By Chang Dong-woo
SEOUL, Sept. 7 (Yonhap) -- When it comes to startups, Dr.Tail Inc., a veterinary telehealth startup founded by Daehwa Rayer Lee, is as rare and as bold as they come. The Seoul-based company has set its sights on the U.S. pet care market -- estimated at around US$150.8 billion as of 2020 -- from the get-go since its establishment two years ago.
Dr.Tail is a pet telehealth service platform operating in the U.S. that offers online veterinary consultation for pets that show health-related abnormal symptoms. It connects users with licensed veterinarians who determine whether pets are in need of medical attention and offer advice.
"In the U.S., there is a very serious shortage of veterinarians compared with the overall population of pet owners, and most vets are operated under a reservation system," Lee, CEO of Dr.Tail, said on how he came up with his startup idea in an interview with Yonhap News Agency on Aug. 24.
The 29-year-old saw that pet owners in the U.S. often end up unnecessarily wasting precious money and time at avoidable emergency vet clinics after receiving little to no care, because owners themselves are unable to properly determine whether or not their pets are in need of professional medical attention.
Dr.Tail offers around-the-clock teletriage consultation to pet owners, allowing them to make proper decisions in treating their pets, such as advising whether a clinic visit is required or if home care is possible.
The company, which opened its platform to users in earnest starting early this year, currently has some 20 licensed veterinarian partners and plans to successively add around 60 more over growing demand.
Available on Apple's App Store and Google's Play Store, Dr.Tail currently has over 100,000 signed-up users, with the number of average monthly usage cases surpassing 40,000. Dr.Tail is currently run by 14 people and has a U.S. subsidiary in Seattle.
The service is currently free, as the company aims to scale up its user base, but Dr.Tail does have plans to introduce charged services in the future, including a Netflix-style monthly subscription model and an enterprise product for employee benefit programs of companies.
As part of more long-term goals, Dr.Tail is also eyeing partnering with pet health companies for over-the-counter medicine purchase programs and insurance companies to recommend products for pets.
The company is also reviewing partnering with research centers to produce specialized pet food based on big data from the Dr.Tail platform.
Dr.Tail's edge over rivals in the U.S., such as PetCoach, is the fact that the service is designed to store and accumulate previous medical records of individual pets in its database, which allows quicker and -- more importantly -- more accurate diagnostics.
In addition, the platform is designed so that records can be easily forwarded to new clinics or pet grooming shops for future reference, offering an easy and seamless user experience compared with traditional paper and email-based documentation, Lee said.
Lee said the scheme has been patented in both the U.S. and South Korea. The company also won an innovation award at the Consumer Electronics Show in 2022.
Dr.Tail has also recently forged a partnership with a large pet clinic in Los Angeles, Lee said.
Under the arrangement, pet owners are automatically referred to Dr.Tail when the hospital is fully booked or closed. Dr.Tail's consultation records are then later relayed back to the clinic for vets to review.
Users could also receive priority prescriptions, as the status of the pet is already accessible by veterinarians even before they visit the clinic.
The company has secured funding from the Tech Incubator Program for Startup, a program of South Korea's Ministry of SMEs and Startups, and startup accelerator Bluepoint Partners. Lee said he aims to forge more partnerships with American hospitals after securing additional financing.
Lee said Dr.Tail's ultimate goal is to establish a pet industry culture in which seeking veterinary telehealth consulting before seeing an animal doctor in person becomes the new norm.
"Just as people visit a local hospital before going to a university hospital, I want to create a treatment system where it is natural for all pet owners to consult an online veterinarian before visiting a vet clinic," Lee said, adding he hopes Dr.Tail grows into a "super app" within the U.S. pet healthcare market.