Podcast: The Dog-Sharing Economy

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We spoke to Rikke, CEO of BorrowMyDoggy, about her journey from working in financial services to building a dog-sharing platform from scratch…

Chaz:    Today I feel especially lucky as usual to have an absolute awesome founder with a super exciting idea that’s growing very fast. Welcome, Rikke. How are you?

Rikke:    Good, and thank you very much for inviting me.

Chaz:    I’m really looking forward to it. So before we dive into the business, it’s always nice for particularly our listeners to understand just a little bit more about you, your background, where you came from and how BorrowMyDoggy evolved and how it’s got to where it is today.

Rikke:    I used to actually work for financial services in London. I worked for mainly American Express eight years before I started BorrowMyDoggy. Before that, I had a startup company in Panama, so in Central America.

Chaz:    So you jumped ship from financial services, so congratulations. What happened in Panama, then?

Rikke:    Well, actually I backpacked through Central America and I went to university in Mexico, and I loved Panama. You had the Pacific Ocean. You drove an hour and a half and you were in the Caribbean. Took a boat for ten minutes and you were on an island. I loved it. At the end of my backpacking around Central and South America, I just bought a one-way ticket back there and I started to look for a job, and I stayed there for a year and a half. I loved it. Such lovely people.

Chaz:    So you were in financial services at the time. Talk me through the process of how I suppose BorrowMyDoggy was born then.

Rikke:    While obviously, I had a corporate life, at the same time I come from a family where my parents really believe in us making a difference. So I’ve done a whole host of different things, including I used to do disaster relief work where I helped delivering aid after earthquakes and tsunamis and whatnot. So for me, it really is important to me to also make a difference to peoples’ lives. So what happened, in 2012, was I bought a very cute brown Labrador called Aston. We spent the entire day together. I just remember thinking, “Why are people spending all this money on dog walkers and kennels, or leaving a dog home alone when I would love to take care of a dog for free?” I thought, “It would make me so happy and I would help the dog owner. He would get help and then the dogs would get more love and attention.” So I thought, “There should be a website connecting people like me with local dog owners,” and voila, that was the beginning.

Chaz:    That’s amazing. So just before we dive into the details, talk me through jumping ship, because I know a lot of our listeners as well are in the process of toying with the idea, they’ve got a full-time job. It’s a risky and scary process. How did you manage to move from one to the other?

Rikke:    I think everyone has a very different story. I think whenever you have an idea, I’ve heard the statistics, it’s about 60-70% of startup companies fail within the first two years. So I think the most important thing is really do something you’re very passionate about. Start building it, start making sure that it’s not just you who sees a problem but there’s actually other users. When I had the idea, back in 2012, I told one of my friends about it. My friend told me the statistics and he said, “Well, you should really go to a startup weekend and learn some methodology about testing how to start up a company and whether people really want this.” So we went to the Lean Startup Machine, and then from there I pitched the idea and we built a landing page, and then we put up posters in a local park and then within three days we had 85 people signed up.

Chaz:    That is so fantastic.

Rikke:    Yes. We asked them why? And it was everything from the old man down in Cornwall who just had an operation needing help with walking his dog, to there was a student who grew up on a farm in Australia, now living in London missing her dogs at home, and then there was also family with a little girl who was begging for a dog and she was still scared of them and the family didn’t want to get one to maybe have to give it up. At that point, when I read that story, I just started crying because I’ve always wanted a dog and we couldn’t have one when I was a kid. My mum was allergic to dogs. So I just started crying. I thought, “Oh my gosh, we must help her.” I started working on it in my free time and weekends. For me, it was never an option of not pursuing this idea. It’s the same with you, I’m sure.

Chaz:    Exactly the same, yes. So let’s talk a little bit more about the platform now. What is it and how does it work, for both dog owners and people looking to borrow dogs?

Rikke:    The way it works is people sign-up, and they create a profile, and they write a little bit about themselves, or their dog, and then from there, they go in and search for the members, first and foremost based on location and then availability and then from there they read each other’s profiles. Then, once you’ve found someone that you’d like to meet up with, well you contact them, message, and then you meet in the local park, and you meet and greet. So this is really about getting to know someone in your local neighbourhood. It’s not about handing a dog over to a stranger. You meet them several times. You do house visits, etc.

Chaz:    That’s what I want to talk about as well because even for us at Fat Lama, the trust element, everything that we’re talking about here, and platforms and meeting people, it’s really based around trust. It’s a three-way relationship. People often think that actually it’s two people but it’s not. The platform is involved in the transaction somewhat and it’s the responsibility of us to make sure that things work out well. Particularly with dogs, because there’s such an emotional connection there, we’re lending out cameras and drones and those sorts of things, you can just go and buy another one. You can’t just go and buy another dog. So how do you overcome that sort of level of trust?

Rikke:    I would even argue that we have four parties involved in our platform because we have the dogs too [laughs].

Chaz:    Of course, yes.

Rikke:    The way it works is it’s about getting to know each other well, just like we do in all other aspects of our life. If you have a neighbour taking care of your dog, I helped my neighbour with his dog way before BorrowMyDoggy existed, but obviously, we got to know each other. I went for walks with the owner in local parks first before I started to take care of Aston alone. So this is really about getting to know people well. Even that’s what you would do with babysitters or a dog-sitter for that matter. So we just looked at, “How do we act in other parts of life?” and we all make friends throughout our lives, and have people in different parts of our lives, so BorrowMyDoggy is really not any different.

