The Luminary Tech Visionary Award recognises young people demonstrating creative thinking and making a significant contribution and social impact through the use of digital. For more information, check out this blog post about Luminary’s sponsorship of the Victorian Young Achiever Awards.
By his own admission, Morgan Coleman is not a ‘tech person’. Nor has he ever set foot in a veterinary science class. Yet at just 30 years of age, he is the CEO of one of the most innovative vet companies in the country.
Morgan launched Vets On Call, a mobile app that facilitates at-home vet services, in May 2018. The idea came about after a less-than-ideal visit to the vet with his pet dog, Milky.
His canine companion had injured her leg but he couldn’t get a vet appointment after hours and was forced to take the day off work. When they got to the clinic, Milky got ‘cold paws’ and couldn’t bring herself to enter. So Morgan had to literally push her through the doors. Poor Milky spent the entire appointment shaking with fear.
“It just broke my heart, I thought there’s gotta be a better way,” he recalls. And so, with no real tech experience and no vet qualifications, Morgan walked out of the clinic, found an envelope in his car and scribbled out the blueprint for Vets On Call.
It doesn’t take long to figure out that Morgan’s not someone who pays much heed to ‘obstacles’. In fact, he’s turned a healthy disregard for the status quo into a formidable asset.
“There are a lot of benefits to being the ignorant customer,” he explains. “You don’t have preconditioned ideas of what can and can’t be done. I had people who’d been in the industry for 30 years and were really well respected tell me we’d be dead within 12 months, telling me it’d never work.”
But he pushed on despite the naysayers. “I’ve always been the kind of person that if I set my mind to something, I’m going to do it and it’s very difficult to convince me otherwise!” he adds.
“One of the hardest things about being an entrepreneur is when all your peers go through buying a house, getting a new car and all those sorts of things and you simply can’t afford that."
Even before he had the idea for Vets On Call, Morgan knew he wanted to eventually start his own business. “I didn’t know what that was going to be, I just knew that it was going to be something that was transformative in terms of people’s lives,” he says.
His experience at the vet clinic that day opened his eyes to an opportunity to bring about positive change not just for pets and their owners, but to the vets themselves.
“The more I dug into it, the bigger the opportunity looked to me, not just from a commercial point of view, but also from the point of view of making working conditions for vets better - to provide higher yielding jobs, more flexible working arrangements, and less stressful work environments, as well as providing better health outcomes for pets. Removing the stress allows for a more accurate diagnosis and therefore a better outcome.”
A mobile vet service also had real potential to remove the barriers pet owners face in acquiring quality care for their pets, especially for the elderly and those with mobility issues.
The first step towards turning his vision into a reality was market research. “I needed to prove that people would actually use this service if we created it,” he says. “That started with simple questionnaires that I pushed out on Facebook to as many people as possible. I surveyed vets as well. I hung out in dog parks with my dog and approached random pet owners in the park. I’d use my dog as an icebreaker and basically throw treats over towards other dogs so she’d go play with them and I could strike up a conversation!” he laughs.
In return for their feedback, Morgan offered the pet owners a free home vet service. He essentially played the role that the app plays now – matching clients with local vets, confirming bookings, and following up about what worked and what didn’t.
Once he’d validated the idea, it was time to get serious and get a tech partner involved. “Tech was the obvious choice as it has the ability to scale so quickly,” Morgan explains. At this point he joined forces with Melbourne digital agency Newpath Web, and after 18 months in development, the Vets On Call app was launched.
Morgan’s ultimate vision for Vets On Call is for it to be the primary provider for pet care across Australia. “In the beginning of the business we were in danger of being seen as a convenience thing - ‘I can’t be bothered going to the vet today or the husband’s got the car, I’ll just get Vets On Call’. If it was just once-off appointments, the business would fail, because the unit economics just wouldn’t be there, but once we started to see people were using us as the primary caregiver I knew we were on the right track. Over 50 percent of people who use us the first time will convert to being a long term client. That’s a really promising sign for the business.”
While all the indicators are pointing in the right direction, Morgan confesses that he still occasionally has moments where he wonders whether all the hard work and sacrifices are worth it.
“Any entrepreneur would be lying if they said they didn’t have those moments. At times we’ve been on the cusp of signing million dollar deals with some of the biggest pet companies in the country and the day before they’re due to sign they pull out. That’s a massive kick in the guts. You build yourself up, thinking ‘this is going to be a game changer’ and then to have the carpet pulled out from under you can be devastating. I’ve definitely had those moments where it’s like ‘Can we not catch a break!’”
However, he’s never had a moment where he truly believed it wouldn’t work.
“One of the hardest things about being an entrepreneur is when all your peers go through buying a house, getting a new car and all those sorts of things and you simply can’t afford that. You put those parts of your life on hold for the business and you’ve got to be supremely confident it’s going to work.”
One of the motivators that has kept Morgan going has been his determination to be an inspiration for the next generation of Indigenous kids. “Being an Indigenous Australian myself I wanted to do something that was going to stand as a legacy to the ingenuity and creativity of Indigenous Australians. I remember being 15 or 16 and thinking that if I didn’t succeed at sport, I wouldn’t succeed at all. All the Indigenous people I saw who were successful were all sports people.
“It would be so reaffirming of the journey I’m on if other Indigenous people could look at business, technology and entrepreneurship as ways to build a better life for themselves.”
To anyone looking to enter the world of entrepreneurship, Morgan believes the most important thing is to back yourself. “Don't believe the limitations that people place on you. People have a tendency to shortchange themselves. We’re so much more capable than what we give ourselves credit for. Ultimately that’s what business comes down to - are you willing to do what it takes to succeed? There’s really only one person who has control over that and that’s yourself.”
Read about the other finalists:
- Zoë Condliffe, founder of She's A Crowd
- Alex Irwin Liu, founder of Accessibly
- Catherine Allingham, founder of the Fertility Preservation Decision Aid
The winner of the 2020 Luminary Tech Visionary Award will be announced on Friday 18 September.
Liked this post?
Here are some other content items you may find interesting...
Want more? Here are some other blog posts you might be interested in.