The sharing economy trend continues with the “Airbnb for Dogs,” Santa Monica-based DogVacay, which helps dog owners to find a home for their pets while they’re away. The company announced today that it has secured $6 million in Series A funding from Benchmark Capital. BetaKit also covered the startup when it closed an initial seed round of $1 million earlier in the year from Science, Andreessen Horowitz and others. The company will use the funding to scale its platform by adding to its technology, and building out its marketing and customer service teams.
DogVacay was co-founded by Aaron Hirschorn and his wife, who hosted well over 100 dogs before launching the service in March to get a handle on whether the concept would succeed as a business. “It’s more and more clear that we’re solving a very large problem that people all over the country, and really all over the world, are facing. There are 78 million dogs in the U.S., that’s more than there are kids, and people need help taking care of them when they travel or during the day,” said Hirschorn in an interview. “We’re disrupting it, but in a great way. We now have thousands of pet sitters across the country, who set their own rate, who watch dogs in their own home and it ends up being half the price of a kennel.”
Like Airbnb’s focus on transparency for those renting properties, the company places a great deal of emphasis on the quality of homes it approves as potential hosts for dogs. With a process that includes filling out an online application, a phone interview, reference checks, web training, and other checks before being approved for the site, the company strives to assure dog owners that the home they’ll be leaving their pet in is safe. They also give pet owners access to reviews, ratings, and the ability to conduct meet-and-greets before finally booking online.
“Over three-quarters of our people are not professionals, they’re regular people. And these people do it because they love it, and I see these long journal entries that accompany the daily photo update that tells you what the dog did that day, it just means a really great customer experience,” Hirschorn said.
Dog sitters get to set their own rates, with the average for the site being around $28 per night, which Hirschorn said is about half of what dog owners can expect to pay for a night at a kennel in Los Angeles, and the company takes 15 percent of each transaction. According to the American Pet Product Association, Americans were expected to spend almost $3.5 billon on pet grooming and boarding alone in 2010, with almost $50 billion spent on pets in total. BetaKit has covered the sizeable pet industry in the past, as well as the startups trying to capture a piece of the market, including Seattle-based competitor Rover, which raised $3.5 million in funding in April 2012.
“Our focus is on quality, where from day one we never let people on the site unless we had reviewed them and vetted them, no pun intended. And that makes for a great customer experiences that people are talking about, 90 percent of our growth has been word of mouth,” Hirschorn added.
With dog sitters in many of the major metropolitan areas in the U.S. and a growing number in Canada, DogVacay will look to keep growing to help dog owners save money and have piece of mind while spending time away from their pets. Like Airbnb, it will have to ensure quality hosts in order to avoid PR disasters, and keep both dogs and owners happy. It will also have to continue tapping into a market of individuals passionate about canines, and now with new funding under its belt, the company is poised to be the go-to platform for dog owners looking to give both themselves and their pets a vacation.