Veterinary Innovation Podcast with Vetstoria CEO, Julien Renard

24 min read
Veterinary Innovation Podcast with Julien Renard

What is the Veterinary Innovation Podcast?

Veterinary Innovation Podcast is where cool kids get their weekly dose of veterinary funk, which is why I was surprised to see our CEO Julien Renard on there.

Just kidding, Julien is the GOAT (greatest of all time) and I would say the same about Shawn Wilkie, and Dr. Ivan Zakharenkov who comfortably retired at 38 before creating this smash-hit podcast.

The trendy medium of podcasts usually relies on word-of-mouth to proliferate. That’s no problem for those guys though, because Veterinary Innovation Podcast has a stellar cast of heavyweight industry speakers like Bruce Truman and many more!

In this episode, the three entrepreneurs chat candidly about the challenges and rewards in starting up a tech company, dealing with different cultural sensibilities and ultimately how online scheduling for vets is essential for a modern practice to grow. Take a listen:

It is well worth the time of those who aspire to start their own business post a veterinary career, something both Ivan and Julien have experience in. For practice managers and owners looking to grow their business in the modern era, the trio put forth a perfect recipe for success, so don’t miss out!

In the meantime, why not head over to Veterinary Innovation Podcast for more great podcasts?

Full transcript of this episode below:

SW: -You are listening to the Veterinary Innovation Podcast My name is Shawn Wilkie and along with my awesome co-host we interview the innovators in the veterinary space every week. I want to go in and introduce today’s guest.

IZ: -Hey, my name is Ivan Zak, and I am happy to introduce you to my friend Julien Renard who is a veterinarian, who graduated from (and I’m gonna screw this up) From the University de Liege. How do you pronounce it again?

JR: -Liege

IZ: -Okay, that’s what I said. So he studies in Belgium. (laugh). So, he also studied business and management in the Brussels management school. He is the co-founder of Vetstoria; therefore we are gonna talk about online scheduling and anything that is innovative in that area. On a personal set of things, he travels a lot. He recently traveled to Orlando, New Port, sounds like probably a lot of conference traveling… Chicago, Paris, London, and New York (Yes, sounds like a lot of conferences). As the CEO and the founder of Vetstoria, it’s been, you know, we’ve known each other for I think over five years,

JR: -Yes, at least

IZ: -Yes, so, on a personal side of things also what I want about Julien he is from Belgium, and then but he resides in England, and he has accent in both languages. So it’s really hard to say which language is his native.

JR: -The only thing I know is that it’s a very bad mix. Doesn’t sound good.

IZ: -(laughs) No, it’s good, it works well in North America when you meet people. Very interesting statistic: on your website, that we noticed, it says that 52% of the appointments are booked outside of business hours. I think it’s really cool and I would like to probably open up with why is that important and how does that influence your product, and was it sort of the decision-making point.

JR: -So this 52 slash 50 depends on the practice, sometimes it’s 48, doesn’t really matter. But 50% – and it’s been consistently number that we have from the start, so since day one, I mean the clients are booking hours for the appointment outside of normal working hours. So what does it mean it simply means one thing is that clients are willing to scheduling an appointment when the practices are closed. And this is something that we ask customer are actually doing every day. We’d like to know a little bit more about, I’d say customer experience and clients are expecting exactly the same thing, they have exactly the same expectation with than I don’t know, the hairdresser or the next plane to schedule online. So this is exactly what we provide. So we provide an online scheduling system for the practice and that would be available 24/7 per day 7 days a week. Really clients like to schedule when it’s convenient for them. That’s what we offer.

IZ: -So was that the statistics that you found after you started the product or that’s something that you thought about to start the product?

JR: -No, after. Honestly, we had no idea before starting, and we started pretty when one of the first ones starting at that luck, thinking about like five years ago, four years and a half ago, and we had no idea.

SW: -What other interesting statistics have you learned like along the way about the use of your product?

