Timothy McElroy tells us what prompted him and his brother James to start the online community for people to find help to look after mans best friend.
What do you currently do at HouseMyDog?
HouseMyDog.com is an online community that enables dog owners to find and book local, trusted dog sitters and walkers. Each month, HouseMyDog connects thousands of dog owners with dog boarding, doggy daycare and dog walking professionals who provide one-on-one care and attention in a home-from-home, just like they would a member of their own family.
On a day-to-day basis, I am responsible for hiring and managing finances, while my brother, James, focuses on setting strategy and product development. We both focus on user growth in the different locations we operate in. I’m based in Berlin and James heads up the London team.
The business currently operates in several key cities across the UK, Ireland, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and now Spain, as we’ve recently announced that we’ve merged with Madrid-based, Gudog, making us the largest platform of dog walkers in Europe, something we’re extremely proud of. Over the next 18 months, we hope to expand to a further 30 cities in eight countries to become Europe’s largest pet services marketplace.
Beyond that, we are also exploring the possibility of offering additional value-add services based on feedback from the HouseMyDog community, such as dog grooming and pet insurance.
What was the inspiration behind your business?
While preparing for a family holiday, we recognised how much of a struggle it was to find a trustworthy and reliable sitter for our dog, Holly. We’d noticed the success of other peer-to-peer service apps like Uber and Airbnb, and saw an opportunity to leverage the same model for the pet industry; offering dog owners board for their dogs in real, loving homes at an affordable rate. It’s from this that HouseMyDog was born.
Who do you admire?
Someone we both admire is our Dad. He has started several businesses throughout his career and gave us some of the best advice we’ve received throughout our journey so far. One that stands out is, “you’re going to make mistakes, the only mistake you cannot make is running out of cash”. Learning to operate very lean from day one meant the small amount of funding we got from a business grant went a long way and got us to that next level.
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?
I think a big one is growing a team. For a long time, it was only myself and James building the business, which meant we were trying to do everything ourselves. It’s hard to overestimate what can be achieved when you have a team who can take responsibility for key areas of the business, allowing you to focus on your own priorities.
What defines your way of doing business?
There are several things we’ve learned along the way that now define how we run HouseMyDog:
Continuously reinforce the vision for the whole company.
Break down the vision into incremental goals. It’s difficult to visualise how you get to 1M users, but going from 1k to 10k, or 10k to 100k feels manageable.
Set 2/3 clear goals for the company each quarter and ensure each employee owns at least one KPI related to those goals.
Take advice from everyone but, when a decision is made, commit fully until it’s time to review.
Accept there are no silver bullets, try as many ideas as possible with the resources you have, some will work and some won’t.
What advice would you give to someone starting out?
Be persistent. Starting a business will have lots of challenges along the way, you need to remember it’s a marathon not a sprint. I’ve found the best way to do this is to get into good habits, focus on genuine priorities and try not to over complicate things, you can get bogged down in data and trying to be overly clever, but always try to create something you know you would love to use.