As I fly back to Durango from participating in the Veterinary Innovation Summit at Texas A&M, I am reflecting on the diverse group of people that attended and what drew them to attend the inaugural “unconference”. Presentations were geared toward recognizing our gaps in the profession, the disruptors banging on the door and trying to get some sort of game plan in place. There was a buzz of energy focused on the consensus that we need to do SOMETHING. It’s just identifying and executing that something which is the hard part.
This is true of most things though. The idea is the easy part, it’s where the rubber meets the road when things get lost and often abandoned for various reasons as illuminated during the session “Bringing the Entrepreneurial Mindset to Veterinary Medicine” by my fellow veterinary founders, Dr. Dani McVety of Lap of Love Veterinary Hospice, Dr. Ira Gordon of VetPrep and ViralVet, and Dr. James Andrews of Felcana. Interestingly though, all of the challenges that entrepreneurs face are exactly the things that veterinarians are designed and trained for during our years of training and practice. The way I see it, there isn’t anyone better suited for this challenge.
It all starts with the application to veterinary school. If I had a nickel for every time someone tells me they wanted to be a veterinarian but they either couldn’t handle the school or the euthanasia scene, I probably would have made enough money to pay off my student loan. The mere fact that your name ends in DVM makes you a perfect candidate to be an entrepreneur. It’s during the rigorous veterinary college that we “learn how to learn” with a problem-based approach.
In the tech world, they call these sprints. In the veterinary world, it’s called appointments. And there isn’t a purchase order at the end of the problem, there is a cute little fuzzy animal depending on you to find the right solution.
Veterinarians are also accustomed to working long hours, barely eating and sacrificing sleep. We do this because we care and want to make sure everything gets taken care of to the best of our ability. My friend Dr. Ivan Zakharenkov, veterinary founder of Smart Flow, was informed his next meeting was running 15 minutes late so the host suggested he go have a glass a wine. He said “Perfect, I’m going to crash and take a nap instead.” Being focused and putting in hard work nearly every day is a core skill every entrepreneur needs to possess.
Lean start-up is a very popular concept in the entrepreneur world. This basically means save money where you can which translates to sharing a hotel room, turning hor’s d’ oeuvres into dinner and avoiding cash bars. It also means don’t blow money you haven’t collected yet. Be smart and realize you can’t afford it all just yet. Often if there is a way to save money by working harder, the lean entrepreneur will do it. I don’t know many veterinarians who aren’t well versed in the art of pinching a penny. We are quite familiar with the concept of sparing expenses because we know every dollar we spend may mean a client can’t afford to take care of their pet. It’s a double-edged sword. I know many veterinarians who choose a modest salary so their patients can have access to all of their services.
Not everyone is designed to be an entrepreneur though. There are some uncomfortable situations you have to get right with, and even enjoy because it’s a lifestyle. Here are just a few:
There is no roadmap
There is no manual on how to do your job. New problems you never thought about will arise every day. You have to be agile so you can make decisions and react on the fly. When you wake up in the morning, you don’t map out your day. You show up and take what comes. It is very similar to working emergency medicine. Evaluate and respond quickly. The better you are at this, the more successful you will be.
Not having enough money to pay your bills
Payday suddenly becomes the worst 2 days of the month instead of the best. Convincing your vendors and even your employees that you will be putting the check in the mail very soon becomes a regular conversation. It’s a feast and famine situation, much like dental month.
Having an unlimited source of confidence
This will require thick skin forcing you to be your own number one fan. Some people will think you will fail and some will think you will be a perfect candidate for Shark Tank. You will have to replay the right reels in your brain to remain positive and persevere. There will be days that you feel like things can only go right and other days you get punched in the gut. This is very similar to performing intestinal surgery. You go for it then sweat it out until day 5 when your patient is eating well.
Putting yourself out there
There are many functions you will have to go to and calls you will have to make in order to get your product the exposure it needs to thrive. Sometimes you will have to stand by yourself and feel totally awkward. You will have to introduce yourself and visit with strangers by drawing on all the skills you learned in grade school. As you make friends, it will become easier. I try to remember some advice my Mother gave me once “Are you so big you don’t need another friend in the world?” Trust me, you will be tempted to stay home and watch Netflix with your pets but they can’t buy your product or service.
Most people are nice but especially the veterinary community. You can find support and encouragement around every corner if you look. Not everyone needs to be an entrepreneur but if you are holding on to a great idea, you have my support! Go for it. Don’t let the reason you fail be because you didn’t try because if anyone can do it, a veterinarian can!
Dr. Stacee Santi, CEO/Founder Vet2Pet
Dr. Stacee Santi is a 1996 DVM graduate from Colorado State University and the founder of Vet2Pet, a technology startup that builds personalized custom apps for veterinary practices. With over 20 years of clinical experience in small animal and emergency practice, Stacee brings an “in the trenches” approach to innovation and solutions for veterinary teams. She has also served as a medical advisory consultant for NVA for 5 years, medical director for a general/ER practice in Colorado as well as current President of the Colorado Veterinary Medical Association. She can be reached at email@example.com.