As I'm sure you've started to realize, I've been using my contacts to obtain interviews with professionals in the pet industry. My goal with these interviews is not only to spotlight the business that the person is involved with, but to educate pet parents about different products and services that are available to them and to help them understand what happens behind the scenes of the companies and manufacturers that they support.
This week I was able to speak to Maarten Hemmes. He is the founder of PetMate Singapore, a mobile app that connects pet parents with a doggy chauffeur. Right now, as its name suggests, the app is only available in Singapore. You're probably wondering why I would be interested in a service that wasn't available in the country that I live in.
Simple. I like the concept, and I think there is definitely a market for it here in the U.S. Think of all the pet parents who could benefit from a canine taxi service. Elderly dog owners who don't drive could get a ride to the groomer, the vet or the dog park. Teenage dog owners could get a ride to their furry friend's appointment if their parents were at work or out of the house.
Interview: Do You Want to Be A Doggy Chauffeur?
Some pet owners don't own cars. If they live in an urban area where public transportation is available, they may choose not to have their own vehicle. That's great if all your dog-related outings are within walking distance, but you usually can't take pets in a regular taxi cab and you surely cannot bring them on the subway or public bus.
That's where an app like PetMate comes in handy. With the push of a few buttons you can have a pet-friendly driver on their way to take you wherever you need to go. But how would you get a company like this up and running?
Maarten actually runs another company called CarPal – a personal courier service that is also used via a smartphone app. PetMate was a natural progression, and for that reason was very easy to get started. He used a lot of his contacts from his first business endeavor to help get PetMate off the ground.
It was also his experience with CarPal that led him to the idea for PetMate. Maarten realized that a lot of CarPal customers were looking for pet-friendly rides. There was a large need for pet transport in the area, and it seemed fitting to start a sister company that could cater to those needs.
The first phase of beginning PetMate involved testing the market and exploring the options available. They quickly realized that it would be a good idea to launch a company that specialized in chauffeuring pets. Parent company CarPal uses freelance drivers as couriers, so it seemed fitting to do the same for PetMate.
They found a group of existing CarPal drivers who were also pet parents and didn't mind transporting animals. Because Maarten had already worked with a great team of designers to create his CarPal app, it was easy to make a decision on who he should work with this time.
RELATED: Top 10 Best Pet Apps For Dog Owners
The designers helped to create an app that was user friendly, and Maarten told me that the entire support team is the same as well. The only difference is the drivers, making things on Maarten's end much easier.
Since he already had all the contacts and support that he needed, it actually only took about 2 or 3 months to develop and launch the PetMate app after he had decided to do it. Of course, the testing and market research that was performed beforehand took a few months as well. That's still much faster than it would normally take to research the business, find the right design team and search for the right employees.
PetMate just launched in September of this year, and like any new business it still needs some time to really catch on with pet parents. Things are looking good so far, and Maarten says they have already seen revenue growth and they have many returning customers.
Don't let this success story fool you. Starting a business usually isn't this easy, and it wasn't so easy for Maarten the first time around. What you can learn from Maarten is that once you start a business, networking and making contacts in the industry is extremely important. You never know when your business may grow or you may need help from those contacts.
As with most businesses, customer satisfaction is the most important thing for Maarten to be aware of. Because the customers are only in contact with the drivers, it is a challenge to understand their wants and needs. Hiring a doggy chauffeur is not a necessity, and if customers aren't satisfied with their service they will not be likely to request the service again. Maarten's business relies on 100% customer satisfaction.
To make sure that they hire reliable, trustworthy drivers, each candidate must participate in a personal interview, and the company monitors them closely during a probationary period. Customers are also always welcome to provide anonymous feedback about their experience with PetMate and any of the PetMate drivers.
RELATED: Best Pet Business Insurance Plans
Maarten also explained to me that it is important to offer pet parents the option of riding with their pet. Not all owners take advantage of this option, but he says about 90% do. If dog owners find a chauffeur that they can trust, they can request that driver for future trips and they may be more apt to let their canine companions ride alone.
Because the company is new, it is imperative to collect customer feedback to help the company grow. Maarten told me that right now representatives from PetMate personally contact every customer after their first ride to find out if they enjoyed their experience. Customers can also call at anytime to report any positive or negative feedback they may have.
Currently, drivers are only available between 6 a.m. and midnight. Maarten says there has never been a request for a driver during off hours, but he also says that they would try to accommodate the pet owner if that were to happen. As the business grows they will most likely be available for transport 24 hours a day. PetMate also offers a special hotline for users that have an emergency and need a ride immediately.
At this point, PetMate has more drivers than jobs, so they are more than capable of keeping up with the demand. Maarten knows that the ratio will change as the business grows, and he's ready for that. The company is focused on marketing right now, as they are trying to expand. If that marketing pays off, they may have more jobs than drivers in the near future.
As a business owner you always need to be ready for the challenges that you will face. Many of them will pop up unexpectedly, but the best thing you can do is plan for the future. If, like Maarten, you can see a potential issue coming down the pike, plan for it now. Don't wait until you're staring the problem in the face before you make a decision. If you have a plan in place, when the problem does arise you will be prepared and there will be no need to stress or panic.
As with most entrepreneurs, Maarten is looking to expand his company. Market research is showing that there is an interest in pet chauffeurs in many other parts of the world, even over sees. Who knows, maybe we'll be seeing PetMate become available in parts of the U.S. soon.