JR: -There is two additional data: one is the percentage of mobile users and that’s actually a data which is being chaning from the start. We used to be at 44-45% of mobile booking 4-5 years ago. We are now at 60 percent, so the mobile usage is definitely been growing, so that’s one aspect. The third data is really about new clients. Online booking is a key channel for clinic to acquire new customers. It’s very simple to understand, like all of us, if we want to use a new service or buy a new product, we are just gonna go online, check this, I mean “Do I like this product? Do I like the service?” , and then you have a call to action and you buy it or you schedule it or whatever. Well, online booking for vet practices is not different. The fact that you have a veterinary clinic is a better schedule an appointment online on the website. It allows them to transform a website visitor into potential new customer, into a customer which is making it very easy for them to schedule their first appointment. So this data is 17%, so that’s an average. We have clinics which are booking much more than that is new clients when I say much more we are looking double digit and starting by two. So we have clinic which are looking 25% of new clients. Usually it’s clinics who have a strong marketing strategy behind them. And I would say some of the cooperates are very good at that. Really, they put a lot of energy into acquiring new customers and we are piece of the acquisition puzzle they have been building. And we have clinics which are more like 10-12 because they make less effort. Or also, they have more existing clients scheduling. So, because they have existing I would say the percentage of new clients is dropping a little bit.

IZ: -So let’s unwrap that a little while. Like you said about marketing, you know, this one of the passions of mine. When you are saying you a part of their acquisition model, you mean that when the clinics are sending out the marketing campaign. So, for example, for dental month or, you know, “Don’t forget your vaccination”, then the emails that they are sending, they would have you know, a description of the service that is suggested, or it’s a reminder, and then the call to action, which is the button in the email, leads directly to the booking page. Is that what you?

JR: -So there’s two type of marketing. What you described is marketing for existing clients. You don’t sell dental campaigns to non-clients. So that’s marketing to existing client, typically vaccination reminder, which I would say what every single practice should do. But yes, you have dental..I don’t know, let’s say nurturing amnesty or things like this. But one of the key aspect is marketing to new clients, acquiring new customers. So that’s very much Google Adwords, retargeting, things like this, or social media campaign. And we can be a piece of this puzzle.

IZ: -That’s excellent. So do you see a lot of corporates using the retargeting and Adwords and things like that? Are they now tapping into that?

JR: -It’s definitely opening. So some have started and some are starting, but for sure this is what’s very exciting about an online booking. Because as you are a bit the king of marketing, (laughs) So you know that marketing there is a big challenge is measuring the return on investment. For practice, they need to come tap the local marketing agency or whatever and then they start “Okay, give us a budget on this, and we are going to generate X.” The problem is that to actually F the final X it’s rather complex, because when people start driving online traffic, the last peace of the journey is you know you have to make a call to schedule your appointment. Well, when they can book online and when we can follow I would say the path of these clients, or from these leads, from the start, and you can know exactly how many new clients are being generating at the end of your marketing activity. It gives the practice a very precise idea of the return on investment. They know that they invest in X, and they know that at the end of the journey they’re returning X new clients. If they put in the equation the life-time of new clients, they know exactly if it’s worth the investment or not.

IZ: -Yep, no, absolutely, that’s brilliant. And you are absolutely right. When I was looking out at a different solutions in the URL domain, in the online booking, there is the final call to action that actually determines that KPI of the effectiveness of your marketing. It used to be the phone ringing, and then nobody records it. And if you’re consolidator, you can’t count on phone call either anybody does that. So that’s brilliant. Now, you know, your story is very similar to mine, and you’re a veterinarian, just like myself. And then, we decided to shift gears and build something. And then all our relatives told us that we’re idiots, that we should go back to the veterinary

JR: -Honestly said that

IZ: -Mine did. (laugh) And then, especially my father in law. He said it’s a stupid idea, which was basically a guarantee that it’s a good idea. So yeah

SW: -It’s a shoutout to your father in law, right? (laugh)

IZ: -He doesn’t speak English, he’s not gonna listen to this one. He’s a good guy, he just doesn’t like workflow optimization tools that veterinary clinics cause he makes honey.

SW: -Now it sounds like your wife may be listening to our podcast.

