Q&A with Robert LaRoche
President and CEO of Vet Innovations, Inc.
Family Office Insights sits down with Robert LaRoche, President & CEO of Vet Innovations, Inc., to discuss its sustainable, patented technology to address the #1 chronic disease in companion animal health today, animal obesity.
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Tell us about your background and your product, PortionPro RX Pet Feeder™.
After attending Vanderbilt University, I immediately entered the workforce working for Fortune 500 companies to gain core sales and marketing expertise. I led large regional sales and service operations for various middle market companies like AB Dick Company, Sharp Electronics, and RISO, Inc. all while honing key skills in P&L management and high-level business operations. As a serial entrepreneur, I acquired a small company in Boston called CopiCo, Inc. and grew it into the largest provider of commercial vending equipment and services to public and academic libraries in the United States. I then acquired a small Harley-Davidson dealership in Connecticut, and revamped and expanded operations to become one of the premier dealerships in New England. Throughout my entrepreneurial career, I have had 2 successful financial exits for my investors.
My various positions in different industries are evident of my passion for building businesses with high-performing teams as well as connecting the dots to reach the bigger goals. Currently, as President and CEO of Vet Innovations, I see the unique opportunity to bring disruptive technology to common problems impeding companion animal wellness to help pets live longer and healthier lives.
Vet Innovations is a Connecticut-based developer and marketer of innovative technology-based pet products. Our mission is to utilize and integrate automatic sensing and identification technologies into solutions-oriented products within key segments of the pet products industry. These products, designed for use by companion animals, assist pet owners in improving the health, wellness and life of their pets. Vet Innovations’ PortionPro RX Pet Feeder™ is the only veterinary-grade medical device that automatically dispenses timed, portion-controlled food to a specific pet while preventing consumption by all other household pets. This is the only device in the market that solves nutrition-related challenges in multi-pet homes. We currently hold 5 International and US patents for animal identification and sensing technology. We have developed uniquely valuable, strategic partnerships and alliances with our supply chain, fulfillment and distribution upon which to build a highly profitable and sustainable business model that will be very difficult to replicate or compete against.
Who is your target audience?
Obesity is the most common chronic medical disorder of companion animals today. According to the National Pet Obesity Survey conducted by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention, 55% of all dogs and cats (over 93 million pets) in the U.S. are overweight or obese. This medical condition leads to a reduced quality of life for the pet shortening its lifespan about 2.5 years, and stress for the pet owner and high costs of vet care. While one cause of this epidemic is endocrine related disorders, the real crux/cause is basic overfeeding of pets stemming from ineffective or non-existent portion control; emotional based feeding by owners; free feeding (keeping the bowl full); excess snacks and treats; insufficient exercise netting decreased activity of their pets.
Over two-thirds of all pet households in the United States consist of multi-pet households. The compliance of disciplined feeding regimens is decidedly more complex to establish in these multi-pet homes, which forms a natural audience to adopt the use of these feeders in their homes. In addition, our products target those pet owners of the 10% of dogs and cats in the U.S. (16 million pets) that are on special or Rx diets, who lack a systemic mechanism to obtain greater compliance with the diet regimen for the intended animal.
Based on our research, our target buyers are multi-pet parents ages 24-44, and some falling in the “help needed” life stage such as, intense career life or school life, and pregnancy or increased childcare or elder care. Our feeders also benefit those pets that need 2 different types of foods, 1 on a special Rx diet and the other on conventional pet food diet. We’ve developed a solution for those homes with multiple pets that typically deal with pets that steal food from other bowls leading to animals overeating.
What are some of the challenges you face in this market?
We have faced many challenges to date but overcame all, now it’s all about managing the successful execution of what we are planning to introduce and how we are going to market. We already deployed a soft launch this past February to build awareness around PortionPro RX Pet Feeder™, which allowed us to gain interest from the media and industry, as well as, generate lead and pre-orders. We debuted at several key veterinary meetings and trade shows this year with more than 2,000 veterinarians and vet technicians from 19 countries and 50 states requesting follow-up information.
Who are your key competitors and how are you different?
We really don’t feel we have any genuine competition. The competitive environment for pet weight control/loss is fragmented. Identification and access control feeder concepts and poor production product attempts have all failed, resulting in high cost and/or poor performance of access control technology. We have proprietary IR/RFID technology that controls pet feeding to support better pet health outcomes, make pet owners lives easier, and provide new tools for the veterinary profession. This technology took several years to perfect as required for interaction with animal behavioral habits and patterns.
