Promote and make everyone in your network aware of your company and product. Your friends and family are likely to support you and buy your product because they know and trust you. This lays the groundwork to everything else and is what I did with Pumpkin and Ollie.
As a part of my series called “Five Strategies I Used To Grow My Business To Reach Seven Figures In Revenue”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alexandre Douzet, CEO of Pumpkin Pet Insurance.
Alexandre has an MBA in general management, an MS in direct marketing and a BS in economics and business administration. Prior to Pumpkin, he was founder and CEO of Ollie, and before that TheLadders.com. He is also a competitive athlete and has completed several Ironman competitions.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My entrepreneurial journey really started in college. I built two different companies during school: an employment recruitment service that helped students find part-time jobs; and the second venture was a sports marketing company. It was a lot of work, but also tremendous fun. When I moved to the U.S. after college, I knew it was necessary to get a job working for someone else, but I found it frustrating, and that’s how my path to entrepreneurship kind of set its course. My first venture was a career site called TheLadders.com which I exited in 2013, and my second venture was a human-grade dog food company called Ollie. In my role at Ollie, I learned a great deal about pet wellness and saw a lot of opportunity in the marketplace, which is how I ended up as the CEO of my current venture, Pumpkin Pet Insurance.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company?
Launching Pumpkin during COVID was a highly unusual experience. It was a time when nobody was launching a business. However, it was a planned launch and COVID was likely not going away any time soon, so we went full speed ahead. We ended up being very fortunate that the pandemic brought a massive increase in pet adoptions and thus for pet insurance. We got lucky in that instance, however on the other hand, there were a new set of challenges that came with our growth. You only get to launch your company once and to leverage the buzz that comes with a launch. But during our launch, every reporter was covering COVID exclusively which was challenging and made us question the right path.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My father definitely influenced me. He was a self-made person born to a single mother in a difficult situation, but ended up being a business success story. The stories he told me about his work were inspiring.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I have two because they’re both highly relevant to me and I also think to startups. The first is that: “Life is inherently risky. There is only one big risk you should avoid at all costs, and that is the risk of doing nothing.” So start-ups are risky, but one thing you should avoid is not doing anything at all. The second one is from the movie, Moneyball, about the Oakland A’s baseball team. There’s a quote that says “I hate losing. I hate it! I hate losing more than I even wanna win.”. This speaks to me a lot as an athlete and also as an entrepreneur as I’m extremely competitive and the one thing I hate the most is losing or coming in second.
Ok super. Thank you for all that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. We’d love to learn a bit about your company. What is the pain point that your company is helping to address?
There’s over 100 million pets in the US and the cost of caring for them continues to rise every year. Most pet parents underestimate the cost to properly care for a pet, and in most families if you have an unforeseen event, it puts them in financial distress. This is exactly what happens with pets. If you don’t have pet insurance, you can’t always care for your pet the way you should and you could end up with a terrible outcome. In fact, only 2% of pet parents have pet insurance. This is the solution so pet parents and their fur babies can live a long, happy life together.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
In foreign markets, the number of insured pets can be as high as 30%, but when we looked at the U.S., only 2% of pets are insured. We realized the reason why is the lack of immediate value and having comprehensive coverage. Pumpkin solves that. We offer a wellness plan that gets pet parents reimbursed extremely fast and a comprehensive insurance plan.
When you first started the business, what drove you, what was your primary motivation?
I originally entered the pet care space because one of my dogs became sick due to her diet, so I created a human-grade pet food product which I considered to be preventative medicine. Pumpkin is very much a continuation of that. The original mission of Pumpkin is to provide pets with the best coverage because they’re part of the family and they deserve better. This is what initially drove me and still does. Then, when I did the research and saw a hole in the marketplace ,I really knew we could be successful.
What drives you now? Is it the same? Did it change? Can you explain what you mean?
We’ve only been in business since April and we’ve been working on it since the summer of 2019, so it’s been one and a half years working on this project. It’ll take a decade to scale to the vision we have. We want to see a future in where 10–15% of pets in the U.S. are insured. The market has been growing year over year, and we’re so happy to see that this has been a great year for petcare and it’s accelerating.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
We are working on our next gen product for Pumpkin, which is too early to announce but I’m excited to share in 2021, which is a product that will help people care for their pets even more. Insurance is usually a very complex product and our innovations aim to make it simple and also hyper-relevant to our customer instead of a one-size-fits all model. The future is all about personalization.
The topic of this series is ‘Five Strategies I Used To Grow My Business To Reach Seven Figures In Revenue’. Congratulations! Seven figures is really a huge milestone. In your experience what was the most difficult part of being able to hit your first million-dollars in sales revenue?
The most difficult in starting any business day one is getting those early adopters to buy your product and to trust you. When you’re just getting started, you have no reputation and people need to take a leap of faith in you which is why that first million dollars is always the hardest. Once you’ve done it, everything becomes a little bit easier because you’re able to build on what you’ve already grown.
Could you share the number one sales strategy that you found helpful to help you reach this milestone?
