Our start-up of the week is WoofAdvisor, a platform focused on the pet travel market, designed to serve animal lovers and service providers.
“WoofAdvisor was established to cater for the rapidly growing and evolving pet travel market,” said WoofAdvisor’s founder Gerry Molloy.
We first met Molloy a year ago when we visited the Bank of Ireland StartLab in Galway.
“Euromonitor International and others have identified Pet Humanisation – people treating their pets as a family member – as the key driver behind this change.”
‘We connect the accommodation, hospitality and pet sectors with a global community of committed pet lovers’
– GERRY MOLLOY
Molloy explained that while pet-sitting start-ups have raised serious capital (another direct offshoot of the impact of Pet Humanisation), pet travel remains totally fragmented with no single reliable, trusted source, and no player with any significant market share.
“WoofAdvisor was founded to provide a single, relevant, independent and trusted resource.”
Molloy explained that WoofAdvisor has a two-sided business model: it’s a business platform with a community backbone and a community platform with a business backbone.
“We bring like-minded pet lovers together, providing them with content that is relevant, independent and trusted, providing a resource that helps take the uncertainty and stress [away from] all aspects of travelling with their pets.”
“We connect the accommodation, hospitality and pet sectors with a global community of committed pet lovers,” Molloy explained.
This addressable market includes 65pc of all hotels in the US today as well as 45,000 hotels in the UK.
From the user perspective, the target market includes 27pc of Irish households, 24-27pc of UK households and between 40-50pc of US households.
Molloy points to the Euromonitor research, which identified this missed business opportunity.
“Pet travel represents opportunities for additional revenue growth of up to 30pc per year for hotel and travel agents [that] choose to incorporate pet service,” according to Euromonitor.
“There remains no tour operator specifically targeted towards this consumer group.”
Molloy said that millennials represent the fastest-growing target market.
“While the ‘baby boomer’ or ‘empty nester’ generation has been the traditional mainstay of the pet travel market, the landscape is rapidly changing, with millennials increasingly coming to the fore in terms of travel, levels of pet ownership, and pet travel.
“They have already surpassed baby boomers as the largest pet-owning generation. In terms of spend on travel, although this generation only equals 20pc of world population, they will represent 50pc of global travel spend by 2020.
“Millennials are also the demographic most likely to read and post reviews and ratings, and to use social media to connect with brands, and research products and services.”
Molloy said he is also tapping into the social media aspects of pet ownership, saying that there are 83m pet profiles on Facebook, one in 10 pets in the UK have their own social media page and more than half of UK pet owners post about their animals on social networks.
“Not only this, but pet lovers searching for a location-based pet-friendly hotel represent very valuable, very highly qualified traffic and a very attractive demographic.
“Pet-friendliness allows hotels to focus on unique needs of target customers and differentiate themselves without financial investment.
“We see a very attractive range of opportunities and income streams, including potential for sponsors or strategic partnerships.”
Molloy’s background is in the SME services sector, as a former owner and manager of a contract flooring company, and an executive director in the private security sector.
“Following a lot of retraining and upskilling, I looked for an opportunity to relaunch on a self-employed basis.
“Eventually, the light bulb moment came for WoofAdvisor over a catch-up pint with my siblings, two of whom were just back from a less-than-satisfactory hotel break in the west with their much-loved and much-travelled dogs.”
WoofAdvisor offers an easy to use, smart search facility, where the users’ search criteria can combine destination and business name or category, with search results presented in both list and interactive maps formats.
‘We are not just about pet travel – we are about pet lovers caring for their pets, which could be the cornerstone for a pet-centric social network’
– GERRY MOLLOY
Trip planner: As travelling with pets requires a totally different level of planning, this function lets a user build a full trip itinerary. This can be saved (as a permanent record or travel diary with notes), printed and shared.
Community: To encourage the community side in addition to the forum, users can connect and message each other, and search for members in their own area.
Business administration: From the business side, by creating a single account, a business can add multiple listings covering different categories (each business category has a custom template depending on whether they are a hotel, holiday park or veterinary practice).
Business reporting: The system auto-generates a report for each business, showing the number of times its page was viewed, how many times its contact details were accessed and how many times its URL was clicked through from WoofAdvisor.com.
Users can check out existing reviews, add their own, or suggest a new listing.
Molloy said that the current plan is to continue developing a footprint in a number of targeted cities in the UK.
“The next step will involve beginning same process in two cities in the US and Germany in the second half of 2017.
“Ultimately, apart from the obvious global possibility around pet travel, WoofAdvisor has the potential to reach beyond that.
“We are not just about pet travel – we are about pet lovers caring for their pets, which could be the cornerstone for a pet-centric social network.
Walking the Irish entrepreneurial path
Molloy said the company is actively seeking investment to help scale the business and is part of the StartUp100 programme at the Dublin Tech Summit this week.
The biggest challenges are time, funding, growing the team and deciding what to prioritise in terms of start-up events and meet-ups.
“The start-up scene in Ireland is very competitive – and not just for funding. I hear lots of start-ups talking about the challenge of recruiting the right level of talent, especially with the required level of relevant technical experience, very often against competition based in Silicon Docks.”
Molloy’s advice to fellow founders is to reach out to industry experts and investors with a relevant track record, at the earliest possible stage.
“Don’t be afraid to ask for guidance and advice – the more the better – before submitting formal applications or participating in pitch competitions.
“You can never get too much feedback, different perspectives, or be challenged too much on your business case or model, value proposition [or] understanding your target market.
“Plan for everything to take much longer – and cost more – than you think. Every time.”
He concluded: “I also strongly feel that there is a significant missed business opportunity, especially in parts of Ireland where ‘The Recovery’ may not have reached or taken root, and where occupancy rates fall well short of Dublin levels.”