In This Episode
Veterinary hospitals are typically short-staffed; if a veterinarian or technician gets sick and has to miss work, they may not be able to replace them. These shortages can lead to overwork and burnout, but what if someone from outside of the hospital could lend a hand?
This week on the Veterinary Innovation Podcast, Shawn and Ivan are joined by Lisa Hu, the Co-Founder and CEO of Roo, to talk about locum work, how veterinarians and technicians can take advantage to work as much or as little as they want, and how working at multiple hospitals can be advantageous before signing a contract.
Ms. Hu recommends Platform Revolution: How Networked Markets are Transforming the Economy and How to Make Them Work for You by Geoffrey G. Parker, Marshall W. Van Alstyne & Sangeet Paul Choudary.
- The Difficulties of Staffing Veterinary Hospitals
- Avoiding Burnout with Locum Work
- Making a Career as a Locum Vet
Shawn: You are listening to the Veterinary Innovation Podcast. My name is Shawn Wilkie and along with my awesome co-host we interview the innovators in the veterinary space every week. Ivan, why don’t you to go ahead and introduce today’s guest.
Ivan: Hi, my name is Ivan Zak, and I’m happy to introduce you to Lisa Hu. The topic today is veterinary freelancing. So Lisa’s background is she is a co-founder and CEO of Roo, the first platform connecting veterinary professionals, the freelancers and locums to the veterinary clinics. She’s an advisor at Zec artificial intelligence, a 3D AI startup. She previously was at Amazon, ESPN. And she holds a master of business administration from the London Business School. On the personal side of things, one of her favorite podcasts is “Planet money”, she taught and supported over 3,00 students in Western Kenya through international school of champions, and has a real estate license. Lisa, quite a diverse background. How did you end up in a veterinary space?
The Difficulties of Staffing Veterinary Hospitals
Lisa: Thank you for the intro. For me, I mean, just with my background I did come more from the media and tech side, and hitting different industries. And actually the last startup I was doing augmented reality and computer vision AI work. And while it was really interesting in terms of the technology product side, I kept on thinking, you know, who we helping and what industry, are we solving any problems. And, you know, I did that for a while, and then last year, I reconnected with one of my good friends who is actually one of the co-founders of Roo David Charles, and he entered animal healthcare years ago, and I was always intrigued by this industry. Just, you know, all the professionals in it, and obviously also the pet owners. But to me, I was just hearing a lot about the challenges in this industry. So there is a lot happening on the consumer care side, so you see rumors happening, and lot of the organic dogs you can help there, but when you go behind the curtains with you know everyone serving these pet owners and the pets, so the hospitals, right, clinics, the veterinarians, technicians. Just I was quite shocked by how underserved that the market is. And how a lot of processes are very antiquated on how they run the platform and software are from the 1980s. But you know one of the big challenges I heard was, the biggest challenge is just talent matching, or hospitals trying to find ideal professionals, the vet techs to service the hospitals and pet needs, and that has direct consequences when they can’t find a lot of vets, they have to typically shut down clinic for the day or week etc, and on the professional side, I didn’t realize that a lot of these veterinarians are overworked, stress, not making some of what income, in which they cannot pay student debt, and you know, to me, when I was hearing about all of this, in having my startup tech mindset I was just thinking ‘Isn’t there easy platform or some website that can connect the two sides, right. To help the hospitals with production but also help veterinarians and other professionals just have far more flexible, better life. And the fact that I learned then, was you know, in this more traditional industry, there is huge problems, and it was lacking technology to fix it. That’s how I basically joined forces with David and other folks to come on. So their industry expertise combined more with mine, not just mine tech and coding skills, but more of a tech infrastructure, plus business, and starting a team from nothing to something. That’s how I kind of entered this market, and the fact that we can actually, you know, do something game-changing in this industry and help change the way hospitals operate and how veterinarians work, and actually do this transformation in this industry, and ultimately have great effects, you know, in this industry and, and ultimately to the pet owners. That, you know, the main reason why I came over here and how I entered the space.
