I love my two cats Pepper and Magic and kind of think of them like two extra children and definitely part of the family. I also travel a lot — sometimes on my own, more often with my husband and two (human) kids.
So this company launching today is right up my alley, and chances are you if you live in one of the 72.9 million households (63 percent of homes) in the U.S. with pets you might feel the same: it’s called Spotwag, and it’s a service that lets you leverage your social network, via Facebook, to find people to take care of your pets — cats, dogs, lizards, whatever — when you are away.
Essentially, if DogVacay is like an Airbnb for dogs, then Spotwag is the pet equivalent of Airbnb Social Connections, the bit of Airbnb that focuses on offering you accommodation alternatives with friends, friends of friends and those who may be in your alumni networks.
The premise is this: it’s a challenge finding a person you can trust to take care of your pet when you leave town after you’ve decided you don’t want to go the kennel/pet hotel route, and if you use a special pet-sitter, there is a chance that person isn’t available, especially during busy holiday periods. This site helps you find people already connected to you who are willing to help out.
The “willing” point is crucial — because some of us find it awkward asking friends to take on this kind of task. Also, it’s not just other pet owners who come out of the woodwork, either. While trialling the service, the co-founders Chris Wake and Kim Vogt said they were finding people who were using the service to actively request the chance to hang out with someone’s pet. (Alexia, sounds like one for you?)
Chris says he and Kim stumbled on the idea coming out of their own pet predicaments and interests in figuring how to solve them: “Kim and I met through a mutual friend over a year ago, but didn’t realize until much later that we were both independently interested in solving the same problem with boarding our dogs. Kim was hacking in her spare time, and I was out gathering data from hundreds of pet owners, trying to understand if I was the only one with this pain. Kim received one of my surveys, and later that week we met for a beer to catch up, and decided we should combine forces. And Spotwag was born!” he tells me.
Before this, Kim was an engineer at SimpleGeo (acquired by UrbanAirship), and before that at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory “where she got to work on the world’s most powerful laser.” Chris previously founded two other startups — a consumer-driven group buying app focused on deals in automotive forums, and a social app built on top of Facebook and Twitter.
They are also well connected. One of their advisers is Brit Morin, wife of Path’s Dave Morin. She also thought that the pet space could use more disruption, and as Chris and Kim built out the first version of Spotwag, “She was a great source of knowledge for everything from product features to PR.” The company is currently in the process of closing a seed round but declined to give details of that funding just yet.
And, good news for me and others living outside the States: Spotwag is not limiting itself to the U.S. for its launch. “We are starting out in the U.S., but unlike our competitors, we are not limited quite as much by localization problems,” says Chris. That’s because it links into your Facebook network — and wherever that might be — to work. “Surprisingly, we have already seen some pockets of users pop up in different spots around the globe, and that’s simply from our own friends sharing it with others.”
Pet-related social media is still a relatively untouched space, so there’s a lot of room for staking out territory — although DogVacay, and the fact that Airbnb now has an automatic redirect from Dogbnb.com, does point to a veritable pack of competitors slinking down that alleyway. In that sense, aiming as widely as possible makes sense.
Like many early-stage companies, Spotwag is not factoring money-making into the model at first and is focusing instead on scaling up and making the experience perfect.
But it has a great feature for rewarding users built in already, and you can see how this could be developed in future as one route to revenue: the Gift of Thanks, which owners give to sitters after you’ve come back to town. This can be money, or a bottle of wine, or — if your pet’s host really enjoyed the experience — even a framed picture of your pooch.