Yes, online travel is going to the dogs. And cats.
Furlocity, a pet travel site in the US, claims to be the first website to offer pet owners a way to find kennels and similar lodging for dogs and cats, plus pet-friendly hotels and recommended veterinarians, at a destination.
Furlocity created this cute Vine for Tnooz to capture the spirit of its service:
Tell us how you founded the company, why and what made you decide to jump in and create the business.
Furlocity was born out of the current frustrations that existed when trying to find and book a trusted pet care facility. So in March of 2012 we began working on our mission to help pet parents all across the country to easily find and book pet care.
In April of 2013, after a year of research and development, our dreams became a reality. What started as an idea turned into a website that streamlines the entire way that we as pet parents find and book trusted pet care.
Size of the team, names of founders, management roles and key personnel?
Furlocity currently has 5 employees and hiring several more key positions. Andy Smit, co-founder and CEO; Amber Kirsten, co-founder and president; Adam Bronte, co-founder and CTO; Olivier Baudoux, interim COO; Huy Ngo, social media and marketing manager.
Thus far we have bootstrapped the business ($50K), raised a family and friends round of $85K and are in the process of closing our seed round at a $7.5M valuation.
Estimation of market size?
The pet industry is projected to end 2013 with $62 billion in spending. It has grown dramatically in the last decade and so has pet ownership. Currently, 82.5 million households in the U.S. own at least one pet (dog and cats).
Furlocity’s only direct competitor in the space is petbookings.com.
While there are other major differences, Furlocity is the first and only website that provides pet owners the ability to book a boarding stay, pet friendly hotel or even a local veterinarian. Furlocity also has listings now in 24 states and 58 cities across the US, far more than its competitor.
Revenue model and strategy for profitability?
Furlocity derives its revenues from multiple sources. It charges a commission (“Success Fee”) to boarding facilities when pet owners successfully book a stay. Veterinarians pay a monthly subscription fee and hotels pay direct commissions for each booking.
What problem does the business solve?
In a word, boarding. Traditional methods in which pet owners find and book boarding facilities are outdated and cumbersome. Pet owners would have to spend hours researching and comparing multiple places with multiple online searches.
When they finally found the right place, they would fill in a form and wait for a call back to find out whether the boarding facility has availability. If there was, the pet owner would have to then fill in several forms and provide the establishment with vaccination records.
Furlocity simplifies this process by letting pet owners instantly search, compare and book a boarding stay based on location, reviews and even amenities offered.
Likewise, pet owners create a detailed profile to include their contact information and pet’s information (medical needs, food intake, breed type etc.) and attach their pet’s vaccination records for easy check-in.
Information online can be scarce and sometimes outdated. Furlocity provides pet owners with detailed information about the hotels’ pet policies, fees and services offered prior to booking their stay.
Pet owners can enroll the Furpoints rewards program in order to earn free or discounted nights each time they book.
How did the initial idea evolve and were there changes/any pivots along the way in the early stages?
Furlocity began as just a place for pet owners to find and book boarding stays instantly. We always knew that we wanted to provide pet owners the same tools that the travel industry provided to humans in the mid-late 90’s.
So to do so, we spent numerous days, hours and months learning from pet owners to better understand their pain points and how we could address them. We also interned at many boarding facilities to understand their operations.
Likewise, we worked hand in hand with boarding facilities by creating an advisory panel in order to understand the inefficiencies they had and how we could address them.
After Beta, we launched two more verticals, veterinarians and pet travel, to better connect to the existing boarding vertical. The reason we launched these two new verticals was due to the fact that they coincided very well with one another. Pet owners that often travel, usually do so with the smaller dogs.
This was especially the case when traveling by air due to the restrictions that many airlines have. Therefore, pet owners needed a place to leave their other pets behind but likewise needed a pet friendly hotel property that accommodated the little one.
The veterinarians tied very well to the boarding services because in the event that the pets weren’t vaccinated before checking in to the facility, they could find and book an appointment to get them vaccinated. It all made sense in the end but feedback was crucial and continues to be as we evolve as a company.
Why should people or companies use the business?
People (pet owners) and companies should use Furlocity for its accessibility, usability and cost benefits.
· The simple 3 step process of searching, comparing and booking.
· The detailed information about the boarding facility, pet friendly hotel and veterinarians.
· Accessible from anywhere
· The ability to earn rewards which didn’t exist through traditional methods.
· Saves time and in most cases money.
· Companies can add Furlocity as a benefit partner to their existing plan. Employees receive discounts when booking their pet’s stay.
· We give back part of our proceeds to pet specific non-profits to continue on our mission of ensuring that pets have the best care and quality of life.
What is the strategy for raising awareness and the customer/user acquisition (apart from PR)?
Furlocity plans to use traditional methods such as SEO and SEM to continue gaining traction. Other opportunities will include:
· Pet product retailers and service providers partnerships
· Pet Friendly hotels partnerships
· Corporations- Offer Furlocity as a perk to its employees
· Pet centric non-profits such as: Morris Animal foundation and various breed specific rescues and adoption centers.
· Digital and Social Media Advertising (Facebook, Pinterest)
· Magazine Publications that are heavily focused around families and women (our target demographics)
· Refer a friend program
Where do you see the company in three years’ time and what specific challenges do you anticipate having to overcome?
In three years we see Furlocity being a “destination” for pet owners all over the country. We hope to be the go to website for all pet owners seeking trusted pet care services and accommodations.
Our biggest challenge going forward would be user acquisition and retention. We hope that by continuing to focus on user experience and rewarding pet owners for booking through Furlocity, that we can significantly minimize the possibility of churn.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
Furlocity is unique. We aren’t another travel startup catered to human travel. We have taken an innovative approach that is much needed within an industry that hasn’t seen innovation in decades.
The pet industry is growing 4% year over year and is set to hit $62 billion in 2013. Yet, 21st century technology is lacking the accessibility that pet owners need.
With pet ownership growing and coupled with the fact that pets are now considered members of the family, services like Furlocity are much needed. Even boarding establishments are now known as Pet Hotels, Pet Resorts and Pet Camps.
We are doing exactly what the travel industry did in the mid-late 90’s but applying those concepts and principals to the growing pet industry.
What other technology company would you consider yourselves most closely aligned to in terms of culture and style... and why?
It may sound cliché but we would consider ourselves to be closely aligned with Zappos, the online shoe shop. We want to provide pet owners with great service and great experiences.
Our employees are always encouraged to bring up ways in which we can be more innovative and stay ahead of our competition. Since we are really working with people’s children, we want to ensure that from the moment they book a stay with us that their experience start off better than any travel or e-commerce site can provide.
We listen to our customers (good or bad) and we apply that to brainstorming sessions to seek out how we can do better. We welcome mistakes because learning never stops. More importantly, we are a team that fails together and succeeds together.
Furlocity has legs. While other attempts at building pet travel sites have been barking up the wrong trees, this startup seems to have done a solid SWOT analysis.
But it's unlikely to be an overnight success. Building a reliable database could prove slow. Many kennels and pet-friendly hotels don't yet have their information available in formats friendly for third-party aggregators. It's functionality also doesn't beat rival BringFido's, which has a nice "no pet fee" filter.
Acquiring customers will also be a struggle. How to get the word out about the site, given all the noise consumers endure today?
Perhaps the company will enlist kennels, vets, and pet-friendly hotels to become ambassadors for the service, similar to how TripAdvisor has persuaded countless establishments to post stickers in windows reminding customers to post a review.
In short, marketing seems like a challenge. Relying on word-of-mouth may not cut it.
Yet while Furlocity may still need some vetting, there's a good chance that this dog will hunt.