MANILA, PHILIPPINES — Throughout the years, the status of beloved pets has continued to elevate. It has become more and more common for owners to view their pets as their kids — their “fur babies” — rather than just an animal living in their home. Fortunately, with this development comes the rise in demand for proper pet healthcare.
But pet healthcare can often be a difficult thing to attend to. Many people have trouble figuring out the right steps to take when it comes to what’s best for their pets. This uncertainty makes it harder to make financial decisions: What’s the cheapest way to go about treating a pet without sacrificing their safety? Which vets, pet food suppliers, and clinics can be trusted? How can one prepare for any unforeseen medical expenses that come with taking care of pets?
This is where Life by Petto comes in.
The first of its kind, Life by Petto is an app-based pet health and wellness service that helps its users make the right decisions for their pets by giving them all the tools they need to face health problems. Through Life by Petto’s basic health plan, all of your pet’s basic health needs — from check ups, diagnostics, and vaccines to treatment for common illnesses and accidents — are covered. You can even manage your balance, check out partner vets, and customize your plan to make sure it fits you and your pet.
Essentially, Life by Petto is founded on the importance of a lifetime of responsible pet ownership, and through their services, that is made easier.
adobo Magazine sat down with the two co-founders of the trailblazing pet healthcare app. Eileen Borromeo and Choco Cuaso give adobo a behind-the-scenes look into how Life by Petto started with an eye-opening experience with a pet’s sickness, the rationale behind their branding and design of the app, and where they see the pet healthcare industry going in the future.
adobo: Life by Petto is such a great app for pet owners, and it started from such a personal place. Can you talk a little bit about how it was inspired by your own experience when your cat got sick and how it went about from there?
Eileen: I have a cat, and she was diagnosed with FIP. That’s Feline infectious peritonitis, and it’s a fatal disease with a very high fatality of [above] 90%. I was able to find a support group that was selling non-FDA approved medicine. And I’ve had to kind of give the treatment myself and inject my own cat because you can’t get it from the vet, because it’s unlicensed, essentially. That was over 100 days of treatment, which cost me [a lot of money]. So, that kind of got me thinking, you know, why don’t we have pet insurance in the Philippines? This was in 2020. Choco has been a longtime friend who is in the people insurance business. That’s actually how it really started. And at the end of the day, we’re pet parents first. So, when we designed Life by Petto, it was around the perspective of pet parents, but also enriched by market research that we’ve done, because it can’t just come from an emotional thing. It has to be backed by science as well.
Choco: I’ve been with people insurance for about nine years now. So when Eileen asked, “Chocs, why isn’t there insurance for pets? Do you want to explore?” It [started] from that. We started doing data. Research. “Why isn’t there? Why not? Is it possible?” All those things. And that’s where it started. We did research, lots of research, and then when we found an opportunity, that’s when we officially said let’s do it. Let’s explore further.
So, how much time was in between that initial idea and the launch? How long was it in the works?
Eileen: It was November or December 2020, the height of the pandemic. Then we incorporated by February in Singapore.
Choco: Fast forward, we officially launched last March. We had the data, we knew what to do. But [we couldn’t start] until we knew what to test and how to test it because it’s app-based.
Eileen: Currently, we have our MVP, our minimum viable product. So, it’s constantly evolving. We’re constantly updating it. We’re thankful for our users and our members who share feedback on how they’re different.
And since Life by Petto is the first app of its kind, what are the advantages and disadvantages of marketing something this new?
Choco: The advantage is that it’s easier to pitch something that’s new. At least it’s refreshing. It gets the attention and it gets the inquiries in. An advantage also is it being an app because of the pandemic. People were forced into GCash and PayMaya. So, the transition from all paperwork forms to digital wasn’t that hard because people were forced to go digital, right? Another advantage of it being an app is that it allows more pet parents to explore us without needing to pay for it. Pinoys in general just want to inquire and, if possible, not talk to a warm body and not be sold something from the start. The website allows them to really browse and browse.
Eileen: [Another part] would probably be our branding because if you compare Life by Petto to other players in the market, we purposely made it to reflect our relationship with pets; [it’s] happy, and we don’t want to be peddling a product that’s not reflective of this relationship. So, we made it feel at least delightful. From a branding perspective, we want the user experience to also be as light and as refreshing. Even our comms. If you actually looked at how we do our comms on social media, it’s not a hard sell. It’s warm and fuzzy.