IZ: -Well (laughs) I’m just, it’s just a safety..It’s like..So yes, when that story, you know, you change what you wanna do, then you pick this topic, and then you know, or this niche. And then you tactic through it. But you really sort of hockey sticks, started happening from sort of 2015 if I remember correctly or 2016. What was first of all that initial couple years, how did you fund it? Did you borrow money from your mom? Or your friends and family are fools? Or were you funding it by veterinarian. And then, what was that pivotal point when it started to improve, how did that feel?

JR: -Well, I started the company with my friend Julien Poublon who I’ve met at the vet school, and exactly like you: we basically were working nights, doing night shifts and working on the vet store the day. We started working on the initial application we built it was a pet portal. It was a bit like a pet desk vet tool, vet’s application. It was before that, and probably wrong timing, and we probably have not executed the product as we should. We had a customer, but attraction at least in UK was not great. I mean yeah, we had customers, but the growth that we were planning to have was not there. And we simply had requests of clients who were like “okay, by the way, it would be great if you had an online booking in your application”, and we just said “okay. It sounds interesting”, and we simply built it. But what we did at that time – it was a smart move at that time, I’m quite proud of myself or of the team, I’m not alone there. We actually built it as an, and potentially it could be used separately. And what we saw is simply the traction on the, that booking tool was, I mean at a completely different scale than what we had on the pet portal. So I’m not saying that the portal is not good, by the way, I think it’s very very good. But the way we did it – at that time – was not the best thing we did. We did the online booking and we learned from the previous mistake. There is also one thing was also challenging at that time, you know, in the US. There is the data and there is no data point. We went to UK, and in the UK there is no vet data or data point. So we had to convince the practice management software to actually work with us, build a API to work with us. So it was a very long journey because we had to convince all of them one to one to be learned API.

IZ: -I’ve been on that journey with you. It’s a..

SW: – It’s a recurring theme on this podcast, isn’t it?

IZ: -Yes, we definitely struggle with that. There is a lot of one on ones that we built before the vet data or data point existed. But you know, that’s a really interesting path. And then what I also know which I’ve never tapped into. You went different languages, too.

JR: -Yes

IZ: -Maybe that’s because you are bilingual, but you went languages that you don’t speak.

JR: -Chinese?

IZ: -Chinese? Are you an Asian?\

JR: -Yeah (laughs)

IZ: -Wow. So yeah, there is, you know, your global distribution is quite fenomenal. So your biggest market as far as I remember in the early days was in Australia.

JR: -Well yeah, it was actually Holland. Holland was interesting because we we went where we had partners, and IDEXX Animana who was Australian based software, and IDEX Animana, which is in the Holland, were kind of our first two partners. And we just went there. So interestingly, Holland is a very interesting market to test – features and products – big companies such as LinkedIn, for example, are testing new features in Holland. Probably the way people use technology there – it’s a very small country – there is a lot of practices, there is a lot of people there. And there is a lot of competition in between vets. So it was a very interesting market simply because there was a lot of traction there. Vets are very well-engaged when it comes to marketing.

SW: -That makes me think of a question that It’s kind of a burning question for me and Julien. I’ve been in and around the circuit in the last 3 to almost 4 years now. And my favorite boothmates are these marketing companies that are unbelievable in the approach, very persuasive, I heard them described by people as across between use care sales person and the worst person they’ve ever met. And I just like..I don’t know.. I don’t want to say any company in particular. I think, you know our listeners know who they are. But I’d like you to comment on that. You know, your inside on that. How does a veterinarian see through the fog of all of these people that want to sell them a templated website for 5000$ to 10 000$, and get some real assistant that can drive dollars to them bottom line . Do you have any suggestions because what I see I don’t really like and I’m just wondering if you get comment on that.

JR: -To be honest, I mean, we’ve been discussing this with Ivan quite a lot recently. I mean it’s always the problem of marketing. I think it’s back to what I was saying earlier. When we give the tool to a vet, or to any business to actually measure the return on investment or day marketing activity, I think it’s pretty straightforward, okay? If you know that you can actually see how much you are generating, the practice can make the decision themselve. The problem with marketing is that when you don’t know actually how much you are going to get at the end. So for me, the only way to resolve this is through data. When you can provide the data, showing actually and proving that you’ve been delivering, nothing can go wrong. When the numbers out there at the end, for me that’s the only way really to actually avoid these kind of issues.

