DogVacay launched in March this year as an Airbnb for dogs — offering owners an alternative to soul-less kennels and expensive dog sitting services for when they need to leave town and leave their pooches behind. Since then, the service has picked up some traction with users tripling every month since launch, and to continue its growth, it’s adding another VC to its list of backers. Andreessen Horowitz, which also backs Airbnb, has signed on to DogVacay’s seed round at an undisclosed amount, joining existing investors First Round Capital, Science, Baroda, and Quest, which had put $1 million into the company.
Although the service first started as a basic dog-boarding alternative, with much of its use developing by word-of-mouth, over the last couple of months, Aaron Hirschhorn, co-founder and CEO of DogVacay, says that it’s also been offering an ad-hoc concierge service covering a lot of other functions, including dog walking and daycare for people who work all day. Part of the funding will be used to make that into a more formal offering, as well as being some proper marketing for the service as DogVacay rolls out nationally — or “spreading the woof,” as Hirschhorn likes to say, to those 72.9 million households in the U.S. that own a pet.
Hirschhorn says that the service came to the attention of Andreessen Horowitz because one of the partners there, Jeff Jordan, is a big dog lover.
DogVacay’s unique approach plays on two levels: for one, it’s about getting more personalized care for your dog. “Dogs are like part of the family,” says Hirschhorn, himself a dog lover who still has his own place registered on the site for dogs to board in LA.
On the other hand, it is also about costs. He says that typically the average price for a night’s stay on DogVacay is $25/night, compared to overnight sitting services in cities like New York — “north of $70” — and San Francisco, which he says costs over $50 per night.
DogVacay is currently building up its user base in the U.S. and Canada with a service that takes a 10 percent cut on any boardings that get created through DogVacay — and less if users are booking regularly through the site. Hirschhorn admits that’s a thin margin, which is where the additional personalized services may start to come in handy. Scale will also be crucial: the aim is for DogVacay to expand eventually to international markets, with the first targets likely to be Germany and the UK, both countries known for having a lot of dog owners.
The service is also moving beyond dogs. Hirschhorn says he’s registered just about every permutation you can think of for DogVacay.com, including CatVacay and IguanaVacay and PetVacay. That’s partly about brand protection, but it also points to having sights set beyond canines in the longer run: “The biggest pain point now is dog boarding, but biggest opportunity comes from no standard provider today for total pet care.”
What’s interesting is that its newest investor is also a backer of Airbnb. A while ago, it was noticed that Airbnb had actually registered a site called Dogbnb, which led some to wonder if the company was planning to extend its services beyond humans. That would represent a conflict with DogVacay for Andreessen — whose co-founder Ben Horowitz pointed out quite famously around the Instagram acquisition that it doesn’t invest in competitors.
Hirschhorn has an answer for this: Airbnb isn’t actually looking to do anything with dogs. “Just like I own Iguana Vacay, it’s not that I’m necessarily going into the iguana business,” he told me. “They are protecting their brand. The fact that Andreessen has put money into us supports that answer.” That doesn’t mean DogVacay doesn’t have competitors: there is Rover, which rased a $3.4 million round in April; and Spotwag, which is building its pet-hosting service around Facebook’s social graph.
In fact there may be a possibility for Airbnb and DogVacay to one day do business together: Hirschhorn says that already there are people who are travelling somewhere who are looking for DogVacay hosts at their destination so that they can bring their dogs along. “Rather than leaving them at home, they can be watched closer to where their owners are staying,” he said.
DogVacay has not yet releases numbers yet on how many users they have of its service, but Hirschhorn says that in the four months since launch, its user base has tripled every month. The amount of hosts have also continued to grow alongside it and now number 4,000. He says the company will likely be looking to raise a Series A round in the “near to medium term” to continue its growth.