Taylor Cavanaugh

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Finding Success in Radical Candor


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Sometimes as an entrepreneur, you set out to build one thing but end up with something else entirely. That was the case with Taylor Cavanah. A trained physicist, he and his best friend were on the path to building a technology company only to stumble across a gaping need in the veterinary world. Today, Taylor is the CEO of PetDesk, a platform that enables pet care providers and pet owners to connect and manage their pet’s care.

In this interview, he shares how the company was built, why he prioritizes company culture and the reason it’s important for entrepreneurs to keep sharing their ideas with the world.

How did PetDesk come to be?
It started back when Ken Tsui, my other co-founder, and I worked together in the nanotech world and decided to start a business, but not in the pet space. We were failing upwards building great technology, but not really solving problems. My wife’s uncle, who is a vet, kept saying, “Hey, you’ve got to go into vet space. They really need technology.” We didn’t listen for probably about a year or so.

Then just to make sure we were getting into the right business I went to WBC, which is a big event conference in Vegas, and halfway through the first day I called Ken and said, “Start building PetDesk!” They were sending postcards with 1980s web portals and treating email like it was the newest, greatest thing –– this was 2013. It just seemed like it was a super obvious time for us to get into the space.

What is your role in the company now versus the early days?
My day-to-day now is managing the directors of the company and hiring the missing pieces. Right now I’m very deep in planning on what we’re going to do next, what our goals are, how we’re going to get there, and training up all of our directors on how to do that type of planning. There’s a lot of learning and mentoring, and that’s a big part of my job.

What are some of the challenges that you’ve faced as you’ve scaled, and how did you overcome them?
We went through a rapid growth period. When we hit 30 people this really weird, almost dark cloud descended on the company. We took a Friday afternoon, got everybody together, had a picnic. We opened it up and let everybody air their grievances, ask questions, and it was awesome. Within five days, everything was super sunny and great. We’d also made some personnel changes that needed to happen, and now our culture has been getting stronger and stronger. I guess one of the big learnings there is transparency and openness, and the ability to get everybody to be heard is key.

What’s one of the best things that you’ve done for the business?
Your culture is going to develop whether you put form written values or not. And it’s not about just writing them down, but how you actually doing all those things that you want to do. Are you practicing radical candor? Are you learning? Are you coaching? Are you having a growth mindset? And does everybody in the company embody that as well?

What tips can you share for training up employees?
Training is hard. Look for people who are very, very process-oriented. It’s amazing what you can do when you put processes and systems in place, and it’s so much easier to do it when you have five people than when you get to 50 people.

What’s next for PetDesk?
We tripled last year and doubled this year in ARR. The sales team is almost fully built out now. We basically have almost all the hires that we need, but we also understand that the market size that we’re in is not huge and the product isn’t going to last forever. Nobody’s ever gotten 50%, 60%, 70% market share in this space, so we need to be thinking about the next thing.

We’ll likely expand to serving groomers, boarders and trainers. We moved out of that space to just focus on vets, and we want to move back in.

What’s one piece of advice that you would give to a fellow entrepreneur?
Share your idea with everybody. When you’re doing that, always ask for constructive criticism and really listen to that feedback. It’s easy for us to fall in love with our baby, and the more you can take those blinders off, the better it’s going to be.

Lightning Round:

Are you a coffee drinker? Yes or no?
No, Mountain Dew. I’m trying to kick it. It’s the worst way to get caffeine.

What’s one business tool you’re geeking out over right now?
Domo. It’s a dashboard aggregator that used to cost like $50,000+ every month, and now you can get it for like $80 per user. I

Do you have a favorite piece of technology?
I have a favorite piece of future technology that I really want to see happen. The ability to upload your consciousness, and the merging of machine and human intelligence.

What’s one book you would pass along to a fellow entrepreneur?
The Challenger Sale.

Who is one person or maybe dog you’d like to have dinner with?
Albert Einstein.

How can people connect with you or learn more about PetDesk?
E-mail at taylor@petdesk.com. I try to make time to help other entrepreneurs as much as possible.