PetKonnect, for providing a loving, safe and healthy environment for pets in India, was launched after its founder, Devanshi Shah, came to know during an emergency health scare her five-year-old Havanese pup, Hazel, was facing that blood isn’t always easily available for animals, should they need it during medical emergencies.
Team Optimist spoke to Shah of PetKonnect, which offers an array of facilities for pets, with many firsts on the Indian subcontinent to its credit, who talked about the huge gap in demand for pet-care service in India and its availability. Read on…
Team Optimist: How did you come up with the PetKonnect idea?
Devanshi Shah: A few years ago, I lost my dearest pet dog, Hazel, because of some unresolved health concerns. After being unwell for over a month, she was admitted to a hospital for surgery. The procedure was scheduled as an emergency for a late hour since her condition had kept deteriorating. However, Hazel began bleeding internally while the doctors were prepping for the surgery. It was then that a hunt for the correct blood group started, which was required to stabilize her condition before the surgery. Sadly, the doctors and I had to wait out the night to find an appropriate donor. And Hazel couldn’t make it through that night.
It was during her illness that I realized there was a crying need for critical services in the animal care sector in India. Starting this venture wasn’t an easy task — it took this grave loss to open my eyes to the fact that something needed to be done to plug the gap.
This venture is my ode to Hazel. While I felt helpless in my feeble attempts to save her, I decided to channel my grief through PetKonnect. Saving even a single life and enabling pet parents to give their pets the lives they deserve would be a reward big enough for me to be passionately invested in PetKonnect.
After surveying other animal hospitals in India, as well as coming across similar instances on social media, I realized such crises were very common among many pets and their owners. This was how PetKonnect began its journey.
Besides providing access to a blood donor bank for various animals, the portal also lists several services, such as animal ambulance providers, shelters, vaccination centres, geographically listed animal playdates and a section for animal profiles that enable and support caregivers in complete healthcare management. Fuelled by a great love for pets and animals on the street, PetKonnect has to its credit many firsts in the animal care-giving sector in all of Asia.
Team Optimist: There’s a huge lack of pet care awareness in India. What’s the reason for this?
Devanshi Shah: Statistics say that over a million pet dogs were counted in the last dog census, and it’s expected to grow at 6% annually. Despite this, awareness in the pet care sector has not increased at the same rate. There are quite a few reasons for this.
First, India’s a developing country with a huge population and it’s still striving to provide basic facilities and infrastructure to its people. Except in the metros, people still spend their lives in pursuit of the basic requirements for survival. In such a scenario, awareness about animal care has never been a priority at an institutional level. It has always boiled down to compassionate and empathetic individuals to drive such awareness among people. Although possible, it’s an enormously lengthy process to generate awareness about pets and animal rights, in general, among people.
The number of strays is also on the rise. However, a majority of strays remain unvaccinated and vulnerable to diseases, such as rabies, and also a medium for infecting humans. This has instilled some sort of fear and discomfort among people, in general. Some isolated incidents make people scared to be around animals to avoid disease and injury.
Moreover, animal laws in India are given little attention in the media and I aim at increasing awareness through my platform. These and several other factors at a macro level lead to this gap in awareness about pets. While the recent years have seen a considerable rise in awareness levels, there’s still a long way to go in this space.
Team Optimist: In a glittering professional career with many achievements, how has the journey into this specific segment been?
Devanshi Shah: While I’d like to believe my journey from being a professional to venturing into the pet segment has been extremely interesting, the truth is that it all came very naturally and intuitively to me. I, literally, always took one step at a time and moved on to the next from there. During my growing up years, I’ve always been a focussed child, with my ambitions and career plans mapped out. I’ve always worked hard towards my goals and successfully stayed on the path I’d charted for myself. I fuel my motivation and drive by presenting myself with new challenges and PetKonnect is the latest one.
Of course, I’ve always been extremely compassionate towards animals, especially dogs. However, getting into this space professionally was, honestly, never a part of my plan.
A few years into college, we’d brought Hazel home. And, as every pet-parent out there would agree, our lives as we knew it changed. I thought I’d everything I could ever wish for. The career goals were working out well, too, and, with Hazel at home, it felt complete. Until that night, soon after the Christmas of 2017, when I lost her and nothing was the same again.