IZ: -Well, sometimes it’s hard to maybe design up front. And good marketers can say that this is the return on investment. When they tap into a new niche, and these guys, you know, they’ve been around, the ones that you are talking about, Shawn, but if someone comes in to the new industry, they may not know the exact response of their audience. But very quickly, when they start, as long as they measure the right things, you can understand are you doing the right things or not. Cause the worst thing is you know marketing before sort of the 2000s. There is a marketing budget that you have to just spend, and you print, you know, envelopes, give pens away at the conferences, have zero understanding where these money goes, and then the only way in a clinic to understand is when your phone rings, which nobody records the quantity. So really you are just wasting money on, you know, your kids football team T-shirts and, you know, stuff like that, that has no any impact or relevance, and then you just hope for the best. So right now, in digital age I think it’s neuroscience, data-driven and can approach it otherwise.

SW: -And I agree with all of that stuff, and I think what I’m trying to dig at and either one of you guys answer this question if you can for our listeners is how do they pick a good marketing company? Yes, sure, data has to be data-driven, but there is so many companies that want to sell these unsophisticated marketers, which are some of our listeners, they want to sell them at 10000$ website and 10000$ is a lot of money, and there is no other why. So how do they even go about assessing those companies to make sure that they make good decision and then have a return on that investment. Any suggestions?

IZ: -I think references. That’s really.. If they have been around for a long time, ask their clients to tell about them. And then ask smart questions. I don’t know..

SW: -No, I like it. That’s good.

JR: -Yes, I agree. Plus data. When you start, when you have picked up your favorite goals, you just go for it. And then, I think also probably the expected timeline to see result should be fixed from the start. Okay, these are 1,2, or 3 KPI that we would like to achieve in 3 and 6 month. And if you don’t achieve it, you have to take necessary decision.

IZ: -Yeah, you have to..

SW: -I would add a third thing to. Like, you know, just follow the three quotes thing. Get a couple of quotes or don’t take that offer just because some is pressuring you to take it. Yeah, this is interesting observing over and over again as it shows in the last couple of years

IZ: -But the other thing, Shawn, is when you are taking sort of or doing the experiment with some sort of company, after you collecting you references, after, you know, you had a conversation with the sales person. You need to start, you need to set limit, and then you need to cut it if it’s not working. But the important thing is that I was just talking to the CEO of a manufacturing company, a friend of mine, and he said that.. He doesn’t know much about digital clinics. Socks. He owns a factory, he makes socks. Does billion of them. But then I was talking about marketing with passion about it, and he was like “Oh, marketing is the first budget that we cut. He’s like these losers are hiring one and then after two months nothing changed. So you really need to stick with it, because if you’re talking about true digital marketing with the effects of it, you need to look about 6 months to see the return. And the proper, you know, SEO propagation, and the link engine, like all of those things to collect data. But then, after the six months, if you don’t have the result, you have to cut them loose and, you know, use someone else.

SW: -Okay, so that was great.

IZ: -Cool. So, so I wanted to kind of, you know, talk a little more through the international experience. Because I’ve been on this talk, and someone invited me to talk about the global expansion of the company. They invited me and they said “Can you talk about penetration of the global market.?” And it was all those guys who’ve been working in the big companies and they wanted to know how you know these strategies build to go global. And then, as a start up, it sounds like Julien, your story is similar to mine as I was, you know, my story was..I was sitting in the demo, someone booked a demo with me, and then I heard a funny accent, and then after you know, at the end of the demo, I found out it was an Australian guy. And then at the end he said “Where do I put my credit card?” And then now we have an international you know Australian customer. All of the sudden, you have to build support, you have to build sales, you have to now support that market. So I think that the big company perspective was you throw an idea that you know we are gonna penetrate in Australian market, and then you build a plan and the strategy around it, you do the budgeting, and then you deploy this, and you need to do that. And then in reality, when your agile startup, you kind of go with the flow. You really get your customers, and then if you.. You know, if it bites, then you start building infrastructure out.

