(CNN) – Andrea Chavez is a serial entrepreneur and a self-proclaimed “crazy dog lady.”
Chavez founded two successful tech companies after graduating from Stanford University with advanced degrees in law and computer science. But a few years ago, when she started looking for the next chapter in her entrepreneurial journey, she found herself thinking about pets.
As Chavez, 48, reflected on her love of animals, the technologist in her was curious about the state of innovation in the pet industry. Most pets, she said, wear a small, boring metal ID tag on their collar with their name and their owner’s address and phone number.
“Pets today are becoming people. They have legal rights. Millennials are delaying having babies and treating their pets as their kids,” said Chavez. “But at the same time, some things haven’t really progressed. Just look at the pet tag. It’s a product that really hasn’t evolved in 200 years.”
In 2016, Chavez founded Pawscout to create what she called a “smarter” pet tag that helps owners track their pets, share their information and connect with other pet owners through a social platform.
Connecting pet owners
Before launching the businesses, Chavez, her husband, and brother-in-law spent two years investing a few million dollars of their own money to develop a prototype, conduct a pilot test of 10,000 tags and build the infrastructure to launch the business.
The Pawscout collar tag (priced at $19.99) is battery-powered, Bluetooth-enabled and weighs five grams. It pairs with a free Pawscout app that allows users to track their pets and create a pet profile, post photos and store medical and vaccination information.
A cornerstone feature lets owners track their pets in real time via a live map on the app, as long as the animal is within a 300-foot range. The live map also highlights local veterinarians, groomers, shelters, or pet-friendly restaurants and stores in the surrounding area.
If a pet wanders off, a community Pet Finder feature sends out an alert to all app users in the neighborhood and will notify neighborhood userswhen the pet comes back within range of anyone with the Pawscout app.
California resident Moeilijk Krijjer uses the Pawscout tag on his 1-year-old Dogo Argentino named “Kaja.”Krijjer spotted the product at a local Wal-Mart three months ago and was curious. When he read the description he realized the smart tag would work well with his outdoor lifestyle.
“I am an avid backpacker and the tag lets me track Kaja when she is off leash with me,” he said. Plus, Krijjer said he has connected with other pet owners in his neighborhood through the app. “That’s been pretty cool, too.”
Baked into the app is a social networking feature, which Chavez describes as a “lightweight Instagram-like feed” for pet parents who want to connect.
“On Facebook, you could have lots of friends who really don’t care about your pet updates. But here, you can show them off as much as you want. You can also ask other users for advice or set pet playdates,” she said.
Just a year after launching the business, Pawscout tags rolled out across 16,000 stores in the United States and Canada through a partnership with Worldwise, Inc., a pet products manufacturer and distributor. Pawscout has so far sold over 250,000 tags through retailers such as Wal-Mart, Kroger, PetValue and Amazon.
Beyond dog and cat owners, Chavez has heard of pet turtles, rabbits, a pig and even a koala bear sporting the tag.
A ‘renaissance woman’
Chavez is one of five siblings, all of whom are Harvard graduates.
But her family story, she said, is not what you would expect.
“We grew up in New Mexico, very poor. Neither of my parents went to college. Life was a big struggle but it turned out that all the kids were pretty smart,” she said.
One by one, her three older brothers enrolled at Harvard on scholarships. Her oldest brother Martin was previously chief financial officer at Goldman Sachs and is global co-head of the firm’s Securities division.
Chavez also graduated from Harvard, and then went on to attend law school at Stanford.
But she didn’t enjoy her law school experience so she decided to pursue a dual degree in computer science. “The computer science students were so much nicer, but two degrees was so much work. I still get nightmares where I am counting credits,” she said.
When she was hired at her first law firm, Chavez enjoyed the work but struggled with the business model of billing clients by the hour. “It doesn’t reward efficiency. I felt for my clients and would try to cut time for them,” she said.
She eventually left to start her first company, software solutions firm Mediabolic, in 2002 with her husband. She sold the company in 2007 for $50 million to Rovi Corporation.
Wanting to chart her own path, Chavez took a year off to train to become a professional violinist.
“I had an amazing teacher and I wanted to see how far I could go. It was a good exercise. I realized my love of the violin was good enough to sustain it as a hobby but not professionally,” she said.
Chavez then proceeded to co-found her second startup, law practice Virtual Law Partners in 2006. She was actively involved with it for a few years before stepping away to take a business development role with a cloud storage solutions firm.
“You could say I’m a renaissance woman,” said Chavez.
Serving an ‘underserved market’
Chavez declined to disclose annual revenue but said Pawscout’s sales were growing month over month. “We aren’t profitable yet but we’re very close,” she said.
Pawscout recently raised $3 million in a seed funding round led by venture capital firm Leadout Capital.
“Even though the pet industry is valued at $72 billion in the United States alone, it’s an underserved market that lacks a platform to connect like-minded pets and pet parents with each other,” said Alison Rosenthal, managing partner of Leadout Capital.
“Pawscout is bringing old world interactions [such as] meeting at parks or posting lost pet posters into the digital age so that users can use technology to more effectively build strong pet communities,” she said.
Chavez has plans to grow the company and expects Pawscout to keep her busy for a while.
“We have products planned within the app to make it better and to fix the rough edges,” she said. “There are infinite possibilities to explore with tag itself.”