Featured Founder: Azza Diasti-Kennedy of Pet Harmony
Welcome to our Featured Founder series, where you’ll meet startup founders from Tampa-St. Petersburg who are building and scaling their ventures to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges. We interviewed Azza Diasti-Kennedy of Pet Harmony, a telehealth veterinary services app for pets & pet owners.
What were you doing previously and what inspired you to launch your company?
For over 20 years, I worked as a practicing veterinarian in Tampa, Florida. I started my veterinary career at Lakeside Animal Hospital in 2001. I focused on small animal medical and surgical care during my veterinary career, particularly internal medicine, and surgery. I'm also certified in animal acupuncture from the Chi Institute of Chinese Medicine. I completed a Dentistry Externship at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, applying both disciplines to my practice. Lakeside Animal Hospital then became American Animal Hospital Association ("AAHA") certified, an achievement received by fewer than 15% of all animal hospitals in the United States and Canada. In addition, I have been a co-owner of Coast Dental. Coast Dental is one of the largest dental providers in Florida, with over 100 locations. I serve on the Board of Directors and the Executive Committee of the board of Coast Dental. I sold my practice in 2018 to American Veterinary Group ("AVG"), a private equity-owned company with over 100 veterinary hospitals around the southeast. I'm an investor in AVG, and though I no longer practice daily, I actively follow the business of veterinary medicine.
Veterinary medicine used to be male-dominated; however, more than 80% of veterinary students and professionals are women today. Work and emotional demands were placed on the veterinary healthcare providers and created financial and psychological challenges for those working in the profession, leading to primarily a shortage of veterinarians and veterinary staff. At the same time, pet ownership has grown and exploded during the COVID pandemic. The work-from-home caused pet owners to see all the care and attention their dogs and cats need. They realized their pets need as much attention and quality health care as our human families.
While seeing all the changes and consequences of the shift, I thought about building an app that gives veterinarians more flexibility and a more balanced professional life. Flexible Hours they desire, and they can stay home a few days a week but earn money while having a life-work balance. I decided to go back to school and graduated from the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts (MIT). And I was awarded an Executive Masters in business administration degree. I also received a certificate in Business Analytics from MIT in May 2021. Now with a particular emphasis on telehealth platforms for pet care, today, I'm building a veterinary care telehealth platform founded with the support of other MIT graduates.
Our app is close to launching, and it offers an integrated solution for the pet owner to manage their pet's health from a single easy user experience and get all pet owner's questions and concerns resolved when you need them most.
What pain point is your company solving? What gets you excited to go to work every day?
The current veterinarian experience is inefficient for both pets and pet owners:
- It is inconvenient for clients to schedule a vet office visit during their hectic work hours and wait hours in an exam room to see the vet.
- The cost of animal ownership and veterinary care is a challenge for many clients, leading the veterinary profession to balance the cost of optimal care with the financial constraints of their clients on a case-by-case basis. It is critical for the veterinary work at all levels to expand efforts to help the public and clients grasp the value of veterinarians and veterinary healthcare.
- The experience is very stressful for both pet owners and pets. Research shows that over 90 million cats could not see a vet during their lifetime. As we all know, cats have six senses; they will hide under the bed for days if they sense an appointment with the vet or a ride in the car.
- Inflexibility in the workplace: Our app is an excellent place for vet professionals seeking flexibility in the workplace without disrupting their lifestyles. As a female founder and a veterinary professional, what gets me excited and motivated is envisioning accessible Veterinary care for all pets and their owners at every income level. Leveraging technology and artificial intelligence to help solve the fundamental issues we face in the veterinary profession today. Providing flexibility to veterinary professionals in a workplace with no ceiling for growth in their carrier is a mission for a female founder looking for flexibility and diversity in the workplace.
Name the biggest challenge you faced in the process of launching the company. How did you overcome it?
- A fundamental principle of digital transformation is the implementation of digital technologies. As a veterinarian, I lack the expertise to build and understand the terminology of a platform or app terminology. I also found that engineers need a veterinary professional to provide the vision and the landscape to know what they are building. To stay in line with the digital transformation initiatives, I was personally involved in every little detail during the app-building process. I put myself in the pet owners' and veterinarians' shoes to ensure flawless user experience and touchpoints.
- Planning and strategy were critical to the outcome of success; a reliable digital transformation requires a careful approach, and a weak strategic plan can make the job difficult during the building phase.
- As a start-up founder bootstrapping with a limited budget can be very stressful.
Where do you see your company headed next?
Millennials are demanding a new way of communication, recent trends, and services and are the fastest growing segment of pet parents, so this app is both efficient and available. Boomers find it more challenging to get out and often have limited assists. Our app also addresses their needs. Since most pet parents consider pets to be part of the family, this app will help all of them take better care of their pets. Our vision to become the leading site for pet owners' education and community engagement with other pet owners sharing information and experiences is what sets us apart from other apps.
Give us a tactical piece of advice that you'd share with another founder just starting out.
It sounds cliché, but having the passion and love for what you do, is a sure way to succeed and be able to do something meaningful that others need and appreciate.
Why Tampa Bay?
Tampa is my home - so it is an excellent place to start, but this app is not limited to Tampa Bay - it has the potential to reach pet parents everywhere. Also, Tampa is known for its diversity, history, culture, and beautiful beaches. It is rated one of the highest-ranking regions in the country in Entrepreneurship Magazine for population growth and job creation.