When I first heard about DogVacay, it struck me as one of those “Airbnb of X” or “Uber of X” derivatives that swept through startup-dom over the last few years.
I liked the founders, and I got the problem. There are millions of dogs and most owners leave them at some point. Current solutions to finding care for them is expensive, risky, and unsatisfying. But I wondered if this was one of those pitches that begins with a “This is a fill-in-the-blank billion dollar market…” but it’s a market so fragmented, so hyper-local, so hard to scale that there is a reason it’s so large and no one owns a meaningful percent of it.
Add to that, most of the venture-funded pet-related companies I’ve been pitched over the years, have wound up being financial disappointments.
Well, I was wrong. DogVacay has helped take care of millions of doggy stays this year and is on north of a $70 million annual run-rate. It has has raised close to $50 million in venture capital– which is less impressive these days than the fact that its last round was closed more than two years ago.
That means that DogVacay is doing what a lot of companies in the on demand or “gig economy” space are not: Growing deliberately and focusing on unit economics. It’s more like Thumbtack than Uber: A company that doesn’t get a lot of press, is still challenged with supply and demand issues, but seems to be steadily building a real business solving a real problem.
The best part? It’s a rare case that started as a small business experiment on the part of Aaron Hirschhorn and his wife and actually turned into something scalable. But how big the company can continue to scale in a business that relies so heavily on trust remains to be seen. That $70 million run rate is just 1% of the dog boarding market.
On Christmas day, DogVacay will help take care of more dogs, than PetSmart, which is the largest national boarding chain. Sure, that’s a good sign this “vertical” is a massive one. But after five years, it’s also a sign that some massive industries have remained fragmented for a reason.
Just before one of his biggest days of the year, I caught up with Hirschhorn to talk about the last five years of scaling from one dog running around his backyard to placing millions of dogs a year into well-meaning sitters’ hands.
I began by asking Hirschhorn to share the company’s origin story…