In the heart of Silicon Valley, where innovation echoes through the streets, Junko Sheehan’s journey unfolds like an engrossing novel – a tale of resilience, entrepreneurship, and a commitment to giving back regardless of borders.
Her venture, UNAVETS, has attracted funding from top-tier investors like Oaktree Capital, Ares Management, and Junko herself.
In this episode, you will learn:
- It’s a journey from immigrant roots to entrepreneurial heights that demonstrates the power of resilience in the face of adversity.
- Growing up in the ’80s latchkey generation, one learns early about the value of hard work and independence, and how these attributes set the stage for her future endeavors.
- How the turbulent dot-com era led Junko to go to business school – an experience that equipped her with the skills needed to navigate the unpredictable world of entrepreneurship.
- The transition from Wharton to investment banking fused an entrepreneurial background with corporate finance, providing a well-rounded perspective on business.
- How UNAVETS is revolutionizing veterinary healthcare by offering veterinary practices and hospitals a shared services platform, propelling the sector forward with innovation, integrity, and professionalism.
- Beyond business success, Junko’s commitment to investing in her team and contributing to the growth of the veterinary sector highlights the importance of values and giving back in entrepreneurial journeys.
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About Junko Sheehan:
Junko Io Sheehan has ¬25 years of finance and corporate development experience in the media, technology, healthcare, and consumer sectors.
During her tenure in the Technology, Media, and Telecom investment banking groups at Bear Stearns, Morgan Stanley and UBS in NYC and now, as an advisor/principal on private equity investments in London, she has participated in more than $30Bn of equity, debt and M&A transactions.
Over the last several years, Junko has focused on identifying, gestating, and managing M&A rollups in dislocated and/or fragmented sectors and devising new strategies for growth.
Currently, Junko is the CEO and Chairman of the UNAVETS platform, focused on the overall strategy and growth via acquisition of veterinary clinics, as well as strategic investments in adjacent animal healthcare areas.
She brings to bear real expertise in how to build and scale platforms via M&A and has built an organization that can provide shared business services to support vet clinics and hospitals.
Junko is also a Board Director for other animal healthcare companies in Europe (OneVet in Portugal, Luxvet in Poland), BSA, and a Board Director for Vetcelerator in the US.
Among her prior projects were a consolidation of gas stations in the Spanish market and her application of a focused convenience retailing strategy.
Junko served on the Board of Directors from 2016 to the end of 2020, helping to grow the company from scratch to approximately EUR 10M of EBITDA within only a few years via acquisition, synergies, and retailing efficiencies.
During the last ten years, she has also supported Cameron Companies (James Cameron), most recently in helping to structure and secure a strategic investment from a public company in the technology space.
Junko graduated with an MBA in Finance from the Wharton School in 2005. She also earned her BA in Biological Psychology from UC San Diego in 1996. She is partially fluent in Spanish and Japanese, in addition to her native English. She currently resides in London with her family.
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Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:
Alejandro Cremades: Alrighty hello everyone and welcome to the dealmakerr show. So super excited about the guests that we have today you know we’re going to be talking about her incredible journey as a founder you know she’s founded multiple companies. Also she’s experienced corporate as well. But without a doubt we’re going to be talking about.
Junko Sheehan: Um.
Alejandro Cremades: Ah, her story. We’re going to be talking about how she really got the debug from seeing and experiencing her parents. You know coming to the Us and living the american dream as well showing you know as well. The hustle at an early stage when she was starting her first company. And also why she’s doing what she’s doing now because there’s this rocket ship that she’s building so without farther ado let’s welcome our guest today June go shehan welcome to the show.
Junko Sheehan: Thank you so much Alejandra I really appreciate you having me on the show. Thank you.
Alejandro Cremades: So originally born and raised in California to immigrant parents. Your parents came from Japan with absolutely nothing. So how was life growing up and then also how did that inspire you.
Junko Sheehan: Yes, and my parents agreed from Japan and my father was the youngest of 11 children. So they he definitely had to make his own way. He came to california met my mother while she was on vacation proposed after three days and then now the rest is history. They’ve been married for 50 years so my my parents at the time didn’t have a formal education but they really made themselves. They worked super hard. They started one of the first japanese restaurants in the silicon valley ah called Fukisushi and now it’s. Still It’s still running forty five years later so I think after after you know blood sweat and tears making that successful. They they also expanded into real estate and and got really lucky investing in in Palo alto of all places back in the time. Pre-google and Facebook of Hp that was when Palo Alto was really like Hp and um and that was also time when you know japanese food was not as common as it is now. Ah but they really kind of worked morning until night and my sister and I grew up. During that latch key generation of the 80 s um you’re probably too young, not a hundred but but but so you know we we had to we kind of treated.
