In this episode of The New Rules of Work podcast, Kathryn Minshew, Founder and CEO of The Muse, talked with Dr. Zaynab Satchu, Founder and Chief Veterinary Officer of Bond Vet. Dr. Zay is quick to point out that their company is not trying to disrupt the veterinary industry. But they are trying to improve it. Employees in very mission-driven work are often expected to compromise their emotional wellbeing and work-life balance, but Dr. Zay wants to see that change.
Kathryn chatted with Dr. Zay about how she made the leap from vet to startup founder and using technology, thoughtful design, and a focus on the emotional wellbeing of employees to create a work environment where employees—and clients both human and animal—actually want to be.
They also talked about:
- Dr. Zay’s journey to becoming a veterinarian, and how she knew she wanted to build her own company
- What makes Bond Vet different from other vet clinics
- The importance of being vulnerable as a leader
- Dr. Zay’s 20-year goal to reduce the rate of suicide in the vet space, and how she brings mental health care front-and-center with her teams
Learn more about Bond Vet at www.bondvet.com and on Instagram, @BondVetClinic. If you have ideas for episode topics or guests, send them straight to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Episode 12 Transcript
Dr. Zay Satchu: I think that we have the ability with our organization to change this entire industry.
Kathryn Minshew:Hello and welcome to The New Rules of Work, a podcast from The Muse where we explore the changing landscape of work. Today I’m really excited to welcome Dr. Zay Satchu to the show. Zay is the co-founder and chief veterinary officer at Bond Vet, which describes itself as a new kind of vet clinic. What does that mean? Well we’re going to take you inside, but first Zay, welcome to The New Rules of Work.
Dr. Zay Satchu: Thank you so much for having me, Kathryn.
Kathryn Minshew: I’m really excited to dig in today. I feel like we’ve got a ton of stuff to cover but first for people who are really intrigued by my intro, I want to start by asking what is a new kind of vet clinic?
Dr. Zay Satchu: Absolutely. Great question. One of the things that we set out to do when we first started thinking around ‘what does an innovative, novel veterinary-clinic environment look like?’ is describing to ourselves what is the current clinic environment lacking. It’s interesting because the current clinic space is not actually lacking a lot. We’re not thinking about ourselves as coming into an industry and disrupting the whole space. That’s not our end goal. What we thought through is let’s take an industry where people are extremely passionate about what they do, where they love where they work, and it is very cool to work in a clinic environment and let’s elevate it. Let’s create something novel and fun and fantastic and something that pushes the industry forward. That’s how we think about ourselves.
Kathryn Minshew: I love that. I want to ask you more in a bit about that idea of a differentiated experience but first I guess I’m really interested in maybe starting with your personal career path because my guess is a lot of people listening either wanted to be a vet when they were a kid or currently personally harbor dreams of being a vet. When did you know that you wanted to be a vet and what were your early career experiences like?
Dr. Zay Satchu: I started as a very eager 15-year-old kid loving animals as most young children do. Thinking to myself “If I’m going to do something for the rest of my life, what’s something that will bring me joy and passion every single day?” And so, this was a conversation I remember having with my parents. It was something that my mom actually pushed me to do, explore a local vet clinic environment. I went in, I was a volunteer and my very first job for the course of the two weeks of December holidays, I still remember exactly where I was, how I used to get there. I picked up poop. That was my very, very first thing that I did in a vet clinic environment.
I went in at 6:00 AM, I went in at noon, I went at 6:00 PM, and I picked up feces off of the ground on the outside terrace. It was just—
Kathryn Minshew: Starting at the top.
Dr. Zay Satchu: I think you have to. I think it’s actually been really instrumental in my own growth and seeing the innings and outs of any vet clinic space because it’s very similar across the board. But started there, saw different clinic environments, experiences, met different kinds of people, saw the operations of spaces that were wildlife centers. Some of them were falcon hospitals, some of them were equine facilities and then were big ER hospitals. I got the full array of experiences and I’ve probably to this day been in about 15 to 20 different clinic environments, both good and bad. That’s how I started my journey: exploring what the different spaces looked like, finding passion and finding something that I love to do.
