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.
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An Immigrant’s Ascent: Building Fukisushi
Born to immigrant parents in California, Junko’s story begins with her father, the youngest of eleven siblings. He came to the US from Japan, hoping to make his own mark in the land of opportunity.
He proposed to her mother who was on vacation just three days after meeting her. Soon the couple embarked on a journey that shaped not only their lives but also the landscape of Silicon Valley.
In the face of adversity, they pioneered one of the first Japanese restaurants in the area – Fukisushi. Born from blood, sweat, and tears, the restaurant stands strong for forty-five years, a testament to hard work, determination, and the essence of the American Dream.
Junko remembers having to live with her grandparents for a year in Japan along with her sister, while her parents got the restaurant up and running. Eventually, her parents expanded into real estate and got lucky investing in Palo Alto. That was her first taste of the world of entrepreneurship.
Growing Up in the Silicon Valley
The entrepreneurial spirit embedded in Silicon Valley’s air wasn’t lost on Junko. Inspired by her parents and the thriving atmosphere of innovation, she set her sights on entrepreneurship.
Despite facing the challenges of being part of the latchkey generation in the ’80s, where independence was a necessity, Junko embraced the restaurant as a third child of the family, learning early on the value of hard work and sacrifice.
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Navigating the Dot-Com Boom (and Bust): Lessons from Startup Turbulence
The late ’90s brought the internet boom, and like many, Junko wanted to be part of the wave. She ventured into the startup world, creating a platform in the gift-giving space. The startup journey was marked by long hours, boardroom struggles, and tough decisions.
The experience of having to let go of 30 employees when the business didn’t work out taught Junko some hard lessons. However, this period became a crucible of learning. It prompted Junko’s decision to go to Wharton Business School – a move that would equip her with the skills necessary to navigate the unpredictable world of entrepreneurship.
Junko looks back at this rollercoaster ride, from being interviewed by CNN, Bloomberg, and Forbes, and then having to shut down her company six months later. At 27, she was the youngest member sitting on a board with the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and the former CFO of Excite.
The company soon ran out of financing and Junko remembers wanting to raise funding but being outvoted. This experience taught her firsthand how fatal the under capitalization of startups can be. It was also a reminder of the importance of the broader macroeconomic environment.
Wharton and Investment Banking: Merging Entrepreneurial Spirit with Finance
The failure of that first venture prompted Junko to attend business school and that’s how Wharton became the next stop. It was a pivotal experience that merged her entrepreneurial spirit with the fundamentals of finance.
Transitioning to investment banking at Bear Stearns, Morgan Stanley, and UBS, Junko gained insights into the other side of the coin. She worked on large transactions, spanning $30B worth of capital raising that helped her understand what investors are looking for and how they value a company.
Specializing in TMT, she delved into the world of tech and media, adding another layer to her already diverse skill sets. This period not only honed her financial acumen but also laid the groundwork for merging her entrepreneurial background with corporate finance.
From Spain to UNAVETS: A Resilient Return to Entrepreneurship
After a hiatus, Junko found herself back in the entrepreneurial arena. Armed with lessons from her past, she became a board member for a gas station and convenience retailing M&A roll-up platform in Spain. The experience paved the way for her reentry into entrepreneurship, and founding UNAVETS.
This journey marked a turning point, as Junko drew upon her diverse experiences to build a veterinary healthcare services platform with a unique approach.
UNAVETS: Revolutionizing Veterinary Healthcare Across Europe
UNAVETS, a veterinary healthcare services platform, has become a force to be reckoned with, with 129 practices across Spain and Portugal. The journey hasn’t been without its challenges, but the team’s disciplined approach to acquisitions, married with a vet-focused value proposition and purpose, has propelled UNAVETS to unprecedented growth.
The platform offers a shared services model, allowing veterinary practices to focus more on clinical work while UNAVETS handles administrative burdens. This innovative approach has not only fueled professionalization in the sector but has also earned the group a top-notch reputation.
Beyond Business: A Commitment to Giving Back
Junko’s story is not just about building a successful business; it’s about giving back every day. The veterinary platform isn’t just a business for her; it’s a community, an investment in the veterinary sector, and the people who dedicate their lives to caring for animals.
Recognizing the altruistic nature of veterinarians, UNAVETS invests heavily in its team, offering over 100 training sessions last year alone. This commitment reflects not only a business strategy but a genuine desire to contribute to the growth and advancement of the veterinary sector as well as the well-being of those who work within it.
Junko has successfully raised funding worth over €200M ($225M) for UNAVETS. Oaktree Capital has invested equity and Junko has invested some of her own money as well. Ares Management has also provided debt and an acquisition financing line totaling €116M.
The investments are proving well-placed: the company is growing at over 100% year on year, doing more than 40 acquisitions each year.
Storytelling is everything which is something that Junko Sheehan was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key. For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend, Peter Thiel (see it here) where the most critical slides are highlighted.
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A Pan-European Vision: Advancing Veterinary Healthcare Across Europe
With a vision to create a pan-European platform, Junko aims to revolutionize the veterinary sector, combining business acumen with a deep sense of responsibility.
As UNAVETS continues its rapid expansion, Junko Sheehan’s journey is a beacon of inspiration for aspiring entrepreneurs and a reminder that success, when coupled with values and giving back, is a truly fulfilling achievement.
Listen in to the full podcast episode to find out more, including:
- 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.