Some people love their pets and some people, like Christie Horvath, love their pets so much that they start a company because of them. "We're a company built by people genuinely obsessed with their pets," she says. "We're committed to this for the right reasons."
Horvath was a student at Harvard Business School when her beloved rescue dog Denver started experiencing seizures. Each vet visit cost her hundreds of dollars and the only insurance product available was for truly catastrophic cases - it wouldn't apply to Denver.
Horvath wasn’t just any pet owner though—she happened to be a former BlackRock vice president who specialized in insurance, one who also was in the midst of an MBA program.
Horvath’s story actually began in Colorado, right outside of Denver. Raised in the suburbs, she attended The Ricks Center for Gifted Children at the University of Denver before moving south to attend Fountain Valley School of Colorado. Horvath’s decision to attend Fountain Valley was guided both by her fierce intelligence and a sad situation at home; her father had become addicted to drugs and the family finances were in shambles.
It was this financial insecurity that drove Horvath towards business at Northwestern University, “When I went to NU, I was pretty intent on doing something in finance or business ... I knew I had to pick a functional major. I chose economics because it was as close to business as I could get.”
Following graduation, she joined BlackRock as an analyst. “It was a great place to grow up and they taught me great financial fundamentals, including what an insurance company is.”
Though she enjoyed the education BlackRock gave her, Horvath notes that, “Pretty early on, I realized that I wasn’t interested in the finance aspect, I was interested in the insurance aspect. I actually realized that
I LOVE insurance. I knew that was the aspect of the job that I loved the most. I became an insurance expert within our group. We would look at asset allocations for these companies and their peer groups. I spent most of my time thinking about insurance, the business model, the competitive landscape ... I realized that since the next step at BlackRock was more about asset management than insurance, I needed to do something else.”
After evaluating her options, Horvath decided to pursue her MBA at Harvard Business School. Coming off her experience in the New York City finance world, she found herself “super interested in the entrepreneurship case studies at HBS, as well as product positioning.” She was uninterested in even getting dressed to go to a recruiting event for one of the big consulting firms. Instead, she went to a student panel about startup life as a joiner/founder and found her people. “Someone said that this was the time in life when you can take a risk and that really resonated with me.”
She had already been kicking around the idea of starting an insurance company that would bundle individual items (such as laptops, cell phones, and bikes) when Denver’s illness made her consider the opportunity of pet insurance. Horvath obsessed over the pain points and eventually created Wagmo. As Horvath began building it, her first investment came from an unexpected source; her father. Now drug-free, he gave his daughter his life savings to start her dream company before passing away just a few months later.
Horvath notes that human health- care is trending towards prioritizing wellness and it makes sense that pet care should too. The actuarial science behind Wagmo is sound: cost is based on assumed use of product and wellness costs are more predictable than emergency ones. As a result, Wagmo provides wellness packages for every-day pet expenses—annual exams, vaccines and boosters, flea and tick meds, teeth cleaning and grooming. There are three annual membership plans: Basic, Legit and Extra, starting at $18 a month, with no deductibles. The company’s online claims tool makes reimbursement user-friendly; take a photo of your receipt any time, 24/7 and Wagmo will reimburse you the very next day.
Wagmo recently secured $3 million in seed funding, co-led by Harlem Capital and Vestigo Ventures, with participation from Female Founders Fund, Clocktower Technology Ventures and The Fund. Several existing and angel investors, representing Flatiron Health, Clover Health and more, also participated in the round. Horvath notes, “working with investors who are committed to diversity and inclusion is important. We want investors who understand that there is a world beyond New York City and San Francisco.”
So what’s next for Horvath and Wagmo? They’ll be using the seed money to further scale its operations, build out the team, and expand its partnership distribution model with pilot pet services and employee perk programs. “We’re at a really cool point in the company’s life where we know customers love our products ... now we’re focusing on scaling and making additional enhancements to the product and user experience. We’re pretty open to new ideas and constantly surveying customers about how can we help them with pet parenting.” And while sweet Denver crossed the rainbow bridge, Christie has a new dog to inspire her ... Aspen. Looks like you can take the girl out of Colorado, but she will always keep it close to her heart.
Wagmo Pet Insurance Wellness and insurance plans start at $18 per month. See full details at wagmo.io
Elizabeth Kosar is a Denver-based writer and strategist. She dotes on her parents’ dog, Berkeley, a yellow Labrador who believes that all bicycles are a menace to society.
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