“Friends — how many of us have them?” — Whodini
Venture capital often looks like individuals or teams making astute and sometimes prophetic investment decisions into exceptional entrepreneurs who want to change the world. While in hindsight that is often the case, at defy we believe the crux of being a successful VC is actually having a lot of friends. When we need to meet those entrepreneurs, persuade them to take our capital, help them hire, assist with sales and business development, find new capital partners and eventually exit — the people who help us do that are usually individuals we have often known and trusted for many years, sometimes decades. There is always mutual respect and trust. Our relationships are not transactional but lasting. The commonly used phrase ‘networking’ falls short of true friendship, as meaningful connections are born from ‘give and take’ relationships. No investment exemplifies this belief more than our portfolio company, Pawlicy whose mission is to help people support their pets. Pets, who are often some of the best friends anyone can have.
More on their recent funding here.
We met Woody and Travis, the founders of Pawlicy via an introduction from a 19 year friend and defy Sage, Ben Wolin. I first met Ben when I was fortunate to invest in his company Everyday Health in its seed round in 2003. Ben eventually took that company public and then went on to run a number of businesses including Covetrus where he is the current CEO of the NASDAQ listed $3bln pet tech health company. A referral from an industry expert friend like Ben covers a number of VC ‘diligence items’ immediately.
After getting to know the Pawlicy team, we fell in love with the business. They were helping pet owners find the best insurance for their situation across numerous providers. We learned this type of product was used by 30% of pet owners in the UK but low single digits in the US. As technology improves and more human life saving techniques could be applied to pets, the average owner has more opportunities to save a loved furry family member but the cost is often prohibitive. Pawlicy gave animal lovers an alternative and as providers proliferated, owners needed a simple way to choose the best value and services from any provider.
With Pawlicy based in New York and in its early stage, we introduced Woody and Travis to our 14 year friend and former CEO, Jeff Sherwin who immediately jumped in to provide guidance and support. With our friends on board, we led the seed round in Pawlicy and like all of our investments, our entire team, especially Brian Rothenberg and Madison McIlwain put in countless hours working and developing a friendship with Woody and Travis. They are a special team and always believed in their mission to help pet owners and we appreciated their passion and drive.
As the company approached its Series A round, we reached out to friends in New York again: Habib Kairouz at Rho Capital and Kevin Colleran at Slow Ventures. We had known Habib as long as Ben as we sat on the Everyday Health board together. He definitely knows consumer tech in New York having invested in some legendary companies. Three of us at defy worked with Kevin when he was our partner at General Catalyst over a decade ago. He and Slow may have the best pet tech portfolio in the country so we felt like they were a perfect fit. Rho and Slow co-led the A round and have been incredible partners all along the way.
Pawlicy continued to execute and began partnering with technology platforms as well as vets directly to make their product seamless and easy to use for consumers. This was true grassroots marketing with bag ‘lunch and learns’ and trips to the always glamorous pet health conventions. Their success was tracked by another friend of ours and her team, Seyonne Kang and StepStone who also have had numerous wins in the pet category including Chewy. Seyonne didn’t just take our friend’s word on Pawlicy, she literally tracked the company for over two years and was in constant contact with Woody and Travis for months before enthusiastically leading the Series B that we are proud to announce today. We think this capital will allow Pawlicy to execute its mission to help pet owners find the best path to keeping their most loyal and loved friends happy and healthy.
As Pawlicy has grown and scaled, we get to celebrate the wins with friends and solve the challenges with people we know and trust while making new friends along the way. The story is not over — the path ahead will be challenging with many ups and downs but with friends by your side, we know the ride will be fun. Our team at defy loves investing in wonderful people like Woody and Travis who want to make the world a better place. We also recognize we can’t make decisions in a vacuum. We need our friends inside and outside to help guide us to awesome people, make good decisions and invest in great companies.
Friends — we are so glad we have them.