Silicon Valley may love its dogs, but dog-related companies haven’t always loved Silicon Valley back. Pets.com was the poster child of dot com flameouts and while Dogster had a nice landing with Say Media, not everyone wanted a social networking site for pets.
Perhaps an LA-based team will have better luck.
DogVacay just launched in March and it is announcing today that it has raised $1 million in seed funding lead by First Round Capital, along with Ben Ling, Brian Lee, Ted Rheingold, Tom McInerney, Dennis Phelps, Thomas Ryan, Quest Venture Partners and Baroda Ventures. It’s a graduate of Science the LA-based startup studio.
The company is often called an Airbnb for dogs. People who want to make extra money watching dogs apply to list their homes on the site, and owners can browse for these in-home puppy hostels.
The site was started by Aaron Hirschhorn and his wife. It was an outgrowth of their own side business of hosting pets at their homes. He listed it on Yelp and the phones went wild. They hosted more than 100 dogs in their homes. They knew they were onto something, and wanted to figure out how to build it into a scalable business. In the future, Hirschhorn wants to see the site expand to other pet services categories like cat-sitting, dog-walking or even grooming.
Boarding is an expensive and unsatisfying experience for pet owners. You pay through the nose, and feel guilty watching those puppy-dog eyes from behind bars.
As flattering as the comparison to Airbnb is in some senses, Dog Vacay wants to avoid, yunno, those meth-head stories. So it has a lot of nice features to give pet owners more peace of mind. First off, it approves all homes, and helps make real-world connections between hosts and puppy-owners via Facebook connect. It offers pet insurance and a concierge service in case something goes wrong. Hirschhorn hopes features like reviews and photo-sharing build a sense of community as well. “The whole point of the company is you are not leaving your dog with a stranger,” he says.
Since the company’s March 1 launch, over 3,000 homes have applied to board dogs and over 1,000 have been accepted. Some are apartments in the Mission and some are huge doggy ranches with swimming pools. Right now it is live in San Francisco and LA and New York will launch in April.
The funds will help DogVacay expand to other cities, and the press release says it’ll be nationwide “soon.” This is a hard business to roll out, with each city needing its own network effects, and vetting homes means that’ll be slower than the roll out of other locally-oriented sites like Groupon, Yelp or Craigslist.
But given how protective people feel about their pets, patient growth may be the best strategy.
(First Round Capital is also an investor in PandoDaily.)