Meet The Disruptors: Vail Weymann & Ken Herbert of purrch On The Three Things You Need To Shake Up Your Industry

Jason Hartman
Apr 1 · 9 min read

Lead with humility, integrity and compassion. Fostering an inclusive culture where everyone feels valued and respected is critical to a company’s success. Many of our best ideas, for example, have come from junior members of our team who felt empowered to voice their opinion. From our own past experiences, we know firsthand how certain leadership qualities (humility, compassion, and integrity, to name a few) can positively impact the trajectory of a business. Every day, we strive to be this type of leader.

a part of our series about business leaders who are shaking things up in their industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Vail Weymann and Ken Herbert, co-founders of purrch, a pet-first social media app.

Based on the East Coast, Weymann’s background is in investment banking and Herbert’s is in tech development and graphic design. More importantly, both are avid pet enthusiasts who recognized that the pet community was woefully underrepresented in the digital world. After some brainstorming and a lot of hard work, they launched purrch, the world’s first social network for the pet community that brings pet parents together and helps drive adoptions in an organic, meaningful way.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?

en and I can’t remember a time without animal companions in our life. In our pre-purrch lives, I worked in finance and Ken co-owned a website development company in New York City. Our meeting was serendipitous, as we both felt an inner itch to make the world a better place for companion animals. Shortly after my family adopted our dog, Rosie, from the Animal Care Centers (ACC) of New York, the wheels started turning.

Like many pets, Rosie had a lot of challenges. Even as an experienced pet owner, I found myself seeking out a community of other owners who could provide guidance based on similar experiences. When I couldn’t find that community, the concept for purrch began taking shape. We saw a huge opportunity to create a tight-knit, heart-warming affinity platform that united the pet community in new and exciting ways.

Can you tell our readers what it is about the work you’re doing that’s disruptive?

We see pet content everyday on our social media feeds, right? While adorable, the line sort of stops there. Purrch is different in that it combines social (in our case an authentic community of pet lovers) with utility (the ability to connect with others like them). For example, if a senior cat owner is dealing with heart issues, or a new puppy owner is working through separation anxiety, purrch utilizes its technology to introduce other pet parents going through the same thing. Similarly, purrch connects humans who share the same personal interests and passions, for example adoption advocacy.

Additionally, purrch leverages its powerful connection technology for the benefit of rescue organizations in ways that have never been done before. While rescues and shelters are at the heart of the animal welfare ecosystem, their work is still labor-intensive and time-consuming. Despite access to large social networks, they still struggle to provide foster families with an easy way to promote and market the pets in their care. This ultimately leaves this overwhelming task to the rescue. Further, they struggle to maintain authentic, consistent engagement with their rescue organization’s family, which consists of alumni, foster families, and supporters. Purrch solves both problems by intelligently offering a way for a rescue’s network to stay connected with each other.

Finally, the concept of purrch in and of itself is innovative. We’re a niche social media app, which means you know exactly what you’re getting (a pet-focused experience) when you open the app on your phone. In that sense, purrch is a filtered, “outside noise”-free zone that makes you feel good.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When the idea for purrch finally started taking shape, we were pretty excited. Ok, we were giddy thinking about all the ways our app could deliver value to the pet community. We were ready to get started, but where to begin? We swiftly decided to focus on a name and logo followed by business cards. Needless to say, we soon found ourselves all dressed up with nowhere to go. Today we have a new name, a new logo and, you guessed it, shiny new business cards. After realizing our early focus was misplaced, we took one giant leap backwards, shifted into low gear, and refocused our efforts on building a great product. We are still going to keep our first set of business cards for posterity’s sake, though.

We all need a little help along the journey. Who have been some of your mentors? Can you share a story about how they made an impact?

Ken and I have been fortunate to have a lot of help along the way and mentors who have shaped us and guided our thinking. One individual I would personally single out is my high school volleyball coach. Not only did she teach me the value of hardwork but instilled in me the importance of teamwork and collaboration. In Coach LaRusso’s gym, the whole was always greater than the sum of the parts. It was no surprise that our rag-tag team, and the teams that followed, went on to win a record number of state titles.

Throughout life, I’ve strived to bring a collaborative spirit to everything I do. At purrch, we work closely with each other and with our external partners to find new ways to make the purrch experience better. A recent conversation with Rescue City, for example, influenced our decision to integrate a more robust foster feature into the purrch experience. Today, this addition has proven to be our most differentiated offering and an important competitive advantage.

In today’s parlance, being disruptive is usually a positive adjective. But is disrupting always good? When do we say the converse, that a system or structure has ‘withstood the test of time’? Can you articulate to our readers when disrupting an industry is positive, and when disrupting an industry is ‘not so positive’? Can you share some examples of what you mean?

