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Priority Pet: A new way to connect with pet service providers

Pet Gazette sat down with Jana van der Westhuizen, CEO and founder of Pet Lifestyle Corporation, a UK-based tech company specialising in the pet industry. Their first product, Priority Pet, aims to be the most trusted source for information on pet service providers in the world. We found out how a twist of fate turned their plans to travel the globe into a plan for global domination.

Tell me about Who are Pet Lifestyle Corp? Who started it and why?

PLC was founded in London last year by my husband, Gerhard, and I. Gerhard is an actuary who, for the last 7 plus years, has worked in pet insurance at one of the UK’s leading brands, with an active involvement in Insurtech. He was part of a private equity group and was exposed to strategic process and insurance innovation in the UK, USA, Europe, Australia and South Africa and formed a global view on pet care and ownership trends,” said Jana, who was born in South Africa but is now a British citizen.

I did a Masters in journalism before working for various online lifestyle publications where I learnt how to keep users engaged. I then applied these skills in financial services, launching new Insurtech brands in the cycle, travel, motor and home space, before joining Vitality in 2018. The Vitality model of customer value and incentivising healthy behaviour made so much sense to me and I wanted to use this thinking to improve lives in another market.

Fundamentally, we both understand the power of platform-based technology and know how to connect customers with providers. We always believed something more can be done to help connect pet parents to the very best suppliers and services in the pet care industry, but doing so seamlessly and without any friction.

So, we set up Pet Lifestyle Corp, gathered the best possible tech people we could around us – contacts, partners and experts with the same values, entrepreneurial spirit and work ethic – and set off on a mission to create something that was disruptive. Priority Pet is the result. We did this all during the height of the pandemic – but that was never really the plan.

So what was the plan? And what changed? 

Priority Pet was our long-term vision. It was something – we kept telling ourselves – that we’d develop ‘one day’. In 2019, we made the decision to leave our jobs and travel the world. But fate had other plans. When Covid hit we were in Canada.

The global picture worsened quickly, and countries were being forced into lockdown, so we rushed back to ride out what we thought would only be a temporary delay. All the down-time allowed us to finish those conversations we had started years earlier and PLC was formed.

3.2million cats and dogs have been sold in the UK over the last year so I guess the timing could not have been better in terms of capturing a growing market.

Exactly, even though it was unexpected, we couldn’t have planned it any better. The growth in pet ownership is well documented, coupled with the strange new world we find ourselves in – lockdowns, working from home, furlough – we felt that pet owners need every bit of help to be the best pet parent they can be.

Whether they’re busier than ever – working from home doesn’t necessarily mean more time, in fact, studies have shown that burnout and working hours are even worse than before – or simply a first-time owner with no clue of how to take care of their new puppy or kitten, especially with the lack of face to face support they could usually get with services like puppy schools and so on. Priority Pet removes the hassle and stresses that go hand in hand with being a pet parent.

So, tell me about Priority Pet. How does the business work?

We did a tonne of research and we found that pet owners largely rely on past providers and word of mouth recommendations from a small community of people they trust.

We knew we were onto something when we noticed some apps were trying to address walking, others grooming, others booking vet appointments, others sitting, televet apps, Dr Google… the list goes on, but none were pulling all these together, making it instant for customers and helping the top-rated, independent businesses connect with these customers. 

You could easily fill up your phone with a different app for every aspect of your pet’s life: dog walking, housesitting, groomers, vets. Priority Pet brings all of these together in one super sleek app.

What is unique and different about Priority Pet is that we provide completely honest and neutral recommendations. We don’t take money from any provider we recommend. It comes back to the basic principle of having recommendations from people you trust.

By not taking commission from any of the suppliers on our platform, we are levelling the playing field for independent and smaller retailers who offer an amazing service and don’t have budgets to compete with the big players. This keeps services prices down and also, in a way, ‘looks after’ the pet care community – the service and product providers – who are often small businesses who, especially since Covid, are struggling.

So, this is as much about looking after pet service providers as it is pet owners and their pets?

That’s our model – give value to both sides through an agnostic platform. We want to make the lives of pet parents easier. And simply put, we always put the customer first.

So how do you make money?

The App works on a subscription basis. It’s £9.95 per month but the 24/7 service, the Televet option and access to discount is second to none.

Does Priority Pet do anything else?

We believe that Priority Pet is the ultimate pet parent app because it has everything you need in one place. Everyone has different requirements for their pet, so it really ticks all the boxes a pet parent can possibly have. Our aim is to be the only pet app that a pet owner will need.

One of the key strengths of the App is all our recommendations are delivered though a chat function with a real person on the other end – we call them Pet Pros. We do not use bots. We have a powerful AI system in the background, but pet parents will only ever talk to a real human being. It is genuinely like having a personal assistant do all the legwork for you. And this can be as light touch or intricate as you want – our Pet Pros can take care of everything – source, book and pay, or simply be there to help narrow down your options, so that you’re not spending hours reading reviews and searching for the best options to suit your needs and budget.

Of course, pet health is also very important to us – which is why we’ve just added our very own Televet solution – where you speak to vet nurse about any medical questions you may have, at any time, 24/7. Reports show that around two out of three vet visits could have been avoided, if the symptoms had been checked with a vet or vet nurse first. So not only are we saving people time and money by finding products, services and suppliers, but also by providing medical advice at the touch of a few buttons.

It’s also very easy to upload pet related documents like pedigree certificates, invoices, registration docs or medical notes. Simply snap a picture and know you have a copy of all your pet docs is in one place.

Other than the functional benefits of the app, I’m just really proud of what a beautiful experience the app provides – the UX is second to none – it just looks stunning, and it works seamlessly.

So what are the next steps for PLC and Priority Pet?

We’re in discussions with some great pet brands which we hope to add to the app for exclusive member offers and discounts. We curate the very best for our members.

We enjoy working with the big players, but we are constantly looking for ways to promote the small and highly rated pet businesses. We have a great global solution for recommending and connecting with those companies that don’t have the best online presence yet.

We are particularly interested to connect innovative services and companies that make life easier for the pet parent, save them money and help improve pet health. Adding trusted online medication retailers and preventative care would be the logical next step for us.   

We’ve got global aspirations, and are definitely looking to venture to the USA, Australia and South Africa soon, where the pet industry is also booming.

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