Hi folks! I’m Spiffy, your interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth, back with a new entrepreneur who is committed to making a difference in the world. Isabel Plana is the founder and CEO of Nia, a company that simplifies weight management for pets. Let’s see how she’s doing it!
Spiffy: Welcome, Isabel. It’s wonderful to meet you. I’m super curious about your startup. Can you tell me what challenges you’re addressing with Nia?
Isabel: It’s lovely to meet you too, Spiffy. Our mission at Nia is to help pets live longer, healthier, and happier lives. To do this, we're focusing on managing chronic conditions through telehealth and technology solutions. We're starting with canine obesity, which is a significant driver of many health challenges dogs face today. We often see overweight dogs in social media labeled as "cute" or "adorable", but the sad reality is overweight dogs live two years less than dogs at a healthy weight, are 70% more likely to develop comorbidities such as canine diabetes or osteoarthritis, and are less happy overall. As a dog mom myself, I want my dog to live a happy life for as long as possible, and through Nia we're making this a reality for pet parents across the country.
Spiffy: This sounds like a great resource for pet lovers everywhere! Can you tell me what motivated you to provide this service?
Isabel: Well, Spiffy, I have a two-year-old Goldendoodle named Rosie, and she's absolutely the love of my life. She's the first living being I've ever had the privilege to take care of, and in only two years, she's completely changed how I value my time for the better. I can't imagine my life without her. Rosie deserves nothing but happiness and I am continually motivated to keep her healthy for as long as possible. Since she can't speak, I have to make sure I am proactive in managing her health and I know that starts with weight management. The same way Rosie is an integral part of my family, dogs across the country are essential parts of millions of American families. I am motivated to ensure that all our dogs have the happiest and longest lives possible.
Spiffy: It’s a big responsibility to provide the best care possible. Can you talk a bit about how Nia is helping to make the world a more equitable place?
Isabel: As a female Latina founder, helping build an equitable world is core to my personal and professional mission. To me, this starts by building companies that give everyone a chance to thrive by leveling the playing field in recruiting, internal opportunities, and upward mobility. I believe in explicitly setting salaries for each level, implementing a blind hiring process to minimize unconscious bias, and ensuring company competencies are not only representative of attributes typically assigned to extroverted, heterosexual white males. I’d like to help shift the paradigm in corporate America to celebrate how different people think, learn and add value in a way that is authentic to who they are.
Spiffy: Have you reached any milestones that you’re particularly excited about?
Isabel: Our team has been hard at work developing the recommendation logic behind our product to make sure it is inclusive for all dogs, and I am thrilled to say we recently finalized the logic we'll be launching in January. When we first started out, we knew we wanted to give customized guidance for each case to ensure the best health outcomes for the dogs we work with. This means we've had to define the variables that would require different recommendations, such as age and spay/neuter status, and run test cases to ensure we were giving the right recommendation for each case. It was a cross-functional effort with significant input from our veterinarian team and the team is excited to put it to work.
Spiffy: I’m always curious how entrepreneurs handle failure. What about you, Isabel, can you share about an experience when you faced failure and didn't give up? What did you learn from failure?
Isabel: My first run at a startup happened earlier this year with a pet telehealth and teletraining startup, and I shut it down a few months after launching. I realized people were using the product differently than I had originally intended, and to solve the core problem, I would need to reframe so much of it. No one wants their first startup to be a failure, and I was lucky to have a network of people who had also been in a similar place. From them, I learned first hand how important it is to acknowledge and even celebrate the losses by talking about them together. They taught me how to process the experience safely, and accelerated my learning process. Overall, I learned perfection was never and will never be my goal.
Spiffy: That’s amazing you had such a supportive tribe of people. Now, I believe you can learn from anyone and I love lessons from kids, peers, or even pets! What is something you've unexpectedly learned from someone recently?
Isabel: I've been spending a lot more time with my parents since beginning this startup journey, and I've acquired a newfound appreciation for life. My parents are in their mid-60s, and seeing how their priorities have shifted throughout the different stages of their lives has been a great reminder of what really matters in life. When you're in your 20s and 30s, there's a ton of external pressure to "be successful" by skewed, impossible-to-meet standards. Seeing my parents prioritize their happiness and health has been a great reminder that I need to define success for myself and only worry about my own definition.
Spiffy: Between Rosie and your parents, I think you’re in good company! Thanks for talking to me today, Isabel, it’s been an honor.
Isabel Plana is the founder and CEO of Nia, a digital health pet company helping pet parents manage chronic conditions in their pets. Her mission is to help pets live longer, healthier and happier lives. She holds a B.S. in Chemical Engineering from MIT. (Nominated by Visible Hands. First published on the Ladderworks website on November 15, 2021.)
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews of founders building a more equitable world here.