Dog-walking start-up Wag quickly grows from pup to fierce competitor

Dog-walking start-up Wag quickly grows from pup to fierce competitor
Wag provides scheduled and on-demand dog-walkers through an online service for busy pet owners. (Wag Labs Inc.)

After selling his dating service ChirpMe to Europe’s Massive Media, Joshua Viner considered getting a dog. But whenever Viner talked about becoming a pet owner, people suggested he was too busy. 

Turns out, they were onto something. 

Viner’s new start-up, Wag Labs Inc., has found a customer base in busy pet owners. It’s among the fastest-growing early-stage start-ups in the Los Angeles region, and Silicon Valley investors are giving the West Hollywood company a close look.

Wag, now up to 40 employees, connects dog owners with walkers and groomers through online software. Other pet-centric start-ups such as Rover and DogVacay offer additional or competing services, including dog-sitting.

But Viner, chief executive and co-founder, says Wag is gaining market share through personalization and transparency. Owners get digital notifications from the walker or groomer at every stage of the process. Even the exact spot where and time when a dog takes care of its business during a walk is marked on an app and shared with the owner. Owners can request a live video feed of the journey.

Wag takes as much as a 25% cut of walks, which run about $20 for 30 minutes, though special offers can reduce the payoffs. Viner declined to provide data about usage or sales.

Most of the walks are scheduled. People make arrangements, including getting a free lock box from Wag if desired, for allowing Wag-vetted walkers access to the pet. But Wag also offers on-demand services.

The same options apply to Wag’s mobile grooming van, which gives an hour-long wash with before and after photos of the dog.

“We want to make it so more dogs get adopted, and people have one less excuse to not get a dog,” Viner said.

The company raised $2.45 million in initial funding from Greylock Partners, RRE Ventures, Structure Capital and others last year soon after launching in January 2015. Fresh funds could be essential as the company expands beyond its first handful of regions. Last week, Wag launched offerings in Denver and Portland, Ore.

Wag is overwhelmed by people wanting to be walkers, Viner said. Most of the accepted applications are from women studying veterinary medicine or working in similar fields. They can earn about $17 for a 30-minute walk, including tips, and they do anywhere from two to 10 trips daily.

All walks are one-on-one (unless someone owns multiple dogs), with no immediate desire to provide group walks in which dogs can “socialize,” Viner said. On the docket though are plans to have a training service that, for example, would get a puppy ready to go on walks.

Wag is investing in other opportunities related to pets as well. It recently launched a Snapchat account, WagTV, that the company hopes to make the most popular digital TV channel for dog videos. For every mile walked through its service, Wag says it donates a dime to a no-kill shelter. And it acts as a fundraiser when users need help taking care of a dog’s medical bill.

“There’s a lot of little extras that others aren’t providing,” Viner said. He says the pet technology industry remains under-invested in and that Wag can coexist with competitors.

It took Viner awhile after he started Wag, but he did end up getting a dog, a golden retriever named Norman, he said.

Technicolor announces ‘Experience Center’

Special effects and entertainment technology giant Technicolor has opened a new space in Culver City for developing virtual and augmented reality experiences.

The Technicolor Experience Center, led by executive Marcie Jastrow, aims to establish the firm as a key player in the emerging industry. It wants to bring in outside filmmakers and technologists and have them collaborate on commercially viable projects.

Separately, Technicolor has a research unit working to improve the technologies that are needed to make and sell virtual and mixed reality content.

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Coming up

Media publication VentureBeat’s GamesBeat conference continues Tuesday and Wednesday in Rancho Palos Verdes. John Hanke, CEO of “Pokemon Go” developer Niantic Labs, and Kabam CEO Kevin Chou, are among those scheduled to address a crowd of several hundred investors, analysts and video game executives.

Virtual Reality Los Angeles, the biannual conference highlighting start-ups pursuing the new medium, takes place Friday and Saturday at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

Twitter: @peard33


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