Typically sold by pet retail stores or online retailers, all other existing pet feeders are marketed as offering convenience or for purely aesthetic purposes, are not considered competition to our product and our company’s offerings. Specifically, none of the other feeding devices are designed as an integral part of a treatment method for animal obesity; have the ability to selectively feed only the identified/approved pet and deny feeding all to other pets; provide effective true portion control; and which are sold exclusively by veterinarians.
Other product offerings consist solely of electronic consumer appliances for pets to develop activity-based data, or serve as poorly designed convenience feeders. These offerings have limited value and are principally focused on developing unsustainable subscription revenue models. The result is a large un-served need and market opportunity that Vet Innovations is uniquely suited to develop into the market leader.
How are you changing the landscape of your industry?
Our business model consists of an original, technology-based animal wellness platform designed to treat animal obesity and nutritional deficiencies. Revenues are generated through strategic distributorships and alliances with national veterinary practices, veterinary supply distributors, and pet food and nutritional product companies. The platform is designed to insure a greater level of efficacy in the treatment of affected companion animals using convenient established consumer practices by the pet owners.
We believe that this is potentially a $2 billion opportunity for the Company. The sales & marketing strategy has been carefully developed and focused as to product positioning, marketing and distribution. The PortionPro RX Pet Feeder™ is being positioned as a medical equipment device for the home for the treatment and prevention of animal obesity. The marketing plan is for units to be marketed and prescribed-sold exclusively by veterinarians, and not through any retail or retailer channels. The strategy of marketing directly to veterinarians would utilize a Company provided product specialist and sales support approach, which will supplement and support the distributor partners’ existing veterinarian direct sales force.
Once the veterinarians prescribe-sell units to their customers; the orders are placed by the veterinarian’s office through the VetSource automated e-prescription ScriptRight application or directly online with VetSource, our strategic fulfillment partner. VetSource actively services over 50% of the nation’s veterinarian community today and with home delivery fulfillment services for pharmaceutical products. They are the largest vet-sponsored home delivery provider with pharmacy and wholesale licenses in all 50 states, with 7,000 contracted hospitals in their pipeline, and over 80,000 prescriptions processed every month.
Who is your ideal investor? How much capital are you looking to raise?
Our ideal investor is a Family Office that invests in the first institutional investment for companies that are at the ideal investment inflection point, which is just at the time of product launch, to support the rollout and growth before the next professional institutional equity investor comes in. We would also benefit from a Family Office having any personal experience being pet parents, and/or has an affinity towards animal healthcare and pet technology.
We are actively engaged in securing a minimum of $3 million, and up to $5 million of this Series B round for an approximate 10.7% equity share (based on $3 million) in Vet Innovations. We anticipate closing this round by July 31st, 2017, or when we have raised our minimum of $3 million. The minimum investment size in this round is $500,000 with no more than 10 investors, or ideally, 3 or less. These funds will support our product development strategy, production to build out initial inventory, marketing expenses, and the official product launch. We project a final raise of $7 million in January of next year at a minimum pre-money valuation of $50 million.
What’s your mission?
Our mission is to develop proprietary and patented pet identification and access control technologies, all integrated into solutions-oriented products targeting companion animals and the pet products industry.
What’s next for you?
Our targeted launch for our first product, PortionPro RX Pet Feeder™, is planned for October of this year, and by January of next year we plan to do a full national roll out. We have significant intellectual property surrounding technology, product design, and mechanisms developed and patent protected for future products that are in the works.
Robert “Bob” LaRoche is a highly experienced executive who has successfully launched and grown numerous business ventures over the course of his career. After attending Vanderbilt University, Bob immediately gained core sales and marketing expertise while working for several of the most respected Fortune 500 companies. He led large regional sales and service operations for major equipment manufacturers, while honing key skills in P&L management and general business operations.
A self-described “serial entrepreneur”, Bob acquired a small company in Boston and grew it into the largest provider of commercial print vending equipment and services to public and academic libraries in the United States. He also acquired a small Harley-Davidson dealership, then immediately revamped and expanded operations to become one of the premier dealerships in New England.
Bob has a passion for building businesses, and credits his success to his ability to build high-performing teams, his good instincts, and the knack for “connecting the dots” to see the bigger picture. As CEO of Vet Innovations, Bob sees a unique opportunity to bring unique, disruptive technology to common problems impeding companion animal wellness, and in doing so, help pets live longer, healthier lives.