After an expensive and upsetting experience boarding their two dogs at a kennel, Aaron Hirschhorn and his wife decided to start a small business out of their own home. A year later they had earned around $35,000 boarding pups as a side gig, and wanted to see if it could scale into a full company. Today, DogVacay works with tens of thousands of hosts to find a loving home for dogs whose owners are out of town. Not content to just be the world's biggest kennel, DogVacay is considering expansion into grooming, walks, and supplies, taking a big bite out of the massive multi-billion-dollar pet market.
The basic principle that has led the company to success is the same one leveraged by Uber and AirBnB: offering a service, but cutting out the high cost of owning physical inventory or employing full-time workers. Instead DogVacay created an online marketplace that connects buyers with largely independent sellers who lean on the marketplace for support.
Hosts offer up space in their own homes, just like on AirBnB. Unlike AirBnB, they will also pick up any poop guests leave on the rug. DogVacay earns its cut of the transaction by vetting and training all the hosts, as well as providing things like insurance, daily photo updates, and 24/7 emergency support.
Some hosts use DogVacay to supplement their traditional income, while others do it full time. Uber and Lyft often talk about drivers who take the job because they love getting the chance to meet new people and cruise the open road. I have yet to meet a driver quite like that in real life, but I find it much easier to believe that people who watch dogs for a living also get a lot of genuine joy out of throwing a ball or having a cuddle.
The company has raised $47 million from investors over several rounds of venture capital funding, is in more than 300,000 cities in the US, and has its eye on international expansion. There have been complaints from hosts who say that the business is focused mostly on caring for the needs of pet owners, and does little to resolve problems for caretakers whose homes are destroyed or legs are scratched. But the company appears to be continuing its hot streak, recently adding some executive experience with the hire of eBay veteran Deborah Sharkey as its first chief operating officer.