A few years ago, Hector Ocasio and his wife were on a road trip and traveling with their dog, Mason. However, this trip was different then the other because Mason became ill in the backseat.
Ocasio and his wife tried to find an emergency pet hospital on their phones but the hospital in the area didn’t have an online presence. “And so we thought Mason was going to die right there on the side of the road to the hospital,” Ocasio said.
Thankfully they found a hospital through a friend and Mason survived. In addition, the experience sparked a business idea for Ocasio. “That really showed me how important service providers are in our pets lives and how critical it is for them to have an online presence,” Ocasio explained.
Ocasio has worked in the technology industry for over two decades. So he used his tech background to research if there was a need to provide online services for pet providers.
Ocasio found that the problem was much bigger then he initially thought, “I did some research and found that this wasn’t just a pet hospital issue, that all service provider types in the pet industry were struggling to implement digital solutions to connect with modern day health care.”
He didn’t stop there, Ocasio continued to do more research and began interviewing different pet service providers and pet owners about the issues he had found. “And as I interviewed folks, what I discovered is that the tools available to them were essentially too time consuming to implement, too complicated to use and too expensive to acquire,” Ocasio said.
Ocasio quickly realized that this was a problem that he could help provide a solution for especially with his strong tech expertise. So he decided to build a solution that allows small pet service businesses to easily implement and manage technology. “So now these small businesses can engage with their customers completely online, unlike they’ve ever been able to before.” This immersive technology is known as ‘PetConnect’, it widens the playing field for small pet services to compete with large players in the space. Most importantly, it allows pet services to be easily accessible through their online presence and app.
Nevertheless, the journey to build PetConnect didn’t happen overnight. The process started in 2020 when Ocasio and his team built a prototype. In the meantime, he joined accelerators along the way to help connect his team with mentors and additional funding.
After successfully launching the prototype they decided to only work with one customer to test it out. Ocasio and his team used this technique to get the feedback they needed before launching full scale.
The pet service provider they worked with hated technology and was anti-tech. However, “she was able to take our platform, learn it in about 15 minutes and it really completely changed how she operates her business,” Ocasio explained.
Before using Pet Connect the business owner had a website that was nearly ten years old and it was not optimized for mobile use. Occasio said, “we gave her a website and a mobile app, and today 60% of all her service requests flow through her online solution and she’s seen a 15% increase in revenue as a result of implementing our solution.”
In addition, her customer satisfaction improved because she was able to easily engage with her customers online. Her customers “can engage with her business on their terms anytime, anywhere they can connect with her business,” Ocasio explained.
After completing the trial process with one client Ocasio and his team were confident that Pet Connect was ready for the next level. “We nailed it,” Ocasio described.
Next, they began to seek additional funding to further build out their business solution. After several attempts, they received capital from programs and investors that not only provided funding but also mentors.
In March of 2021, Pet Connect released their general lease product. Currently they tailor their product to service providers that care for pets through a white label solution, especially small business owners.
“There’s over 500,000 pet service providers in the United States. One of the most interesting dynamics of that community is that 85% of them are small businesses,” Ocasio said.
Each small business has the ability to choose which features to enable or disable in their applications. Ocasio explained, “so if there’s a set of features that are applicable to how they engage with the customers, they simply tell us to enable that. We enable it, and now it’s available to them on both the front end client facing side as well as the backend side for them to manage it.”
However, it wasn’t easy for Pet Connect to reach their full potential because getting capital has always been a hurdle. “One of the things that has been apparent has been the challenges of how difficult it can be to raise capital as a Minority Business Owner,” Ocasio said.
“I have watched colleagues have less traction and have less success, get access to capital faster and easier than we have. One of the things that has been glaring to us is that if you take out all of the capital that we have raised, the majority of it has come from funds that support underrepresented founders,” Ocasio added.
The Pet Connect recently won the Fearless Innovator Prize for the recent Minority Innovation Weekend 2022 Pitch Competition. Ocasio says he is truly thankful for the program and programs like MIW are critically important to the entrepreneurial community.
“Not just for capital raised but for awareness of the importance that exists out there for underrepresented founders. To have attention placed on them just like everybody else. It shouldn’t be this hard, you know, to achieve your milestones if you are already demonstrating success. But programs like Minority Innovation Weekend help to put these promising companies in the foreground for investors, industry partnerships and community leaders,” Ocasio said.
In addition, Ocasio says without programs like MIW the company’s growth would be stifled. “It makes it difficult for you to be able to scale your business because you can’t bring in the talent to address the key areas of your business.”
While beating the odds, PetConnect continues to reach major goals but Ocasio says his team is responsible for their success. “More importantly, it all comes down to having a really good team. And, you know, I’m happy that I was able to find talented individuals to join our organization and to be part of our mission. Each one of those individuals has been able to contribute key pieces of the puzzle that have allowed us to achieve big milestones. I’m very happy to say that my team has really been the catalyst to our success,” Ocasio explained.