Being a veterinarian is a dream job for kids all around the world — and more than a few adults, too. But the harsh realities of the profession can quickly turn that dream into a nightmare. That’s where IndeVets comes in.
“There’s a huge problem in veterinary medicine, and it has to do with real material workforce challenges for doctors,” said IndeVets Chief Executive Officer Michael Raphael, who has worked in animal health since 2010. “It’s led to mental health issues, high suicide rates, just a general dissatisfaction with being a veterinarian.”
The solution Raphael created with IndeVets in 2017 was to give these hamstrung doctors greater control over their work-life balance. By signing with IndeVets as a full W-2 employee, a doctor has the ability to pick up preferred shifts at contracted hospitals, all while receiving the insurance and health benefits of a full-time employee.
“We started the company with the goal of elevating the profession by creating happier, healthier doctors and workplaces,” Raphael said. “Some of that has to do with giving people freedom to kind of choose the type of work they want, when they want to work, how they want to work. Give them stability, which is about a paycheck and benefits and a 401(k). A sense of belonging; you’re part of a group that sees things the same way and supports you. Last piece of that puzzle is advocacy; working for you and supporting you and making sure your needs are being met.”
Of course, maintaining a business like this presents a logistical nightmare on the technology side of things. IndeVets claims three main stakeholders in its operations — doctors, hospitals and administrators — but the company’s original method of using disparate services to create a tech stack was proving to be an untenable solution. A third-party software solved some, but not all of those problems, forcing the company to think outside the box, both literally and figuratively.
“Our ability to have a platform to handle [our needs] in a controlled, stable way was mission critical to the business, the sort of engine that we can run on,” said Chief Operating & Finance Officer Kent Bonniwell. And it quickly became apparent that an off-the-shelf product wouldn’t have enough horsepower to get the job done. “That opened up a search for a firm that could help us execute on the vision of the company, which is when we met up with Jarvus.”
Partnering with Jarvus
When it came time to select a firm to help build their technology, IndeVets’ wish list was significant: The top priorities included minimizing the need for third-party SaaS platforms, using open source software to limit costs while also making systems accessible to future developers, and utilizing standard technologies to reduce vendor lock-in.
Jarvus’ past successes made them a standout candidate for the IndeVets team. “I basically asked around,” said Raphael. “I think Jarvus and particularly Chris Alfano have a reputation for being really strong, infrastructure, do-it-right kind of guys who are going to bring best practices to the project. Chris just came across as credible, heard my vision and put together a plan.”
Jarvus researched, designed and implemented product offerings by following a process that connected the IndeVets staff with its primary stakeholder groups—doctors and hospitals—to better understand their challenges and deliver the features that they truly needed. Because of this approach, Jarvus was able to create a technology solution for IndeVets that improved the user experience, automated the scheduling service, and united the back-end tools as a complete offering.
“They built us a very sound foundation from the ground up,” said Bonniwell, “And the biggest proof of success of the platform is that it works.”
The final platform is a three-portal system nicknamed CATS — Central Appointment Tracking System. Each portal serves a different purpose: One for hospitals to post shifts, another for doctors to sign up for them, and a third for internal admin staff to monitor and troubleshoot in real time.
“[Jarvus] tries to build the right way, which sounds obvious, but it can be more expensive and time intensive,” Raphael said, while adding that the company certainly got what it paid for in that regard. “You have to trust your partner to go down that path. And if the system failed at two in the morning, I knew they’d be there to fix it.”
The end result was an alliance as unique as IndeVets itself: A growing partnership in which each side claims ownership over their particular half of the sandbox.
“The nice thing about Jarvus as we have grown is that we sort of own the product component and they own the development,” Bonniwell said. “We’re growing together as a hybrid-type delivery model.”
“You can talk about metrics, you can talk about improvement and function, KPIs and success, but in the end, particularly when you’re working with a consultant on the outside, you want to make sure they understand your vision and they see it the same way,” Raphael said. “And I do believe that Chris, Brendan and the team feel that way.”
Jarvus and IndeVets are now several years into the partnership. And, as the old expression goes, business is booming. “We’ve been doubling in size every single year since we started four years ago, and our technology platform has been a big part of that,” said Bonniwell.
In other words, the engine Jarvus built to run the company continues to run smoothly, and Jarvus remains intimately involved in its maintenance — from the nuts and bolts, to hiring new mechanics (among them a fractional CTO), to even creating a feedback system that helped IndeVets iterate the software.
“I know Chris, I’m pretty sure, had a very clear understanding of where he was taking us and sort of stepped us through the process bit by bit,” Raphael said. “That’s always a tension when you’re on the business side. ‘I want more features.’ And they’ve done a very good job of standing up to it and making sure we have a good system.”
“That’s a great partner to have,” Bonniwell said. “As we grow and there are key positions that we need to fill internally, they’ve been a great partner in helping with that while still maintaining the core platform development function.”
This shared-load policy helps IndeVets continue to innovate in their business approach, and the investment has paid off handsomely for both sides. “We have more than 130 doctors using the platform along with more than 1,700 partner hospitals across the east and central time zones,” Bonniwell said.
“We were able to expand the footprint of our business via technology vs. bricks and mortar in different locations of the country.” Bonniwell continued, “And now we think we have a model that we can expand more nationally with because of the efficiency it’s driven.”
Raphael noted that CATS already had a tangible impact on IndeVets’ business when it came time to raise growth capital. The private equity firm the company works with brought in an outside consultant to review the system, and they were impressed with what they saw.
“They were very complimentary and felt like it was a very strong approach,” Raphael said. “That’s the sort of thing that builds confidence with a management team and an investor group. It just really helped us along.”
Jarvus, meanwhile, continues to “augment” the core platform according to IndeVets’ growing needs, all while granting them access to the firm’s staff to keep that engine purring — pun intended.
“We now have full control of the code and processing,” Raphael added of the technology that Jarvus helped build and continues to develop. “It’s a big advantage for us, not just for the experience of our stakeholders, but for our company’s value. Honestly, there’s no way we could be doing what we’re doing today without it.”