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Wag! raises $2.45M to connect you to a dog walker

The company also announced expansion to its second city, San Francisco, after launching in LA

Financial trends and news by Steven Loeb
May 7, 2015
Short URL: http://vator.tv/n/3db1

(Updated with comment from Freestyle Capital)

Dogs are big business, as about $13 billion is currently spent on services like grooming, daycare, walking, and dog sitting in the United States each year. It's also a market that is ripe for opportunity and innovation.

Wag!, an app that provide dog owners with instant access to quality dog walkers, wants to grab a piece of that pie. 

The company announced the closing of a $2.45 million seed round on Thursday, which was led by Freestyle Capital, along with Greylock, Crunchfund, Dave Morin's Slow Ventures, Social Leverage, RRE, Structure Capital, John Maloney and others.

"The problem we are trying to solve is two-fold. I was recently trying to get a dog, but I couldn't because I didn’t have the time to take care of it. A lot of people can't give dogs the attention they deserve," Joshua Viner, founder of Wag, told me in an interview.

"And for people who do have dogs, they have to schedule their lives around that dog. They can't go on a date, or go to the movies. because a dog is like a human. It has a lot of needs."

Dogs have three main needs: to go to the bathroom, to exercise, and to eat. By offering a convenient way to get a dog walker whenever a person needs it, Viner said, Wag! is tackling two out of those three things 

Wag!'s certified walkers can be summoned up to 30 minutes in advance, or scheduled regularly. Owners are provided a free lock-box to put their key in, and the walkers are given a special code to open it, so they can enter the person's home and take the dogs on their walk.

The app notifies owners when their dog is picked up and clients can monitor their dogs' walks via GPS and receive a “pee/poop” report and then rate their walkers. Users can also schedule a “meet and greet” with their walker ahead of time.

Each walk costs $20 per 30 minutes, with with an additional $5 per dog in the same household. For every mile a dog walks with Wag!, 10 cents is donated to the Best Friends Foundation.

Wag! has all of its walked undergo full background checks, as well as fraud vertification, and training and certification to make sure that the people who are coming into the owner's home are honest and trustworthy.

The typical walker, Viner told me, is someone who is between 21 and 33, and has a love for dogs, because either they work with them, or volunteer at a shelter or have some kind of experience with animals. 

"Dog walking as a service has been around for decades, but 90% of our customers never used one before, because it was hard to find, and hard to find someone to trust," he said. "The key thing to make this work was cracking trust. That was a big question mark, because we are  changing behavior by letting people come into your home."

In addition to the funding, Wag! also announced that has officially launched in its second city, San Francisco, after having been in beta. The company has opened an office in Potrero Hill, and currently has 75 registered walkers. Previously, Wag! had only been available in Los Angeles, where it launched in January of this year, and now has 200 walkers.

Viner would not disclose how many users it had on the app so far, but said that it doubling month to month.

The  funding will be used to fuel Wag!’s expansion into additional US markets, was well to and to expand deeper into its current markets.

It will also use the funding to expand its product offering and services. For example, it is already working on what Viner calls a "deluxe style walk," which will be longer and would also involve taking the dog to places such as the beach or on a hike. It would also cost most than the typical service.

"Wag! launched with a simple customer proposition. Tap a button and get your dog walked. Sounds simple enough, but there's enormous complexity behind this," Joshua Felser of Freestyle Capital told me.

"The Wag team has figured out how to quickly hire and train walkers, expedite the exchange to get in and out of the home, the logistics of dispatching walkers on time, all while delivering a delightful customer experience. One stat sticks out to me more than anything -- 90% of customers who use Wag! had never tried a dog walker before.  This is why I believe Wag! is on it's way to becoming a market-changing company."

 The dog startup space

Given how big the market for dogs is, it's not a surprise that venture capitalists would want in.

Iotera, which has developed a real-time GPS tracking device that can be used to track lost cats and dogs,raised a $1 million round of seed funding  in January. 

Rover.com, an online community that connects dog owners with approved and reviewed in-home dog sitters, raised $25 million in March, bringing its total to over $50 million.

One of the best known companies in this space is likely DogVacay, the winner of the 2012 Vator Splash LA competition, which connects dog owners with dog sitters for overnight stays. The company recentlyannounced a new dog daycare service. DogVacay has raised $47 million in funding, most recently taking in a $25 million round in November of last year.

Viner sees Wag! as different from these other services as it is the "daily use case for your dog," and one that is built on the trust of allowing someone who is a stranger to enter your home.

Eventually, he said, he wants Wag! "to own this category."

anything we can do to make it easier – think of wag now your dog has an app on your phone, out his paw and his phone, what we plan to be – dogwalking is the best place to starting

"Our mission is simple: to make it easier to own a dog and be the button on your phone for your dog," he sad."Anything we can do to make it easier, we want you to think of Wag! as now your dog has an app on your phone. We plan to be the dog's app, and dogwalking is the best place to start."

(Image source: wagwalking.com)


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