Alejandro Cremades: Ah.
Junko Sheehan: The restaurant as the third child of the family and in fact, um, in the first year of its opening. We had to live in Japan with my grandparents so we grew up expecting to support this this business which you know um I think is is a very very early lesson to learn about the value of hard work and.
Alejandro Cremades: Now 1 thing that is very interesting here is obviously you get inspired obviously big time by your parents and seeing their journey their abs and downs of being an entrepreneur also being in a place full of innovation now like he’s being there in in Palo Alto but 1 thing that is very interesting is that.
Junko Sheehan: And entrepreneurship.
Junko Sheehan: As.
Alejandro Cremades: When it’s time to go to San Diego for university you decided to study biological psychology out of all things. Why why.
Junko Sheehan: And I.
Junko Sheehan: Well I couldn’t pick a major honestly I started as premed and then and switched between chemistry math. Um, and my mother just said you know. You need to graduate in 4 and so I picked biological psychology I had the most credits in that subject but but all of my university friends. They’re all doctors. Ah genetic scientists. They work in pharmaceuticals they work in biotech I’m the only one that kind of veered off the that path and went into into into kind of entrepreneurship. So and I think you know, growing up in in the Silicon Valley was really great because it also. Allowed me to go to one of the best public schools in the country in Palo alto and I was going to school alongside Stanford Professors Children you know and and this kind of opened up my eyes to the value of a really good formal education. So I think and I think I was really really lucky to be surrounded by. All these startups to be surrounded by by by this really great educational system and you know going to school in San Diego I don’t know if you’ve been to San Diego but it’s gorgeous and I had the benefit of of enjoying college. You know.
Alejandro Cremades: Now in your case obviously experiencing entrepreneurship being surrounded by entrepreneurship all around you growing Up. You know it was certainly going to be a matter of time now in your case, you know that happened right after University when you win at it. Ah, during the internet craziness with a gift giving platform. So tell us how was this Experience. You know what was the incuation and they hey you know I’m I’m gonna go at it I’m gonna do this thing. Okay.
Junko Sheehan: Well I think everybody wanted to start an internet company back in 9099? Um, but I you know we were trying to find something that was that was unique and and and. You know you lived the whole startup you know I don’t know if you remember, but you know back then it was like you you’d rent a warehouse that you’d start in a garage and then you’d you’d migrate to a warehouse and you would build your desks out of doors and this this whole um environment of a startup that was in the it was really in the air. So I was really excited to to start a company to try and figure out the right business model and gift giving at that time was really interesting because a third of all of the gift cards were never redeemed and we we had an asset life platform so that was quite a You know, interesting versus some of the other ecommerce platforms where they were tryinged to ship dog food which is really low value to shipping and logistics at the time were so quite complex. So I think ah you know it. It didn’t in the end work out. But I’d say it was very very. Fast education in in you know, sitting on a board hiring 30 employees then having to let 30 employees go that was that was really hard. But I think some of those really tough lessons gave me.
Junko Sheehan: Ah, you know the inspiration to go back to business school to understand the macroeconomics around around the broader markets because because that actually was the reason why we had to shut the company Down. We didn’t raise enough money to last you know to last through a crash. And and so understanding that we have to have always enough capital to last a bit longer I think that that was a really tough lesson but a really valuable one to learn early on.
Alejandro Cremades: And how was it like um, going through such a tough moment like that where you know you see that Unfortunately you need to pull the plug and how was it that for you too I’m sure that you know as they say you either succeed or you learn right? So so how was that experience.
Junko Sheehan: Yeah that’s a nice way to put it. Um I mean look it’s it was tough I I was I think in New York City doing a press tour I was interviewed on like Forbes and and Cnn and bloomberg and then. And then two months later you know we had to pull the plug because we were literally going to go out for financing and then everything crashed and it just was I don’t know within six months we had to shut the company down so that was you know I think that while that was a really tough lesson to learn it was was important and I’m glad that I got to learn that earlier you know when I was younger I was still 27 at the time. Um and and it also because I was sitting on a board with a lot of people that were you know Ceo of a fortune 500 company the former cfo of excite. Ah, you know there were there were a lot of very very key people that were on this board and and it was I was the youngest person in the boardroom but I had wanted to go raise funding earlier but I was outvoted because no one wanted the delution. So I think that you know capitalizing. Startup well and you know basically making sure that you allow for mistakes because they will happen so make sure you have enough buffer room people I think tend to under capitalize startups. It’s it’s something that I that I learned firsthand can be you know fatal to a startup.
