Rover is an online marketplace for canine care, changing the pet services game—and they do it through know-how, policies based upon compassion, and setting the bar high.
In his article of March 13, 1965, entitled “THE STRUCTURE OF ORGANIZATION: WHAT IS POLICY?” L. Ron Hubbard describes the Expansion Formula—the concise and universally applicable steps to achieve organizational growth:
“1. PROVIDE GOOD POLICY.
“2. MAKE IT EASILY KNOWABLE.
“3. BE STRENUOUS IN MAKING SURE IT IS FOLLOWED.
“This is the most broad possible formula for expansion.”
Analyze a growing company and you’ll see the expansion formula at work—intentionally or otherwise. For a startup, “provide good policy” is often the answer to a problem that people have with existing “policy” or lack of it; and this is true of ANY industry.
A Country of Canines
According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), approximately 44 percent of American households own at least one dog—totaling around 78 million dogs of every breed imaginable.1
Overall, pet owners spend about $4 billion annually on boarding and grooming; yet most dog owners (estimates show 80–90 percent) would never think of using a kennel to house their beloved pet, although millions of households have a genuine need for pet care when away from home.2
This massive omission in workable policy (best practices) within an industry struck a strident chord with managing director of Madrona Venture Group Greg Gottesman when he discovered his Labrador, Ruby Tuesday, had a cough and scratches after staying in a traditional kennel. At the 2011 Seattle Startup Weekend, a 54-hour entrepreneurial code-a-thon, Gottesman and his team won first place with A Place for Rover, now referred to as Rover.com or simply Rover.3
By using the Airbnb model—an online short-term lodging marketplace—and applying it to the care of our canine companions, Rover now operates the nation’s largest network of pet sitters (85,000+ sitters in 10,000+ cities) while maintaining a 95 percent rate of 5-star reviews. They administer background checks, training, premium insurance, and an array of dog-centric services.4
“We have a high bar for sitters. We only approve 20 percent of applicants,” says Rover’s co-founder and CEO, Aaron Easterly. “We’re aggressive about driving quality within those we approve. If sitters are not being responsive, we err on the side of putting them on away mode. We also look at sitters and their repeat customers. We intentionally favor those who interface more and who have more repeat business.”5
A Policy of Compassion
Their policies, easily knowable and strenuously followed, are integral and indispensable to their operation and expansion. A service is booked every minute of every day, and Rover earns revenue through a percentage of the booking price. Using the site or the app, a customer can search for pet sitters, meet them in person to find the perfect fit, book a sitter, securely pay and rate their experience. Each facet of the process is controlled and designed to build well-earned trust and rapport with the owners—and of course it’s all for the health and well-being of the dogs.
“We wanted the people who love dogs,” explains Easterly. “One of the things we did in the early days was launch our Sit a Dog, Save a Life program. This allowed sitters to give a portion of their earnings back to an animal-related non-profit. Nearly a quarter of a million dollars has been donated via that program. It turned out that was a wonderful mechanism to see why a sitter was applying.”
Combined with Gottesman’s experience with startups and venture capital, Easterly’s background as a statistician—a rare but valuable quality for a community marketplace CEO—has been a major plus. Rover keeps detailed statistical track of every facet of their community. “If you’re doing something with passion that is impacting people, you should be able to measure somehow beyond just anecdotes,” says Easterly. “If you’re really doing something that is going to impact people’s lives, you’ll have to be able to measure it.”
A World of Happier Dogs
The reliance on another person to care for a family’s best friend is based on trust. Tech savvy, quality control and competitive pricing combine to make Rover an expanding and scalable business model. Brick-and-mortar facilities are not needed, so Rover employees focus on selection of high-quality arrangements for the dogs while remaining cost-effective.
Total bookings for Rover reached $150 million for 2016, and in March 2017 they acquired their competitor, DogVacay, in an all-stock deal.6 Currently, the company operates in all fifty states and some cities in Canada, with plans underway to move into the global marketplace.
Rover is an excellent example of astute and workable policy applied to a community of millions of people—and, in this case, millions of dogs, cared for and happier than ever.
By Prosperity Editor
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