Dr Kate Adams – Vet, Business Owner & Entrepreneur
Posted December 6, 2017, by Jenny Sakr
Dr Kate Adams is the owner of Bondi Vet Hospital, a media vet, the Founder of online gifting website, Thankly.com.au as well as Director of pet biotechnology company, Cannpal.
Her diverse career has seen her go from working as a vet to working in intelligence, legal, private corporate finance and as a Principal Advisor for three Royal Commissions. She is a totally self-made entrepreneur and has the determination grit and mental resilience to acheive extraordinary things.
She works 80 hours a week, sitting down for a meal is a luxury, she's always behind on laundry and her car is a constant mess. So why does she do it all? "Because I still believe in creating something big and leaving the world better than I found it. You’ve got to give something back to the world if you have the ability to do so."
You’re involved in a lot of businesses - tell us about each and how you divide your time between them all
I’ve always been interested in so many different things and I love having multiple ‘jobs’ – it keeps me learning and keeps challenging me. I used to think not just having one job was a bad thing – but I’ve accepted myself as a multipotentialite and live my life the way I want to – and I’ve turned it into a strength. I manage multiple businesses which keep me busy but I’m far from done yet!
Bondi Vet Hospital
I am the owner and a veterinarian at Australia’s most well known Veterinary Hospital – Bondi Vets. I love being a vet and there’s not a day that goes by I’m not grateful for the job. Associated with Bondi Vet is a lot of media work but also as a business owner, managing the business and staff is also very time-consuming. I still really love being a vet. There isn’t a day that goes by that an animal doesn’t remind me to smile and be grateful for the little things.
I am also the founder of online gifting service, Thankly.com.au. Thankly sends handwritten cards and little gifts all around Australia. Again, running and growing the business on top of my vet role is hard work. My staff are amazing (luckily)! A lot of people ask me how vet has anything to do with Thankly – to me, it seems so obvious – my purpose is to innovate, create and give back to the world and make it a better place, so the two go together beautifully. Thankly allows me to be creative and I’ve put my heart and soul into it. I really believe in saying thank you – not only does it cultivate an attitude of gratitude (which makes your life happier) but it also increases your social connection with others – and our happiness is really a product of the people around us.
I am also a Director/ Board Member of ASX listed pet pharmaceutical company CannPal. CannPal is researching and developing an innovative pain treatment for pets (as well as a few other things). I love being involved in innovative new Australian developed products – especially those that help make pets lives better. I fit my workload in between and as you can see I work a lot!
What did you study and what are the steps you took to be where you are today?
I studied a lot! I did a communications/ marketing degree, a science degree, my veterinary medicine and surgery degree, a graduate certificate in management and then in digital marketing. I am halfway through my masters in data analytics. I am a lifelong learner. I love it. What I got from my studies wasn’t necessarily just how to be a vet or how to do marketing – they taught me how to think, research, be strategic in what I learn and critically analyse. I learnt to consume a large amount of information in a short amount of time and make it stick as well as manage multiple deadlines and stress. Those are the skills that have helped me in my career.
Tell us what a typical day at work looks like for you...
I get up really early and I get to Thankly at about 7am. I work at Thankly getting the day organised until 8.20. I run and get a coffee before I go to Bondi Vet Hospital. I put my vet hat on until about midday or 1pm, before I either go back to the Thankly office. I spend until 3pm writing vet blogs, doing videos, interviews or just working on the marketing for Thankly. I often race back to Bondi Vet hospital at about 4pm and stay until 7pm looking after patients. I work most nights from about 8pm until bedtime at 11pm – writing articles like this one! There isn’t much room in there for self-care – lunch or dinner has become a distant memory and I will try and fit in 30 minutes a day of fresh air, exercise or walking my dog in there somewhere but sometimes it doesn’t happen. I’m working on that! But I’m ambitious. I’ve proven that with hard work and grit, the possibilities are endless and I’d rather work 80 hours a week for myself than 40 for someone else!
What did you want to be when you were younger?
I didn’t really know. In fact, I always felt bad for not knowing – like I was supposed to have it all worked out by 18. I didn’t. I liked lots of things – I was good at science, maths but equally loved media, English and creative work. I was always worried I didn’t have a clear direction.
As a kid I was really good at Lego building and video games. Not just a little bit good – I was a total junkie. And when I look back on those things, it wasn’t that I was going to grow up to be a professional video game player or lego builder but it gave me insight into the types of things I liked – I was a builder, a creator, a problem solver and I am competitive. I don’t give up until I complete the game or my lego city was the best. Recognising those talents and traits allowed me to choose jobs and a career to suit.
What inspired you to start Thankly?
I am so big on thank yous. Not only are they good manners but I’m also a believer in looking after your relationships. Thank yous allow you to stand out. They allow you to stay memorable and form a sincere and genuine connection with a colleague, boss, neighbour, mentor or whatever. I loved sending them but they took so much time. I was standing in a post office waiting to buy a stamp and thought there had to be an easier way. What if I created a service that helped people reach out to others and send a sincere and thoughtful handwritten card to someone without having to do it all yourself. I then extended that to businesses – what if a business sent a card to say ‘hey thanks for the facebook review’ or whatever. You’d be impressed. These days thankly sends more gifts than cards, but the handwritten cards go with every gift and still a really big part of the business. They mean a lot to people, especially when written from the heart. We send on behalf of businesses like Twitter and banks, but we also send a lot to teachers, mums, dads, grandparents, partners, wives, husbands, bosses, employees – the list is never ending!