Alejandro Cremades: No kidding now in your case, you decided to you know Shift gears and you went into business school. You went to Warton and the tremendous community Warton by the way and then basically from there you go into investment banking. So it’s really interesting that.
Junko Sheehan: So.
Alejandro Cremades: Transition and the sequence of events here because once an entrepreneur always an entrepreneur. So why? why investment banking corporate America.
Junko Sheehan: I know well actually I even fighted going to business school for a long time I didn’t think I needed to go. Um I didn’t want to be like everybody else every other and Mba but actually I love the Wharton experience. It was a great place. Great community as you say. And I learned a lot about the fundamentals around finance so that was great and it gave me. You know the I guess the the path to to work in investment banking and I wanted to have that that really that corporate finance m and a experience capital raising experience. Because it gave me the other the other side of the coin and I think actually being able to merge my entrepreneurial experience with my experience of working at Bear Stearns and Morgan Stanley and ubs those were that experience and being able to merge that with the entrepreneurial background has been. Really helpful for what I’m doing today.
Alejandro Cremades: So And and we’ll talk about that in just a little bit now in your case investment banking on you did that for a few years I guess from now being able to look at companies seeing what works but doesn’t at a higher level. What were some of the patterns that you saw from what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to business. That’s right.
Junko Sheehan: You mean from investment banking. Yeah I I mean I thought what was super interesting about that was I specialized in Tmt so I looked at a lot of tech and media companies. Ah, you know, worked on some pretty large transactions about $30000000000 worth of capital raising and m and a at the time but that that helped me understand the other perspective. You know what are investors looking for. How are we valuing a company. You know these are just some of the fundamental building blocks to you know to what I do now which is you know, really m and a buy and built. So if I didn’t have that experience I wouldn’t have known how to raise the capital. And wouldn’t have known how investors look at that capital and and the ah roi that’s needed for them to consider something attractive and then also the m and a the m and a experience was really helpful just as ah, just as a fundamental building block for for doing obviously a lot of m and a. But but looking at evaluation as ah as a ah basic does that make sense. Yeah.
Alejandro Cremades: Now Absolutely But in your case it took a little bit of time you know to reset and click the play button again you know and and go at it as an entrepreneur. So so what do you think because you were doing the advisory to whether it was investment banking or as an internal banker for.
Junko Sheehan: Arms.
Alejandro Cremades: Another company later and even a board member for a company that was operating mainly in madrid in Spain but what do you think needed to happen for you to be at peace with the idea of doing it again.
Junko Sheehan: Um, actually that’s a great question I you know you can say that after you shut down a company and you have to fire 30 people. It’s that it’s not the the easiest experience for someone to go through and I was I was being cautious and. And and so for me to go at it again when I when I first started and when I sat on the board of this gas station convenience retailing buy and build in Spain I helped you know I negotiated the. The shareholders agreement I raised the capital I built the business plan and and hired the the core management team. Um, you know, worked on all of the m and a then I said well why would I do that for for someone else. Why wouldn’t I just go and do that myself. So. So at the end I think it was it did take me a long time to get back to that point again, but I think I needed to build up the confidence and and you know feel confident that I knew what I was doing I guess ah before I lost ah investor many you know and I think that that’s a. I took that really seriously it wasn’t a huge amount capital back in back in Nineteen Ninety Nine Two thousand and one but it was it was you know two and a half million so you you take that? Seriously when you lose that capital.
Alejandro Cremades: So then 2019 comes you have the confidence now you are um, also looking you know what’s possible in this space. So at what point are you like? Okay I’m ready and this is the industry that I want to tackle.
Junko Sheehan: Um, yeah.
Junko Sheehan: I I mean I have to say my husband was really and a supporter and he he just pushed me you know he really kind of literally pushed me out the door and was very supportive of us funding this platform for the first six months
Alejandro Cremades: Walk us through that first.