Chaz:    I really want to talk about your advice for other startup founders. The passion that comes across when you’re talking about what you do and dogs and so on, it’s just overwhelming. What would be your advice for people, look back when you were in your corporate job and you were considering toying with this idea. What would be your advice for someone in that period right now? What steps should they take?

Rikke:    I think there are so many good events going on in the whole startup community. Whether it’s Google Campus or different training weekends that you can go and test ideas. You don’t have to have one yourself. You can just go. There are lots of people pitching ideas. You can find people you’d like to work with. Even a lot of the things pay off in other aspects of your life and your current job. So I think it’s really just getting involved, get to know people, get to know what people have done in order to succeed, but more important, so what other companies have done that have failed along the way, because it’s really about learning as much as you can and then finding something that you’re really passionate about.

Chaz:    It’s crucial.

Rikke:    As you know, when you’re willing to get out of bed or how you can’t sleep about because you just really want to see it succeed.

Chaz:    You must have some awesome dog-sharing stories. You must have 100s and 100s. It would be cool to really dig into a couple of those stories. Tell us a dog-sharing story you’d like to share.  

Rikke:    We get so many stories. I think for me it is the friendships that have been created. For instance, the other day we got a story of a borrower that used a dog that they were borrowing as a ring carrier for their wedding.

Chaz:    Are you serious?

Rikke:    Because the dog is part of the family, right? I think the week before last I met some of our older members, so they have been members for three and a half years by now and have borrowed several dogs along the way, also because some of the dog owners have moved away. I spoke with a little girl and she was telling me about the dog she’s borrowing at the moment. She said, “Our family just isn’t complete when the dog isn’t there.” Then the mother started laughing and she said, “Yes, and then we called the owner and asked if we could just come over and borrow the dog.” So it’s those friendships. The amount of kids exercising more and leaving the TV because they are out and about going for walks with their family. It’s people getting to know their neighbours. It’s just so lovely to see. We are very humble over the fact that it’s not us. We’ve created a platform but it’s members trusting each other. It’s members making a difference to each other’s lives, and we’re just fortunate to be part of that whole journey.

Chaz:    Absolutely amazing. So who can use the platform? Can anyone use the platform?

Rikke:    Well, yes. I would say we have had a few very young girls contacting us, and we are saying, “No, you have to sign-up with your family.”

Chaz:    We have had the same. We’ve had a scenario at Fat Lama where we’ve had a ten or eleven-year-old look to sign-up and borrow a camera because he’s like, “My dad just wouldn’t buy me this £3,000 DLSR camera for Christmas.” So anyone can sign-up and join?

Rikke:    Yes. So basically, above 18 years old. We have everything from students to retired people, to young professionals. A lot of contractors too. From a dog owners perspective, it’s absolutely the same thing. And dogs, we have every single possible dog which you can possibly imagine.

Chaz:    Even I’m excited about this because I am in the process of thinking of buying an English bulldog. Apart from being quite expensive, I was kind of thinking maybe a try-before-you-buy scenario. Does that happen a lot for you guys?

Rikke:    It does happen a lot. I think that’s fantastic because a lot of people are thinking about getting a dog and it is a lot of work and responsibility. It’s also financially expensive, and you do need to have the right living space. Even some people end up getting a husky, which requires a lot of hours of running every day, versus where their lifestyle might fit better for a dog that’s a little bit more calm and needs a little less exercise. So I think even for the families and people in general to get a dog that fits their lifestyle. The fact you can help someone else out first is great. Some people end up not getting a dog after they have borrowed a dog and even kids, they stop begging because they realise you have to get up every morning to walk a dog.

Chaz:    That’s just fantastic. For me, that is exactly what I need right now, going through this thought process because you’re dead right, I might be like, “Come on Chaz, you can’t have an English bulldog. You’re working all the time. It’s never going to happen.” A question I also wanted to talk about is Fat Lama really have a question mark around this as well, is how things differ in comparison to maybe cities, urban areas to rural areas. What’s the difference for you guys there and how does that work out?

Rikke:    I think in the countryside, people are used to moving further. So we have very strong communities both in cities and outside. So obviously, in London, it’s more convenient if there’s somebody living on your street, or next block over, versus in the countryside people are comfortable with driving much further. That’s actually not any different from… I come from outside Copenhagen where we are used to moving further for school and groceries and everything else.

Chaz:    Everyone here is like, “Oh, that’s a mile away, that’s way too far.”

Rikke:    Exactly. I’m the same here, but then I go to Denmark and I’m like, “Oh, a supermarket a mile away, that’s absolutely perfect.”

Chaz:    On a more broader scale, obviously, certainly we always sat at Fat Lama as well it’s not just five years, it’s like in the past year, as new as this, where platforms like BorrowMyDoggy, like Fat Lama, and others, are changing everything. You’re dead right in saying that it’s powered by people. It’s entirely powered by trust online and trust with online strangers, so to speak. What does the future look like for pet sharing? Does it have to stay with doggies?

Rikke:    I think dogs need a lot of love and attention and walks several times a day. There are 10 million dogs across the UK and Ireland. So that’s our focus. It’s just really to get as many people as possible to help with taking care of their dogs when they’re away for vacation or just walks during the week, or even socialising their dog is very important. There are so many dogs to get more love and playtime and borrow some happy dog time. So we have our paws full at the moment, as we would say.

Chaz:    That’s fantastic. I think we’ll round it up there. I’m so thankful for having you in. It really is your passion for the business and passion for what you’re doing and passion for your customers which is just unbelievable. Thank you. We’ll draw a line there.

Rikke:    Fantastic. Thank you so much and all the best of luck with it for you too.

Chaz:    Thank you very much. Cheers.

Rikke:    Thank you. Bye.

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