Kennels and catteries provide one option but they’re rarely popular with the animals and many owners are left feeling guilty about leaving their furry friends in such places.
TrustedHousesitters offers a solution to this problem by surfing the sharing economy trend.
Launched in 2010, the company provides house-sitting free of charge and has already, it says, organised more than a million nights of ‘happy’ house-sitting. Members, whether they want to house-sit or offer their house up for sitting, pay an annual subscription and can use the service as often they like.
So far they’ve saved themselves more than £150m in hotel and other accommodation costs, according to TrustedHousesitters, which now has members in 133 countries, mainly the UK, US, Canada and Australasia. It claims to have 500,000 site visits including some 1,500 new house-sits every month.
Founder and chief executive Andy Peck came up with the idea in 2010 when he cared for three dogs and two cats in a house in Spain. After talking to the owner, he was surprised to learn about how difficult it is for pet owners to find the ideal home and pet care when they go on holiday.
“Some people have described us as ‘Airbnb for pets’, however TrustedHousesitters was created as a solution to a universal problem – namely how to ensure pets are well cared for when owners wish to travel,” said Peck.
“The rise of Airbnb and other sharing economy businesses has resulted in a widespread readiness for people to share their assets, whether that’s welcoming strangers in to your home or hiring out your car by the hour, that simply did not exist before.”
He accepts that there are similarities between the two businesses – a highly engaged global community, many lives enriched by travel – but there is a fundamental difference in the ethos that underpins TrustedHousesitters; namely that no money changes hands between homeowner and house-sitter.
This is central to the business model, and to the success of the thousands of house-sits that are arranged though the site. As the sitters are not paid, they are care-orientated rather than pay-orientated and have the best interests of their home and pets at heart, according to Peck.
Pet owners and sitters choose each other based on their profiles, which outline previous experience and why they want to house-sit or want a sitter as well as video profiles, police checks and character references from employers, landlords and homeowners they have house-sat for.
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TrustedHousesitters is a “bootstrapped” business initially funded by the founders, Peck and his fiancée, with reinvestment from revenues as the business has continued to grow. It’s currently considering a small angel investment round to help realise what Peck describes as “some big opportunities.”
“Story-telling lies at the heart of our marketing strategy – our business is about connecting people and enriching lives so it’s essential that we bring this to life for our audience,” said Peck.
“We’re finding that video is increasingly the best medium to do this as it creates an unparalleled connection with the viewer. We are about to launch a series of bite-sized, easily-digestible videos in the digital space which feature stories from house-sitters and homeowners whose lives have been transformed by TrustedHousesitters. Next year we intend to move to TV.”
Day-to-day, its marketing efforts have to be cost-efficient and trackable, according to Peck and so the company has a strong focus on digital channels – particularly search, social media and CRM. PR works in tandem with this, ensuring that it gets quality, relevant content in front of the right journalists has always been a fundamental channel for spreading word of mouth about the growing trend for house sitting.
“We also work with some handpicked commercial and charity partners such as the RSPCA here in the UK and Australia, to reach out to their audiences and tell them the benefits of house-sitting,” he said.
Peck’s fiancée has a background in PR and launched ecommerce giants eBay and Tesco.com in the UK. “We took the decision to spend the first year travelling the world, house-sitting as we went, all the while gleaning insights which soon paid off as it enabled us to quickly build the business from day one,” explained Peck.
The aim is for the company to become a household name. “TrustedHousesitters offers a solution to a universal problem,” said Peck. “If you look at the UK as an example there are nearly 9m pet owning households – a large percentage of these will travel at some point and need pet care. When you start to look at this from a global perspective, the opportunity is huge.”
But it’s clearly the human stories that appeal to the TrustedHousesitters founders. “We’ve heard of pet owners naming new children after sitters they’ve become great friends with, couples that have met while pet sitting, retired early and travelled the world together,” said Peck.
“We recently enabled a widowed member to have the courage to travel on her own pet-sitting, she then met the neighbour of the home she was looking after, who’s now become her new life partner. All that feels good.”
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