The licensing deal announced more than one year ago in October 2020 between Petplan, the pet insurance provider, and Group Nine Media, the parent company of The Dodo, has quietly moved forward without fanfare. TCR learned of the deal earlier today.
In September 2021, we reported that deal Petplan announced eleven months earlier with Group Nine Media, the parent company of The Dodo, still had not happened. Now, it seems, it has. For reasons that neither Petplan nor Group Nine Media is explaining so far, the deal was delayed significantly.
The Dodo, a blog for animal lovers, was founded by Izzie Lerer, daughter of Kenneth Lerer (Huffington Post, Buzzfeed) and claims to receive over one billion unique visits in a single month.
On October 19, 2020, The Wall Street Journal published a big scoop: “The Dodo, Group Nine’s Animal Brand, is Getting Into Pet Insurance,” The Journal reported. For Petplan, the prospect of attracting all of those eyeballs who visit The Dodo each day seemed to be the main draw: “Petplan, as it currently is, is a solid, high-growth business, growing at double-digits now for many years,” Paul Guyardo told the Journal in October. “But candidly, we lack the mainstream brand awareness and credibility—a partnership with Dodo is the most effective and efficient way to attain that awareness,” he said.
In a 2020 SEC filing, Group Nine Media described the deal as:
“A trademark licensing deal with Petplan…pursuant to which Petplan will be rebranded as Fetch by The Dodo…in exchange for which Group Nine Media will receive royalties and equity in the business. Group Nine will also receive compensation for content creation, promotion and marketing for Fetch insurance.”
The 2020 press release did not offer any details about if or how any aspect of the deal would impact pet owners’ coverage, rates, or aspects such as customer service. So TCR pressed Petplan for details. As we began our inquiries in late 2020 about how the deal would affect Petplan customers, we noticed that the insurer’s social media content had been focused on customer complaints due to ‘technical “upgrades.’ As we continued our reporting and cries from Petplan customers accumulated. TCR continued to follow up with Mr. Guyardo with requests for updates on The Dodo transistion but the only information that was being made clear to TCR was that Petplan policy holders were disaffected and repeating an almost identical story; the stories almost seemed to roll up into a single narrative of dissatisfaction, anger, and emotion.
Asked in April if he was regretting the deal with Group Nine or having second thoughts, Petplan’s Guyardo told TCR in a telephone interview that the glitches had not changed anything as far as his goals, his views about ‘insurtech’ and smartphone technology, or how he planned to accomplish those goals with a technology rollout. “It doesn’t change anything,” he said. “We’re trying to create the absolute best experience possible for our customers. What we’re trying to do,” he added “is what you used to have to pick up the phone and call a customer service representative for: You can now do it in the palm of your hand, on your smartphone, or on your laptop, and you can do it 24/7.”
Guyardo added: “Tech transformations are very, very difficult,” Guyardo told TCR, responding to the criticism and cries from customers who felt betrayed, “and in insurance and in any category, they are complicated. They sometimes go over budget and take longer than anticipated. This is not unusual. It’s why many, many companies choose to stay legacy systems because it can potentially be disruptive.”
Petplan policy holders can now complain to Ken Lerer, too
There is at least one piece of good news for Petplan (or ‘Fetch by The Dodo’) policy holders, which is that you now have a prominent New York media executive to rope in when you file complaints to departments of insurance: Ken Lerer, who is largely responsible for bringing us The Huffington Post and Buzzfeed and is now Managing Partner at Lerer Hippeau. The virtue of naming Ken Lerer in your complaints is that the New York Post will probably publish them.