Junko Sheehan: And you know we we researched sectors for the first six months part to that. So really, it took a year to kind of build the business plan raise the capital but I have to say that when we decided to raise the capital in September of 2019. It was the fastest ca raise I’ve ever worked on. We closed with oak tree capital by um, December twentieth of 2019 and then we did our first acquisition in January of 2020.
Alejandro Cremades: And for the people that are listening to to really get it. What ended up being the business model of events. How do you guys make money. So.
Junko Sheehan: So unavets is ah is a a veterinary healthcare care services platform so we buy we acquire veterinary practices and then we offer them a shared services platform. That they can focus more of their time on on the clinical work as opposed to the administrative burdens that that a lot of these clinical directors have to face. So so we make money I guess from from professionalizing the marketing the digital marketing and. And purchasing synergies and helping to grow these businesses. But what I like about it is that you know a lot of our clinical directors. They they have spent the last twenty years building their business and this kind of brings me full circle to to my parents business and. And so we took that responsibility really? seriously we we treat each of our clinical directors like clients and so I think that that that sense of care has really helped us earn a top notch reputation in the market and and so that’s. That’s also helped us to do well I think in terms of m and a so our clinical directors they refer us to other clinical directors and it’s really taken the life of its ah.
Alejandro Cremades: So walk us to through the capital racing process because how much capital have you guys raised to date. So.
Junko Sheehan: So we’ve raised over two hundred Million Euros ah we have you know we haven’t spent all of it luckily but but we have access to it and oak tree capital has provided us with equity I’ve also invested alongside them personally and then. Um, ariess management has provided us with debt and an acquisition financing line of one hundred and sixteen million years so it’s ah it’s a platform that’s growing really really quickly. We have over 125 practices across Spain and Portugal and where the leader in in that geography and we kind of have ambitions to go. Continue our expansion and and and raise more capital and and grow across Europe.
Alejandro Cremades: And obviously you guys are growing. You know, very rapidly so while growing at over a hundred percent year over year so so I guess the how do you go about the combination of a and a and organic growth to build a company like this one. Okay.
Junko Sheehan: So I think our our and n and a has become like and like it’s it’s really become super efficient and in the last week alone we’ve done 2 acquisitions just to give an example. So so in last year we did over 40 acquisitions in the year so we’re we’re really kind of getting up to a volume where and these are not large acquisitions. These are small ones so we have to learn how to be pragmatic and do these efficiently but in terms of organic growth I think that that that’s where probably some of my. Um, dot com experience may help because now digital marketing and customer acquisition is is everything and so we’ve we’ve been able to leverage our our team’s veterinary sector expertise and operational expertise around purchasing and synergies alongside. You know, call it digital digital marketing.
Alejandro Cremades: And when you go about the M and a side of it. You know obviously integration is everything always in these types of deals. So how do you go about making sure that I mean for the acquisitions is like an insane number. So how do you go about having like a nice assembly line where.
Junko Sheehan: Yes.
Alejandro Cremades: The integration is going to happen super smoothly on all fronts.
Junko Sheehan: We have checklists we have templates everything really you know I mean you would not imagine the number our our team loves excel you know and we have other tools like monday.com which we use to track everything. So.
Alejandro Cremades: I.
Junko Sheehan: Um, we leverage a lot of technology and and we also have a very streamlined process. Otherwise it would be Impossible. So Our our acquisition paperwork. You know our our share purchase agreements our asset purchase agreements. They’re all from templates and then you just change a few. A few of the key components like price may be some terms slightly change but all of these things have to be from a template otherwise it would never be able to never be able to do this. So.
Alejandro Cremades: So Obviously with the um, you know as you are looting Earlier. You guys have raised quite a bit of money and they I guess as as you are bringing people around you bringing investors around you vision is a really big one for them. So Let’s say you were to go to sleep tonight you go. And you wake up in a world where the vision of unovits is fully realized what does that world look like.
Junko Sheehan: Yeah, well I mean we we so we’ve been quite conservative so far but we seem to blow all of our projections out of the water. So um I think I think right now we’re looking at a pan-european platform. That’s our vision. And and we’d like to create a real community. Um, ah for for vets because they’re the lowest paid workers on the health care spectrum but most caring ah very altruistic and. We invest a lot in our team in our people and and their continued training because it really is a calling to be a vet average vet knows they want to be a vt from the time they’re 10 years old. So so I think you know and and they have to have really top notch grades to get into it and so. You’re not going to be a vet for the money you’re going to be a vet for the calling and and the care that you’re going to give so we we want to give back in that sense and so we invest a lot we did over 100 trainings last year alone um for our teams and and that will just only continue if. If we grow if we get the opportunity to grow larger. We. We want to continue that call it that investment back into the sector.