I went off to vet school in Ontario at the Ontario Veterinary College, graduated, worked in Boston for three years as an associate vet there. Then came out of that thinking I wanted to do something different. I wanted to create something innovative and found myself in the role that I am in now.
Kathryn Minshew: How did that transition or how did that lead to wanting to start your own company in the space?
Dr. Zay Satchu: It’s a good question. I mentioned it a little earlier. I saw a lot over the 20 different environments that I had been in. Some was fantastic. I mentioned earlier how passionate people are about being in clinic environments and how people love working with animals, putting their hands on them, seeing animals feel better, right? They’re so innocent. They come in not being able to tell you what’s wrong, you discover the issue and you can treat for it. Nothing feels better than being able to, in that moment, fix this little creature who can’t tell you what’s going on—
Kathryn Minshew: And can’t do that for themselves.
Dr. Zay Satchu: They cannot do that for themselves, exactly. It felt really great and then the flip side of that was these organizations are often mom and pop, small environments. Sometimes it is a veterinarian and a clinic manager, husband, wife, duo. Sometimes it feels a little bit more corporate and organized, but essentially what it boils down to is there is a lack of structure, there is a lack of support, there is a lack of operational efficiency. Technology seems to be something that a lot of clinic environments are afraid of. Change is something that people are fearful of. Seeing this again and again in such a repetitive fashion, I knew that I wanted to be a part of something different and change that for the industry and at least for myself.
Kathryn Minshew: Yeah, and I think this is often the case, right, in career paths where people are drawn to them because of a strong mission and this, as you said, this incredible ability to help animals and to help the humans who love them. Yet, sometimes, some of the most mission-oriented industries in the world can be really challenging places to work.
Dr. Zay Satchu: That was exactly the case. People were finding gratification in their day to day but not seeking full...Or they weren’t able to find the fulfillment that they were seeking still even though they were doing such fantastic things.
Kathryn Minshew: Yeah and I think... I worked in global health and a few different nonprofits before I got into technology and before I started The Muse. And it was really interesting because some of the organizations that I worked for really valued their employees and their team and their mental well-being, their work-life balance, and others didn’t. I think sometimes there are organizations where it’s like, well, the work is so important that as employees or as individuals, you’re supposed to just kind of put all of your own personal needs and desires secondary. I loved as I’ve learned about some of what it sounds like you’re doing, that you really think about how to create a business that’s great for the employees as well as pet owners and animals.
Dr. Zay Satchu: It’s so funny that you say it in that way because it’s so true. I think that maybe 50 years ago that was the mentality where people thought business first, finances first, let’s get in and get out. Customers first, right? The transaction is the most important piece. And we’re realizing more and more now, especially as the world is turning to be more customer service focused and oriented, that the most magic happens when the people that work in a space feel good about where they work. People that are upset or people that are—
Kathryn Minshew: Depleted.
Dr. Zay Satchu: Depleted from their day to day and not getting what they need to, to go home after a good day’s work and say, “Hey, that was a good one. I had a good day.” And no, we’re not saying that everyone needs to have 10 out of 10 days consistently. That’s not realistic. But you shouldn’t leave work thinking, “I’m missing something. I’m complaining about this thing that shouldn’t exist that I’ve been complaining about consistently that no one seems to see or hear when I say it.” That’s not a good work environment. Then translation of that is people don’t feel happy when they’re interacting with those individuals.
“You shouldn’t leave work thinking, ‘I’m missing something.’”
Kathryn Minshew: Yeah, I think you’ve really hit on it is that the core of customer service, the core of building relationships with your customers is ensuring that you’re taking good enough care of your employees, that they can take care of others. And so, when you’re thinking about how you’ve built Bond Vet, you’ve talked about building a future-facing company. What does that look like for you compared to potentially a more traditional vet clinic?
