It Can’t Be That Easy, Right? PetMD Founders Sniff Out An Opportunity

Sitting around the kitchen table with your friends, one mentions that his dog is sick. Now you, being a dog lover, get concerned. You move the conversation over to the den, where your friends hover around a computer, searching online for an explanation. You type in the symptoms – low energy, moaning – and you find a plethora of questionable websites. Why isn’t there a single site that can help you understand what his dog is going through?

What do you do next?

Most of us call the veterinarian or drive to an emergency clinic. But if you are like the team that founded PetMD, then you’ve suddenly sniffed out a business opportunity. With the success of WebMD, it’s surprising that no one has tried to recreate this success in the area of pet health.

Consider this fact – U.S. pet owners spend $43 billion annually on pet care and services. More than $21 billion of that is spent on pet health alone.

How has no one thought of this before? There has to be something wrong. Something is missing.

Truly innovative ideas almost always seem flawed at first conception. And when Kim Schinnerer and his friends first thought of starting PetMD – a web site that helps connect pet owners with health information and veterinarians – they also thought the idea was too apparent, too obvious. Surely someone must have tried this. There must be some reason why it has not worked.

When I was at Wharton Business School, professors ingrained in us the belief in efficient markets, which says, in part, that any idea you think of has been thought of already and if it doesn’t exist it probably doesn’t work.

While this may be true most of the time, following this rule blindly kills off all opportunity for innovation. Innovators prove that markets are not efficient. So Kim and his friends, all serial entrepreneurs, began researching their idea and found that, indeed, this was an overlooked opportunity.

Kim and his team got to work and have now created a trusted pet health resource. Available in English and Spanish, PetMD offers free pet health information that has been independently produced by hundreds of veterinarian and health experts.

PetMD may be a young company, just opening in 2008, but it is already making clear progress on its brand building, search engine optimization and overall web site visits.

I had the chance to speak with Kim about PetMD’s launch strategy and quick success, and I identified three classic "outthinker" patterns at work. Over the next several days, I will share the strategies that PetMD has employed to quickly develop a product that competitors aren’t willing to copy.

 

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