Video consultations for your pets? Athena Lee and Dr Grace Su, founders of Singaporean start-up ZumVet, shares their motivations for starting veterinary telemedicine solution and ZumVet’s mission to provide affordable and accessible veterinary care for all pet owners in Asia.
29 June 2021 / By SGN
When Athena Lee first met Dr Grace Su, the two instantly connected on a personal level. They bonded over struggles they faced in caring for their furry companions on everything from understanding their pets’ unique health conditions to headaches over arranging transport for vet visits.
Even with the ease at which information could be accessed today, Athena and Grace still found it challenging to find credible information for something as basic as pet care. This spurred the two to start Singapore-based ZumVet, a pioneer in the field of veterinary telemedicine solutions in Asia.
With ZumVet, pet owners can now book a virtual consultation whenever they have a question – ranging from medical issues to seeking lifestyle and behavioural advice around preventative care and diet.
“In the past years, the rapid adoption of technology has come to supplement traditional offline experiences, such as online shopping, hailing a cab, or even ordering food. It is only natural for ZumVet to utilise technology as a bridge between pet owners and veterinary care,” Athena and Grace shares.
Rapid tech adoption across the region has fuelled the growth of telemedicine, with consumers turning to the internet for guidance on everything from which pet food to buy to how to take care of their pets. This has caused demand for remote veterinary care to surge in popularity.
From Paw-rents to Partners
“I’ve always been interested in tech. I was an early Apple adopter – I got my hands on a Macintosh in the early 90s and even tried convincing my parents to buy some Apple shares at the time. When Singapore started to come into her own as a start-up hub, I knew I had to be here,” Athena enthuses.
Originally from Hong Kong, Athena was born in New York and lived in cities along the U.S. East Coast before settling in Singapore in 2017 to join Singapore-based telehealth service Doctor Anywhere, serving as CEO. Prior to joining the digital health sector, Athena honed her skills in finance, holding down different roles at both Moody’s and UBS, which she says equipped her with soft skills to assert herself within a hierarchical structure consisting of thousands of employees.
In the early days of growing Doctor Anywhere as an early-stage start-up, Athena found herself juggling many roles. In true start-up spirit, she served as customer support, human resource recruiter, and door-to-door salesperson in addition to securing strategic partnerships and managing internal operations as CEO.
“It was a very exciting time, but there were certainly challenges. Many came from medical practitioners themselves, who didn’t see value in a telemedicine touchpoint at the time,” Athena shares.
It was at Doctor Anywhere where Athena met Grace – who joined the team as a Locum Doctor in 2018.
As a trained medical professional, Grace has rotated through various surgical disciplines in government hospitals as a medical doctor. She eventually decided not to specialise and chose to become a general practitioner for a greater breadth of work, leading her to join Doctor Anywhere.
“Doctors meet people (and their families) when they are at their most vulnerable and have a unique opportunity to make a positive impact. Medical professionals have the privileged position of being able to really make a difference,” Grace says.
“Even though we came from very different backgrounds, we wanted to apply our respective expertise to improve the way veterinary care is delivered and to bring it closer to human healthcare standards,” Grace explains. As pet parents themselves, they two wanted to alleviate the struggles and help others in caring for their animals.
Leveraging Tech to Democratise Accessible Pet Healthcare
The ZumVet team comprises professional veterinarians who make ‘visits’ to the vet less stressful for both pet owners and the animals. Pet owners can dial in and receive professional medical advice for a concerning pet condition or behaviour.
Drawing from their experience at Doctor Anywhere, Athena and Grace became intimately familiar with the inner workings of telemedicine. This familiarity with telehealth services formed their foundation for building a veterinary telehealth service platform from scratch.
For example, ZumVet has implemented standard operating procedures (SOPs) in reference to human telemedicine guidelines. This includes the use of an encrypted in-house video platform that ensures all their clients may have secure consultations in line with healthcare privacy laws. Data is also used to improve diagnostics and automate the triaging process.
“A big difference between ZumVet and traditional veterinary clinics is that we have the benefit of being a technological platform. This allows us to not only gain a better understanding of the costs of pet healthcare, but also allow us to build partnerships with both online and offline pet healthcare providers to benefit both pet owners and healthcare providers,” Athena and Grace explain.