Dr. Zay Satchu: I like to categorize essentially what we do differently threefold. First, and I think most importantly, we spoke about this already, but team culture. A good workplace culture, a good environment where people feel happy. Not to say that we run around holding hands, singing Kumbaya all the time, but we definitely look after our team, encourage communication, encourage people to feel like they have a voice because they do. Because there’s so many good ideas that stem from people that aren’t always leading the organization. I think some of the best ideas that I’ve had for improvement of facilities have been [from] a kennel attendant or care coordinator, reception roles, where that is where people are able to see the effects of the day to day on not only the team but the pets and the client.
So I think from a team culture and workplace environment, we’re really trying to innovate here. We’re really trying to push people to think outside of what they are used to working around. People aren’t used to communicating? Too bad, you have to communicate. People aren’t used to speaking in public settings? We’re going to make sure that you do. The more uncomfortable you feel as it relates to growth, that’s a good thing. We encourage that and by ways of that I think people are receptive and they feel happier in their workplace environments.
The second piece that differentiates us is from a design perspective. We were very thoughtful around how to create these brick-and-mortar facilities. We have blank rooms, blank canvases when we walk into the space and so we could design anything and now we have a really, really good idea and general footprint of what our facilities are going to look like. But some of the things that we did, for instance, we’re looking at the friction coefficient of the floor. When an older greyhound walks in on a day like today where it’s snowy or rainy outside, you want them to feel comfortable gripping the floor. Tile floors aren’t going to cut it. What about the temperature of the lighting? How can we create warmth in the space? So when dogs and cats come in, it doesn’t feel like a medical sterile facility. They don’t want that.
Kathryn Minshew: Yeah, exactly. They feel like it’s somewhere that they can be comfortable.
Dr. Zay Satchu: Absolutely. Similar to that, the color of the walls. So these are all things from a design perspective we thought about. How big does a room need to be to allow for three people to comfortably fit? Usually when there’s a pet that accounts for an extra two people, right? Because the pet’s moving about in the whole room as well. Those are the kinds of things we thought through from a design-
Kathryn Minshew: Yeah and I love it because a big piece of... One of the things I’ve seen as I’ve watched the talent and HR industry as The Muse has grown over the past eight years is that a lot of companies went from thinking about their offices as just a place where they’re parking their employees to get work done towards realizing that the way you feel when you step into work every day matters for an employee. And I think it’s so thoughtful to think about that—both for the people who work with you but also the animals that are at kind of the heart of the business.
Dr. Zay Satchu: I felt that today walking into The Muse facility here. The first thing out of my mouth today was, “Wow, it’s so bright in here.” The comments around, “It gets kind of warm.” It’s so nice to be able to have windows and daylight on your day to day. I think it’s expensive real estate, especially in New York City, but it’s worth it because your team is happier. They function better. People are brighter in their day.
Kathryn Minshew: Yeah and it’s funny, I personally went on a lot of office visits before we moved into this building because initially I wanted to stay down in Flatiron, which is a neighborhood a little bit further south that was, at the time, much more quote, unquote, “hip.” But most of the real estate that was in our price range was dark. It was terrible. I mean I looked at offices with bars on the windows. In fact, one of our old Muse offices had bars on the windows in the back at least because it was all that we could afford at the time. When we were looking to upgrade, I really put a lot of care and attention into what the physical environment would look like because people are spending 40 plus, in some cases way more than 40 hours, a week here. I think it is really thoughtful to think about designing the spaces for the people and the animals that will be in it and creating an environment that really supports the work that you’re trying to do.
Dr. Zay Satchu: Thank you for saying that. We think so, too. Design has been a heavy focus over the last year. Now we’re moving into a stage where technology and the operations of the space is a big topic of conversation. How can we utilize computers to do the work or the mundane tasks of a human being to allow for more free time and less stress on the people that work in the space? Or how can we utilize technology to allow for that communication to be bridged between when someone has left our facility with their pet and then the next time they return, all of their records? Let them be the owners of everything that they need to know so that it does not have to be a phone call to the vet clinic to get the vaccination certificate so that you can travel on the plane because you’re flying out today, you’re busy packing. Nobody wants to go through that.
