I do love animals, but never had one of my own. One of the reasons we never had pets was the thought of leaving them alone – when we go to work the whole day, or on long trips during vacations. Today there are options of shelters and boardings, but sometimes even those are not enough for your love.
It was one such harrowing experience for Arjun & Samira Mathai, when they left Zoe – their dog – and went for a holiday last October. They just knew Zoe had a bad time and realised that unless they found a safe place to keep her in, they would never be able to travel again, not with peace of mind at least. “Our best option was to find genuine dog lovers who could look after her for a few days while we were away. This, in essence, is what triggered Waggle and the concept of boarding your dog with a family,” says Arjun. As first hand users, Arjun knew the boarding facilities available in the city would lock up Zoe and keep her chained in the night – both of which Zoe was never used to. And not to mention the ticks and infections that dogs are susceptible to.
So after discussing the idea with some of their friends, the husband-wife duo decided to give it a shot. “We knew that there were many more dog lovers like us and this would definitely be a boon for those who consider their dogs a part of their family,” says Arjun. Waggle.in helps you find boarding options for your dogs which are safer and more friendly compared to the normal boarding facility.
“Our core principle at Waggle is to help find safe and loving homes for dogs where they get care and an environment just like their homes. Hence, we are completely reliant on hosts as this is the only way we can ensure the quality of the service that we provide. We do not own any boarding homes, but we do host dogs in our home frequently,” says Arjun about their business model. Waggle is reliant on its network of hosts to serve dog boarding demands they receive. And despite being an outsourced model, Arjun says they are able to ensure a certain quality of service for their customers. Most of Waggle’s hosts are dog lovers and have one or more dogs of their own. “We have a stringent procedure to ensure that each of our hosts are genuine dog lovers and their homes are dog friendly. We do not recommend any host who keeps a visiting dog chained up or caged,” explains Arjun.
Launched in February this year in Bangalore, Waggle today has 25 dog hosts they work with. Since launch, they have handled about 40 hostings in Bangalore clocking close to 125 nights. “We even had a dog driven down to Bangalore from Hyderabad twice when their owners had to travel as they could not find a similar service there,” shares Arjun proudly.
According to Euromonitor International, India has the highest growth rate in the world in terms of dog ownership, although the actual per capita ownership numbers are still small. The number of pet dogs in India is estimated at around 10.2 million as of 2012. And, the number of pups has grown 58% since 2007 and 2012. “We estimate that around 40% of this market is concentrated in the six major cities in the India. This is our initial target market as the awareness of raising a pup is highest among this group,” says Arjun about the market potential for the Waggle business.
He claims the site has received good response in Bangalore and is also getting requests from cities like Chennai and Hyderabad. At this time, most of the hosting they do is for dogs, but they admit they receive occasional requests for cats and birds, which they help either through one of their own hosts, if they are willing or through other people they reach out to on online forums. Waggle recently helped fulfil a request for hosting two kittens.
Hosts who sign up with Waggle get paid by people who leave their dogs with them. The charge is a per day charge, that the pet owner have to pay to the hosts. The charges that a host can change would vary on the level of services they are willing to offer to the pet owner. Services would be like providing food for the dog, walking the dog, grooming the dog and so on. Waggle earns a commission on the entire cost of a particular hosting session. Waggle hosts also get free goodies from affiliate partners of the site.
Marking new territory
While they continue to add hosts in Bangalore, Waggle is also entering other metros this year. They are reliant on online advertising to spread the work and also frequently run campaigns on social media websites and search engines. As they enter new cities, they have plans to do offline advertising campaigns as well. “We also have a significant number of customers who hear about us through other customers who have used our services,” says Arjun, which makes word-of-mouth another important tool for Waggle.
Currently a marketplace model, Waggle does not have their own boarding homes and Arjun says they will continue to rely on like-minded people and pet lovers to join their platform. The main objective of the site, says Waggle is to connect dog owners with host families, Waggle verifies each host family and offers 24x7 customer support and concierge services.
Waggle was bootstrapped by Arjun & Samira. Arjun has worked with Oracle and was later involved with his family hospital in Kerala before starting Waggle. Samira handles operations at Waggle, while Arjun takes care of technology and other aspects at the startup. They also have a marketing person in the team and are in the process of hiring people to take care of technology. “It is extremely critical that people share the same passion and drive it takes to make something successful. We have had sour experiences in the past, but that has only made us more careful in our hiring process,” says Arjun.
Another major challenge they face has been to get people to understand how their portal works. Being a new concept, people prefer calling them to find hosts and make reservations. Waggle is also exploring additional services they can provide customers in the longer term.