“How Rover is Revolutionizing the Billion Dollar Pet Sitting Industry and Setting Its Comprehensive Marketplace Up for Continued Growth” written by Jillian Salinas.
My husband and I always say that if there’s one person in the world we can trust it’s our dog, Riley. Yes, you read that right. We list our dog as being more trustworthy than each other, even! And yes, we refer to him as a person. While we know, Riley is not truly a person, we are not alone in treating our pet as such. According to a 2015 Harris Poll, 95 percent of all pet owners consider their pets to be members of the family.
Today, it’s not unusual to be invited to a pet’s birthday party, to spend hundreds of dollars each month getting your dog groomed, or to cook up organic chicken and fresh veggies for them for dinner each night. I have opened my Instagram account to find five dogs requesting to follow me (a.k.a. crazy dog owners like myself) and am not ashamed to say I enjoy seeing the posts on these dogs’ social media accounts. Who doesn’t love looking at adorable puppies playing on the beach or seeing what fabulous LA restaurants the dog turned food connoisseur is visiting next?
More and more, we are seeing the humanization of pets and with that has come a booming industry to match. In 2016, spending on the pet industry was higher than it has ever been before at a whopping $66.75 billion. With all these funds being devoted to pets, it should come as no surprise that a significant portion of that money goes towards hiring pet sitters for when owners are away. Pet services spending, which includes grooming, boarding, walking, training, and pet sitting is expected to hit $6.11 billion in 2017 according to the American Pet Products Association Annual Industry-Wide Spending Figures Report. APPA’s report noted that the pet services category is expected to see the highest percentage growth in spending compared to any other pet spending segment. This has lead smart-minded entrepreneurs around the U.S. to set their sights on breaking into this industry.
Out with the Old in with the New
Looking back 5-10 years ago, if you needed to hire a sitter for your pet, your choices were extremely limited. There were veterinarians that offered sitting or pet boarding facilities, but these options typically meant resigning yourself to the fact that your pet was going to be locked up in a kennel for hours while you were gone (queue the sad puppy eyes and a guilt-trip that lasted longer than your pet’s stay). Or you could find ads posted on local bulletin boards for pet sitters, but how did you know you could trust these people? There was a void of good, reliable pet care.
Lucky for millennials like myself, the sharing economy and the companies spear-heading it popped up just in time to solve this problem for us. Founded in 2011, Rover is a Seattle-based company that connects pet owners with the nation’s largest network of pet sitters and dog walkers. These pet sitters are animal lovers that range from people looking to make a little extra cash on the side, to people that use Rover to make their living. Each of these sitters is background checked, home checked (if applicable), goes through ongoing sitter education, and have verified reviews from other people that have used them in the past. Rover is discerning with who they accept, and boasts that they accept less than 20% of potential sitters. However, with thousands of sitters in their network, they give plenty of options for owners to find the right sitter for them.
Going Beyond a Dog Walk
Using Rover’s platform, owners can search sitters by area, specialty, and price (which is set by the sitter). They can isolate sitters that only do walks/check-ins, sitters that board pets in their own home, or sitters that will come to the pet owner’s home. They can also set up free “Meet & Greets” before-hand so that owners can see how the sitter interacts with their pets. Messaging between parties is all done on the online platform or through the Rover app, and custom phone numbers are given to provide privacy when reaching out via phone. This might come in handy if the “Meet & Greet” wasn’t a success.
Payments are securely taken through the Rover site with owners being able to use a credit or debit card of their choice, and this protects each party from being exposed to fraud. Rover charges owners a 5-7% service fee and gives sitters 80% of the earnings from each booking. Included with the service fees, the owners and sitters are covered by premium insurance for any injuries that might happen to the owner’s pet or the sitters resident pet during the booking. The first time I used Rover I didn’t foresee this being something I would need, but it ended up saving me a hefty vet bill when my dog Riley’s nail ripped off as he jumped out of the sitter’s arms to see me as I was picking him up from his stay. When I had questions around the process of filing the insurance claim, I received a prompt response from a knowledgeable customer service agent.
Quality Customer Service at Scale
Rover utilizes a company called Directly to handle their customer service. Directly gleans their customer service “experts” from the companies’ own user base as opposed to hiring people and teaching them about the company they are serving (like what you see in most call centers). Directly pitches this as unlocking “your most extraordinary untapped asset – the knowledge and passion of your power users.” Rover is not the first marketplace to take advantage of Directly’s new-age customer service. Other companies using Directly include AirBnB, Pinterest, Nextdoor, and LinkedIn.