Kathryn Minshew: Yeah, it’s like thinking one, two, three steps ahead for your customers. I love that. Then I want to ask before we move on, I want to go back to something you said about the way that you think about taking care of your employees because I think that frankly a lot of us work in industries or in jobs where burnout is a risk. And I think that in particular, because like you said, an animal can’t necessarily tell you what’s going on and sometimes in the course of running a vet, I’m sure you have to deal with some really emotionally grueling and challenging experiences. How are you thinking about sort of mental health and burnout and supporting your employee bases with Bond Vet?
Dr. Zay Satchu: I wish I could say that it was just one quick, easy fix. Maybe it costs a lot but it’s doable and it’s just done. It’s really not. It is...There are so many layers and so many tiers to how we think about making sure that we have a space where people function really well in that environment. Because, as you mentioned, the risk of burnout is real. The suicide rate in this industry is ridiculously high. Contributed, I think for sure, by factors related to the fact that we’re euthanizing or the fact that we’re seeing cases that come in that are very far gone by the time we see them or we just can’t do anything, our hands are tied. The people that come into this space have big student loans to pay back. There’s a lot around what causes that high suicide rate and our viewpoint is whatever we can do to create a space with the in-clinic environment that sets expectations appropriately for our team to recover from the big hurdles that we go through day to day, that’s a win in our books.
Some of the stuff that we do is very basic. This concept of communication is something that I think it’s understated how important good communication is to good, healthy workplace environments. People tend to think of good communication as we come in, we chat, I’ll talk to you about your child. I know that your kid has a big soccer game today and that’s the extent of it. It’s not. I think good communication is making sure people are understanding of what’s going on, what the day to day looks like, checking in with them every two weeks, making sure that we have team meetings once a week, making sure that our vets feel on board and can be leaders of the space when a manager or myself, I can’t be there. Making sure that we’re empowering the right people to be able to take on roles that essentially help them on their growth as well but creating a safe space of communication is vital I think to this piece.
Kathryn Minshew: Yeah, absolutely and I think from our conversation earlier it sounds like you also support your team with mental health support. I think it’s really ... I’m really excited to see more companies starting to pay attention to that aspect of employee well-being because I think it’s not just about providing a salary and a physical location and good policies for your employees. Although those are very important, but also really understanding how you can support them in some of the more difficult aspects of the job.
Dr. Zay Satchu: Absolutely. There’s such a faux pas in talking about mental health for some reason, especially when it comes to therapy and being able to have these objective conversations with counselors. One thing that our company decided to enlist in is this program that allows every single one of our team members to get five therapy sessions. I believe they’re done either on the phone or through chat, video chat. It’s just a really nice way to tell people, “This is not faux pas, it should not be faux pas. I encourage everyone to utilize it. We have them, we’ve already paid for them, go ahead.” It doesn’t have to be big things, right? I think that’s the other big thing. People think that you have to wait until you’re at your breaking point to reach out for help and one of the big things in our organization is that you should not.
“A lot of leaders don’t understand that showcasing vulnerability actually makes an organization stronger.”
Kathryn Minshew: I love that. Yeah, it’s something that I’ve tried to both encourage and model here at The Muse. Earlier this year, I went through something really difficult personally and I ended up talking about it at an all hands because I wanted people to recognize that it’s okay to share but also that your colleagues and your coworkers can support you and I love that you’re building that into the fabric of the company. I think that’s really, really, really thoughtful.
Dr. Zay Satchu: Good on you for knowing that you should do that, right? No, a lot of leaders don’t. A lot of leaders don’t understand that showcasing vulnerability actually makes an organization stronger. Showing people that I will take the first step and stab and go ahead and show to everyone else that this is an okay thing to feel and do and experience. You don’t have to be rocks. I think 50 years ago that was just the assumption, you have to be a rock, you have to be this cold, hard ruler. Dictator, almost. But that’s not the day and age we live in. People are okay with hearing about the complexities of day to day. It makes them connect with their leaders more.