Ivan: This is super exciting. We’ve talked in the past, and you know, majority of my career in the veterinary space, when I was working as a vet. I worked as an emergency veterinarian, and then I did all the relief work for the hospitals that were affiliated or just in the area. So there’s lots of issues that are associated not only with difficulty to find the veterinarian, but also to staff them long-term. And then, there is also, you know, someone drops the shift. It doesn’t happen very often, but I was just talking about last week, I was talking to group of developers that I’m affiliated with, and I was at their stand-up meeting, and then one of them in the stand-up meeting, said “My wife called. She has a cold, and I think that I might have the virus that she has, so I want to go home because everybody else can get sick in this office here, so I’ll go home”. I was like “Oh my god!” Like when I worked as a emergency veterinarian, I was in Vancouver island, I never could skip a shift, because I was the only vet for the night, for the entire island. You can’t leave. You’re the only guy in 150 km around. So it is a big problem if you lose a vet and you don’t have a replacement or the means to find one. So it really resonates with me what you do. Why don’t you help us understand how the platform works and what is the due for the hospitals and what is the due for the freelance veterinarians?
Lisa: For me, I kind of think of Roo as a super simplified version but for the animal health professionals. So you’ve got both sides, the hospitals,you know, call it where it’s a practice manager, or it can be a medical directors, and other sides of veterinarian. So they both create profiles, and you have transparency around the skill sets, the attributes. So the hospital and how they operate, their skills set, what school they went to, can they do surgeries etc. So both sides create profiles, and then this is basically a marketplace, you know, of the demand of hospitals putting out relief shifts, or locum shifts, they, you know, what they need, and then the supply of a veterinary professionals who would be interested. So, basically, it’s hard to tell what works when both sides, sign up, hospital say “Hey, I need someone tomorrow”, or November, 30th. You know, here’s the number of appointments we have to make, there might be dental surgery, and then they post it. And given that, we set the price, cause we do have a pricing table depending of the type of shift there is. Once that you know is posted, then we either alert the vets, or you know, they do searches, we constantly have searching, they go through. And we have a lot of shifts available, and then in our first market. And then from the vet side, they see it, if they see a shift they like, It’s something I can do, they request it. Once they request it, the hospital gets an alert right away, and they have up to 24 hours to confirm that shift. And you know, they can see the profile of the vet, you know, if that works out, they press confirm, then that’s it. So, we’re almost like this brokering platform that connects two sides. And then once that happens, you know, and we collect payment from the hospital, and then once that happen. And plus we do a little onboarding meeting, making sure both sides, you know, we send the right emails and to them, and then the shift happens. After the shift happens, they rate each other, which is also an interesting feature to introduce where hospitals rate the vet, and vets rate the hospital, and that really does put out the accountability. But once that happens, and the vet rates the hospital, then we do a pay out to the vet and that’s it. And then you see it happening again and again because it’s so easy to use, both sides keep on coming back. And this is not just for vets now, we also just introduced it to technicians as well. So that’s essentially how Roo works, and I encourage people to go to Roo, because when they see it, it’s super seamless and very easy to use, and you know, beneficial for both sides.
Shawn: So one of the first things that comes to my mind is how you prevent people from abusing the system, and like actually validating their credentials. You know, what if, I can’t remember the podcast that I was listened to, but it was done by the LA times, and there was this guy that faked that he was a doctor, a medical doctor, and done all kinds of crazy stuff. But how do you, how do you verify their credentials?
Lisa: Well, there is two folds. The first part is when they first sign up for the platform, right, and we do have a little onboarding process. We do do a look up on their license, and you know, to kind of like a high-level background check to make sure that everything is valid. I do have people on the ground who just try to talk to these vets prior to their first shift. After that, this is when the ratings kick in, because you could start telling about the quality of the vet, and then from that. So, it’s actually been working really well now, you know, and I do, of course, as we really scale up, and get thousands on, there might be a rainy day scenario where we actually ensure you know, it might not be the right individual to take appropriate actions. But that’s ordinary?
Now, from the technician side, it is a system onboarding, but we do do a five-ten minutes interview to validate that you know their experience but also help to classify the type of tear you know of technicians skills that they have.
