Rikke and I decided not to go anywhere for our interview but instead stay in her astroturfed dog friendly office with Lady (see below)! Rikke is the Founder and CEO of BorrowMyDoggy and is three years in to her entrepreneurial whirlwind journey. BorrowMyDoggy is a peer to peer marketplace for dog owners and 'borrowers' - hooking up the dog deprived with owners who need a break from the pawprints for walkies, playdays, sleepovers and happy holidays! A doggy lover who could never own one as a child because of her mother's allergy, Rikke came up with idea when she was looking after a friend's Labrador. In the interview we talk about the inspiration and evolution of the company to date, raising finance and the struggles building a marketplace.
Current Job CEO and Founder of BorrowMyDoggy
Education Double bachelor in Business and Economics from The American University of Paris. MBA, INSEAD.
Go to meeting spot There’s a little Italian Cafe around the corner from here that I love, so I spent a lot of time having meetings there.
Favourite book/podcast There is a great Ted Talk by Simon Sinek about how great leaders inspire and it was the foundation for BorrowMyDoggy.
Necessary extravagance Chai lattes
Favourite productivity tool/app Evernote
How do you switch off Spending time with friends, family or going for a long walk.
Female inspiration in business Reshma Sohoni
Hottest UK tech company (apart from BorrowMyDoggy!) Property Partner
Tell us about BorrowMyDoggy - can you briefly explain the concept and the motivation behind founding it?
BorrowMyDoggy is an online platform connecting dog owners to local dog lovers (borrowers) to help them take care of their pooch! It allows the borrowers to help take care of the dogs when the owners are busy, this can be for a walk, a weekend or a whole holiday. Our members are everyone from the retired, families with kids, students etc...we have all demographics in our database!
Our mission is to leave ‘Pawprints of Happiness’ on the lives of dogs and humans
I borrowed a very cute brown Labrador called Aston over three and a half years ago and I spent all day in the parks with her and I remember thinking why are people spending so much money on dog walkers or kennels or leaving their dogs alone when I would love to take care of the dog for free - everyone could benefit. This was the inspiration for BorrowMyDoggy - I shared the idea with my friend who said it was a good concept and that I should pitch it at the Lean Startup Machine.
What is Lean Startup Machine and can you share your experience being part of it?
Lean Startup Machine is an intensive three-day workshop which teaches entrepreneurs and innovators how to build disruptive products. The workshop kicks off with a series of product pitches that help attendees organise into teams. I pitched BorrowMyDoggy and it received the most votes from the 60 attendees! So I had a lot of people wanting to be on my team for the duration of the weekend. I ended up putting together a team bursting with different skills. Each team then develops its problem hypothesis, solution hypothesis and a series of assumptions which are core to the success of the business. We set about creating a minimum viable product with the goal of going to speak with real customers to obtain validation for the idea. The process promotes a problem-centric approach to business ideation. By continuously validating and invalidating assumptions, teams are forced to pivot their solution (and even problem) toward a true customer pain; rather than creating a solution and after-the-fact seeking customers with a problem.
We built a basic landing page and we also put up posters in various different places in London. Within three days 85 people had signed up! One of the questions we asked these potential customers was their reason for signing up and the responses were overwhelming - some people literally wrote paragraphs! There was an old man in Cornwall who had just had an operation and said how lovely it would be if he could make some new friends with people who could come take his dog for walks, there were families wanting to test a dog with their kids and even an Australian student who missed their dog from home. After hearing these we realised that there was a genuine demand here and not just from professionals in London - they gave me the impetus to continue with BorrowMyDoggy after Lean Startup Machine ended.
What is the best piece of business advice you have been given?
Create something that solves a problem, not just for you personally, go out and validate that a lot of other people face the same problem.
What has been the evolution to date of BorrowMyDoggy and what is the most exciting thing you are currently working on?
It all seems to have gone by extraordinarily fast! Right after we set up the landing page a friend tweeted about us and it led to a small article in Emerald Street...within 24 hours we had a 1000 sign ups and it kind of snowballed from there! We did our first round of funding which allowed us to build the initial automated matching system instead of me manually filtering through everyone trying to figure out who lived in what postcode - it took about 55 emails to get one match! We have also launched our mobile app and have been growing our community, working with partners and expanding the team.
What were the largest obstacles you faced when launching BorrowMyDoggy and what is the biggest challenge today?
To begin with our biggest challenge was manual matching. We didn't have an automated system and relied on me going through and matching the owners and borrowers (not very scalable!). Other challenges have been raising capital partially because what we are doing is very different to the existing solutions. We also faced obstacles educating our two-sided marketplace about dog safety. Today, our biggest challenge is hiring quality tech talent to help us scale faster.
What are the future ambitions for the Company?
Do more of the same in more places. There are somewhere between 9-10 million dogs in the UK and Ireland so we are really just touching such a small % of that right now. We will also continue to evolve and improve our product - one of the exciting things we are currently working on is making our messaging platform a lot more seamless and better to use.
What advice do you have for others building a two sided marketplace?
I recently read a Forbes article talking about the difficulty of building two sided marketplaces and the chicken-and-egg problem of supply and demand. For example, it took Wattpad, a community for readers and writers, three years to get to 300,000 uploads; then it only took another three years to reach 10 million!
It is about getting that local liquidity in the various different areas. I think it takes a lot of focus and perseverance because marketplaces do just take longer. My advice is to speak to other entrepreneurs steeped in marketplaces and solicit their input.
Women in Tech
What advice do you have for women looking to start their own business and raise capital?
Find something that you are genuinely incredibly passionate about and know that there is a problem for you to solve. The reason this is so important is that when the going gets really tough it will keep you going! It will also help when you fundraise. I was on a panel recently and a women said that she had had 98 rejections so far from investors...Also make sure that you are really ready to speak with investors before going out and spending a lot of time fundraising.
What business support networks do you value?
- ICE - I hugely respect and appreciate all of their advice and help along the way
- Seedcamp family - they are amazing with regards to mentoring, opening up investor networks and just so many learnings!