Welcome to Wear Wag Repeat Episode 32: Christie Horvath & Trina Pappadia of Wagmo are talking about their pet wellness business that is aiming to make your next vet visit more affordable. We cover a lot of topics from how I’ve had to manage Burt’s epilepsy drug costs to underground marketing strategies that work well for Wagmo. If you’re looking for a way to cut down on costs of your pet care, this is a must listen!
Christie Horvath is a dog-obsessed insurance nerd originally from Colorado. After working in finance for over 6 years in Manhattan, Christie and her dog, Denver, packed up their NYC apartment and moved to Cambridge MA to get an MBA from Harvard. She took all her classes on entrepreneurship, spent her summer researching the market and hanging out with dogs, and in October 2017 started working on Wagmo out of the Harvard innovation lab. Christie has a BA in Economics from Northwestern University, a masters from Harvard, and an 8-month-old puppy named Aspen.
(00:30) Introducing Christie Horvath and Trina Pappadia of Wagmo
(02:15) How Christie came up with the idea of Wagmo
(04:16) Christie shares a story about how pet insurance saved her thousands of dollars
(05:26) Tori opens up about how Burt (her new pup) has epilepsy
(07:19) Christie talks through Wagmo’s preventative care
(08:40) What is the difference between Wagmo and pet insurance plans
(09:44) How is Wagmo making any money
(11:20) Where to find lower vaccine costs
(13:33) What the best part of starting your own business
(16:49) Trina speaks on being able to represent dog moms
(18:23) Christie talks all things hiring
(20:58) Christie shares more about her dog Aspen
(21:54) Trina shares about her pup Louis
(22:43) Christie + Trina shares an underground marketing technique
(24:34) Where to find Wagmo
Tori: How did you come up with the idea for Wagmo?
Christie: Wagmo is a wellness plan for pet parents. What we’re ultimately trying to do is make it a little bit easier and affordable to be a responsible pet parent. It started with my dog Denver, who at seven started having seizures really bad. It turned out he had an inoperable brain tumor where our only choice was to do radiation. We did MRI’s, saw an oncologist, saw a neurologist, and ended up spending a ton of money to diagnose. He was my dog child and I had to put him down when I was in business school. It was terrible and traumatic for me. What I learned after that is how important routine care visits are. The vet could diagnose Denver very quickly because she knew him. My background is in insurance and I’m like truly obsessed with dogs. It was a beautiful marriage between the two.
Tori: Did you have any experience with having pet insurance before starting this business?
Christie: We did have pet insurance which is why I feel so strongly about the product. Actually when I first got Denver, he ate an entire batch of chocolate chip cookies off the counter and was so sick. And of course I’m freaking out, calling the poison control hotline. They told me to take him to the ER which cost be $5,000. Emergency vets are like quadruple the price. They had to pump his stomach, spend the night, feed him charcoal – the whole workup. Thankfully I had insurance and only paid $500.
Tori: What does Wagmo cover?
Christie: We have two plans. The basic one is pretty much the stuff that you’re paying for anyways as a pet owner, so your exam fees, your vaccinations, routine, blood work, the things that insurance pet insurance today doesn’t cover. However you end up paying for it over the course of the year. Our fancy plan is the $20 a month option and that covers all the same stuff as the basic but also covers flea and tick and heartworm medication. It’s about $300 a year and we cover the full $300 worth of coverage for flea, tick, and heartworm. So we basically reimburse you all together for that. And then we also cover some grooming costs for pets on the fancy plan. We cover up to $100 of grooming.
Tori: How do you plan to make Wagmo profitable?
Christie: The short answer is we’re not making money on these plans. Most startups will tell you a lot of what’s important early in the days is just getting traction. So our first priority is to get our product out there and to get our name out there. We’ve raised some money to be able to support the discounts that we’re offering on this plan. But the real underlying business model here is we take the pricing data from the various vet clinics and using that to help make pricing more transparent. So for instance, if we’re getting bills from your dogs and we see that there’s a clinic down the street from you that’s offering the same services at a considerable discount, we could say, “Have you considered going down the street?” This clinic’s much cheaper. And at scale that data is actually quite valuable. So really the true model here and where we will make up the losses is by harnessing that data and using it to basically consult for either veterinary practices or retailers.
Tori: What is the best part of being a founder?
Christie: I’m in my dream job right now. I’m in an office right now with a friend and a dog. So was pretty good as it gets. But it is definitely a huge risk. I have a pretty supportive network behind me. A lot of my classmates also sort of went the route of starting companies. So it’s nice to see people and be around people who are going through it with you. That said it was definitely terrifying to give up and income, especially coming out of grad school. I just graduated in May and I’m coming into this with a shockingly large amount of student debt. So it’s certainly not a sure thing by any means, but it’s something I’m super passionate about. I used to sit at a desk all day and make excel spreadsheets. But now I get to work alongside my dog. There’s definitely studies that show having a dog in the workplace makes people less stressed and happier. And it’s very on brand.
Tori: What qualities do you look for in your first hire?
Christie: Well Trina came on originally just to help kind of with social media stuff and then totally on her own started taking classes on Facebook ads and reading into how to works. As a founder, that’s the exact person you want on your team. I have so much on my plate that it is so refreshing to just have Trina figure it out. As soon as she did that, I knew I was okay.
As far as the first couple hires on your team, you put out a job description, but you can’t really make a job description for hire number one, two or three. It’s like everybody does everything and you’re constantly scrambling. It’s sort of messy, but you have fun doing it. And what’s important is that everybody’s kind of onboard with the same mission and everybody works together to get it done. You know, later down the road it’ll become more about titles and departments. But like right now Trina is just champion. It’s worth writing out a job description, but the best people sort of found us either because they’re passionate about the space or they knew a friend of mine or were connected somehow, which is like that organic connection is the one that ends up being the strongest.
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