importance of tying back everything we do to our mission, the improving the access to trusted health advice (the reason why I started Vetchat).
How has Blackbox impacted your work at VetChat?
Blackbox gave me a deeper understanding of and connection to the Silicon Valley ecosystem, and allowed continued exploration into the US market as an area of expansion for Vetchat.
Another direct outcome of the program is that Vetchat is now lucky to have an incredible board advisor Charlie Barlow (founder of human telehealth company Health at Hand based in Dubai and Rockfirst Capital) who brings his knowledge of telehealth and best practice around the world in the human space to Vetchat (essential when telehealth is relatively new in pets).
I’m grateful that SheStarts are partners with Google for Startups, making me eligible to apply for a GfS scholarship to cover the cost of participation and travel to SF for Blackbox Connect, for which I was lucky to be a recipient. This generous award and investment meant that I was able to head to SF and learn from these amazing people in business, which is a luxury many early stage startups simply cannot afford.
Just like the bond I have with the SheStarts founders, I now have a strong and active community of global entrepreneurs and now friends (living in bunks with people for two weeks will quickly do that!) where we can share and learn from our successes and mistakes.
Dr Claire Jenkins is the CEO and founder of Vetchat. Having spent the past 15 years caring for animals as a neighbourhood vet in Melbourne, Sydney and the United Kingdom, Claire has experienced firsthand the cost of delayed or incorrect pet advice, both here and around the world.
That’s why she created Vetchat. A pet-first, people-friendly online service that empowers parents to help their fur babies in the moment, with help from real vets. Claire’s mission is for every pet to live their best life, every day.