Isabel Plana: helping animals live longer, happier and healthier lives
Ladder is a platform for publishing various picture books and online programs with the mission of empowering over one million children to become social entrepreneurs. Our current series features interviews from our interplanetary journalist Spiffy with inspiring social entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship ecosystem builders, who advance the UN SDGs.
Hi people! I’m Spiffy, your interplanetary reporter who reports on 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 makes weight management easier for pets. Let’s see how she does it!
Spicy: Welcome, Isabelle. It’s wonderful to meet you. I’m super curious about your startup. Can you tell me what challenges you face with Nia?
Isabelle: Nice to meet you too, Spiffy. Our mission at Nia is to help animals live longer, healthier and happier lives. We do this by focusing on chronic disease management through telehealth and technology solutions. We start with canine obesity, which is a major contributor to many health issues facing dogs today. We often see overweight dogs on social media tagged as ‘cute’ or ‘adorable’, but the sad reality is that 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 thanks to Nia, we’re making this a reality for pet parents across the country.
Spicy: Sounds like a great resource for animal lovers all over the world! Can you tell me what motivated you to offer this service?
Isabelle: Well, Spiffy, I have a two year old Goldendoodle named Rosie, and she is absolutely the love of my life. She is the first living being I have had the privilege to care for, and in just two years she has completely changed the way I enjoy 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’m proactive in managing her health and I know it starts with weight management. In the same way that Rosie is an integral part of my family, dogs across the country are essential parts of millions of American families. I am driven to make sure that all of our dogs have the happiest and longest lives possible.
Spicy: It is a great responsibility to provide the best possible care. Can you talk a bit about how Nia helps make the world a fairer place?
Isabelle: As the founder of Latina, helping to build a fair world is at the heart of my personal and professional mission. For me, it starts with creating businesses that give everyone a chance to thrive by leveling the playing field when it comes to recruitment, internal opportunities and upward mobility. I believe in explicitly setting wages for each level, implementing a blind hiring process to minimize unconscious bias and making sure that the skills of the company are not only representative of the attributes commonly attributed to extroverted heterosexual white males. I would love to help change the paradigm in American business to celebrate how different people think, learn, and add value in an authentic way to who they are.
Spicy: Have you reached milestones that you are particularly passionate about?
Isabelle: Our team has worked hard to develop the recommendation logic behind our product to ensure it is included for all dogs, and I’m excited to say that we recently finalized the logic that we will be launching in January. When we started we knew we wanted to give personalized advice for each case to ensure the best health outcomes for the dogs we work with. This meant that we had to define the variables that would require different recommendations, such as age and sterilization / sterility status, and run test cases to make sure we were giving the correct recommendation for each case. This was a cross-functional effort with a significant contribution from our team of vets and the team is excited to implement it.
Spicy: I’m always curious about how entrepreneurs deal with failure. And you, Isabel, can you share an experience where you faced failure and didn’t give up? What have you learned from failure?
Isabelle: My first start-up run was earlier this year with a pet telehealth and tele-training startup, and I closed it a few months after it launched. I realized that people were using the product differently than I had originally planned, and to fix the main issue I would need to reframe a lot of it. No one wants their first startup to be a failure, and I was fortunate 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 recognize and even celebrate losses by talking about them together. They taught me how to handle the experience safely and speeded up my learning process. Overall, I’ve learned that perfection has never been and never will be my goal.
Spicy: It’s amazing that you have 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 have you unexpectedly learned from someone recently?
Isabelle: I’ve been spending a lot more time with my parents since starting this startup journey, and I’ve gained a new appreciation for life. My parents are in their mid 60s and seeing how their priorities have changed over the course of their lives has been a great reminder of what really matters in life. When you’re between the ages of 20 and 30, there’s a ton of external pressure to “succeed” by biased and impossible standards. Seeing my parents prioritize their happiness and health reminded me that I have to define success on my own and only worry about my own definition.
Spicy: 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 pet health company that helps pet parents manage chronic illnesses in their pets. Its mission is to help animals live longer, healthier and happier lives. She holds a BS in Chemical Engineering from MIT.(Nominated by Hands visible. First published on the Ladderworks website on November 15, 2021.)
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Illustration of Spiffy by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews with founders who are building a fairer world here.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.