You’ve explored a few different career paths. Why the changes?
I’m an explorer. I like new things and I like to keep stimulated and learning. I have trouble sitting still! I have worked as a vet, in intelligence, as a Chief of Staff and Principal Adviser for 3 Royal Commissions, in private corporate finance – all before really following my entrepreneurial path. The theme in all of my jobs all my careers has been to help. I truly believe if you’re born lucky, you owe it to the world to give something back and not just take from it.
One job was never enough for me. I got bored and unsettled. I wanted to do more. Eventually, I decided that even having a job wasn’t going to work for me. I needed to just live life on my terms, and that’s what I built. A work life that just feels like life. I have no work/life balance. I wake up in the morning and would go and do exactly what I’m doing even if I had a billion dollars.
Name the best and worst parts of being a vet
Worst parts are the hours, the poor pay, the sick animals and the unappreciative people. I really hate seeing pets neglected and I dislike even more people not taking responsibility to the little creature they promised to care for. When I see this, it often requires me to speak on behalf of the animal. It can lead to me being publicly criticised and also heated arguments. I remember one lady arriving in a brand new car with a dog who couldn’t walk on one of his legs (because it was broken!) and her telling me vehemently that he wasn’t in pain. I had to explain to her very gently that the way dogs show us that their legs hurt is when they won’t walk on them. She refused treatment or even pain relief – and it’s those cases which end up very badly. I’ve been spat at, had violence threatened and had to call the police – luckily it doesn’t happen much/ if ever in Bondi, but having worked around Australia, I’ve had my fair share of bad situations. I also don’t like putting animals down that are young and fixable.
The best part of being a vet is the animals. There is never a day that goes by that they don’t make me laugh or remind me to smile. I often go and visit the boarding cats and give them a cuddle during the day. I also really like making a difference. Being a vet is a really important job which allows me to be helpful to those that can’t speak for themselves. I have this unreal love of animals which I can barely describe. It’s not a fuss over them love – just a deep understanding.
Name the best and worst parts of starting your own business
The best part is that there is nobody to tell you what to do. The worst part is that there is nobody to tell you what to do.
Starting and or running a business (or two) is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Even harder than vet school. It’s challenged me to my absolute limits. I borrowed 100% of the loan to buy Bondi Vet and then spent my entire life savings building Thankly. I backed myself. But there have been many nights I’ve woken at 3am thinking óh my goodness, what have I done’. Each week I have to pay staff, manage cash flow, look after people, find customers and sales – it’s all on my shoulders and it’s not easy. I often have to go out publicly looking fabulous to events worried about how exactly I am going to pay staff that week (or sometimes even look after myself). The whole thing looks pretty glamorous on the outside, especially with what Instagram promotes (lady bosses, building empires and the like) but I’m yet to meet anyone in real life, where the behind the scenes aren’t a complete car crash. It’s all just fake. What isn’t fake is baby steps forward. One in front of the other and being consistent and having mental resilience. Pushing through when things get hard is the key. If you can push through you will be ahead of 99% of other people just by getting up and showing up every. single. day.
What’s the most important career tip someone has given you?
Back yourself. Other people don’t know what’s best for you. You do.
What career advice do you wish someone had given you when you finished high school?
You don’t have to have it all figured out. Find out what you love to do, and just do that. Don’t be lazy – have fun but you still have to work hard.
The world is a really large place and what happens at high school – leave it behind. It really doesn’t matter! If you don’t get into the course of your dreams or whatever, don’t give up. Find another way around. There’s always more than one way in.
Where do people have to start to become a vet and what is the standard salary?
I always think people should do a bit of work experience before deciding to be a vet. The salary is poor and the work is hard. It’s not for everybody. Secondly you have to work hard to get the grades you need to get in. The good grades are required because vet school is hard. Like really hard. It takes mental resilience, the ability to sit long and tedious exams all the time, you need to be able to cram a lot of information into that head! It’s not to say it’s impossible. It really comes down to how determined you are.
The standard salary is pretty poor for how much study you go through. A graduate earns about $40-45k and an experienced vet earns somewhere between $70-120k per year. You can earn more if you own a practice however that requires business skills as well (so you are likely going to need an MBA as well in order to run that business!). Specialists also get a lot more.
Name a career highlight
Being in Marie Claire. I always wanted to be in Marie Claire since I was a little girl. Oh no wait .. speaking at Google and Twitter was better than that. I recently spoke about the lessons I’ve learnt to Google, Twitter and LinkedIn employees. I never thought I’d get this far. I am the youngest female on an ASX listed Board which I’m super proud of, so that was another real highlight. Each year there is a new highlight!
What’s next for you?
Build a billion dollar business. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do. Not because I want a billion dollars but I want to leave a mark on the world. I don’t know if I’ll make it, but I’m certainly going to try!
Jenny found her way with words while interning during uni, since, she's produced articles on it all – from hair and beauty to homewares, travel, career advice and study tips. On a weekend you're most likely to find her lining up for a table at the latest cafe or restaurant.