London may be one of the world’s preeminent conurbations, but in addition to the plethora of people, traffic, skyscrapers and other big-city prerequisites, it also has an abundance of parks. From Clapham and Wandsworth Commons, to Hampstead Heath and Hyde Park, London performs pretty well on the public-space front.
Indeed, a quick stroll around any of the aforementioned spaces, and you’ll see two prominent features permeating all of them: joggers and dog-walkers. And it’s at this point, we introduce you to a startup that’s seeking to tap into this trend across the UK and into Europe.
Jogs for Dogs: Mutts in motion
Brendan Fahey is the founder and CEO of Jogs for Dogs (JFD) a company he launched after completing his degree in Seattle back in 2007.
Initially JFD operated along the same lines as any dog-walking company, except instead of walking dogs, it would run dogs. “The whole idea of running rather than walking seemed to be new for many dog-owners. The business caught on and we had a loyal and growing following,” says Brendan. “Our business expanded and we had over fifty employees – mostly students and people with free time to run a dog for an hour each day.”
Brendan says that they really wanted to spread the word about dog-running and they sought to find out how to do that. “Our model wasn’t really scalable as it was, and we wanted to grow beyond Seattle and the Pacific Northwest,” he continues. “So in the spring of 2011, we completely changed our business model so that it was only online. We no longer employ runners or have ‘clients’. Our main focus now is providing a fun, functional, and easy platform for people with dog-owners to connect with people who love dogs.”
The platform has been gaining traction Stateside, but now Brendan’s looking further afield and he has the UK and Europe on his radar. “We ‘launched’ in the UK in December 2011, and it actually happened through word-of-mouth,” he says. “We had always planned on having a presence in the UK and Europe, but we hadn’t started our official launch. In any case, we’ve had great feedback so far, so we are going with it and couldn’t be more happy to be in the UK.”
Now, by ‘launch’, it seems that very little activity happened on JFD’s part. It was really a very soft launch that happened of its own accord, after a couple of dog-runners signed-up to the site from the UK, with Brendan and his team simply rolling with it. “We were planning to launch in Europe in earnest early this spring, once we had a more international-friendly site,” says Brendan. “Now that we are in the UK we’ve started to fix the site as quickly as possible, and are even revamping it to have a new look, and easier user interface.”
This revamp will see the site take on a more global focus, and Brendan says there are a few quirks and adjustments needed to make the site more UK-friendly. Plans are currently underway to bring an increased presence to continental Europe too, which will include multi-language functionality, and different search parameters for connecting dog-owners with runners.
“In terms of the UK and Europe, we really couldn’t be more excited,” says Brendan. “In the States we have members in big cities and small towns, from coast-to-coast. We think the UK is the perfect place to get Jogs for Dogs off the ground in Europe. In many ways, London – and the UK in general – is similar to Washington State where we started, so we find it a fitting place to get going. We haven’t started our European marketing campaign yet, but we’ve already got around a dozen runners signed up in London, and we’re just waiting to find some pups to run.”
Despite JFD working on a more internationally-focused website, dog-owners and runners from around the world can still interact in the same way on the site whether they are in North America or Europe. “We’ve decided to keep JFD as just one site,” says Brendan. “As opposed to having JFD North America, JFD Australia, JFD Europe, and so on. Within the site though, users will have slightly different interfaces depending on their geographic location. For example, runners in the UK won’t have to choose which ‘State’ they are from.”
Indeed, given that JFD is all about owners and runners’ proximity to each other, it has to be tailored for each country. “In the US, the postal codes are composed of numbers – for example 98115 is for Seattle,” says Brendan. “In the UK there are numbers and letters in postcodes. We had to address – no pun intended – this issue immediately to enable our search function to allow members to search by postal code, which is one of the most popular ways members search.”
Other localization issues include pricing, which is currently set to US dollars. “This obviously needs to change as soon as possible,” says Brendan. “Interestingly, all of our London runners have advertised the lowest price-range, which is $15-25 per run, which isn’t so much a reflection on the market in London being cheaper, but more so on the inability for them to select pounds as a currency.”
How it works
It’s a pretty straight forward platform to use. You sign up at JogsForDogs.com, and you either register as a dog-owner or a dog-runner. You can also register directly using your Facebook credentials with a single click.
New members are directed to this page, where they see an interaction stream of updates:
Here’s a typical profile for a dog -runner. Their information is listed down the right, and they can post status updates and pictures in the middle pane.
Owners and runners can search for each other on the search page, which Brendan says he wants to tweak for the UK-centric version of JFD.
Users are then directed to a list that meets the search criteria. Here, they can see a basic summary and can select the runner they’re interested in to see their complete profile.
Once a user clicks on a profile they see the runner’s detailed profile. If they sound like a good match for their mutt, they send a message and can add them as a Friend.
After each run, runners are encouraged to fill out a PJS (Post-Jog Summary) that is automatically sent to the owner so they can see how the run went.
Brendan says that JFD is more than just connecting runners with dog-owners though. “It’s about sharing and building a community of like-minded, dog-loving, active people,” he says. “So users can post pictures and comments and say what’s on their mind.”
Jogs for Dogs is certainly an interesting initiative, but how does it work from a financial perspective? Who gets paid what and when?
“The runners do get paid by the dog-owners, but I suppose it’s possible that they come to an agreement where no money exchanges hands, and they just do it purely for fun,” says Brendan. “On the runners’ Profile page there is a spot for them to post their price range. Once the runner and owner connect on the site, they work out the details.”
So, for example, they decide what days and times the runs will take place, how much it will cost, and other details. “We are currently working a payment process into the site so runners can do all of their billing and tracking through the website, and mobile app,” adds Brendan.
In terms of what’s in it for Brendan and Co., they’re privately funded and their revenue model is entirely ad-based at this point, meaning they don’t take a cut of the dog-owners’ money. Membership of the site is completely free. “We had initially tinkered with making it a subscription service, where runners pay to be on the site, but we decided the best way to get lots of dogs out running was by making it free for everyone,” says Brendan.
Dogs on a plane…
Non dog-owners may find the whole concept behind Jogs for Dogs a little bizarre, but Brendan regales some pretty interesting use-cases for the platform that help remind us that dogs really are man’s best friend and, as such, owners get very attached and want them well looked-after. “We’ve already seen some really interesting and cool things happen between users,” he says. “For example, some members travel with their dog – this is a whole blossoming industry in it’s own right. So we have dog-owners hopping on a plane from San Diego to Chicago with their dog, and when they land they need someone to look after Fido while they are having a meeting, or are out having fun.”
Brendan also tells us that there are runners on the site who go to school, say, in Seattle, but during breaks they head home to Boston. With just a few clicks they can change their location and make a few extra bucks, and burn off some holiday calories while they are home.
“I was just talking to a friend of mine who uses the site, and he just finished up school, broke and jobless, and is planning to spend the summer backpacking through Europe,” says Brendan. “So he’s going to try and run dogs to pay for those hostels while he travels. I can’t wait to see how it works out for him, and have him write some blog posts for us.”
Jogs for Dogs now consists of just a few employees based in-house, covering marketing, development, and site maintenance. “We also have a team of offsite developers that we contract for projects,” adds Brendan. “Although Jogs for Dogs is 5-years-old, we are very much a startup in terms of our ventures into the Web, and it’s a pretty exciting time for us, we learn everyday from our mistakes, and it keeps us on our toes.”