MBA Couple Aids Pet Owners
When Chris and Natasha Ashton met in the United Kingdom, they dreamed of having their own business one day. So when Chris retired from the military, they traveled to the U.S. to enroll in one of the country's top MBA programs.
"Chris and I were interested in setting up and running a business together and felt that an MBA would provide us with a strong foundation to enable us to do just that," Natasha Ashton said. "Chris was previously a captain in the [U.K.'s] Royal Marine Commandos and believed that an MBA would be a great way to transfer all of the skills that he brought with him from the military."
It was while the Ashtons were attending the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School in Philadelphia that an unfortunate episode planted a seed that grew into their business helping others facing a similar situation.
Animal insurance: Putting business school experience to work
While the Ashtons were attending class and learning about entrepreneurship in their MBA programs, their cat Bodey developed anorexia and stopped eating. At the Ryan Veterinary Hospital at the University of Pennsylvania, Bodey was given a feeding tube. Doctors further diagnosed Bodey with pneumonia with possible kidney implications.
Bodey was in the intensive care unit for more than two weeks and underwent extensive tests and several surgeries. Treatment costs came to $5,000.
"It was quite a blow," Natasha said.
The vet bill came on top of the Ashtons' combined student loans of more than $200,000. The couple moved into a smaller apartment to be able to pay down the vet bills. They also started researching pet insurance and saw a tremendous opportunity.
According to Natasha, in Sweden, insurance covers more than 50 percent of pets. In their native United Kingdom, more than 20 percent of pets are insured. The U.S. is home to more than 160 million cats and dogs, with spending on these pets expected to exceed $50 billion this year, but less than 1 percent of these animals are covered.
"We saw an opportunity to come in and build not just a brand, but an industry," she said.
The immediately started planning a business, using the resources available through their MBA programs. Many of their second-year classes -- such as insurance and marketing -- came into play, especially when building a comprehensive business plan. Upon graduation, they stayed in contact with professors who could help implement their business plan. They took advantage of the school's alumni network that gave them access to experts across various relevant fields. Finally, they showed their business plan to Petplan UK and asked them to be a partner to help break into the U.S. market.
Petplan: Protecting the unprotected
The result was Petplan Pet Insurance. Chris and Natasha were co-founders and now are co-CEOs. Petplan provides comprehensive accident and injury health insurance coverage for cats and dogs across the U.S. as well as in Canada. But the Ashtons aren't on their own: Their team of company professionals includes licensed veterinary technicians who work as claims adjusters, an in-house pet health spokesperson and a handful of marketing professionals. Those marketing members work to establish the Petplan Pet Insurance brand in the marketplace through a website, social media, trade show materials and the glossy magazine "fetch!"
"We have the best team in the business," Natasha said. "Everyone at Petplan is passionate about pets and service. Our marketing team is the driving force behind the brand."
Natasha said that in the last three years, Petplan has experienced more than 2,000 percent growth. This year, the company was named the 123rd fastest growing privately held company in the U.S., according to Inc. Magazine's Inc. 500 list. The company has also been commended for its management team and advertising prowess. Petplan aims to become the first billion-dollar pet health insurance provider globally, while maintaining exceptional service, Natasha said.
The company's outreach doesn't stop there. Among the pets Petplan Pet Insurance has helped is a Pennsylvania Greyhound who was diagnosed with lymphoma. His owners were able to take him to North Carolina State University's veterinary hospital for a revolutionary bone marrow transplant. The cost of the treatment totaled more than $20,000, but the owners were able to give him the best care available without having to worry about the cost. That's because Petplan Pet Insurance covers all forms of cancer treatments as standard including the most cutting-edge technologies, Natasha said.
All the hard work to make pets feel better, Natasha said, has been "absolutely" worth it.
"They say success demands passion, and there is no company more passionate about ensuring that pets get the very best care than Petplan," she said. "Our unwavering dedication to pet health and creating an exceptional customer experience is what drives every decision we make -- from building our world-class team, to seeking the right partners and beyond."