Alexis Soulopoulos from Mad Paws has a startup story that’s one for all the pet-lovers out there. Did you know that you can babysit pets? Mad Paws is an online service, which connects pets to pet lovers, for pet-sitting opportunities! It not only allows users to play/look after other peoples pets, but you can get paid for it too!
Alexis, super cool business idea! You must be a huge pet lover?
Yes, and one of the most amazing things about this business is that our office is filled with pet lovers and also pets!
We believe we are solving a real problem for pet owners and their pets. Every day we see the joy and comfort that Mad Paws brings pet sitters, pet owners and most importantly their pets. This is what motivates the Mad Paws team to continue to work with the same passion and conviction they have demonstrated for the past 3.5 years.
Can you talk us through the first steps from creation to launch?
Mad Paws was conceptualized after Alexis pet-sat for a good friend who was struggling to find a place for his golden retriever, Honey, to stay while he travelled.
Alexis and the founding team then discussed the idea with pet owners in dog parks around Sydney and the reaction was so strongly positive that the team immediately hired a software development firm to launch the MVP platform.
While the website was being built, Alexis who had just graduated from the University of Sydney, reached out to USYD vet student society and was able to sign up hundreds of vet students who were thrilled to become Mad Paws’ first pet sitters.
After 3 months, the MVP website was ready and Mad Paws was able to launch with hundreds of active pet sitter listings live on the website! The “Airbnb for pets” generated an enormous PR buzz driving lots of curious pet owners to the platform.
Alexis and his teammate called up a thousand of early website visitors to quickly enhance the MVP website and after a few months, a fully-fledged technology platform was launched.
It’s not always an easy path sourcing the right web developer (especially for such a big project), how was this process for you?
Our MVP was built by an offshore development firm which allowed us to move quickly in a very cost-effective manner. As the business grew, we felt a rising need for an in-house team and hired a really strong Head of Technology who then gradually recruited a stellar in-house development team.
How did you source users for your website?
The first pet sitters were University of Sydney vet students who are perfect: they love animals, have flexible schedules and can use some extra income for doing what they love!
Ever since inception, we have had continuous PR successes which resulted in a lot of users coming to our website. The first launch of “Airbnb for pets” was a success but this story quickly got old! Luckily, the team quickly figured out the power of what we call PR-able content. For example, Mad Paws organizes Australia’s largest dog party during Easter where thousands of dogs go on a dog-friendly Easter Egg Hunt. We also organize Australia’s Dog of the Year competition and every year we share insights from our data: Mad Paws owns the largest database of pet names and pet breeds in Australia.
The online pet market is a competitive one, how do you deal with this, to ensure Mad Paws remains relevant?
We are laser focused on pet sitter quality and our customers’ experience. This differentiates us from the competition. Our extremely thorough vetting process ensures that only the very best pet sitters are listed on our platform and local customer support by passionate Mad Paws pet lovers makes sure our customers and their pets receive the experience they deserve. In addition, being so close to our users allows us to build technology that serves their needs.
Mad Paws has come a long way, having just partnered with Qantas, can you share with us what this entails?
Pet owners who are Qantas Frequent Flyer members will earn one Qantas Point per dollar when they make a booking with Mad Paws or a flat rate of 500 points if they are a new Mad Paws customer and book via Qantas.com.
Quote Alexis: “In an ideal world we would take our pets with us wherever we go but sadly that’s not always possible. Leaving their pet with a trusted Mad Paws Sitter allows pet owners to enjoy their trip worry free. Our partnership with Qantas is a perfect fit; Qantas takes care of those who travel, while Mad Paws looks after their four-legged friends who stay at home. We are extremely excited to be working with this iconic Australian brand and the opportunity to earn Qantas Points with each pet stay booking is a great added bonus for Mad Paws users”
What is some advice you would give yourself in the early stages of startup?
Getting company culture right is crucial: In high-growth start-up, we are so numbers driven that it is often tempting to place less emphasis on softer elements of the business such as company culture. However, company culture is what makes or breaks a company. Culture begins to form the moment your startup has a team of more than 1 and it is everyone’s responsibility to shape it together. When culture is great, people are excited to come to work and get results by working together as one team.
Speak to your users: In startups, we build scalable technology (or that’s the plan eventually at least). But we can’t sit back and let the technology lift up the business alone. Spend time getting to know your customer. Go above and beyond and create WOW factor experiences customers can talk to their friends about. By learning what customers like and dislike will help scale your business.
Being happy in life is more important than anything else. Your job is part of your life and so it is important to do something you love with people you enjoy working with. It’s not the only part of your life though, and so it is crucial to surround yourself with great people to have a purpose outside of the company and to reserve time just for yourself. This will in turn fuel the energy that is needed to conquer the everyday battles of high growth start-ups.
Has Mad Paws used a startup accelerator before? If so/ would you recommend?
Mad Paws is a founding member of the Sharing Hub, Australia’s #1 accelerator for sharing economy startups; amongst other things, the member organisations regularly share insights on marketplace specific problems which really helps accelerate our growth.
I would highly recommend all startups to network with other startups because chances are high that you will come across the same or similar opportunities and problems! An accelerator is one great way to get in contact with other startups and there are many other options: co-working spaces or networking events.
Tell us something cool that goes on in your office?
We have many pet visitors: in the past 6 months, we have had visits from puppy dogs, kittens, awesome dogs and rabbits!
We also organize fun little team building activities such as “pup-cake” competitions and every quarter the pack member who went the most above and beyond on one of our values is rewarded the ‘Paw it Forward’ Trophy.
A few photo’s to illustrate these things:
What will you be speaking about at Myriad 2018?
Christopher Nheu (the Head of Product) and Alexis will share the story of the early days at Mad Paws. The goal of this talk is to have the audience leave with actionable takeaways on how to achieve early stage startup growth, really fast. From getting a minimum viable product up and running in no time to acquiring the first couple of thousands of users on $0 marketing spend, to optimising the marketing engine sufficiently to raise the first investment in order to scale the business to the next level.
Thanks for your time today!
Alexis will be sharing his startup success story with Christopher Nheu (Head of Product) in more detail with tips on how to run a successful business online at Myriad 2018, Brisbane.