Petlearnia interview for Virtual Bunch, photo credit Joanna Woodnutt
Joanna Woodnutt considers herself a true Channel Island girl! She is Alderney born and bred, and Guernsey educated. After obtaining her veterinary degree from Nottingham, she worked for a couple of years in the UK before she and her husband decided to leave the rat race and return to Alderney!

Joanna is a founder of Petlearnia, an e-learning website dedicated to helping pet owners understand and care for their pets.

During our conversation, we asked Joanna about the services Petlearnia offers, the motivation behind creating an e-learning courses about pets, and her favorite activities on Alderney.

Please can you tell us about the inspiration behind starting Petlearnia? What motivated you to create this platform?

My husband and I have a routine of walking the dog, and talking about our businesses and jobs. I can’t quite remember where the initial seed of the idea for Petlearnia came from, but I do remember walking the cliff paths and discussing it. It probably would have remained a pipe dream, but I’d just seen an advert for the Guernsey Digital Greenhouse’s ‘Startup Academy’ and he thought it would be good to apply.

The business lessons I learned there were valuable for many areas of my life, but I worked through Petlearnia as a sort of example as I went, meaning I came out of it with a fully-fledged business plan. I got accepted into the Venture Challenge off the back of it, and with some major reworking with my mentor, went ahead and won joint first at Pitch Night, meaning Petlearnia now had £30,000 to spend. With that, I really had to carry on!

How does Petlearnia aim to help pet owners? What specific services or resources does it offer?

There’s a frustrating disconnect between what the vet wants a pet owner to know, and what they have time to explain. And it’s made worse by how much information someone can take in from that explanation. The growth of ‘Dr Google’ is fuelled by people not having their information needs met, and vets not having the time or resources to meet them.

With Petlearnia, I wanted to save vets time while helping owners understand what’s happening with their pet. To do this, we’re creating e-learning courses. From the vet point of view, they work like a digital handout that gets emailed to the client – they simply have to input the email address and click send. That’s the timesaving part.

But for pet owners, they are an engaging resource of text, audio, video, and interactive elements that caters for all learning preferences. Perhaps more importantly, we regularly update the courses and the owners have access to the course for the rest of their pet’s life, so they can check back when something changes.

Pixie dog helping, photo credit Joanna Woodnutt

Pixie dog helping, photo credit: Joanna Woodnutt

What are some common misconceptions or challenges you’ve encountered when educating people about pet care through e-learning?

I think the biggest problem is the sheer number of health conditions out there. It makes it very hard to know where to start with course creation. People come onto the platform and there isn’t the course available yet. But we’ll get there!

What’s the process behind creating a course? I see you have a course about Canine and Feline Nutrition in the pipeline. How long does it take, and how many people are involved in its creation?

The first step is to decide on a course (we have a long list) and what it’ll cover. Then, I assign the course to a vet to write. They normally take several weeks to write the text, and prompts for what else needs to be included (eg ‘please make this part flip cards’).

Once they’ve got that back, our admin team (made up of veterinary students and nurses) uploads the course to our website. As they do so, they make a checklist of the interactive elements that need adding. This then goes to our graphics and tech teams, who create the elements, which are then inserted into the course.

Once it’s perfect, I assign a vet with advanced certificates or specialist status to check it over. It’s a long process, but the courses have to be perfect!

Please can you share some success stories or memorable moments you’ve had since launching Petlearnia?

I really loved attending BSAVA Congress in Manchester in March. It was so lovely to talk to ‘front-line’ vets and hear how they see Petlearnia helping them!

What is your vision for the future of Petlearnia? Are there any upcoming projects or developments you’re excited about?

I really want Petlearnia to be the place people think of when they have unanswered questions about their pet’s health. I’ve got a long road ahead of me until that though, so I try to focus on the little things. For example, I’m really excited about our feline cystitis course, as it’s one of those things that owners can really impact at home.

And I’m also really excited for the development of our owner input system, which takes owner tips and inserts them into the course once they’ve been checked by a vet. It’ll mean owners can get that peer-peer support, but with vets ‘vetting’ the responses to make sure they’re safe.

How do you balance your work with Petlearnia and other aspects of your life? Do you have any tips for maintaining a healthy work-life balance?

I’m a workaholic, but luckily having a young daughter means I have to put the computer down most afternoons and take some time to enjoy our beautiful island. I love the flexible nature of what I do, and try to work in the early mornings so I can have more time once the sun is up to explore. I can’t remember the last time I took a true holiday, or more than three days off in a row, but I make the most of every day instead!

Walking on Alderney, photo credit Joanna Woodnutt

Photo credit: Joanna Woodnutt

What types of activities or attractions do you recommend for Alderney’s first time visitors, especially those arriving with their dogs?

There’s so much to do in Alderney! One of my favourites is Bibette Head, a collection of German tunnels and bunkers set into the hillside below Fort Albert, which makes for a really fun explore! If you’re coming with a dog, the winter walks on the beach are glorious.

Unfortunately the beaches are closed to dogs in the summer, but there’s still plenty of cliff walks I’d highly recommend. The south cliffs are stunning – lots of wildflowers and views of the other islands. Alderney moves slowly – we call it ‘Alderney time’ – so I’d also recommend a long lunch in the sun, relaxing, eating, and feeling all your stresses roll away….

What do you enjoy the most about living in Alderney?

Wow, that’s the hardest question! It’s got to be the ease and speed at which I can get to the beach after I finish for the day. There’s nothing like closing the lid of my laptop and making a break for the sun, toddler in tow, to spend an afternoon building sandcastles, paddling, and rock pooling.

Braye Beach, photo credit Joanna Woodnutt

Braye Beach, photo credit: Joanna Woodnutt

Please can you share with us some of your favourite spots for lunch and coffee in Alderney?

Alderney is extremely well served for food, and it’s actually really hard to decide where to eat when we go out. There are a lot of very, very good restaurants for such a small island! Lots of them are dog-friendly too, which is so nice!

Personally, my favourites for coffee or lunch are the Georgian House and Jacks, both of which have nice outdoor spaces. They’re also close to my house, which is key as I’m generally busy in the mornings! If it’s a weekend and we have time to go a bit further, we do try to eat at the Old Barn a couple of times a year as their garden is so gorgeous!

When it comes to evenings though, we tend to go a bit further – Cantina is fantastic for something a bit different, and we eat at the Moorings a lot as they have a kid’s playroom which is perfect after a day on the beach. For a romantic meal, it’s usually back to the Georgian again, but this time up to the Orangery, although the Blonde Hedgehog and Le Pesked are also ones we enjoy! Another place I love is the Campania – good ‘pub grub’ at a great price!

If you’re interested in learning more about your pet or simply curious about what Petlearnia has to offer, feel free to visit their website Petlearnia.