Alpha Vet International Ltd is a group of business units that grew from my dermatology referral service that I set up in 1996. When I came up with the idea for The Webinar Vet in 2010, I placed that alongside The Skin Vet referral service.
I stopped my dermatology referral in June 2016 as The Webinar Vet continued to grow. The Webinar Vet was the first online provider of continuing education for veterinary professionals in the UK and continues to lead the way in providing high-quality training to vets and nurses. In 2019, we acquired a veterinary recruitment firm to become part of the solution to the veterinary manpower shortage. In July 2020, we also acquired WikiVet, one of the leading student educational platforms.
How did you come up with the idea for the company?
I started my veterinary practice in 1997. Most vets at that time were entrepreneurial. They wanted to start their own business or go into partnership with someone. Now the market has corporatised, and most vets are happy to work with someone. I’ve always been curious. “Why” was my favourite question from a young boy. It meant I’ve always tried new things. My practice was one of the first to have health plans for pets with clients paying a monthly sum by direct debit.
I was also fascinated by the internet. We had the best website in Liverpool and people would choose our practice because they knew a lot about us by checking up on us on the internet. We were also an early adopter of PPC. Yellow Pages came to tell me that they could get me to the top of Google for £3000 per year. I told them I was already there for 15 pence per click! Off the back of this, we set up an online pet pharmacy which was growing well. I saw an advert for an internet conference in London led by Mark Anastasi and I decided to go. There were lots of speakers talking about how they could help business, but one Australian guy called Steven Essa was talking about webinars. It struck me that this would be an ideal way to learn as a vet- no wasted time travelling! It was a light bulb moment. I bought his course and within six weeks I had run my first webinar and won two consultancies to teach dermatology in a practice.
Business can be hard, but I’m blessed with an amazing team that share my vision. I’m very serious about sharing the vision and values to potential recruits because it really helps to develop the right culture if everyone is heading in the right direction. I don’t get recruitment right all the time, but I think we do better than most. It’s one of the most important things I do!
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How has the company evolved during the pandemic?
We’ve been preparing for the pandemic since 2010…. We just didn’t realise. I’ve been a leading voice in encouraging all businesses to become digital businesses. However, the nanometre-sized mRNA virus responsible for the pandemic has been much more persuasive. I had previously said that if businesses did not digitally transform, they would not exist in 10 years. Many businesses have already disappeared. We were in a very lucky position to be ready for the disruption. I use the analogy of a sprinter preparing for a race. We were in our kit; with our spikes on ready to go to the start line. Some businesses hadn’t even got into the changing room!
We had been running an annual virtual congress since 2013 so when the pandemic hit we were seen as the go-to expert in this field. We ran over 30 virtual events in 12 months including the World Veterinary Association’s congress due to take place in Auckland in early April 2020 and the World Congress for Veterinary Dermatology due to take place in Sydney in October 2020. Our intervention saved many associations posting huge losses and allowed other companies to continue to speak to vets and nurses during the pandemic. This has led to the birth of ConferenceVirtually and www.thevetexhibition.com
Our company is a global company but is now even better known across the veterinary world. Our company doubled in size in 2020.
What can we hope to see from Alpha Vet International Ltd in the future?
I’m very excited to see how we continue to evolve during this digital decade which we have just begun. Kathryn Bell has taken over as CEO of the companies as I put my energies into growing our two newest business units, Simply Vet and WikiVet.
Simply Vet has developed into a payroll company to keep locum vets and nurses compliant with IR35 whereas WikiVet will become the largest repository of veterinary information in the world within 3 years