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Startup Story – How Rover.com, an online marketplace for is connecting Dog Parents with Dog Sitters

One of the downside of working full-time and/or travelling constantly is not being able to own a pet dog. And even if you have one, you will always be required to have a Plan-B in case you are unavailable. You will have to make sure that your parents/ family/ friends/ neighbours/ colleagues are willingly ready to take care of your precious dog like you do.

However, leaving your dog with an outsider could be both risky and difficult. (A) He/She might not be experienStartup Stories by Juggernaut: Rover-logoced with dogs and their requirements; (B) He/She might be clueless about what to do during the time of emergency; (C) He/She might treat your pet dog as a liability and misbehave with it; and so on. Moreover, enrolling them at a traditional kennel might not be a better option, since there are high chances that your dog will get exposed to infection and impersonal treatment.

Rover.com, an online marketplace for dog lovers, is graciously connecting Dog Parents with Dog Sitters in the most transparent and vigilant environment. With 24×7 customer support, premium pet insurance and reservation guarantee, this promising startup is expanding its reach in every part of the US.

In conversation with Aaron Easterly, Co-founder and CEO of Rover.com.

Q: Tell us something about Rover.com?

A: Rover.com has always been more than a business opportunity. It’s a mission to bring the joy of pet companionship to every responsible person in the U.S.—whether they work long hours, travel frequently, or don’t have a local network of family and friends to help out with care. We actually measure long-term success based on whether or not we make having a pet so easy and affordable that more people who want to become pet parents are able to do so.

That, and we’re an unholy mix of ecstatic dog nuts and analytical data geeks.

Q: How does Rover.com work?

A: Rover.com connects dog parents with a nationwide network of dog lovers for hire, offering in-home dog boarding, dog sitting and dog walking. Simply go to Rover.com to find a trusted sitter near you. Browse by zip code and travel dates, and read profiles of sitters in your neighbourhood. Reach out to several sitters and schedule a Meet & Greet. Then, book the stay and pay through Rover.com. Every stay booked on Rover.com gives you peace of mind – including premium insurance, 24/7 emergency support, and photo updates.

Q: How did you come up with an amazing idea like Rover.com? Tell us the Rover.com Story.  

A: The idea for Rover.com grew out of a negative experience co-founder Greg Gottesman had with his dog at a traditional kennel. He was on vacation when his dog, Ruby Tuesday, was injured at a high-end boarding kennel in Seattle. When his 9-year-old daughter said she would have paid to take care of someone else’s dog, Gottesman saw a business. The team pitched the idea for Startup Stories by Juggernaut: Aaron Caramel, CEO and Co-founderRover.com, a website connecting dog owners with dog sitters, at the 2011 Startup Weekend in Seattle and won top prize.

Q: Put some light on tools and technology being used in Rover.com to connect Dog parents to all the dog lovers for hire or dog sitting?

A: Rover.com’s web apps are built using Django and hosted on AWS.  In the back-end, we use MySQL and Postgres, Elastic Search and RabbitMQ.  In the front-end, we use many of the standard front-end libraries, such as JQuery and Bootstrap, and we’ve created a robust HTML/CSS style guide to ease development.  Our native mobile apps, as you would expect, are written using Objective C and Java for iOS and Android, respectively.

Q: What was technically the most challenging part of developing Rover.com?

A: The algorithms used to identify and reward great sitters are super complex and need to take into account a variety of competing priorities.

Q: How are you marketing Rover.com to make it a first preference in the market?

A: We laid out a 3 phase approach when launching Rover.com:

  1. The objective of Phase 1 was to validate the value proposition. Confirm it was a service consumers would appreciate and one sitters would use.
  2. Phase 2 was about getting the marketplace dynamics right – optimizing the site and learning how we can deliver the best experience.
  3. The goal of Phase 3 is to make Rover.com a recognized, trusted name, that includes partnering with people who will help us increase awareness and adoption.

During the first two phases we’ve relied heavily on word of mouth as our biggest driver. Recent research indicated that more than 90% of Rover.com customers have recommended the service to someone else. Our focus is on delivering an amazing experience so our community wants to recommend Rover.com, and that will never change. As we move into the third phases we will look to increase our marketing efforts so we can raise awareness across the country.

We’ve actually found that most of our customers naturally end up preferring their Rover.com sitter above all other options, including the “free” ones, i.e. friends, family and neighbors. So driving preference is all about getting people to try the service the first time.

Q: Approximately, how many stays do you book in a single day?

A: We book thousands of dog nights each day.

Q: What sets Rover.com apart from the competition? And how are you planning to position Rover.com against prospective competition, and how will you sustain your USP?

A: While the creation of Rover.com has inspired some copycat solutions, it turns out the business is much more complicated than it first appears.  Slapping up a pretty website does not guarantee success because there is such variation in dogs, their parents, and sitters. Figuring out how to make this process easy and reliable is the trick.

Actually, Rover.com’s biggest competition comes from pet parents using their friends and families because they don’t realize that a more convenient, guilt-free option exists!  The good news for our business is that the friend that feels imposed on is unlikely to want to start a competitive solution.

Although there are some other companies trying to provide solutions to pet parents, Rover.com is both the largest and the fastest growing network of dog lovers in the U.S. With over 40,000 sitters nationwide. Currently there is a sitter within a short drive of 92% of Americans. Rover.com also offers unparalleled support before, during, and after the stay with complimentary premium insurance for all services booked through the platform, emergency support, a reservation guarantee, 24/7 access to vet Startup Stories by Juggernaut: Roverconsultation, mobile apps, photo sharing, videos of stay highlights, and optional sitter background checks.

Q: Rover.com raised a $25M in a round of funding, led by TCV. What would be your future plan for expanding Rover.com and connecting it to more dog lovers?

A: We will use the funding to continue enhancing the platform and expanding our offerings.

Q: Where do you see Rover.com 5 years down the line?

A: Moving forward, we want to continue to expand our service offerings. Currently, more than 50% of sitters listed on Rover.com offer multiple services. The most common include: doggie day care, dog walking, grooming, training and cat care. Rover.com wants to continue to expand awareness to more dog owners, possibly internationally down the line, to make the experience of loving a dog possible to everyone.

Q: What is the biggest hurdle that you faced or you are still facing?

A: Less than 10% of dog parents use a commercial solution when they travel – the majority rely on friends, family and neighbors. Our biggest hurdle lies in raising awareness to the other 90% of dog owners, what we refer to as the shadow market, that other options exist when they travel.

Q: What are you most excited about at the moment?

A: Our biggest hurdle is also our biggest opportunity – and we’re very excited about the potential to bring Rover.com to more dog lovers! Using the peer-to-peer model, Rover.com is successfully converting a huge shadow market of dog owners into paying customers on its network. Previously, dog owners only used a commercial solution 10% of the time when they traveled. The majority had to rely on friends, family, and neighbors. However, that is changing. Rover.com’s data shows 65% of their users are people who, prior to Rover.com, would not have used a commercial service to watch their pet.

Q: Which entrepreneur do you admire the most?

A: Elon Musk

Q:Any word of advice for all the startups out there who are trying to make it big like Rover.com.

A: When you’re a startup, people often times desire to make your model fit other models – eg, Rover.com was compared to Airbnb and Uber (and still is). My biggest advice would be that each idea is different. They face different challenges, trust, safety and peers. While it can be useful to understand the similarities of your business and others, it is just as important (if not more so), to understand the differences.

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