The Sharma family is fond of travelling. But they can’t go on vacation as frequently as they would want, at least not together. The reason being their love for pets. They always own either a cat or a dog and it’s heartbreaking for them to leave them behind.
India is known to not be pet-friendly, and the problem of the Sharmas finds resonance with a lot of pet lovers who remain house-bound.
To leave or not to leave the pet at your mother-in-law’s, or to go or not to go on that much desired holiday was the common dilemma faced by Rukmini Vaish ‑ pet parent to three, Jack, Zara and Kiki ‑ soon after her marriage.
Rukmini and her husband had lovingly brought home their Golden Retriever Kiki when they realised the challenges of being a young working couple in Delhi who lived alone and owned a pet.
“We realised that we were increasingly bound to the house because we couldn’t step out with Kiki. And leaving her behind was an option that we wouldn’t consider,” says Rukmini.
Thus began their journey of looking for places in the city where they could take their dog out for an off-leash run, or places where it could accompany them for a cup of coffee and, of course, to resorts and homestays, which would let the entire family holiday together.
“We managed to discover numerous such places both within and outside the city. We also noticed that our friends started enquiring about such options for their pets. And that’s when we figured that we could actually make a difference in the lives of all pet families and put India on the map of pet-friendly countries,” adds Rukmini, now the proud founder of CollarFolk, a platform that helps people plan and book holidays ‑ with pets included.
CollarFolk encourages people to travel with their pets. The platform went live this February after eight months of preparation ‑ database collection, curation and product development. Vaish invested her saving of Rs 10 lakh in the company.
The capital has been put into product development, people and a company asset in the form of a pet-friendly taxi for the NCR.
On the revenue model, she says the platform generates money from “off-the-shelf bookings” in the form of TAC from resorts/homestays, and service fees from Bespoke Holidays where they plan itineraries for customers looking for specific experiences.
According to Rukmini, in the little over three months since it went live, the company has clocked a GMV of Rs 10 lakh via a concept that is very new to the market.
“We are in the process of raising more funds and are targeting 2,000 holidays a month within the first 12 months of operation,” she explains. “Also, we are looking at a learn-build-measure approach for product development.”
The research also stated that 'with pet ownership on rise, there would be a greater demand for pet care products’.
On the market and opportunities, the founder cites her own figure. She says that India has 12 million pet households and it is estimated that four million of these are in the top 25 cities. She estimates the size of the opportunity at Rs 650 crore per annum growing at over 20 percent. Also, given that around 80 percent of India’s e-commerce market is travel related, it is a space where Indian families feel relatively comfortable swiping their card online.
In the pet care segment, Dogspot, Petspace and Petdom are some of the known names. Besides, Pets World, Dogspot, Dogkart, Royalcanin, Petfoodsindia and many other well-established brands are catering to the pet food segment.
Earlier this year, petcare platform Dogspot raised an undisclosed amount of funding from Ratan Tata and other investors such as Ronnie Screwala, K Ganesh, and India Quotient.
While Rukmini doesn’t see any direct competition, she admits that a budget hotel aggregator has announced a foray into the space, as also some other startups are building a database and looking to enter the market soon.
“Establishing a new market is a challenge in itself, both on the partner and customer sides. I call it the bane of the ‘new,’” she says. “It requires closely working with all stakeholders, educating them and most importantly structuring our team and processes in a way that best addresses this stage of business.”
Along with first-mover advantage, the platform has early learnings that seemed to have helped it pivot. According to the founder, they have moved from vanilla listings of pet-friendly stays to curated experiences that one can have with pets.
“This means we integrate our service offerings to include destination discovery, travel solutions, stay and co-experiences at the destination,” says Rukmini.
There are apparently around 40,000 searches per month for pet-friendly resorts. Therefore, search plays a part as also social media, which has helped CollarFolk in customer acquisition. Also, pet families love to share stories, so the word spreads, adds Rukmini, who has more than eight years of experience in sales and marketing with global telecom and consumer durable majors. She also has an economics (honours) degree from Delhi University’s Sri Venkateswara College and earned a post-graduate degree in management from IMT, Ghaziabad, in 2008.