As a child, Alex Bedwani desperately wanted a dog. When his parents said they did not fancy the prospect of such a long-term responsibility, 11-year-old Alex came up with a simple concept: start minding other people’s dogs for short periods of time.
Little did young Alex know, this idea would end up feeding more than his passion for man’s best friend.
“My parents thought this minding idea would be a 5-minute thing – I’d mind one dog for a bit and be over it. But that wasn’t the case at all,” Alex tells Dynamic Business.
“When I was about 16 or 17 I started sub-contracting; hiring others in the area to help mind all these dogs. They would sort of work for me and I would take a commission of each dog that was minded.”
These steps as a young entrepreneur have culminated in Find a Dog Minder, a Godsend for dog owners needing to go on vacation or a work trip. The website provides dog owners with a database of dog lovers willing to take care of their pet, which allows dog lovers to earn money in the process.
“I work on it full-time and I have two full-time staff members working on it alongside me in Sydney,” says Alex, Director of Find a Dog Minder at 27-years of age.
“The initial website, the first phase, was launched it 2007. That one cost me around $50,000 because it had quite a complicated and sophisticated back-end.
“Around two-and-half years later I quit the day job and re-launched the website. The new one cost me close to $70,000. I didn’t actually get a loan or borrow money from anyone; it was all from savings and part-time jobs here and there.”
Find a Dog Minder’s users are able to find dog minders in their area with the site’s straightforward search system, which provides users with minder profiles complete with pictures, availability dates and prices.
“We screen our minders and make sure that what they’re offering is adequate; things like making sure their yard is secure and ensuring they’re going to walk the dog daily. If they pass the screening test, they can earn the right to wear a ‘badge’ that claims they have been “verified” on their profile,” Alex says.
“After you’ve had your dog minded, you can review the minder and the minder can review your dog. That’s all publically displayed, so that gives people a very transparent place to communicate. Trust is a really, really important part of what we do,” Alex says, pointing out that they have been lucky to never have found “dodgy” minders.
“We’ve had maybe one or two dogs run away, but we got them back safely. There’s never been a serious incident, but we have a support team to help minders through sticky situations if they need it.”
Both minders and owners are charged for the service, yet the prices vary according to which side of the fence the customer is on. Alex says that most of the business revenue comes from dog owners, with dog minders being charged to ensure they are held “accountable”.
“If a minder is paying a fee, they’re far more likely to let us know when they decide they don’t want to mind dogs anymore because the fees are coming off their credit card.”
While Find a Dog Minder has experienced an impressive growth in the last few years, with over 20,000 dog owners and counting, Alex points out that the online factor hasn’t been a walk in the park.
“Doing business online isn’t easy at all. I don’t have a developer background and I’m not a designer, so the challenges for me have been to get my head around how developing, coding and designing works.
“It’s not just a matter of building a site and washing your hands. There’s so much more than that. Once a website’s built, it’s a matter of constant upgrades and updates.”
As an example, Alex says the business split-tests its home page.
“We show 50 per cent of our audience one page and 50 per cent another, and we test which one works better.”
Alex says Find a Dog Minder looked at expanding to New Zealand, but found the market too small. The U.S. also became an option for overseas growth, when investors approached with a “strong offer”.
“I turned the U.S. down at that point because I feel I haven’t got Find a Dog Minder a hundred percent where I want it. I feel like I’m only at the half-way mark of where I want it to be, but those investors wanted me to leave and live in the States full-time,” Alex says.
“At the moment I want to focus on growing our database. We’ll look into going overseas in the next two-to-three years.”
As Find a Dog Minder solidifies itself as a growing success story, Alex is able to look at which factors of the business he appreciates the most.
“I’m a dog lover at the end of the day. It makes me happy that a dog owner doesn’t have to send their dog to a kennel anymore. The traditional minding of dogs in boarding kennels is so in the past now. People know what goes on in those boarding kennels. They stay in a cage for 18 hours a day in boarding kennels, whereas we offer dog-loving families and people with comforting homes,” Alex says, before acknowledging what entrepreneurs aim for.
“In saying that, there is a lot of self-satisfaction from watching a business grow from nothing into something that it is today. I love working for myself and not having a “boss” so to speak.”