Kathryn Minshew: Yeah, I love that, and I think you’re right that we’re in this interesting transition time because on one hand all of us, individuals and businesses, are active online, on social media, which tends towards or can be a very rosy picture of things and yet the reality of life is so much harder. It’s one of the reasons I was so excited to talk to you is that I think this idea of taking a career that has both, some of probably the most rewarding and meaningful and incredible aspects in helping animals but also involves dealing with difficult things and how do you build an organization that supports the employees in both of those things I think is really, is really powerful. When you think ahead to the future of Bond Vet, what are you excited about?
Dr. Zay Satchu: One of the things that I say again and again, and I really do mean it, is that I really do think that we have the ability with our organization to change the entire industry. Sometimes I feel like I’m saying things and I sound like a broken record but I really think we have the ability to do so with the right people that I think we’re starting on a great front right now. We have people that are enthusiastic and ambitious about what we’re trying to do but more than that, what will inevitably happen is the clinic environments that exist around us will start to see that we’re doing things a little bit differently. One by one, they’ll start to notice that we have just a little different ... Just something small, a different practice that we do one way versus another and people are responding positively to it. What will inevitably happen is these small clinic environments will also adopt some of these practices and I do think that that is how you change an entire industry and push away from what they know is true and toward something in the future.
“I really do think that we have the ability with our organization to change the entire industry.”
Kathryn Minshew: I love that and I love that ... you know, it’s funny. I was just thinking about something similar the other day, which is when I started The Muse, most companies career sites were just a list of jobs. Literally there was not even a picture. Slowly over time I think by trying to create a platform that said, “Hey, job seekers deserve to know more about what your company is like, more about your employee experience, your culture.” Not only have we obviously been able to build a business, but exactly as you said, other job sites, other company career pages, people have started to recognize some of the values and the principles behind the inspiration for the business. I think it can have such a powerful impact and absolutely make sense with what you’re doing that if someone is running more of a traditional or a legacy or an old school clinic, this provides a really powerful example for them of what their practice could look like. I think that’s really exciting both to think about all the growth that I’m sure you all will see and the power to have even more positive changes outside of that.
Dr. Zay Satchu: I want to reiterate the industry is not broken. It’s not somewhere where we have people that hate what they do and everywhere you look it’s bad, bad, bad. A lot of the time what they just don’t see is how much good can exist if they just implement things a little bit differently. My 20-year goal is to see the rate of suicide decrease in the vet space. It’s 20 years out because I do think that’s how long it’ll take to shift people’s thinking and ideologies and for this new group of individuals to come in and recognize, “Hey, hang on, it’s my work. It doesn’t have to also be me. I don’t have to take this home every single day.” It’s work in progress. I don’t think we’re at 10 out of 10 yet on all the different endeavors we’ve taken on but we’re working there and I think that’s the most important piece.
Kathryn Minshew: Well. I love it. I love it. Thank you so much for joining. If someone is listening and they want to learn more or they want to check out Bond Vet, they want to follow you, where should people go for more information?
Dr. Zay Satchu: We have our website which is www.bondvet.com and then our Instagram handle is @bondvetclinic. We have a few fun events coming up every, actually every month we have a bunch of fun events, so we’d love to have a turnout. Anyone that wants to join please reach out.
Kathryn Minshew: Amazing and as we were just joking about when we were setting up for this podcast, I think I might need to show up for the adoption event in January-
Dr. Zay Satchu: I can’t wait.
Kathryn Minshew: Because I follow about 17 animal rescue accounts on Instagram and I am dying to adopt a pet and then maybe become a customer.
Dr. Zay Satchu: Fantastic. If you come, I’ll make sure you won’t leave empty handed.
Kathryn Minshew: Oh my goodness. That’s dangerous and awesome. Well thank you so much for coming. I really enjoyed it. It was fantastic to have you on.
Dr. Zay Satchu: Thank you so much for having me.
Kathryn Minshew: For the rest of you, thank you so much for listening. This was The New Rules of Work.
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