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Startup targets pet industry to improve transparency and accessibility

Jan 27, 2019

Pets are sometimes naughty and sometimes cute, and to the owner, they are like family members. Seeing a lack of transparency in the pet service industry in Hong Kong, a startup has launched a website to match pet service providers with pet owners, providing more information to the pet owner community and targeting business opportunities in the sector.

Startup targets pet industry to improve transparency and accessibility

According to information published by the Hong Kong Census and Statistics Department, in June 2019, there are around 24,900 households with cats and dogs as pets in Hong Kong. Amongst them, dogs account for the majority of 147,500 households, while cats account for 100,300 households. Although this number is small compared to the human population of 7.5 million in Hong Kong, Stephanie Ko, co-founder of Fluffy Pets, points out that pet-related services in the market, such as hospitals and clinics, do not offer sufficient transparency, and pet owners often do not have enough information to determine how to find the best service providers for their pets.

240,000 households with pets in Hong Kong

Having adopted her poodle, Oliver, two years ago, Stephanie realized that finding the right pet services in Hong Kong is not easy. When Oliver had a health problem or needed a veterinary consultation, Stephanie could only ask for referrals from her friends. When searching for a suitable pet healthcare provider, the information online is often fragmented and incomprehensive, and new pet parents should be vigilant.

Stephanie said that in 2018, Oliver had a vestibular disease and might have needed an MRI scan or an operation, but she encountered many difficulties trying to find the right healthcare providers for Oliver, and this gave birth to her idea of creating a new service platform.

Stephanie (left) points out the lack of transparency in the pet services sector. On the right is Allen Au.
Venture capitalist pursues an entrepreneurial dream

Stephanie’s entrepreneurial pursuit is perhaps relevant to her background, as she is a venture partner of Gobi Ventures, a US$1.1 billion venture capital fund which invests into technology-related investment opportunities in the Greater China region. Stephanie regularly attended various venture capital events, and she also attended the Rise Conference in 2019 as an investor, where she met her current co-founder Allen Au. Leveraging on Allen’s technical expertise, Stephanie’s idea materialized.
Allen is currently the Chief Technology Officer of Fluffy Pets, and the pet online directory is a labour of his hard work. Prior to the current role, Allen was the software architect of a US fintech and equity crowdfunding platform, Mr. Crowd, and he was also one of the founders of the machine learning framework, MonkeyJS. Speaking of the development goals for Fluffy Pets, Allen said that he hopes that as the database of the online directory continues to grow, the algorithm will be able to make personalized suggestions to users on the best matched pet service providers or veterinary clinics.
Pet medical costs may be unpredictable

As Stephanie mentioned, the lack of transparency in the pet services market in Hong Kong means that there is a range of small to large private institutions, each with its own market positioning and pricing. As the pet population is smaller than the human population, the pricing for pets’ drugs and medical services will be higher than humans’. For example, an operation may easily cost HKD100,000. If the market becomes more transparent, it can provide better guidance to pet owners on how to deal with their pets’ health problems. Stephanie disclosed that it is sad to see some pet owners abandoning their pets when they become ill.
Stephanie said that Fluffy Pet’s online platform soft-launched in October 2019, and officially launched on 18 December 2019, offering information on pet care, a Google Maps integrated directory listing pet service outlets such as pet shops and veterinary clinics, and e-commerce services. The platform currently lists over 1,000 pet service providers in Hong Kong and Macau, and the directory for Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand and Indonesia will gradually be rolled out in the coming months.

Platform’s overseas expansion

Allen added that before the official launch of the platform, their team sent invitations to pet service providers and veterinarians, hoping that they would join the platform, and the results were better than expected, with many operators agreeing to join immediately. Fluffy Pets' current revenue model is based on e-commerce sales and referral and marketing fees, and Allen also said that the company intends to offer the sale of pet medical insurances in the future. Allen thinks that even though there are various insurance companies offering pet medical insurances, there is not enough transparency on such insurance policies. Fluffy Pets will not apply to become an insurance company, but will aim to collaborate with existing insurance companies to offer more products and information on the platform.

In conclusion: the business needs to continue scaling

As a startup, of course it is necessary to have a clear development plan. Stephanie said that at this stage, the company is funded privately by family and friends. Due to her experience in venture capital, Stephanie has seen many startups with impressive presentations and projections, but no substantial product or operation. Stephanie would like to scale her operations to a certain size, before seeking institutional investors.

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