“All of the experts that I have encountered at Directly are college educated, and we have to be thoroughly familiar with the company we are supporting to continue to receive and be able to answer customer questions. I, for example, am a Superhost on AirBnB” says Diana Bell, Directly expert for AirBnB. She explained that the experts work on a first come first serve basis, meaning that the experts that are online take the questions right away, and this enables customers to receive the quickest possible response. With many companies having a global presence, there are experts responding to customers at all hours of the day.
This high-quality approach to customer service is more important today than ever before. According to a 2016 State of Global Customer Service Report released by Microsoft, 55% of Americans have higher expectations for customer service than they did one year ago and 67% say that customer service is very important in their choice of or loyalty to a brand. If the customer service experience is negative, the ramifications can be costly. The same Microsoft report indicated that 60% of customers have stopped doing business with a brand due to poor customer service, and when looking at Millennials alone, this number jumps to 68%.
One Step Ahead of the Curve
While excellent customer service plays a major role in many thriving companies, none of them would continue to grow without innovation. “The company that builds a culture of innovation is on the path to growth. The company that fails to innovate is on the road to obsolescence” writes A.G. Lafley and Ram Charan in The Game Changer: How Every Leader Can Drive Everyday Innovation. For Rover, this culture of innovation starts at the top. Aaron Easterly, Rover’s CEO, is an entrepreneur with a specialty for helping to build successful online marketplace companies. “I like to take something that’s 20 percent figured out and get it 90 percent figured out” Easterly told the Puget Sound Business Journal.
Prior to working at Rover, Easterly was an Entrepreneur in Residence Madrona Venture Group. As life would have it, this is where he would work with Rover’s Founder, Greg Gottesman, who was a Managing Director at Madrona Venture Group at the time. Gottesman commended Easterly’s leadership of Rover in an interview with TechCrunch’s Jasper Kuria. “He has been the driving force behind its [Rover’s] success. He has executed exceptionally well, and he has done it with integrity and by building a positive culture that allows him to recruit the most talented executives” said Gottesman.
During Easterly’s 6-year tenure as Rover CEO, the company has continued to innovate, including elevating its technology. Rover recently released “Rover Cards” and dog walking videos that can be automatically sent to pet owners. Using Rover’s in-app technology, pet sitters can create Rover Cards for pet owners that show the timing of their walk, pee/poo/food/water updates, a detailed map of their walk (like what you would receive from Uber after a ride), and photos of the pet(s) along the way. As someone who constantly spies on my dogs on my home cameras, I know how gratifying this feature can be to pet owners and the reassurance it provides that everything is okay with your pet.
After the booking is over, Rover emails pet owners a video created with the photos from their pet’s walk. Rover encourages pet owners to share the video with their network of friends and family on social media, letting their customers promote their brand for them. This is not only free, it is the most credible form of advertising. Eighty-three percent of consumers say they most trust the recommendations of family and friends according to a Nielsen Global Trust in Advertising report. This advertising technique also effectively spreads the word to consumers in cities where Rover offers its services.
Taking a Bite Out of the $66 Billion Dollar Pet Industry
In addition to innovating with technology, Rover now has a successful acquisition under its belt. In March, Rover acquired DogVacay. DogVacay was the main competitor of Rover, with a very similar business model. Combined, the two companies had $150 million+ in booking volume in 2016, and will now give customers access to over 140,000 pet sitters in thousands of cities across the U.S. and Canada. “Together, we can accomplish our goals quicker and make an even bigger impact. Plus, this partnership will enable us to pick up engineering velocity, bring new products to market faster and invest even more aggressively in building the best tools for our sitters and dog walkers” said Aaron Easterly, CEO of Rover, in a press release.
In what has already amounted to a big year for the company, the good news seems to keep rolling in. In July, Rover announced it raised another $65 million in venture capital led by Spark Capital. This brings Rover’s total equity funding to $155.9 million, with $105 million raised in less than a year. The company boasts it receives a booking every four seconds and says it is expecting a 200% increase in net revenue this year alone. As the company looks to the future, it is positioning itself for global expansion and is gearing up to launch new services and tools for its community.
It’s safe to say Rover is changing the game in the pet sitting industry, providing pet owners with a trust-worthy solution for when they are unable to take care of their beloved, four-legged members of the family on their own. With their extensive features, quality customer service, and continued innovation, Rover will likely be on-the-rise for many years to come. Who knows, maybe they will even encourage more people that they can handle being a pet owner themselves.