“Airbnb for dogs” sounds like a punchline at some Silicon Valley standup comedy night. But DogVacay co-founder and CEO Aaron Hirschhorn will tell you his startup is no joke.
The dog-sitting service has now hosted 500,000 dog overnights over the past 15 months. It’s available in 3,000 cities across U.S. and Canada. And some of its most active hosts are making a good living, upwards of $75,000 per year.
“When I was talking to investors, they said ‘Aw, cute,'” Hirschhorn recalled over tacos in San Francisco last week. Over time, he’s realized his startup isn’t exactly Airbnb for dogs, after all.
“People characterize us as a marketplace, but I think we’re a service business,” Hirschhorn said. “It’s a real mainstream thing now. We’re taking a distributed group and professionalizing them.” (So maybe it’s actually like Uber for dogs? UrbanSitter for dogs?)
Of 100,000 people who have applied to be dog hosts, DogVacay picked 15,000 so far. There’s no professional certification for dog sitting, so it’s kind of like sourcing a guardian of “precious cargo,” Hirschhorn said.
The company, which has $22 million in venture funding, provides hosts with extensive insurance coverage (but not for personal property or injuries to the pet sitter), scheduling online or through an iPhone app, and prompts them to send customers photos and videos of their dogs. Sitters set their own prices; the average is $28 per night. DogVacay takes a 15 percent cut.
Hirschhorn promises his concierge service will find the right sitter. He dismissed my claims that my own dog is crazy, saying “All dogs are special.” Of the 57 people who work for DogVacay, 30 are in customer service.
About 25 percent of first-time customers sign up within 24 hours of when they need care. One of the bigger challenges is keeping happy customer-host pairs on the DogVacay platform, Hirschhorn said, given they get to know each other more intimately than they know the company.
Of course, what would a trendy startup be without other people doing exactly the same thing? In DogVacay’s case, the competition is Rover.com, which has raised $25 million in venture funding. Hirschhorn dismissed Rover as considerably smaller by volume of stays.
Also, he mentioned, DogVacay users don’t have to be dogs; the service has found care for chickens, hedgehogs and ferrets.