Pet owners often rely on boarding homes to take care of their beloved furry ones when they travel. If they have to take that vacation or go out of town for a few days, in India, many pet owners are left with few options--even if they can't be sure these will provide the love and care their pets should continue to receive.
This is where a Bangalore-based startup comes into picture.
Waggle.in, launched in Feb 2013, is co-founded by Arjun Mathai and his wife, Samira Mariam Abrahim. It's a portal that connects dog owners with fellow dog lovers who are willing to help look after their pets while they travel. This way, the dogs can continue to get individual care and attention just like they do at home.
The Waggle founders say this is something which hasn't been explored in India, and like a lot of entrepreneurs, this idea came to them from their personal experience.
Arjun explained: "Although Samira has been a dog lover all her life, I only realized the joy of owning a dog after we got our little furball, Zoe. When we had to travel in October 2012, we left Zoe with one of the boarding facilities in Bangalore. We were extremely unhappy with the service and we knew that if we wanted to travel again, it would only be possible if we found a better home for her while we were away.
"We were sure there were more people who were facing similar problems. Owning a dog is a fulfilling experience and it should not tie you down. We bounced the idea off a few people and decided to go ahead with it."
According to the couple, a key concern for most people when they get a dog is what they need to do when they travel. Current options are kennels or boarding homes, which is not the best solution. There often are cases of dogs put up in professionally run boarding services that come back with infections, ticks, fleas, kennel cough, and so on.
When dog owners travel, they are constantly worried about their furry friends. Waggle.in aims to address this by connecting them with dog lovers. This way, the dogs and their owners get a holiday and the hosts get to enjoy having a dog for a few days.
According to Arjun, pet-sitting isn't a new concept but it is messy and unorganized. His startup aim is to provide a consolidated platform where dog owners can connect and communicate with their hosts. These hosts are verified by Waggle.in to ensure they can give the best care to the visiting dog. Since this is not a profession for the majority of them, the hosts can decide which dogs they want to take in depending on their preferences.
Some of Waggle.in's hosts have dogs at present, while others previously owned dogs but could not keep them on a long-term basis due to work commitments. So Waggle offers them the opportunity to enjoy having dogs according to their availability.
Their target customer base is the urban dog owner who considers the pet an integral part of the family.
"A recent study by Euromonitor International puts the pet dog market at about 10.2 million, as of 2012," said Arjun. "We estimate about 40 percent of this population to be in the urban areas of India, which is also the fastest growing market in terms of dog ownership."
The startup also is currently exploring other pet-related services that can benefit the urban dog owner.
Five months into the launch, the startup is slowly gaining traction. The company mainly relies on social media to promote the site. It also runs ad campaigns once in a while on search platforms and social media sites. "A large part of our customers come to us through word of mouth with a lot of repeat customers, due to the lack of similar services elsewhere in India," Arjun said.
Currently, Waggle's services are available only in Bangalore, although he said the company was planning to expand across India. It has close to 25 hosts in Bangalore and is targeting to get as many in each of the cities it wants to be present. The startup has since help host close to 40 dogs.
As of now Waggle.in is bootstrapped, Arjun said, adding that he is waiting for the right investor who understands the value of the services the company provides.
Samira handles operations while Arjun takes care of technology and other aspects needed to support the startup. They also have a team comprising a marketing and media specialist and a technology consultant. They are looking to hire a few more people as they expand across the country.
"Our culture is young and fun. We have dogs visiting us in office very often. Our team is passionate about our work. It's very small so each of us work beyond our designated roles, all for the love of dogs." said Arjun.
Looks like an innovative startup with a niche market for sure. And while it's difficult to say how much traction this kind of a service would get all over the country, this definitely looks like a market to explore considering a growing trend of love for pets and travel among youngsters in India. .