'Airbnb-style' dog boarding business has experienced phenomenal growth in four short years.
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HouseMyDog has gone from Dublin-based micro business to £850,000 in seed funding and a merger with a major rival. Today it operates in more than 70 cities internationally. Co-founder James McElroy explains how it happened.
What’s the business in a nutshell?
HouseMyDog is an online community that enables busy dog owners to find and book local, trusted dog sitters and walkers. Each month, HouseMyDog connects thousands of dog owners with dog boarding, doggy daycare and dog walking professionals who provide one-on-one care and attention in a home-from-home just like they would a member of their own family.
Why did you start it?
While preparing for a family holiday, my brother Timothy and I recognised the huge struggle of finding a trusted and reliable sitter for our family dog, Holly.
We’d seen the success of other service marketplaces, like Uber and Airbnb, and saw an opportunity to leverage the same model for the pet industry; offering dog owners board for their dogs in real, loving homes at an affordable rate. It’s from this that HouseMyDog was born.
How did the business develop?
Since launching in Ireland back in 2015, HouseMyDog has expanded rapidly across the UK, Ireland and into Europe. In 2017 we raised £850k seed round, which included a campaign on crowdfunding platform, Crowdcube.
Within the first 48 hours, the campaign had raised £200k, eventually reaching £650k in the subsequent five days. This showed us that there really was a big demand for the service we were offering. Based on the strength of the raise, HouseMyDog went on to win Crowdcube’s ‘best crowdfunded business of the year 2017’.
We’ve recently announced that we’ve merged with Madrid-based, Gudog, making us the largest platform of dog walkers in Europe, something we’re extremely proud of. Over the next 18 months, the company will expand into a further 30 cities in Europe’s with an aim of becoming Europe’s largest pet services marketplace.
Tell us about market conditions.
When we look at the pet care space over the past 5-10 years, we can see a noticeable shift. We call it ‘the pet parenting trend’.
We believe the pet industry is in a really interesting place at the moment and we’re not only seeing a big increase in pet ownership, with pets becoming a much more integrated part of the family unit and people’s lives in general, but the ability to access services for your pet online is in extremely high demand.
What’s been the biggest challenge?
For us, the biggest challenge has been going from a small company based in Dublin, to a company operating in eight countries and over 70 cities, in just four years. It’s a challenge we enjoy, but as with any business, it brings its problems. Thankfully we have a great team and some fantastic advisers who have helped us navigate the way.
What has been your biggest mistake?
We don’t tend to look back on things, and much prefer to look at the road ahead but, I think if we were to change anything, it would be getting the right people in the right positions earlier. My co-founder Timothy and I took on a lot ourselves, which is almost inevitable in the early days, but it’s made us really appreciate the value of having a good team to support you.
What major bumps in the road have you had and how did you overcome them?
In the early stages of the company, getting validation for your business can be difficult. We knew we were onto something so we applied to an accelerator for early-stage startups in Dublin, called the NDRC. This was a real turning point for us, as we were accepted and the subsequent guidance and funding allowed us to take HouseMyDog to the next level.
How do you attract and retain good people?
I think in a startup it can be hard to compete with big companies as, generally, you have limited resources and are unable to offer the same perks.
However, the nature of being a startup brings the opportunity to work in a fast-paced environment and upskill in areas of the business that you’d unlikely have exposure to in a big company. In our current team at HouseMyDog, everyone is genuinely passionate about the idea and the problem we’re solving. Not to mention the benefit of office dogs!
What's your best advice to would-be entrepreneurs?
Firstly, if you have an idea, the best thing to do is get out there and chat to who you think your customer is. You’ll quickly learn whether there is a demand for the product or service you’re offering.
Secondly, if you’re fortunate enough to find yourself in the early stages having raised money, be frugal and question every bill. Running out of money is the leading cause for startups to fail.