JR: -That’s totally the case. I mean ..As I say, the first step was that we actually worked there and the main condition was we need to have the PMS that we can integrate with. Then, getting a few customers. All right! Do they like it? And when we ever prove that there is actually a market there for us, we set up the strategy around that isn’t sales and marketing. But absolutely. It’s much less planned, and (Indistinct speech)

JR: -Yes. Well, actually, to be honest, for example in the US, you know in the US now we have much more strategic approach now because we used to sell from the UK, but now we’re setting up an office in Texas, and I would say for that kind of market we are thinking and planning much more strategically than what we have done in the past. I mean there are countries which are less important. We have customer in Chech Republic..

IZ: -I have a friend from Chech Republic. He’ll tell you how less important.. (laughs)

JR: -So I’m not saying it’s not important. I’m saying for her that targeted country there is probably a little bit less potential, let’s put it this way.

IZ: -Yes, no, and that’s .. we never close the doors to any country.

JR: -Same for us

IZ: -No, you’re buying our software and use it. And, you know, we’ll have a limitational support in your language if you’re okay to use it, you’re welcome. And I know that you know some companies, because of the infrastructure, they have difficulty doing that, but with the global availability of just put the credit card, even if you are in some foreign country that doesn’t support your payment system. But payment system will take dollars, so just do it. I think for any startup, instead of trying to think regionally and stuff like that. Because the one thing that I found about Australians is that just like you said about Netherlands. We never got to Netherlands just because we were afraid of language, but Australia was very interesting, again, they were super eager and fast decision-makers. Compared to Canada, I think that I find, unfortunately, I live in Canada and I love Canada, but they’re such terrible decision-makers. Sorry, Shawn. They, you know, they will be like “Oh, that’s great, and you know, we’ll think about it”. Australians – that’s the only country where they say “Where do I put my credit card in?”. And that was important to us.

JR: -I agree. And same for the Dutch. One thing that is interesting actually working internationally like this is seeing a difference of setup and different way vet practice actually work. There are some big, big difference. I mean, for example, you know, if you’ll look in the US clinics, US vets are usual duration of consultation minimum 20 minutes but 30 minutes is extremely frequent. If you come in the UK, most of the practices are on the 15 minutes duration consultation. So this some big difference..I mean when you talk about an hour of the time, you can imagine the number of consultations for vet is pretty different at the end of the day. So that’s some key differences that we have been observing, and yeah, there is a lot of differences between the countries.

IZ: -Would you mention about the difference in how they practice medicine? That’s also important when you are building your technology towards that. Cause you can really in a workflow optimization, when we built smartflow. When we came to Netherlands ,and especially in the UK, you know, they have shorter appointments, but at the same time, the big difference that I kind of got burned on, cause I was pitching you know with the way I’m used to practice, and Canada and US is similar, where we send a technician, or nurse into the exam room first. Well, in the UK that’s not the case. They just go in.

JR: -That’s correct

IZ: -There’s a truly the engine that work in the back of the clinic and that’s the workflow perspective. It’s extremely important. I was trying..First, two London vet shops, I was trying to convince them that this how you optimize your technicians in the room, and they were like “Well, we don’t send those..

JR: -We don’t do this, thank you very much

IZ: -Exactly. And then, in South Africa, I don’t know if you have any practices there. It’s completely different flow. They have like these grades of assistance and technicians. They have a whatever you call them like on the uniform. Like, he was different, and then, you know. Yes, it’s medicine, but the whole flow is different.

JR: -And also the size of the clinic. I mean, you have. If you go in Germany, the majority of the clinics are 1, sometime 2 vets. You know, if you go in Sweden, it’s much bigger practices. So that has a direct impact on the workflow and the way consultation is delivered.

IZ: Thank you so much for listening to the Veterinary Innovation Podcast. If you want to hear about our new episodes, please follow us on any social media channel. Also, you can check our website at See you next week.