With ZumVet, the barrier of entry to receiving veterinary care is lowered with video consultations and house calls. Pet owners do not need to have access to pet-friendly transportation or have pre-existing knowledge for their animals to receive timely medical attention.
Athena and Grace are also hands-on when it comes to providing online resources to help pet owners better understand their pet and make informed healthcare decisions.
Veterinary Telemedicine vs Traditional Veterinary Care
Athena shares that diagnosing a pet is like diagnosing a child or baby; consultations rely on pet owners describing the pets’ symptoms and behaviours to their doctors. With telemedicine, pet owners who notice even the slightest abnormalities in their furry companions may seek timely professional advice to first determine if there is a cause for alarm without the hassle of a physical appointment.
“Expedient intervention shortens the pets’ suffering and may even prevent exacerbating complications and negative sequelae. Telehealth also allows collaboration between veterinary professionals and can provide access to specialist expertise and second opinions for more complex cases,” Athena and Grace explain.
On the flip side, the two caution that telehealth can also be used incorrectly during emergencies, such as trauma cases, which could lead to untimely medical attention and eventual medical futility. This, they say, can be remedied by educating pet owners.
“We believe that through empowering pet owners with the right information – as opposed to consulting with Dr Google – we hope to motivate change in pet owners’ behaviour and how they perceive veterinary care and pet care,” they say.
To help pet owners better understand their pet’s conditions and behaviours, the two also produce ZumTalk, a talk show that discusses pet-related topics.
“A lot of what we do, and the services we provide are motivated by what our team as pet owners, and our users want. ZumVet is built as a user-centric platform, and the services are targeted at addressing the pain points which we would face as pet owners,” they share.
Grace, who personally experienced caregiver burden while caring for her dog when it was diagnosed with cancer, sees this as a pain point that many pet owners face. “We have heard from friends how difficult providing palliative care can be. This, coupled with the emotional guilt of not having enough time to spend on nursing your pet, can become a huge burden for even the most well-intentioned pet owners,” she shares.
Future plans: hospice for pets and expanding ZumVet across SEA
Both Athena and Grace hope to create a hospice in Singapore where they could provide palliative care and chronic disease management to pets and ensure that animals are able to comfortably live out their lives. They also hope to expand ZumVet across Southeast Asia within the next two years, starting with Hong Kong.
“We will be starting out in Hong Kong this year as their ecosystem is fairly similar to Singapore, so we’ll be able to operate without making major changes to the tech or workflows. In fact, many of the partners we work with here in Singapore are also active in Hong Kong, which we would be able to leverage as we expand,” they tell us.
Ultimately, Athena shares that ZumVet’s customers – both pet owners and the animals – are at the heart of every one of their product decisions. “Pet owners want to feel empowered. Incorporating a digital element sees us building an online to offline care ecosystem that looks after all of their pet’s healthcare needs,” she says, adding that the goal for ZumVet is to make quality veterinary care affordable and accessible to all.
Join us and meet others like Athena and Grace.
Be a part of our network and gain access to networking events, jobs, and opportunities to meet other like-minded professional from all corners of the world.
Athena is the Co-founder and CEO of ZumVet. Originally from Hong Kong, Athena has called Singapore her home since 2017 to launch Doctor Anywhere when she was the then-CEO of the Singapore-based telehealth service. Prior to co-founding ZumVet, she held leadership and finance roles at Moody’s and UBS.
She has 3 cats which were adopted in Singapore: Siam and Bodhi are sisters who were fostered at Madam Wong’s Shelter, and Tom (short for Tomato) was adopted from SPCA.
Connect with Athena here.
Dr Grace Su is the Co-founder and COO of ZumVet and an Aesthetics Medicine Practitioner. Prior to co-founding ZumVet, she joined Athena as a Locum Doctor at Doctor Anywhere, and rotated through various surgical disciplines in Singapore government hospitals.
She has two cats which she adopted in Singapore: Mel, and Ringo (short for Sir Ringo Wormy Butt Butt). Unlike his sister, who is very quiet and calm even when interacting with strangers, Ringo is a boisterous ball of energy with strong lungs and a loud meow to match.
Connect with Grace here.