Mobile goes to the dogs: DogVacay launches iOS app for pet parents

By Michael Carney , written on September 23, 2013

From The News Desk

Pick a valuable category of product or service and there’s almost guaranteed to be two or more prominent startups battling it out to win consumer mindshare. Micro-social videos and subscription shoe delivery services come to mind as two of many examples. This is equally true in the $11 billion pet services market, where DogVacay and Rover are competing for supremacy among pet owners looking for alternatives to the kennel.

Today, Santa Monica-based DogVacay takes the lead in terms of features by becoming the first in this pack to offer consumers a mobile app that supports finding, booking, and paying for sitters while on the go. The app, which launches today for iOS only, also offers users a central portal for communicating with pet sitters from anywhere, including receiving photo, video, and text updates on their pets’ activities, as well as one-touch customer service contacts.

“Our clients are people who travel regularly, so on the go access is critical,” DogVacay founder and CEO Aaron Hirschhorn says. “We think this app adds additional convenience and peace of mind.”

DogVacay has offered its hosts a stand alone mobile app since March, but has built the business hub features into today’s customer-facing product. Once logged in, hosts will receive notifications for messages and new requests from owners, reminders of upcoming pet stays, and the ability to quickly send photos and messages to pet parents.

It’s somewhat surprising that it took nearly two years into the life of these two competing services for one to offer consumers a mobile solution – something typically considered table stakes in this day and age. But both companies found themselves otherwise occupied keeping up with with massive growth.

The timing of today’s announcement is an indication that DogVacay has steadied the ship enough to focus on product roadmap items like mobile development. The decision to go iOS first was driven by the fact that 80 percent of traffic to the company’s existing mobile website comes from Apple mobile devices, according to DogVacay’s CEO, which is unsurprising given that the company’s customers skew heavily female and affluent.

While Hirschhorn declined to reveal specific growth figures, he did describe his company is “the clear market leader in terms of both the number of customers served and in terms of overall customer satisfaction.”

DogVacay’s more than 10,000 US and Canadian hosts have booked hundreds of thousands of dog overnights to date,  and have received more than 25,000 reviews with an average rating of 4.97 out of 5. Rover, by comparison boasts more than 25,000 sitters across 4,300 US cities, and specifies having more than 150,000 pet owner members.

The difference between the two companies has been somewhat ideological, with DogVacay emphasizing the quality of its experience while Rover emphasizes quantity, or breadth, of its offering. It would seem that both are important characteristics, but only up until a given point. If the goal of building loyal, repeat business, quality reigns supreme, but only to the point that users can recognize it and the cost of achieving that quality is within reason. Both companies are in the midst of a landgrab, battling for both market share and mind share among pet owners, making quantity of pet sitters a critical metric, but only to the extent that the marketplace generates customer demand to match that supply.

DogVacay, which was incubated within Science, has raised $7 million to date from backers including Benchmark, Andreessen Horowitz*, First Round Capital*, Quest Venture Partners, Baroda Ventures, and individual angels. Rover, on the other hand, has raised $15.7 million across three rounds from the likes of Foundry Group, Madrona Venture Group, Rolling Bay Ventures, CrunchFund*, and strategic investor, Petco.

A mobile app won’t decide the race among pet caregivers. In fact, I’d be surprised if Rover doesn’t have a comparable product in the pipeline and ready to launch soon. But today’s announcement marks another milestone in DogVacay’s commitment to delivering the premier experience within its category.

The opportunity in reinventing the pet care marketplace is an enormous one, although neither of these startups has proven that it can build a profitable and sustainable business under the current model. To the extent that DogVacay’s mobile app helps it attract and retain more customers, it’s a step in the right direction. But something tells me the dogs will be less impressed than their owners. The first company to offer Fido the option to order milk bones on the go, however, may take this market by storm.

(* Disclosure: First Round Capital and CrunchFund are investors in PandoDaily, as are Andreessen Horowitz partners Marc Andreessen, Jeff Jordan, and Chris Dixon.)

[Image via iPhoneSpies]