Monday, October 31, 2016

Doggy Ubers Are Here for Your Pooch

[ed. Good to know our best and brightest are on the case, fixing another first-world problem.]

In human years, Woodrow is a teenager, so it follows that his love was fairly short-sighted. After an intoxicating start, she began showing up late for dates. Then she took a trip to Greece. Upon return, she began standing him up entirely. The last straw came when Woodrow saw his sweetheart breezily riding her bike—with another dog trotting alongside.

Woodrow looked heartbroken (although he always does).

Dog walking—the old-fashioned, analog kind—is an imperfect business. Finding and vetting a good walker involves confusing and conflicting web research, from Yelp to Craigslist. And there’s no reliable way to tell how good or bad a walking service is. Coming home to find the dog alive and the house unsoiled is pretty much the only criteria for success, unless one snoops via camera or neighbor.

Recognizing room for improvement, a pack of start-ups are trying to swipe the leash from your neighbor’s kid. At least four companies flush with venture cash are crowding into the local dog-walking game, each an erstwhile Uber for the four-legged set. Woodrow, like many a handsome young New Yorker, gamely agreed to a frenzy of online-dating to see which was best.

As the search algorithm is to Google and the zany photo filter is to Snapchat, the poop emoji is to the new wave of dog-walking companies. Strolling along with smartphones, they literally mark for you on a digital map where a pup paused, sniffed, and did some business, adding a new level of detail–perhaps too much detail–to the question of whether a walk was, ahem, productive.

This is the main selling point for Wag Labs, which operates in 12 major cities, and Swifto, which has been serving New York City since 2012. Both services track dogwalker travels with your pooch via GPS, so clients can watch their pet’s route in real-time on dedicated apps. This solves the nagging question in dog-walking: whether and to what extent did the trip actually happen. (...)

There are good reasons why startups are relatively new to dogwalking; it is, by many respects, a spectacularly bad business. People (myself included) are crazy about their dogs in a way they aren’t about taxis, mattresses, or any other tech-catalyzed service. Logistically, it’s dismal. Walking demand is mostly confined to the few hours in the middle of a weekday and unit economics are hard to improve without walking more than one dog at a time.

More critically, dog-walking is a fairly small market—the business is largely confined to urban areas where yards and doggie-doors aren’t the norm. And dogwalkers don’t come cheap. Woodrow’s walks ran from $15 for a half-hour with DogVacay’s Daniel to $20 for the same time via Wag and Swifto. A 9-to-5er who commits to that expense every weekday will pay roughly $4,000 to $5,000 over the course of a year, a hefty fee for avoiding guilt and not having to rush home after a long workday.

by Kyle Stock, Bloomberg |  Read more:
Image: Wag Labs