With more than 20 years in veterinary medicine, Dr. Cindy Barnes believed she knew the field better than the software companies selling technology to her fellow vet practitioners.
The products were clunky, costly and required extensive training.
So Barnes, 46, teamed up with her son, Kirk Castro, and in January 2016 they launched Shepherd Software. The Seattle-based startup employs nine, and sells a product called Veterinary Experience Technology that helps veterinarians schedule appointments, track the health of their furry patients and manage billing. Two to three new customers sign up every week, and more might be on the way with the company showcasing the software this week at a veterinary conference in Las Vegas.
There’s no shortage of cloud-based tools to manage veterinarian practices, from Lexington, Kentucky-based Hippo Manager, which costs $80 per month per vet, to Henry Schein, a giant in the veterinary world with a public market value of $10 billion that markets its own ImproMed service. Even so, Shepherd Software is looking to run away from the pack with its software tools, which cost $299 per month for one veterinarian, and up to $749 per month for four to seven vets.
Barnes said the partnership with her son has worked well, in part because Castro also understands the field having grown up in proximity to vet clinics and steeped in his mom’s shoptalk.
“We are yin and yang,” Barnes said. “I am this visionary and have big lofty ideals, and he is more the analytical type and keeps me grounded and focused on moving forward on a solid pace. It’s fabulous. He understands me, and I trust him implicitly.”
We caught up with Barnes for this installation of GeekWire’s Startup Spotlight. Continue reading to learn more.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “We make software that helps people run veterinary hospitals. It’s easy to use, and better than anything on the market.”
Inspiration hit us when: “We realized that the problems were rooted in the software available. Practices were running servers in the practices and paying upwards of $30,000 to do so.”
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “We have bootstrapped Shepherd so far because it was the fastest way to get going. We wanted to hit the market ASAP.”
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “We are the only company that is run by a female, practicing veterinarian, a CEO with more than 20 years of industry experience. On top of that, our team has more than 60 years experience collectively in the veterinary industry. We are a team that is focused on best practices, and the latest technology to create the best possible user experience.”
The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Putting the software into use before it was ready to start the feedback loop, and continuing to add users throughout the process.”
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Waiting too long to build features that we knew were essential. This has cost us more money than if we’d built them sooner.”
Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Bezos. We’re from Seattle. Plus we think he leans a little more towards innovating than the other two.”
Our favorite team-building activity is: “Happy hour!”
The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: “A passion for helping people. Veterinarians are some of the most underpaid professionals in America. They have one of the highest suicide rates of any profession. We want to change both of those things.”
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “I will borrow this from a friend: ‘Hire people who are smarter than you.'”