Tim Ludlow, Vets First Choice’s CFO, was the featured speaker at PubHub on May 4. He didn’t drop any major newsy bombs, but he did reveal a few things about the company, which provides online pharmacy services to veterinarian practices, that I think shed light on one of Maine’s most promising companies (and my bet for Maine’s next big exit).
Revenue… The last we’ve heard about Vets First Choice’s revenue comes from a July 2015 interview I did with CEO Ben Shaw, who told me the company’s 2014 revenue was “north of $45 million,” representing a 140% increase from 2013 revenue. On Wednesday, Ludlow said revenue has increased at the same rate as its employee count.
So, let’s do a little math. This time last year, the company’s Portland-based employee count was roughly 40. Now it’s around 100, which represents a 150% increase. (The company’s total employee count has increased from around 160 when I interviewed Shaw in July 2015 to 300, which is closer to 88% increase) So, even being conservative with the growth rate, it’s safe to assume that if Vets First Choice’s revenue hasn’t already surpassed the $100 million mark, it will this year.
Ludlow dodged my question about an exit strategy. “I don’t even know my own exit strategy for this evening,” he said, which garnered a laugh from the good-sized crowd.
He also offered a vague response to a question about looking for “smart money” and why Vets First Choice chose to raise funds from a private equity firm rather than venture capital, and what that might mean for the company’s future. (Though Vets First Choice has raised some VC, it made headlines last year for raising $52 million primarily from New York-based private equity firm Clayton, Dubilier & Rice.) The question is poignant given the recent acquisition (and subsequent layoffs) of Putney Inc., which raised VC funds and had been under pressure from investors to sell.
I also asked if they refer to Vets First Choice as a tech company or a pharmacy services provider. It was softball question and I knew what the response would be (they think of themselves as a tech company, of course), but I wanted to hear about whether that’s changed the company’s business model. It started by offering online pharmacy services to vet practices, but now, after years of growth, it’s collecting tons of data about pet drug sales, consumer behavior, etc., all of which has value to big drug makers and others. That Vets First Choice is trying to leverage that data is evident by the number of data scientist and developer positions the company has posted on its career page.
Now that Vets First Choice has reached critical mass on its core business service, Ludlow said, it’s currently working on “ancillary services.”
He said remaining downtown has been integral to the company’s maintaining a vibrant culture despite growing out of the startup phase and transforming into more of a “teenager.”
“Don’t move to an office park; that would be my advice,” he said in response to one question about how to maintain a startup mentality despite its growth.
On the talent front, Ludlow said Vets First Choice hasn’t had problems finding local people to fill jobs.
“People are here, they’re in this town. It’s not like we have to go to Boston or out of town to find people,” he said, adding that after a career that’s taken him all over the world the people he works with in Portland are some of the most talented he’s ever worked with.