A dog is for life, not just for Christmas.” Not any more, thanks to Rikke Rosenlund, founder of BorrowMyDoggy. As we discovered at a recent Leap 100 breakfast, now a dog can just be for Christmas. Or even a weekend.
Rosenlund came up with the idea for BorrowMyDoggy on a summer’s day in 2012, when she borrowed a brown labrador called Aston. She thought “why do people pay so much money for dog walkers and kennels, when people would happily look after a dog for free?”
Fast forward to 2017 and BorrowMyDoggy has over half a million people signed up. It provides a platform for dog owners and dog borrowers to meet. Once on the platform, you type in your availability, information about your dog or yourself, if you’re the borrower. You then browse your canine or human matches and take it from there.
The matching process is now carried out by an algorithm, but this hasn’t always been the case. In the early days, Rosenlund matched people herself, introducing owners and borrowers personally. Obviously this wasn’t sustainable, but through this manual approach she learnt how to build the platform around the needs of the customer, quickly finding out what worked. “Go ahead and test ideas before you actually invest your whole life in a new enterprise”, she advises.
Rosenlund emphasises the importance of passion in every aspect of running a business, whether dealing with customers, employees or investors. She believes that the key reason owners want to lend their dogs isn’t the financial saving of dog walkers and kennels – it’s that they care about the dog’s happiness and would like for it to spend time with other dog lovers.
Community is vital for Rosenlund, and she’s still close to the early members. The BorrowMyDoggy network grew organically at the start, created between dog owners and borrowers. Now, a lot of effort is being invested to keep the community alive through social media.
Rosenlund is touched by the lives that she is able to change through her business: when she started the business she was reduced to tears when a young girl was finally longing to spend time with a dog – Rosenlund’s mother was allergic to dogs and they could not have one so she empathised with her the girl. And Rosenlund was beaming at the more recent news that a Great Dane was the ring bearer at a borrower’s wedding.
Although emotion is at the heart of BorrowMyDoggy, pragmatism is key for the Insead MBA graduate. “Entrepreneurs don’t fail because their idea is bad – they run out of money.” Rosenlund is cautious not to expand too quickly. She doesn’t have any intention of moving into different animals just yet – although the firm did tweet on April Fool’s Day that they were launching BorrowMyMicroPig. Some people took it seriously and it saw a spike of interest but, she jokes, there might be an issue on the supply-side.
In fact, matching the supply of dogs and the demand of borrowers is one of Rosenlund’s biggest challenges. But through her Kanine Councils – where employees report members’ feedback – she is able to react more closely to demand.
“Neither a borrower nor a lender be; for loan oft loses both itself and friend,” said Polonius in Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Perhaps BorrowMyDoggy would have given the king’s counsellor paws for thought.