Investigative journalism takes you to lots of unexpected places—everyone who enters the field is prepared to meet adventure. What I did not imagine is that my particular journey would lead to the boardroom of a startup, focusing on improving the lives of veterinary healthcare professionals.
After graduating from Medill in 1993, I returned to my hometown and worked for The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Associated Press and The Star-Ledger. I had many different beats, but my favorite work always involved listening to people who were unheard and giving voice to their stories. One of my proudest moments came when I was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for a series exposing racial profiling on the New Jersey Turnpike.
It was while working at The Star-Ledger that an old friend and I began talking about starting a company. It was the height of the dotcom era, and the startup didn’t last. But the experience proved to be an important one because it showed me that I enjoyed the process of building a company from the ground up.
I knew enough to know I needed more training, though, so I went back to school to get my MBA at Temple University’s Fox School of Business. While I pursued the degree at night, I interned at a private equity firm called CMS Companies. I worked my way up to managing partner while investing in small companies in a variety of industries. One of those businesses was a group of veterinary hospitals. It was the idea of working in an industry that helped animals that ultimately led me to leave CMS and co-found a company to buy veterinary hospitals and help them operate better.
At the time a nationwide veterinary staffing shortage was just beginning to impact animal hospitals. Vets were leaving in droves because the hours were long and brutal. They came into the profession with high rates of student debt but got very little support from managers at their clinics and hospitals. Add to that a highly emotional job with lots of stressors. For those that stayed, there were high rates of burnout, anxiety, depression, and increased suicide risk.
It was clear to me that If we wanted to continue to value the health of our animals, we needed to place a higher value on the wellness and happiness of the doctors that treated them. Thus, the idea for IndeVets—a relief (locum) veterinary staffing company that made working conditions better for vets—was born.
What made IndeVets different from my previous startups is that from the very beginning I was guided not just by a problem that needed solving—the labor crisis in the veterinary industry—but also by a sense of social purpose: to improve the experience of practicing veterinary medicine, and by extension, uplift the lives of veterinary professionals.
If I could bring veterinary medicine more in line with the way today’s vets wanted to work, I knew I could help build a better future for the embattled industry. But as IndeVets grew from a hopeful concept into a full-fledged operation, the biggest challenge was convincing veterinarians that this new model wasn’t too good to be true.
Today, IndeVets serves a nationwide network of veterinarians and hospitals and my Medill background continues to provide me with critical tools for success. Editing, writing, and asking questions – I use these foundational skills every day. Storytelling is an important part of being an entrepreneur – you have to convince people to see the potential where you see it, and you have to gain their empathy, trust, and loyalty. It’s also a critical part of running a business. Hearing the stories our doctors talk about their challenges – the long days in the clinic, the inability to manage their own lives – drives new ideas for the company.
At Medill, I set out to write stories that would move the needle in some way and open up dialogue about important issues. Entrepreneurship hasn’t changed that ambition—it’s simply given this journalist-at-heart a new way to work toward change.