Avoiding Burnout with Locum Work
Ivan: Pretty cool. So, so that brings, brings me to the topic that we bring up quite a lot and this is everywhere in the media, and about the burnout, and the suicide and everything in the industry. This seems to me like a system that could really provide the flexibility of your own schedule, and that’s what I was sort of after when I was doing locum work. Well, I was hoping that I will make my own schedule. Instead, I was working emergency 4 days in a raw, and then the other three of the week I was doing the locum work. But in ideal world, you can actually schedule yourself to do you know, 3-4 shifts a week, everywhere you want, and that was the beauty of the locum. But it seems like this can bring that flexibility. Do you hear any feedback about that. About, you know, improving the lifestyle being locum, do you do any promotions or is it little early for you to do this outreach with how that can change your life if you’re stressed out?
Lisa: We’ve absolutely started seeing not only great feedback, but the behavioral change. And actually, we do have some locum using us essentially full-time, using us for their full time job. Because they do see benefits of using us on a platform 20+ in month versus being committed to one hospital, you know, 6 days a week. Now, what we’re seeing,and you know, since we launched in January, in the spectrum of veterinarians, we really see three types. The first are these core Roovets. So these are veterinarians using 18-20+ times per month, and the feedback we had, you know, once was that I get to see my family more now. But what they realized is “Hey, wait, I can work 20 times a month, so less then, make more income, and also have a support community of both who want to make sure they have a balanced life. Because for me a Roo not just about notching the locum services. This is about genuinely wanting to help support and give a community to use. So that’s one that we have. I’m hearing some things about leaving their full-time corporate job to just use us full time. So that’s just one group. The second group which I love that’s a flex that so great example are the most , when they come off maternity leave, right. So when they come off, they don’t want to go back and work 6 times a week, right? They are using our platform to work three to four times. And again, we have a demand of shifts out there they pick and choose. And they’re working three, you know, typically about 10+ times a month on our platform. And then the other group we see within the flex are actually formally retired vets, but they have valid licenses. They weren’t working before, but now with Roo, we have one vet, he’s now using us five to ten times a month, you know,and practicing again. And doing a great job. And then the third category we’re seeing are the full-time or moonlighter.So these are vets who have already the full-time gig. Typically, this are a younger millennials, but they, while they are working a lot, they would use Roo one to three times a month to make some extra income. But across the spectrum, yeah. So we’re hearing this notion of “Wow, this is giving me more flexibility”. And that’s what we want to hear from them.
Shawn: That’s amazing
Making a Career as a Locum Vet
Ivan: Yeah, that’s. So that resonates with me so much. Because when I developed sort of my own little system just for me, it wasn’t scalable, but to organize the locums, and the shifts, and how to stack them, and how to control my own time, basically, a huge benefit from it, and I think it also play big role in the burnout is that it’s so stressful to get the right job. And then you’re stuck in it, and then if you’re not happy, it takes a long time to, and you know, it takes courage to leave work where you’re not happy. What I loved about locums is you show up, if you think that the culture is not right, if you think that people are not right. You don’t get along with the technician, or the other doctor, just don’t come back. That’s it. And there is very little ties, but if you like it, you come back. I’m a huge proponent of using all the protocols in the clinics, I don’t bring my own rules. I just basically come in you know follow whatever the protocols they have, and just if I like the environment I come back. And if I don’t I don’t. And it’s great. I was so passionate about it, actually, when I started at locum, that I wanted to go back to vet schools, and actually teach the 4th year students a career path of working as a locum vet. Which I think is a great opportunity is to go out there. Because it takes a little bit of guts. You know, there is classic engagements as a work environment, and then you really have to, you know, you graduate, you find a good job, and then you go there. But I found, at entrepreneurs time,so I found it first year out of school that you can do this as well, and so I think this is, you know, this is a great opportunity to bring it early into the vet schools as well.
Lisa: Yeah, you make a really good point. Because one scenario we are seeing evolve are the fact that grads students coming right out, they don’t want to commit right away with this biting contracts. They like testing the waters, right? And this is with conjunction with overarching team of this whole gig economy, right. People wanting to kind of be a bit independent. But we’re seeing a situation where there are a few vets now, they just graduated in past year, where they just wanna, you know, do mostly work in shelters, and they kind of just double into different hospitals, and test it out. And either they keep on doing that and remain independent contractors, ot there might be some you know clinics who then they go through Roo a few shifts, and then they realise “Wait a minute, this is a great fit, and I really like a hospital”, and then it’s a full-time placement which we also offer up. Cause we realise, I don’t think this give me a 100% locum, you know on our platform, but we can help with that almost like a transition, right? So that with the younger generation that’s coming out of vet schools, but it’s also in general hospitals interviewing a vet for a full-time position and they do want to just do a bit of a trial they can use our platform to do that, and then decide that. So the veterinarian also, again, along with technicians.
