PetDesk co-founders Taylor Cavanah, Aaron Bannister and Ken Tsui (left to right) successfully pivoted their company into a vet-booking platform. Photos courtesy of PetDesk

PetDesk co-founders Taylor Cavanah, Aaron Bannister and Ken Tsui (left to right) successfully pivoted their company into a vet-booking platform. Photos courtesy of PetDesk

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Employees bring their dogs to PetDesk’s offices in Bankers Hill. Photos courtesy of PetDesk

PETDESK

CEO: Taylor Cavanah

Total funding: $15.6 million

No. of local employees: 60

Investors: PeakSpan Capital, Canal Partners

Headquarters: Bankers Hill

Year founded: 2011

Company description: PetDesk’s app connects users to veterinarians, helping them book appointments and receive reminders to care for their pet’s health.

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PetDesk’s app allows users to book vet appointments, keep vaccine records and make a to-do list for caring for their pets. Photo courtesy of PetDesk

Taylor Cavanah’s company got its first big break after he took his dog to the vet.

Cavanah’s vet-booking platform, PetDesk, recently raised $12 million in a Series B round from PeakSpan Capital. Bankers Hill-based PetDesk has grown to 60 employees, with more than 1,500 clinics nationwide as its clients.

But the venture first started out as a location-based platform, similar to Foursquare. Cavanah co-founded the company in 2011 with friends Aaron Bannister and Ken Tsui. They quickly discovered they would have to compete with Foursquare, which had just raised millions from Andreessen Horowitz.

Fail Fast

“We failed very quickly,” Cavanah said. “If you’re going to fail, you need to fail fast so you can move on to the next thing.”

Cavanah would work in the office day in, and day out with his Shih Tzu Pekingese mix, Molly. At one point, he realized that she had gotten stressed, too.

“During this roller-coaster ride of a failing business, figuring this stuff out, one day I looked up and saw that Molly’s paws were all chewed up,” he said. “I immediately brought her into the vet. He ended up being the first adviser at our company and the first customer we had.”

Dr. Raffy Dorian at Market Street Veterinary Clinic in downtown San Diego let Cavanah and his team test their app on his practice, as they retooled it to help people schedule appointments. That also allowed them to learn the ins and outs of the business, working with everyone from veterinarians to the front desk. Soon after, PetDesk was talking to 10 other veterinary hospitals.

“For him to say, ‘hey, come experiment on my practice with apps, communication and text,’ that’s a big thing for a local businessperson to do,” Cavanah said. “But it really helped us.”

Cavanah saw this as an opportunity not only to pivot his company, but to help other owners take better care of their pets. Even as more people begin to think of their pets as family, about half of them still don’t take them in for an annual checkup.

PetDesk gains most of its users through their veterinarian. It allows them to book appointments in app, carry vaccine records and make a to-do list for caring for their pets — helpful for the monthly or weekly tasks that are easy to forget.

“If you don’t bring your dog in for their annual checkup, you just missed seven years of checkups,” he said. “That’s how we should be thinking about pet care. If we do that, I think we can really extend the life of pets.”

Platform’s Big Advantage

PetDesk has been able to edge out competitors by building a platform that is designed to work well with all sorts of veterinary clinics. Most apps in the space have been built by veterinarians for their own businesses.

“Even when we only had 20 customers on our platform, I was still talking to 100 other ones,” Cavanah said. “We’re making sure we’re not building something just for one clinic.”

Subscription Fee

PetDesk is funded by a monthly subscription fee that veterinarian clinics pay for their clients to use the service. Last year, the company’s top line increased 92 percent. In 2017, it increased 126 percent.

With the additional funding, Cavanah plans to grow PetDesk’s team to 80 or 90 employees by the end of the year. That includes adding more engineers, marketing staff and rounding out the company’s executive suite.

In the future, Cavanah plans to continue that growth by bringing PetDesk to groomers, which can also catch potential skin and ear issues, and play an important role in a pet’s health. In the long term, he hopes to expand it to boarding, daycare and training, and provide breed-specific health data for owners.

“You might only have 10 to 15 years with your pet. For me, that’s crazy,” Cavanah said. “Why are we not doing everything we possibly can to get the most out of that lifetime?”