Boole start-up of the week: HouseMyDog

24 Aug 2015

Brothers Timothy and James McElroy, founders of HouseMyDog is an online service that connects dog owners with vetted and trusted dog sitters across Ireland and the UK. Think of it as an Airbnb for dogs!

HouseMyDog is the brainchild of brothers James and Timothy McElroy.

Their start-up HouseMyDog aims to become the leading online pet services marketplace in Europe and to provide dog owners with a convenient, trusted alternative to dog kennels.

The market

The European non-medical pet services market is worth US$5bn annually and is expected to grow at 5pc or more to 2018. The UK and Ireland combined is believed to be worth in excess of $1bn.

“It is also highly fragmented, no single incumbent holds even 1pc market share and like comparable sectors — rentals, taxis, tasks — the market is ripe for a technological solution to disrupt the status quo and steal market share,” says James McElroy.

McElroy points out that of the 70m-plus household dogs in Europe only 15pc currently use paid boarding solutions.

“HouseMyDog will capitalise on a formerly untapped economic opportunity by creating a market that is a simple as pushing a button. Simplicity will lead to more frequent usage and an expansion of the market as we have recently seen with other marketplace models such as Airbnb, Uber and Taskrabbit.

“We believe that with this new model there is potential to expand the global non-medical pet services market from is its current US$12bn to a potential $35bn market.”

‘Our top dog sitters are now earning in excess of €1,000 per month’

He said that of the 15pc of dog owners who do currently use paid boarding solutions, more than 75pc are dissatisfied and are actively seeking alternatives.

“HouseMyDog will initially target this 75pc and beyond that expand to the 85pc of dog owners who currently do not currently use paid boarding.

“HouseMyDog solves a genuine pain point for dog owners by providing a technological solution that offers key benefits to combat the inefficiencies of current dog-boarding solutions.”

Current inefficiencies include overcrowding, high costs, limited availability that worsens in certain seasons, speed of discovery and lack of reliable quality control and accident coverage in case of emergency.

HouseMyDog aims to fix this by providing one-on-one care with loving sitters in real homes. “No more cages,” says McElroy.

It will also be cheaper, costing 20pc less than traditional options and with a network of thousands of vetted and experienced dog sitters throughout Ireland and the UK.

The service consists of a three-click solution for finding the perfect sitter, messaging them, etc, and is the result of a rigorous vetting service. There is a HouseMyDog Guarantee free with every booking, which includes emergency vet care, 24/7 customer support and a money-back guarantee.

The founders


Brothers Timothy and James McElroy, founders of HouseMyDog

James McElroy graduated from Dublin Institute of Technology in 2014 and went straight into building HouseMyDog with his brother Timothy and co-founder Igor.

Timothy McElroy graduated from UCD in 2008, he then went on to work in the finance industry in Dublin and Prague, and at a micro VC fund in Berlin, before returning home to Dublin to start HouseMyDog.

Igor Ferreira joined the HouseMyDog team in 2014 after receiving a Science Without Borders scholarship at NCI Dublin for his work on an academic research project at UFVJM Brazil where he lead a team to develop a model to assist in the selection and outcome of bidding processes.

The technology


Dog owners can simply visit and immediately begin browsing vetted and trusted dog sitters nearby to find the perfect match for their dog.

They can then message their sitter, book and pay online, and finally relax knowing their dog will be covered by the HouseMyDog Guarantee.

“Dog sitters on the other hand, can create a free profile and launch their dog-minding business straight away,” McElroy said.

“Sitters have total control over their profile and services, setting their price, managing their schedule and choosing the breeds and size of the dogs that they wish to mind.

A barking success

McElroy said that HouseMyDog has grown to a community to 8,000-plus users throughout Ireland and the UK.

“We now have extensive coverage of sitters throughout Ireland and the UK.

“We have had 10,000-plus doggie nights booked through the site, with 150pc growth in monthly bookings in last three months

“From these nights booked, 100pc have had positive reviews — 98pc of these being 5/5 stars and the other 2pc being 4/5 stars; a nice stat that showcases the success of our sitter vetting process.

“Our top dog sitters are now earning in excess of €1,000 per month,” McElroy says.

“The value of on-demand marketplaces comes from the network effects that are achieved at scale. In order to reach this tipping point HouseMyDog will need access to substantial resources. We are currently speaking to seed investors in order to reach the next stage of our growth.”

A woof trade

In terms of challenges along the way the biggest has so far been traditional competitors, McElroy says.

“In Europe, 99pc of paid dog boarding still goes through kennels. Our challenge today is not to compete directly with other technological solutions but to convince dog owners that a superior alternative exists to their traditional solutions.”

In terms of funding McElroy says the company is currently speaking to seed investors and to tick over repeat bookings are essential.

“As marketplaces rely on high volume, low-value transactions it is vital we can ensure repeat bookings. We have recently made big changes to our site to better reflect user interaction and we’ve seen an increase in repeat bookings of over 100pc. However, there are still big challenges and improvements ahead.”

Ireland is picking up on the B2C scene

McElroy says the Irish start-up scene is looking very strong at the moment. “Dublin is the perfect size for networking, you can usually find someone in your own network who can help you get in touch with almost anyone in the city.

“The multinationals that have been at the forefront of the Dublin tech scene are a great training ground for talent and those multinationals are also really starting to give back (in terms of events, resources and advice) as they notice the growth quality of start-ups here.

‘Overall I think Dublin is really starting to look like a true European tech hub’

“Funding is also getting better and last year saw the largest ever VC investment going into a wide range of sectors. We know the founding teams at many other start-ups like Popdeem, HealthXL, The Little Green Spoon, all of which are doing really well in their space, and it’s great to be able to meet up to discuss our experiences and learn from each other.

“It’s also great to see growth in start-ups launching consumer tech ideas, an area where it seems Ireland has always fallen down. We are situated in the Docklands Innovation Park with a lot of other great consumer tech start-ups like DropChef and Bundly, all great ideas with great teams and huge potential.

“Overall I think Dublin is really starting to look like a true European tech hub.”

Meet and greet people, go for walkies


HouseMyDog was recently at the Google SRP Business Challenge where new Googlers (Nooglers) pitched marketing strategies to the start-up

McElroy said that state-backed start-up programmes have been a huge help to HouseMyDog.

“We initially received a feasibility grant from the Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown Local Enterprise Office to help develop the first version of our site.

“With that first version we were able to generate our first bookings that helped us to get accepted to the Enterprise Ireland New Frontiers programme, which was a huge deal for us as it came with financial support, mentoring and office space.

“From there we recently progressed to the Enterprise Ireland competitive start fund (CSF). All these stages are like stepping stones and without these supports along the way HouseMyDog would not have survived.”

His advice to other start-ups is to get out there and meet other founders.

“We don’t spend a lot of time at start-up events, however, we do try to have meetings every month where we talk to other start-up founders, industry leaders, potential investors etc.

“We would advise other tech startups, particularly in the early stages, to meet with as many people who can add value as possible, attend pitching events and enter as many competitions as possible.

“It’s not so much about the outcomes, although they could lead to hiring leads, growth ideas, investment or prize money, but the process of preparing for and attending those meetings forces you to clarify your thoughts about your start-up and quickly explain what it is you do and why people should care.”

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years