Alejandro Cremades: And then how did you think about with a team around the execution roadmap when it comes to 2 regions because obviously Spain has been a ah really interesting market for you guys. You know as part of building the business.
Junko Sheehan: So so.
Alejandro Cremades: So how have you thought about that too. So.
Junko Sheehan: So we so we started in Spain and then the following year in beginning of 2021. We expanded to portugal and then in 2022 we we have a sister company that’s also funded by a tree that’s in Poland which has the largest pet population in Europe. Luxvet. So so I think that we have call it a track record and being able to take our best practices and you know bring them to other countries because at the end of the day. The the you know the profile of the vets and their issues. What the problems that they face it’s it’s. Fairly fundamental. It’s universal across geographies and so I think given we’re we’re solving those problems that that is going to resonate across Europe.
Alejandro Cremades: Now It’s nothing like being at the right time in history when it comes to ah building a business and it sounds like there’s more consciousness and and and more activity when it comes to pets you know For example with Covid It was like crazy the amount of adoptions and things like that. So.. How do you think that timing has helped you guys to really get that wind behind your backs.
Junko Sheehan: Now I mean it’s been great. Ah, there was ah I think a 20% increase in pet adoptions in in Spain alone throughout covid and in that I don’t think that’s very different across the us or any other geography I think I think everybody went through the same thing. and and I think that that kind of talks to the importance of being in the right sector right? What are the tailwinds. What are the macro trends driving demand and and consumption. So so we we’ve looked at that really carefully as well. So it’s it’s really It’s obviously it’s helped us. But. At the end of the day when we look at other groups as well. There’s obviously a variance in execution. So you can’t just have a great a great sector and not execute I think it also comes down to how well are you executing against the average in the market. Are you outperforming? Are you underperforming? Are you just average. So. Um, yeah, hopefully we’re we’re we’re overperforming.
Alejandro Cremades: And then also when when you have all these different you know spots of of of operations and execution like you know you are in the Uk you have Portugal you have Spain now you were talking about Poland as well with your sister company. How do you go about culture. As well.
Junko Sheehan: Ah, well I think people are um and I know that there are differences in culture but fundamentally I think people are people and so we have a really positive culture and and and I think that vets are some of the nicest people. So. We. We have an easy time with working with our vets and and reinvesting into their into their career paths. Um, so from a cultural perspective. Our culture is one of care and we take care of our clinical directors and our vets and we hope that they they do a great job as a result. Better enabled to take care of pets with us. That’s a yes.
Alejandro Cremades: So now I’m gonna put you I’m gonna put you June ko into a time machine I hope you’re ready so I’m gonna put you into a time machine right now and I’m bringing you back in time to that moment where you were coming out of the university in San Diego and that moment where you were thinking about a world. Where you would bring something to life become an entrepreneur but let’s say you had the opportunity of having a chat sitting down with that younger self that younger Junko and you’re able to give that younger junko one piece of advice before launching a business. What would that be and why given what you know now.
Junko Sheehan: Ah there’s don’t have just one but so but I think ah I think and the most important thing for us I would say is that people kind of relate giving back to only charities and philanthropy I think that we’re. You know we’ve kind of been able to figure out a way to give back every day in our day-to-day work and and being able to to do that. Whether it’s mentoring someone doing the right thing going out of your way to do the right thing even if it may not benefit you I think that that’s the stuff that gives you. The most gratifying Mark in your personal history when you go back and you remember what did I do with all of that time. It’s not about how much money did you make it’s about it’s about was I you know who are the people that I came across what are the relationships that I have was i. You know did I live a life of integrity. So for us I think values values and giving back is really important. Um, yeah.
Alejandro Cremades: I Love that I love that so junkov for the people that are listening right now and that would love to reach out and say hi. What is the best way for them to do so.
Junko Sheehan: Probably just go on my Linkedin and I’m I’m quite responsive. Yeah, thank.
Alejandro Cremades: So you say enough why heyjunkov. Thank you so much for being on the dealmakerr show today. It has been an honor to have you with us.
Junko Sheehan: Thank you so much ajandra I hope I see you in Madrid.
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