While it may sound a little melodramatic, a part of me changed with this loss. I did continue working professionally, but always had this feeling that something was missing, something just wasn’t right! I’d often wonder if, despite having the resources, I couldn’t save a life, what could be done to change that.
My team and I spoke to pet-parents, did the basic background research and discovered several gaps in the pet care industry, which, although growing, is drastically unorganized. I knew then that I had to do something about it. Initially, I started working on PetKonnect part-time, along with my full-time job. I’d take some time off my daily grind to chart out a long-term plan for PetKonnect and the services that we wanted to start initially.
I got in touch with several colleagues and contacts made over the years to discuss the concept and receive feedback on it. Eventually, I phased in from working on PetKonnect part-time to doing it full-time when we were closer to launch. My transition from my profession to this segment has been rather smooth — with ample support from family, friends, colleagues and ex-colleagues.
Team Optimist: What are the challenges of being an entrepreneur in India? Do the challenges differ for a woman?
Devanshi Shah: There’ve been many challenges — both emotional and professional — in terms of launching and scaling up the PetKonnect project. Initially, the most difficult part was to develop a website and app with high-quality code. There were many offerings I wanted to bring under one roof and implementing those on an easy-to-use customer interface was quite time-consuming with much back and forth!
To add to these stresses, the pet and animal service sector is a highly unorganized one. Identifying and getting together participants to work together with our platform to make these services more known and easily available have been a mammoth task. I’m proud that I’ve made much headway and keep on doing so with more and more participants reaching out to me daily.
It would be ungenerous to say I overcame these challenges myself. I’ve received immense support from friends, family and people in my professional network. I was quite surprised to see the huge response I received in the early stages of reaching out for advice and feedback, which only bolstered my drive to see this project through. I’ve personally met, interviewed and ideated with pet-parents, industry participants, service providers and others. I’d also hired external consultants that conducted thorough market research exercises to get a very detailed idea of the problems that existed, along with current solutions.
I spent many sleepless nights and did brainstorming sessions that guided me through the first phase of this venture while holding a full-time job. A critical factor was the support of our pet community in India. There are amazing people out there doing amazing work and, with their support, I hope to realize my vision of creating a legacy of trust and mutual dependability in this community of, and for, animal care-givers which will have a tangible and positive impact on the pets and animals we serve.
About being a woman entrepreneur, personally, I’ve seen it more as a strength than a challenge. I’ve been brought up to grow into an independent woman and the feminism in me and those around me has been extremely inspiring for, and supportive of, my pursuits. Given the rising awareness and efforts towards women empowerment, more and more avenues have opened up. Women entrepreneurs are now respected as much as their male counterparts. I really hope these efforts and awareness trends continue globally, so that more women learn and grow to be independent and find the courage to follow their passion.
Team Optimist: Do you think people in India and the neighbouring countries are fully aware of animal rights?
Devanshi Shah: As I said earlier, I don’t think Indians are much aware of animal rights and the laws concerning animal welfare. The legal system in India, too, is so plagued by pending court cases, that hearing of cases related to animal rights has taken a backseat over the years.
However, with a steady increase in the number of pets adopted annually, more people have begun to spread awareness at the grassroots level. At a more organized level, institutions, as well as NGOs, are playing a key role in raising awareness. Of late, the media has also been playing its part in reporting cases related to violation of animal rights, violent crimes against animals and so on. But animal rights awareness — although in not as sorry a state as it was a few years ago — still hasn’t reached an ideal level.
Team Optimist: What are your plans for PetKonnect?
Devanshi Shah: I’d like to make PetKonnect India’s premier, one-stop solution and hassle-free service provider for all kinds of pets and animals. Over the next year, I’m looking at expanding our network to other cities, starting with Delhi and Hyderabad.
As we grow, I plan to get my first round of funding in the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, I hope the brand receives a great welcome from the stakeholders and celebrities who are passionate about animals. Their voices have a great impact and can benefit the animal community to promote social inclusion and reduce violent acts.
I also plan to introduce some interesting features on our platforms, such as a direct messaging service between pet-parents to promote pet-friends and an adoption section that promotes adoption of animals and more. As a brand, we strongly stand against the sale and purchase of animals through breeders.