Ivan: Well, the other niche for that is you just mentioned the shelters. But if you think about it, there are other veterinarians that are graduating with a passion for the engagement that is not very well paid. Such as zoo animals, wildlife, exotics. You know, something that is really a passion rather than the money maker. So this is another way of following your passion, and then making also living of the shifts on the side. And I think that’s potentially a good application of it as well. But the new thing that you’re doing that you mentioned in the past to me is that you’re engaging now technicians, and I know that’s been really well-developed in the UK. From what I’ve seen, the locuming technicians is a norm, and which is not something that is widely practiced in the US. So can you tell us a little bit about the traction there? Are you getting any technicians from leveraging the platform?
Lisa: Yeah, so one thing to know: we literally just launched. It’s based our platform and introduced it to our technicians about two weeks ago. Also, it’s still pretty decent. But even just within the first two weeks, we’re having a lot of great technicians signing up, and that whole onboarding of a sign up, we do a quick interview, that’s great. And we just completed our first few shifts with techs. Now, personally, I’m really excited about this, cause it makes me think back to this story last year, when I was actually in a Lyft. And my Lyft driver, I was in Houston, she was actually a vet tech. And, you know, we were chatting, and she had a full-time job as a vet tech. And I was like Öh, you have a full-time job, but you’re doing Lyft. And she basically told me, she said “Well, I’m doing Lyft at night cause I need more money to feed my family. And this just building up the website with Roo. But I started telling her about Roo, and saying “Hey, you know, we’re gonna build this website”, first it is gonna be for vets, but we’re gonna expand it to technicians, you will be able to go in and search for available shifts, you can request it, and the hospitals can confirm, and you can go. And this is even before I ended my you know, my pitch to her. And she was like “Oh my gosh, where can I join? I absolutely need to join this, I’m gonna tell my friends”. And she was like, you know, would absolutely use Roo to take more work opportunities then drive Lyft at night. And so that was almost like a turning point for me, it just was more of a like expediting, wanting me to get this product out to really help people like from Lyft driver and others out there who really can see this value from having more work variety, but also help gain more income, where you know for technicians the usual income for technicians is less then 30,000 in year. So when we introduced this, I loved that we’re helping you know, these professionals. You know, not just with the income, but beyond that. So, yes. It’s been exciting so far. It is so early, but we do see a great traction today.
Shawn: Okay, so I’m gonna say it’s interesting to see your guys strategy. That reminds me of like Craiglist or some of the other websites I’ve seen in the past. It kind of looks like you across America. Can you talk to us a little bit about your ? strategy and why you chose to do what you’re doing?
Lisa: When we first officially launched Roo, end to end, having, you know, workable platform, abound January of this year. And in our first market of Houston. And we chose Houston mainly because my co-founder have been partner, they own certain animal hospital shamble. There, and we wanna pilote and make sure we’ve got that demand of hospitals and supplies set on and you know just being able to if we state or whatever, just getting it out there. But very shortly after, we just organically started growing. I mean, hospitals started coming on putting in shifts, and that started coming on, and I do have a fantastic team on the ground, doing that either acquisition. And it’s not just about getting you to know, vets and techs on to sign up, but it is about that active engagement, and they continue to using Roo. So, we started in Houston, our natural connections, and we started now as an expansion to Dallas, because you know, just if a vet has a license in one state, that he can practice in any hospital in that state. Right? And we do see some going in the city among Texas. But we have expanded to Dallas, and just also because we already had demand and supply, just naturally coming on, just waiting for us. So we’ve done that, and then I do, we definitely wanna go beyond that, and I wanna hit the coast both cities. My aim is to then expand to the California market, LA, West coast, east coast as well. So this is about turning to many cities and ultimately yeah, hitting all of the cities in the US. Pre cities launces more cities internationally, you can instantly help right there. Once you get that mechanics done expansion, international expansion, too, in the plate. Cause I know this is not just a problem we’re fixing in the US, you know, I hear similar challenges in other countries where Roo can help them…