We will not claim to be the only one [providing pet health plans] because there are others. And we’re actually glad that there are more players because it legitimizes our presence. In addition, it legitimizes the industry. [Having competition] means you didn’t just imagine this. There is a real need for some people.
We’re different because, number one, we’re app-based. And we also are looking at Life by Petto as an extension of responsible pet ownership. Because the way we approach healthcare is preventive.
You already touched on this a bit, but can you walk us through what it was like figuring out the branding of Life by Petto, how you pitched it, and the collaboration with creatives involved?
Eileen: He’s a good friend. Dan Matutina of Plus63 actually designed the logo. We’re brand people; the approach has always been brand-first. And so we gave a proper brief, we had our presentation of the studies, and we were actually very good clients.
Choco: The warm and fuzzy [branding is a result of my] being with people insurance. There’s still a stigma when we talk about insurance, from it being cold to the definition of terms that you really don’t understand and things like that. Here, the wordings are meant to be clear layman’s terms. No jargon. The colors are not supposed to reflect the industry in general, the healthcare and insurance industry. It’s supposed to be a community. In insurance, there’s no such thing as a community. But here, it’s all preventive. It is a community. Because it’s really, again, going back to the north star, which is responsible pet ownership.
The relationship has to be from puppy to adult because responsibility doesn’t end when your cat or dog isn’t cute anymore. When we spoke to a lot of parents that are going back to work face-to-face, most of the pets are being left at home. The height of ownership was two years back when people were all locked in. It doesn’t mean that you go back to work, you go back to school, you forget about that cute kitten or puppy that you adopted one or two years ago. Our journey has been to provide the support and this network on how to take care [of everything].
In developing and designing your app, how did you make sure it was accessible and easy to understand? You already touched on this a bit, but can you expound more on the copy, the interface, and the like?
Eileen: [First was] removing all the unnecessary paperwork, jargon, and terminology that are confusing. And, from the moment you sign up, it’s like having a conversation with our chatbot, and at the end of that short conversation, in less than 10 minutes, you’re done. You can already choose a plan.
We didn’t load it with too many features because we wanted to be good at just a few things, [which is] to help you manage your account and file your claims and reimbursements. We’re not going to be a Facebook that you visit every day. The app’s not meant to do that. And we’re actually happy if you don’t use it all the time.
Choco: To add, even the product structure [is made simple]. I think it’s the first in the world where it’s a flat rate, whether you have a cat or a dog, pedigree or not, it’s a flat rate from three months old onwards. Globally, each specific breed that lives in a specific city will have a different rate. Since it’s new, we wanted to make sure that it’s simple enough that people understand what they’re getting but good enough that people won’t complain.
When you share it, it’s easier. So, the shareability is that, whether you have a dog or cat, it’s easy to share that Life by Petto is PHP 1,200 a month. [Rather than having to say,] “We’ll compute it and we’ll get back to you.”
You thought of this app in the middle of the pandemic. What’s your take on how the pandemic kind of changed how people viewed pets and pet healthcare? Do you think it made people prioritize it more? And how do you think pet healthcare’s role evolved in recent years in general?
Choco: I think the status was elevated from pet to “fur baby.” When you elevate that to fur baby, you start thinking, “What does my fur baby need?” In terms of the industry, two years ago, there was none. While developing and perfecting [the app], one or two [competitors] launched, which is good. The good thing about having more players is that people get to compare and have more choices. And going back to our vet partners, they like that, now, pet parents are gonna think twice about bringing their fur baby to the vet if needed.
Eileen: There is also an increase in the awareness of your options and how to look after your bets. The consumers’ expectations are also rising [with regards to] healthcare. Another thing to note is that healthcare here is slowly catching up, but it’s not moving as fast as the retail side of the pet industry. If you just look at the number of pet fairs that have sprouted — pet fairs, pet products, small, homegrown entrepreneurs — they’re a lot right now. So, it’s catching up as far as industry is concerned.
Life by Petto launched just last March. How do you foresee the rest of 2022? Are there any emerging trends in pet healthcare that you’re anticipating? Do you feel ready to take them on?
Eileen: We’re always ready. I think one of the exciting things about being a startup is that you’re very attuned to the things that are happening. You can’t not be open to all those changes. We are expecting more competition to come in; the competition will get better. There are more players. Overall, the industry, not just healthcare, will be healthier in 2022. We’re excited. There’s a lot of development happening also from our end.