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If you're not a pet owner, you'd be forgiven for not really being familiar with Rover.com. A lot of people are, however - particularly in the entrepreneurial community.
In 2011, Philip Kimmey was finishing up his junior year at Washington University in St. Louis. He was a computer science major that was confronting the fact that he would be out of school soon and wasn't quite sure which direction his life would take. A lot of his friends and classmates were getting internships, which certainly would have been an option. However, he decided that he'd prefer trying to start his own company to see what that might be like.
It's a decision he's thankful for to this day.
Rover.com: In the Beginning
Looking at the calendar, Kimmey realized that Startup Weekend was coming up in his hometown of Seattle. As the name suggests, Startup Weekend is a weekend-long, 54-hour event that is designed to bring developers, business managers, marketing experts, and other professionals together. The goal is simple: using a contest-style format, event organizers wanted to get as many enthusiastic people together as possible to form a startup in just two and a half days. In that sense, anyone could be an entrepreneur.
It was here that Kimmey was involved in the initial idea for Rover.com - something that participants saw as an "online matchmaking service" that would connect pet owners in need of pet care with people who might be able to offer those services in their area. That kernel of the idea was actually presented by a team of software developers and designers including Greg Gottesman, then a managing director at Madrona Venture Group.
Even though this idea was the contest's first place winner, nobody left that Startup Weekend with a successful startup on their resume. But Gottesman was so impressed with Kimmey's performance over the last few days that he immediately called him up on Monday morning, asking if he wanted to devote as much time as possible for the remainder of the summer trying to bring the project to life.
Indeed, this is a perfect example of just how important luck can be in the early days of developing and running a successful company. Everyone involved admits that if Philip Kimmey had gotten a full-time job that year or had taken a summer internship like so many of his friends, Rover.com would literally not exist today. Not only that, but the millions of pets that have benefited from Rover.com's services over the years would be in a worse position because of it.
After Rover.com's other co-founder Aaron Easterly came onboard as CEO later in the summer of 2011, the company was ready for prime-time. The site went live and began connecting owners with pet carers in the areas around Seattle, Washington and Portland, Oregon.
A Startup is What You Make of It
Things started happening pretty quickly for the team behind Rover.com at that point. The company's first round of investment funding happened in April of 2012, during the expansion of their services into all 50 states. This was led by Madrona Venture Group. Another round of funding was secured in February of 2013, this time from The Foundry Group.
But it was in July 2013 that Rover.com hit the map – it was then that Petco announced an investment in Rover.com not only in a business partnership capacity, but for cross-promotion with all of Petco's stores nationwide.
Though the fee structure of Rover.com has changed somewhat over the years, the core business model remains the same. Rover.com acts as a broker, matching dog owners and dog sitters together. For this, it takes approximately 20% of each transaction that is booked through the website. Over the years Rover.com has expanded beyond dog walking and now offers both doggy daycare and drop-in visit options. As is true with so many other companies operating in the gig economy today, all the dog sitters on Rover.com are independent contractors – they are not considered to be employees.
Flash forward to today and Rover.com has raised more than $91 million in venture funding. At the end of 2016, it had 181 employees - not bad for an idea that began over a long weekend. But more importantly, it has also managed to double its revenue for three consecutive years. They even recently acquired their first competitor – a company called DogVacay – in an all-stock deal that was valued at almost $300 million.
For Kimmey in particular, his goal is to one day make Rover.com a household name - something that he acknowledges will not and cannot happen overnight. He said that overnight successes like that don't actually exist: For every company that seems to come out of nowhere and become enormous, there are a team of people who have been working for a decade to make that happen.
This year marks the 10-year anniversary of the original founding of Rover.com over that Startup Weekend in Seattle, so it'll be fascinating to see just how correct Kimmey and the rest of the Rover.com team are on that point.
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