Alice Kahrmann interviews Rikke Rosenlund, founder of BorrowMyDoggy, the trusted community connecting dog owners and local borrowers.

It’s always the way isn’t it? How, how did no one think of this before? A fob you can attach to your keys to locate them, a phone that turns your app into a scanner, a website that matches dog owners with locals in their area; those yearning for the love and affection of a feline friend yet unable to commit long term (and full time) to the demands of keeping one. Lightbulb moment (one of the truly inspired), it was Rikke Rosenlund’s as she walked around a park with a four-legged friend (‘a very cute brown labrador called Aston’), one she had borrowed from a kindly neighbour. What if the owner could eschew the quite significant costs of kennels and dog sitters she thought? What if this service could make the world a slightly happier place? Fulfil the dream of the child yearning for a dog, ease tensions in the household where one parent is allergic, all the while making life that little bit easier for the pet’s owner? That’s how Rosalind and I end up sitting in a side room in Google Campus but three short years later. ‘I can’t believe how fast it’s gone’ she laughs, all around us Seedrs furrowed brows aimed at their laptops, bean bags and post it notes liberally scattered around them, the hipster friendly urban aesthetic that whispers ‘start ups, do sign up here.’

BorrowMyDoggy launched in the summer of 2012 via The Lean Startup Machine (where Rosenlund pitched the idea). It had ‘twice as many votes as idea number two and then we created a landing page and within three days we had eighty five people signed up. There was everything from a student living on a farm in Australia missing her dogs to an old man down in Cornwall who had just had an operation who needed some help taking his dogs for a walk because he couldn’t do it himself. I so wanted to help.’

‘My background,’ explains Rosenlund..., as she watches my dog, Pancake, roll about under the table (@thepuppypancake), ‘I have a business degree, I worked for very big corporates - my parents are entrepreneurs, they are very active in community work and I’ve been very active in everything from disaster relief to mentoring kids from troubled backgrounds, BorrowMyDoggy actually marries up those two things.’

‘After the lean start up machine,’ she continues, ‘we just wanted to help the people who had signed up. From there all of a sudden someone wrote about us [Emerald Street - the newsletter] and then we had a thousand people signed up in the space of twenty-four hours. In the background, I manually met people until we built the website. it became a very personal project.’

The speed at which BMD was built and has grown was not without its challenges: ‘You start up a company because of a passion, and then from there, the speed and the breadth of the things you need to know about, everything from accountancy to legals to hiring, platform, technology, acquisition channels, there’s just so much you need to learn... What you knew: accounting level 101, now you suddenly need level 103. For us, Seedcamp has been involved from the very beginning and they’ve been fantastic; having mentors around us who have given us a hand. Learning constantly is also the part I love about it. The thing about the startup world, everyone is so happy to help, it’s a very caring community.’

In order to make BorrowMy Doggywork - what are the things Rosenlund has had to think about? ‘In what areas do you have to trust people generally?’ she says ‘and what are the safety measurements that are in place for that? For instance people have babies, they use baby sitters or people use dog sitters. For us, it was really important to understand what makes people feel safe and what are the basic measures we could put in place so it could be the best possible experience for everyone. At BorrowMyDoggy, it’s not about handing your dog over to a stranger, it’s about getting to know someone, what we recommend is house visits, we work with specialists, we went to local vets and discussed everything you should talk about, everything from commands to dietary requirements. We also have access to a 24/7 vet line, there’s third party liability insurance, and we verify all of our members, it’s equally important that the dog likes the people that are going to take care of it.’

‘All ideas have been had a million times, it’s one thing having the idea, it’s another executing it well, ‘ she says. ‘There is a big step from point A to B there, it’s important if there are things you’re concerned about that you speak with people. Whether it's funding or legalities, or for example, am I optimising my marketing spend in the right way?’

‘Growing our community; setting up a two-sided marketplace isn’t necessarily an easy thing... It requires so many dogs and borrowers local to each other, for me for the magic that happens on our platform (and we have the loveliest stories) is when someone who’s just had a baby who has two small dogs is paired with someone with a five year old son. That magic happens because of members living close to each other. So that’s the most important and then giving customers a really good journey once they are on the platform.’

In order to monetise, users subscribe - but crucially this is only required after they have scoured the site for other members that might be suitable. Having paid an ongoing charge of £25 per day to have my dog looked after, I am personally crying out for this service. ‘There was one lady who went to Australia for five weeks to get married,’ Rosenlund says. ‘She was super happy and the borrowers were super happy to get that happy dog time without having to get their own dog.’ Owners pay £44.99 per year and borrowers £9.99.

The best advice Rosenlund has been given? ‘Do one thing at a time, fight one battle.’ She would advise others thinking of launching their own startup to make sure they are ‘passionate about the problem they’re solving, make sure it’s not just a problem you want to solve. There will be days where everything goes amazingly and then there will be days when it’s harder and those days you do it because you just love what you’re doing. The statistics of startup companies that make it are not necessarily the highest in the world!’ Also make sure you ’get involved in the startup world: Silicon drinkathons on Fridays... There are so many different events you can go to to learn about things, for example the tax credits that investors can give. All these things you need to know when you’re starting out.’

The benefits of the services are far reaching, in a world where people are spending more and more time online, this platform actually brings people together and crucially outside: the old lady socialising more because she has a dog to walk, the little kids - ditto, the benefits for the dog are also huge; more exercise leads to a longer life span, with a beneficial effect on any behavioural problems. Then there are the further reaching consequences of irresponsible dog ownership; the service allows those thinking about getting a pet to test it out first, see if they really can commit. The team work with rescue centres for this very reason. Because, as is well documented, the number of abandoned dogs is ever growing.

The BorrowMyDoggy offices are located near Borough station, in offices designed to look like a kennel - a wooden one of course (with astroturf for grass). There’s a jovial lightness in the way Rosenlund speaks, I can imagine it must be a pretty joyful environment, dogs weaving their way around the desks of the twelve strong team - woofs aplenty. Offering ‘paw prints of happiness’ to lives of its users is the mission statement, thought there’s also an ulterior motive for Rosenlund herself. ’Finally I found a solution to my own problem,’ she laughs. ‘I was desperate for a dog as a child - my parents are so relieved!’ There’s no doubt she’s the right person for the passion; even her email signature reads: best woofs - best woofs indeed.

27 January 2016