I was reading the Forbes list of the wealthiest, self-made women in the United States recently. One of them is Judy Faulkner, founder of a privately held software company, called Epic Systems, that keeps medical records on more than half of the American population.
She is worth $2.5 billion, according to Forbes.
Washington area veterinarian/entrepreneur Mark Olcott wants to do the same thing with the 160 million dogs and cats in the nation. He is building a computerized animal-health-care clearinghouse with one purpose: making it easier for veterinarians and pet owners to share information.
Olcott, 47, is the chief executive and co-founder of Columbia, Md.-based VitusVet. The software company houses records on 4 million animals – dogs, cats, ferrets, guinea pigs and more. Olcott hopes to have many times that number in the next few years.
Olcott is swimming in big pools. The U.S. pet market, including food, insurance and everything else, is more than $60 billion and growing. If pets received all the care they should get, Olcott said, that number could easily double.
VitusVet is a David going against some Goliaths, including giants Henry Schein and Idexx Laboratories, both stock-market stars. The expanding market and his company’s specialized, cloud-based software make him confident.
“Pets are becoming more and more part of the family,” he said. “That is a meta-trend that is not changing. Which means there is tremendous growth potential.”
VitusVet (named for St. Vitus, a patron saint of animals), is losing cash as it burns through the $2 million from its first investment round. That money came from local venture-capital firms, investors and the Technology Development Corp., the start-up arm of the state of Maryland.
Olcott said he hopes to reach about $1 million in revenue this year after grossing $250,000 in 2016. He expects to be profitable within a year or so. The company has 11 full-time employees and a payroll between $20,000 and $40,000 every two weeks, depending on sales commissions.
“Our software allows pet parents to access their pet’s complete medical records, including X-rays, lab work and medical notes,” he said.
VitusVet serves about 500 veterinary practices across 30 states. Most pay him 99 cents every time a pet owner uses VitusVet’s app to make an appointment or obtain a prescription for a pet. Some animal hospitals, such as emergency clinics that tend not to have pre-made scheduling, pay a monthly subscription based on practice size.
VitusVet processes about 10,000 appointments and prescriptions a month. Unlike human medical practices, veterinarians fill prescriptions from their own, in-house pharmacy.
“Vets make money on this because we help veterinarians get more appointments and fill more prescriptions,” said Olcott, a graduate of the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. “That way, our businesses are aligned.”
Olcott said his company takes the telephone out of the pet-health equation.
“You’re sitting home watching TV and you hear your dog click-clack across the kitchen tile, and you say to yourself, ‘I’ve got to get him in the vet and get the nails trimmed and get those lumps on him checked,’ ” he said. “The problem is the vet is closed at 10 p.m. In our Amazon, Open Table and Uber world, we don’t want to call in the morning. You open the app and make an appointment.”
Ka-ching goes the 99 cents into VitusVet’s cash register.
Olcott focuses on veterinary practices with four doctors or more that are located in fast-growing metro areas. The larger veterinary practices tend to be in wealthy areas where people are apt to spend more on pet care.
Olcott owns less than half the business. Co-founder and chief technology officer Kalpesh Raval, and some investors, own the rest.
Olcott has been business-minded since he grew up near Albany, N.Y., where he would buy Blow Pops and gum at the store near his bus stop, then sell them for a profit at school.
He earned a bachelor’s in biology at the State University of New York at Geneseo, in the western part of the state, before graduating from Cornell in 1995. Olcott has spent the two decades since in veterinary jobs that constitute a sort of survey course of the entire animal health-care business – emergency, cardiology, ultrasound, general practice. He even punched his ticket in business, earning an MBA from the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.
“One of the things unique about me is I have a deep understanding of the entire veterinary industry,” Olcott said.
After graduating from Cornell with around $60,000 in debt, he left Upstate New York for Maryland’s sunny climes and its greater disposable income.
“Veterinary medicine is a very disposable-income-dependent service,” he said.
He joined a small equine service that paid him $35,000 a year. He drove a red Chevy pickup truck to horse farms.
After a couple of years, he moved on to another practice. It had better hours and more variety. It also paid a lot more.
“It’s a lot more efficient if you bring your dog to me,” he said of the pay increase. “You can see more pets in a day.”
In 1999, he and a partner bought out the practice for $1 million. Olcott sold his share of the practice around 2005 and spent the next several years experimenting in other parts of veterinary medicine, including ultrasound and emergency care. It was as an emergency-care veterinarian at the LifeCentre critical-care hospital in Leesburg, Va., where he had his lightbulb moment that led to VitusVet.
“You own a dog, you bring it in to the vet at noon for vomiting. The vet does lab work, X-rays, a physical exam and you take your dog home,” he said. “He gets worse and at 10 p.m., you come and see me at the emergency clinic. I can’t see your vet’s lab work. I don’t know what drugs he gave your dog. I have to start all over again. I end up repeating this stuff at emergency-clinic prices. You might have spent $400 at your regular vet. And I am now going to bill you $600 because that information is locked inside the walls of your vet.”
He decided to get an MBA to help solve the problem, which is how he met Raval.
They wrote a business plan. Olcott used his extensive veterinary network to interview dozens of vets and hundreds of pet parents. They visited clinics. They used the Smith School’s incubator resources for office space, which kept spending to a minimum.
He found the prestigious Silicon Valley law firm Wilson, Sonsini, Goodrich & Rosati (Amazon.com, Google, LinkedIn, Netflix, Tesla, Twitter) to help with networking and making connections with investors.
VitusVet’s first client was Olcott’s former employer, the LifeCentre in Leesburg. Since then, they have grown the client list and expanded the software offerings to include emails, texting and photo-sharing between pet parents and veterinarians, all of which could one day be monetized as veterinary tele-health matures.
Olcott is not in Judy Faulkner territory yet, but he is optimistic that the big money will roll in some day.
And he is doing his part. He has three dogs, two cats, guinea pigs, geckos and tropical fish.