The number one strategy I recommend is when you initially launch and you’re just getting started: try to focus on your network. Anyone you have a direct connection with so you can tell them what you’re doing. Everyone is a consumer. Half the families in the U.S. have a pet; therefore, in my case, someone I know has a pet. It’s about telling everyone what you’re doing and how it could benefit them. Your friends are likely to be very supportive. If you can get that first layer and foundation from your network you have your initial customer base and from there, you can target your next round of customers of people who don’t know you but should.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you or your team made during a sales process? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
We learned from vets that we work with that pet parents with insurance tend to spend more than those who don’t. Therefore, you would assume vets love pet insurance; however, that’s not always the case as we’ve realized many vets still question what pet insurance can do for them. For example, some vets were recommending insurance and then found out insurance didn’t cover some things and it was leaving a bad taste in their mouth. This was a mistake out of the gate for us to assume that vets would automatically love us. We had to pivot our strategy a bit to work more to educate and raise awareness about how Pumpkin is here to help.
Does your company have a sales team? If yes, do you have any advice about how companies can create very high performing sales teams?
We absolutely have a sales team to promote Pumpkin through different channels. DTC does not require a sales team, but the vet channel does so we are creating a team that goes to clinics and helps raise awareness with their staff. My recommendation in creating a high performing sales team is to hire people with the right skillset, ensure they are excited about the vision and mission of the company, then give them the tools and means to be successful. You must invest sufficiently to help them to deliver.
Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Five Strategies I Used To Grow My Business To Reach Seven Figures In Revenue”. Please share a story or an example for each.
- Promote and make everyone in your network aware of your company and product. Your friends and family are likely to support you and buy your product because they know and trust you. This lays the groundwork to everything else and is what I did with Pumpkin and Ollie.
- You only get a chance to launch a product once. Make the most of it and use it as a platform for buzz. As I mentioned, this was a big challenge for Pumpkin during COVID. At that time, pet adoptions were up 700% with shelters reporting they were empty, so even though it wasn’t solely about our launch, we were able to use that angle to get some great coverage.
- Leverage various channels to acquire customers in a cost efficient way. For example, we knew all the competition was lacking in certain channels like social, so we hired experts and built the channel out very intentionally to drive sales and referrals.
- Activate your referral network. For Pumpkin, our media strategy was to focus on trade press in vet specific publications to put us on the radar with vets. We launched a campaign tapping into our Instagram community to support their local vets. It brought a lot of awareness and allowed us to start building relationships with vets in a very positive way.
- Constantly iterate to refine your product market fit. You can do all the research and testing you want pre-launch, but as people come and experience your product you’re going to get valuable feedback. There’s always room for improvement. We’ve done a lot of A/B tests and what we’ve noticed over the past few months is different behaviors between first-time pet parents and people who had pets in the past. So we’re now tailoring the experience more based on the type of pet parent you are.
What would you advise to another business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth or sales and “restart their engines”?
Unless you did something drastically wrong, you’re hitting a standstill because you’ve reached maturity. In those cases, there’s nothing to do except to innovate and launch a new product. As a leader, you really have to anticipate that this will happen. Every product goes through the same market cycle and you have to invent the next generation. Create a version 2.0 or 3.0 that has better features. You can’t wait until you start to decline to start innovating because this process takes a long time, so anticipate this before you reach maturity. It’s also about identifying if you’ve reached full market share and consider new marketing channels. Is there a new target for your product? Should you expand globally? Bottom line: launch other products before you reach maturity.
In your specific industry what methods have you found to be most effective in order to find and attract the right customers? Can you share any stories or examples?
In pet care, the best way to find customers is to find them when their pet is young. It’s better to insure a pet that is under the age of two versus a pet that’s over the age of ten. A young pet who is healthy has a low likelihood of having a condition that would be considered pre-existing which is essential for the customer to have a good experience. We have found channels where we can find those young pet owners.
Based on your experience, can you share a few strategies to give your customers the best possible user experience and customer service?
- It’s a little counterintuitive at Pumpkin, because you wouldn’t think of insurance as being super great for customer service. It’s usually that there’s an issue and you have to file a claim and it’s going to be a fight. At Pumpkin, we focus on providing a really awesome claim experience. For example, we reimburse customers for wellness claims within 24 hours..
- If we hear that your pet isn’t doing well, we might send you some flowers. Or a holiday card, or sometimes a birthday card. Also sadly, when we hear a pet dies, we send flowers to the pet parents to say we’re sorry for their loss. This is a very customer-centric technique to create superior experiences for our customers to let them know we care.
As you likely know, this HBR article demonstrates that studies have shown that retaining customers can be far more lucrative than finding new ones. Do you use any specific initiatives to limit customer attrition or customer churn? Can you share some of your advice from your experience about how to limit customer churn?
Our product is about providing a great claims experience. If I make you wait months to reimburse you, that’s an awful experience and you’re not going to recommend me to a friend. Therefore, we focus on making sure our current customers love us. We have an excellent retention rate.
Wonderful. We are nearly done. Here are the final “meaty” questions of our discussion. You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Climate change and initiatives to preserve what we have to make things more sustainable. We’ve turned into such a consumer society and we’re poisoning ourselves very quickly, and I don’t think any of this is a priority for leaders around the world. I would love to accelerate the adoption of protecting the environment and recycling as I think it’s something that would help most people.
We are very blessed that very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂
Two people come to mind: The first is Bill Gates because of what he’s been able to do post-Microsoft with the Gates Foundation is amazing. Secondly, Elon Musk because of what he’s done with SpaceX and Tesla, and I’d love to know more about how he’s done those two things so incredibly well. Elon was actually ranked as Fortune’s #1 business person of the year, and I recently found out that Kristin Peck, CEO of Zoetis and an investor in Pumpkin was named as Fortune’s #15 business person of the year. So I’d like to think I’m working my way up the list!
Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational, and we wish you only continued success!