Once upon a time, Lizz Whitacre had intended to become a veterinarian. On the way to pursuing that dream, she discovered a passion for entrepreneurship, and decided to use her business skills instead to help animals. Her latest venture is Pawlytics, a company which offers a management software for rescue groups and shelters that eliminates the need for paperwork or for multiple spreadsheets. To celebrate the launch of its software, Pawlytics is hosting a Kitten Adoption Pawp Up Event with Joining Forces Saving Lives.
ALLISON: What inspired you to start Pawlytics?
LIZZ: I love animals! I can’t stress that enough. My entire life has been dedicated to finding ways to save them. I started reading about animal welfare when I was four and that started desire to want to be part of saving all companion animals. When I was in my late teens and early 20s, I had founded a few of my own rescue organizations and was on the teams of many other foster based rescues. During those experiences, it would tear me apart inside to have to turn people and animals away who needed my help simply because I didn’t have the personal bandwidth to keep up with it all. I knew there had to be a better way for technology to help with the heavy lifting with the administrative work so that I could give each person and pet the help and attention they deserved. When I interviewed over 400 other rescues who told me they were dealing with similar issues, I knew I had to do something about it. And that’s how Pawlytics was founded.
ALLISON: How easy or hard was it to interview rescues? Explain.
LIZZ: It was definitely hard. Aside from the nerves of reaching out to strangers and speaking on the phone, everyone in animal welfare is busy and can have a pretty unpredictable schedule. We didn’t want to just send out a survey and not be able to get down to the real underlying issues so it took us more than six months to speak directly with each group between all the crazy scheduling and time zones. But, I will say there were so many kind people and rescues who worked with us because they cared to help create a product that would go over to impact lives they would never meet. I’m so thankful for every group that took the time to schedule and get on the phone with me. We wouldn’t have been able to get this far without that input.
ALLISON: Tell me more about your background with animals.
LIZZ: The funny thing is, I’m actually extremely allergic to animals (hives, asthma, itchy eyes, runny nose–the whole nine yards), and so I wasn’t allowed to adopt my first fluffy pet till I was 13. I adopted my first dog from a no-kill shelter in Minnesota called Adopt-A-Pet Inc, which I then went on to co-run when I was 17. During that time, I fostered and adopted a number of dogs and cats from that shelter. When I moved to Nebraska for college, I was severely missing working with animals. decided to start my own foster-based rescue and a student organization at UNL to get other students who were new to the area involved with the local rescues. Over the years of working with so many rescues and creating businesses in the animal welfare industry, I’ve met a lot of amazing animals (and adopted a bunch of them). I currently have four dogs, three cats, two ferrets, three axolotls, and two horses.
ALLISON: What other experience qualifies you to run your business?
LIZZ: I have founded a few other companies that didn’t pan out the way I’d envisioned. Those failures taught me to be flexible with my methods but stubborn with my mission. While I was working on those companies and learning a lot, I’d also worked at an e-commerce company, did sales for a custom software development shop, and was a junior analyst at an investment firm. Each new skill I picked up from working for these companies, I continually tried applying to saving animals. A culmination of those skills, ideas, experiences, and failures are reflected in the foundation of Pawlytics. I’m excited for new experiences I’ll have as we grow Pawlytics and find even more efficient ways to save lives.
ALLISON: What mistakes did you make when you first started?
LIZZ: I’m fortunate to have failed on a few other companies previously and take those lessons into Pawlytics. I’d argue we’re still ‘just starting’ and are very much at the beginning of our journey. The best I can do is keep experimenting to find what works and learn from there. As long as I can derive a lesson from an event, I wouldn’t call it making a ‘mistake’ necessarily.
ALLISON: Why do you think Pawlytics has expanded?
LIZZ: I think first and foremost, my team. My team has come together to create a product unlike any other. It saves lives, it’s easy to use, and it’s incredibly affordable so we can further our mission. They have worked really hard to engineer what I and other rescues have envisioned from nothing. My team cares to see how far we can take this and are genuinely enjoyable to work with. This is reflected in our work with rescues, and our rescue partners enjoy working with us because we listen, care, and genuinely want to build something that helps save animals. Myself and my team are also insanely committed and put in a lot of hard work to build and grow Pawlytics. Our intent is pure and people can sense that.
ALLISON: Who is on your team?
LIZZ: My team is myself, our fantastic summer intern who has helped put this event together, Riley Berner, and our engineers who have made this product come to life: Justin Collier, Joe Smith, Nikita Kurochka, Ihor Malaniuk, and Dave Rich. We’re also surrounded by the wonderful start up community and our advisers from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln: Sam Nelson and Kyle Gibson.
ALLISON: Share a memorable moment with a partner.
LIZZ: I’d have to say the first day we had our first rescue partner officially sign up. I was with Shari from another local rescue, Nebraska No Kill Canine Rescue. We met up in person to get her account created and set up. It was definitely a surreal moment, because we had put in months of hard work to get to that point, and it was finally happening.
ALLISON: What have you learned about people from your business?
LIZZ: A fact that was brought to my attention throughout this process is that people who work in animal welfare have an at work suicide rate that is 5.3 times greater than the general population. It is so important to keep in mind that there are people out there whose job is to euthanize healthy pets day in and day out. I firmly believe that no one gets into animal welfare with the intent of not saving animals, yet it’s those who love animals the most who have to do this job. It’s absolutely heartbreaking and taught me how far self-sacrifice is taken in this industry. And it’s been a deep reminder to just be kind to our fellow ‘battle buddies’. We’re all in this for the same reason.
ALLISON: What have you learned about animals from your business?
LIZZ: I’ve really learned a lot about how far data can be used in the care and saving of animals. We, as an industry, are learning from studying the data what kinds of animals are more at risk, using data to study behavior so we can ensure we are giving them the best care possible, and can even use data to monitor the future health of our companion animals.
ALLISON: What’s on the horizon for Pawlytics?
LIZZ: A big reason for having this Kitten Adoption Pawp Up with Joining Forces Saving Lives (JFSL) and something we’re super excited to be kicking off is the start of developing our Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) expansion pack. We’re going to be making the ultimate TNR technology solution that will help groups like JFSL be able to more seamlessly run their TNR programs so they can focus on getting cats altered and growth.
EDITOR’S NOTE: On August 17, from 11:30am to 2:30pm, at Catalyst (350 Canopy St., #130, Lincoln, NE) in the Haymarket, Pawlytics and Joining Forces Saving Lives will host a Pawp Up Kitten Adoption Event. Melissa Money-Beecher will be there with over 60 adoptable kittens. I’ll also be there to answer questions with current and future cat owners. Anyone who adopts a cat from Joining Forces Saving Lives at this event will receive a 20% discount on services from Allison Helps Cats.