dr Audrey Wystrach spent 25 years treating dogs, cats and livestock in foul-smelling veterinary hospitals still operating on faxes and post-it notes. Antiquated booking processes stuck patients in the waiting room—sometimes for an hour—as vets scrambled to see them promptly.
It was a situation howling for change. Wystrach turned to her brother Michael (formerly the CEO and co-founder of meal-kit service Freshly), and in 2020 the Wystrachs launched Petfolk, a tech-enabled veterinary practice. Investors took note, and on Wednesday, Petfolk announced a $40 million Series A round led by White Star Capital to bridge the communication gap between pet owners and their vets.
“Honestly, I had better communication with my Starbucks than I did with my vet,” Michael Wystrach said.
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The North Carolina startup combines telehealth with brick-and-mortar and mobile clinics to make it easier for pet owners to book appointments and access follow-up care instructions without dealing with long wait times. The ability to properly follow up on care, whether scheduling medicines at a certain time, exercising pets, or portioning out food, is key to making sure they don’t need to revisit the animal clinic.
“As you go to your human doctor, sometimes you leave scratching your head saying, ‘OK, what did they say? What do I do? How do I do this?’ And so we really wanted to create a support network of virtual care on top of physical space,” Audrey Wystrach said. “Empowering the customer with a ton of information will ultimately lead to better outcomes for our pets.”
Right now, Petfolk has four locations and mobile clinics in North Carolina, Florida and Georgia. It will soon offer 24/7 virtual care.
The rise of pet tech
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals found roughly one in five households adopted an animal during the pandemic, accelerating the need for veterinary care.
While venture funding toward the pet-related startup world is growing, it’s not exactly raining cats and dogs. Per Crunchbase data, 2021 saw a mere $578.9 million in the space for startups focused on pet care, mail-in pet diagnostics services, and pharmaceuticals. BondVet, billed as an urgent care for animals, raised $170 million in private equity money last year. The Vets, a mobile clinic and telehealth platform for pets, raised $40 million in seed funding in January.
But pandemic-era changes to human health care is slowly making its way to the pet industry, with telehealth and tech-enabled care much like OneMedical becoming more popular among a largely millennial crowd of pet owners.
“It was funny because a lot of Audrey’s original thesis and mission was really built around this idea of connected care, really being connected with virtual care and telemedicine …” Michael said. “And COVID only accelerated both of those things. So if anything, it just made our mission and our product that much more relevant for customers because it was that much more attuned to telemedicine.”
Illustration: Dom Guzman
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