Social media is an incredible force that has brought us together in a profound way since its inception. That said, it’s still relatively new in the scheme of things, and there are many ways we can finesse the experience in order to maximize both our time and our happiness. We don’t think “traditional” social media is going away or that it should be completely re-written, but we do think there are opportunities to fine-tune and create better experiences for users, particularly when there is a shared interest, affinity or passion. This is evidenced in the exodus from traditional platforms and the emergence of breakout niche social media apps such as Nextdoor, peanut, Fishbrain, Clubhouse, Strava, and Twitch, to name a few. We think of disruption as adding value, rather than change for the sake of change.

Can you share 3 of the best words of advice you’ve gotten along your journey? Please give a story or example for each.

Lead with humility, integrity and compassion. Fostering an inclusive culture where everyone feels valued and respected is critical to a company’s success. Many of our best ideas, for example, have come from junior members of our team who felt empowered to voice their opinion. From our own past experiences, we know firsthand how certain leadership qualities (humility, compassion, and integrity, to name a few) can positively impact the trajectory of a business. Every day, we strive to be this type of leader.

Remain open-minded and adaptable. Throughout our purrch journey, we’ve grown in many ways and been both humbled and inspired by our team’s relentlessness and ability to adapt to start-up life. We’ve become better listeners and more open-minded. We now prioritize the development and release of features and functionality based on user feedback. Embracing this approach and being adaptable has proven valuable.

Don’t be afraid to fail. The first time I heard the acronym for FAIL (First Attempt In Learning) during a Peloton run, I smiled. Positioned this way, the concept of failing didn’t seem so scary anymore. We’ve definitely had our fair share of FAILures along the way — everybody does — but we’ve focused on learning from those missteps and making sure they don’t happen again.

We are sure you aren’t done. How are you going to shake things up next?

It’s an exciting time for the pet industry. Pet ownership is on the rise and new categories are emerging in response to the demand for products and experiences that promise ease, convenience, better health. The recent obsession with pets, led largely by millennials, has triggered an explosion of pet-related content in every major media channel.

With so much focus on the pet space, we believe this currently highly fragmented industry will soon enter a period of consolidation. Legacy pet brands have become laser-focused on building a stronger digital footprint to connect more intimately with their consumers. Further, consumers are migrating to more focused, affinity-based experiences that offer both utility and enjoyment. As this happens, we see further opportunities to expand our reach and evolve as the industry’s first fully unifying platform capable of providing a comprehensive, highly integrated, pet-centric experience.

Do you have a book, podcast, or talk that’s had a deep impact on your thinking? Can you share a story with us? Can you explain why it was so resonant with you?

I’ve always been attracted to individuals who’ve taken an unconventional approach to solving problems. It may come as no surprise, therefore, that the writings of Malcom Gladwell have greatly resonated with me. Our business strategy and approach have been influenced by Gladwell’s thinking. We’ve looked at the pet-industry through many lenses and taken a fresh approach to problem-solving. We’ve leveraged data critically and constantly questioned our own assumptions. We’ve focused on doing a lot of things a little differently. And, finally, we’ve been encouraged by the belief that with enough hard work and “practice,” we too can achieve greatness.

Can you please give us your favorite” Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Starting any venture takes a lot of courage, a tremendous amount of conviction, and a strong support system. Before you’ve even started, many are quick to judge and offer cautionary words of wisdom. It’s very easy to feel self-doubt or question whether you’re up for the challenge.

A notable passage from Theodore Roosevelt’s “Man in the Arena” speech has kept us grounded and unshaken in our resolve to build something we feel deeply passionate about. We’ve gone in eyes wide open, prepared to stumble, fall, and at times come up short. But we’re also ready to get back up, learn critically from our mistakes, try again, and persist.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)

The overarching theme of purrch is how we can improve people’s lives by forging affinity-based communities that offer a supportive, inclusive and spirit-lifting experience. The negativity that pervades so many online channels coupled with limited physical engagement brought on by COVID, has had a harmful effect on the mental health of so many. We could all benefit from a good dose of mental healing.

We would love to inspire the world to embark on 100 days of social kindness, where we all commit to engaging online with compassion. Just as social media can be used to propagate divisiveness and mean-spirited behavior, so too can it be used to unite and heal.

How can our readers follow you online?

You can download the Purrch app here. It’s completely free and creating a profile for your pet(s) is a cinch! Once you do, you’ll have access to a growing community of pet enthusiasts just like you. And if you’d like to learn more about us, check out our biography page and read up on our blog posts.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Authority Magazine

In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Pop Culture, Business, Tech, Wellness, & Social Impact

Authority Magazine

In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Jason Hartman

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Author | Speaker | Financial Guru | Podcast Rockstar

Authority Magazine

In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.