Kolkata: Pune-based Anshul Goenka, 25, worked as a business consultant in London and with the Future Group in India before he launched Woofbnb, an online platform offering services and products for pet lovers and owners, last September.
Goenka said he had noticed that many companies abroad provided such services but very few in India. Based on his research and conversations with investors, mentors and professionals, he concluded there was need for a platform for pet owners but one that would also make money and keep his “mentors and investors happy”. Goenka is now looking at markets beyond Pune and plans to raise funds from external investors. Edited excerpts from an interview:
What made you come up with the idea of an online platform for pet lovers and owners?
Pet owners don’t know where to leave their pets when they go on vacation or business trips as hostels or kennel services are not well organized. Kennels don’t provide any personal attention to the pets who are like family for a lot of people. We provide a platform for people interested in extra income who are also pet lovers.
This person could be a student, a housewife, or doing a part-time course. She/he can register as a sitter on our website; provide all details and photos of the house, a small description about self and the rates she/he will charge.
Also Read: The growing breed of pet parents
We interview the host to understand why she/he wants to be a sitter, what kind of facilities the sitter can provide during an emergency and the experience the person has with pets. We verify whether the person registering as host is genuine or not and approve the credentials and give approval.
If someone is looking for a host, she can just visit our website, feed her pin code and find the pet sitters in that area. A pet owner can book and pay online for the desired dates she wants to leave the pet with the host, who gets paid within a week.
We are in the process of getting our sitters registered so that our owners can have multiple options to choose from according to the budget, location, house condition and facilities provided.
Tell us about your services.
We have a team of groomers that can go to the owner’s place for any grooming requirement. We have walking services—we provide a pet walker on a monthly basis. We also have an online store where one can buy pet products and accessories which would get delivered within 24 hours of ordering. These services are restricted to Pune at present, but the sitters are all over India. We can scale this model across all cities.
We started operations last September with grooming services. We then started building on technology so we have a good mix of online and offline services for our end users. In January, we started our walking services and in May, we started an online store and the sitter platform.
What has the response been so far?
We solve your on-demand and planned needs. We don’t have a lot of data for each of these verticals yet, but since we started with grooming services, it is on the higher side, followed by walking, store and sitters. But if I have to look from a scalability point of view, then sitters has a lot of potential. For example, if there is one pet owner, I can cross-sell him my other services as well. We now have 2,000-3,000 customers across verticals and I keep cross-selling to them my other services.
Our initial intent is to grow the sitter base. I want to have a lot of sitters so that people get the option to choose. A lot of people who register as sitters are themselves pet owners and around 40-50% of them use other services as well. I want that to migrate from just sitters using our other services to owners also using those services. So our marketing objective in the next six months would be directed towards having owners coming to our website to book sitters.
What are the profiles of those registering as sitters?
Much to our surprise, a lot of working professionals registered with us as sitters—who wanted to host pets during weekends. Many of them are animal lovers but don’t have pets because they have no time to look after them. So there are animal lovers, pet caretakers and even students looking for a source of income. Around 150-180 pet owners have used our sitting services since June this year.
What inspired you to design such a platform and who are your partners?
I am a pet owner and I have a circle of friends who are pet owners too. It’s a common problem of where to keep my pets when on vacation. My research shows a lot of pet owners in Pune face similar problems. So I thought this is a good opportunity to integrate with technology.
When I started, I was alone but had my family business, which is well established. We are a team of 50 people now, including dog walkers, marketing, business development and technology support teams, and we are looking to expand to more cities now.
How capital-intensive is this business? Are you looking to raise funds?
Most of our capital went into paying salaries, in setting up another office, over technology and on marketing efforts. As of now, we are bootstrapped. Whatever money we get from our clients from subscription, on-demand, and selling our products and services is ploughed back into the business. We are looking for external investment also as we are now planning to scale up in Mumbai and Hyderabad that have much bigger markets. This would be the first round of fund-raising where I’m looking at raising Rs2-2.5 crore from investors.
We have so far invested around Rs25-30 lakh from my family business and this will work as a cushion for another six months.
By when do you see to break-even?
Not soon—we are still expanding in some verticals where we need a lot of investment. So it will take at least two years to break-even or to be profitable. Our turnover is around Rs48 lakh for a period starting from September last year till August. We are burning a lot of cash towards paying salaries and marketing exercises.