Co-founder and CEO Willson Cross with head of security Samba
GoFetch.ca is doing away with the need for kennels by matching pet owners with thousands of trusted and rated sitters and walkers across Canada
Among the first things you notice when entering GoFetch.ca’s 10th-floor office overlooking Vancouver’s West Georgia Street are the dog toys on the floor.
The next thing that catches your attention is the enthusiastic greeting from Maple, the effervescent resident corgi. While employees build Canada’s largest pet-care brand, Maple goes out of her way to make sure a visitor feels welcome.
It’s this blend of modern technology and the emotional attachment most humans have with dogs that has helped GoFetch grow from an idea sketched on the back of a napkin to a Canada-wide company with customers making a booking every 15 minutes.
Through GoFetch, dog owners can discover, book and manage personalized care for their dogs, including dog sitting, dog walking, boarding and doggy daycare. The website offers premium pet insurance for all services booked on GoFetch, secure online payments, world-class customer support, sitter ratings and reviews and criminal background checks for sitters and walkers.
The idea came about late one night in 2015, when co-founder Paul Ratchford, a former Wall Street analyst at JP Morgan, came to Willson Cross with Juno, his two-year-old Aussie shepherd pup. Ratchford and his family were taking a flight to visit family in the United States and could not take Juno along with them. Juno had a tough time adjusting to kennels and Ratchford was running out of options.
Talking with friends and family about this conundrum, they realized many Canadians were facing the same need for attentive care from trusted dog lovers and owners. Cross and Ratchford teamed up to found GoFetch in June 2015. They worked out of libraries, coffee shops and Cross’s basement to build the business plan and product. Both Ratchford and Cross are proud dog owners.
Owners can leave their pups with sitters and walkers that treat their host dogs like family and offer attentive care. The cost to board a pet on GoFetch is around $25 per night. That’s generally cheaper than kennels, which range from $25 to $45 per night depending on your location. Finding someone to walk your dog is as easy as tapping a button and a walker will be at your door almost instantly. The experience is similar to that of Uber or Airbnb.
“What we like to say is that the vision for GoFetch is a cross between lifestyle and logistics,” Cross says. “As with all online marketplace businesses, we are constantly correcting a relative imbalance in supply and demand growth.”
The traditional pet industry, valued at US$60 billion in North America, is getting a makeover. The industry overall is predicted to hit US$100 billion in 2020. And if you look at non-veterinary pet services—that includes boarding, training, walking and grooming—that’s US$15 billion, and no one provider even has a couple of points of market share. “It’s a real-world problem coupled with a massive business opportunity,” says Cross, the company’s 24-year-old CEO.
According to Roth Capital Partners, 20 per cent of millennial pet owners spend more than 10 per cent of their household income on pet products and services. Cross says this is expected to grow.
Since its founding in 2015, GoFetch has grown to more than 30 full-time employees working at the Vancouver head office. The company also has offices in Toronto, where its walking business is taking off.
Trust and safety, affordability and convenience are the touchstones the business has been built around. “The three things we make sure we focus on every day is trust and safety, affordability and convenience,” says Cross. “If we can always deliver these to the customer, we are confident in having a very big, scalable business.”
Besides its own staff, GoFetch.ca has thousands of sitters and dog walkers across Canada who work as independent contractors. “There are people who have paid for everything from tuition, marriages and vacations with their earnings from our platform,” says Cross.
In an effort to make its services more accessible to pet parents, GoFetch has both Android and iOS apps.
Says Cross: “Online disruption across all industries has and will continue to change growth rates, market share and valuation metrics, but startups are dependent on continued access to capital to fund losses. For this reason, we’re building the business the so-called ‘Canadian way’ by not letting topline focus get in the way of margins, profits and ultimately shareholder value.” While the young CEO did not comment on the company’s end goal, the growth in the category yields well to both IPOs and strategic exits at large multiples on revenues. Earnings for publicly traded pet companies grew over 20 per cent in 2017, according to Cascadia Capital.
Having access to the expertise and the resources of Vancouver’s growing technology sector benefitted GoFetch’s creation and development. “Vancouver is really well positioned to be a top startup city because we have an incredible abundance of technical talent coupled with money waiting on the sidelines wanting to be put to work in exciting companies with large upsides.”
Cross was born and raised in Vancouver. He studied at the UBC Sauder School of Business and New York University. Before GoFetch, he held internships in venture capital and then worked in a director-level position for a large ecommerce company.
Last spring GoFetch announced it had raised over $1.4 million from a mix of local angel investors and venture capitalists. The company has raised more since, but Cross did not disclose exact amounts or from whom.
According to CB Insights, between 2012 and 2016, as much as US$486 million was invested in the global pet tech sector across 172 deals. “We’re the first Canadian brand of our kind and we’re already seeing growth rates that add validation that there’s massive demand for products/services like ours,” says Cross.
Office greeter Maple takes a break
Operationally, GoFetch is doubling its business every quarter, growing every month and innovating its product offerings. “The opportunity to build a $30-million business in Canada alone in the next five years is within our grasp,” Cross estimates.
That potential for expansion and an appealing workplace culture has made GoFetch attractive for people looking for work—the firm is rated five stars on the company review site Glassdoor.com, and Cross holds a 100-per-cent CEO rating. In the past year, over 1,000 people applied to work at the company.
Director of engineering Piers MacDonald and senior vice-president Deep Singh both left senior roles at consumer technology companies to join the GoFetch team. MacDonald had worked at tech giants such as Microsoft and Plenty of Fish. Singh moved with his wife from India, where he was senior director of operations for Ola, one of the world’s leading ride-sharing apps, valued at US$7 billion.
The rapid growth and optimistic future of GoFetch.ca has not eroded the company’s original mandate to offer quality service while still managing to have fun at work. “I dance into work every day,” says Cross. “I love it—and I am confident I speak for the rest of the team.”
When asked what GoFetch can do to turn his company into a household name like Uber or Airbnb, he shrugs it off. “People knew about IBM before they knew about Apple,” he says. “Sometimes it takes a little longer for better to win.” He adds, “We don’t need to take the world by storm. We just need to make our customers happy and when we do that, the word spreads.”
“It’s been a growing business for us,” he says. “It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. You need to make that sort of commitment and investment up front.”