With cabs, overnight stays and food delivery proving to be fertile grounds for app-based organization, reticence about the on-demand economy is fading. Now the founders behind Barkly think dog-walking could be the next arena.
The service, which launched in Baltimore earlier this year, allows dog owners to book walks without having to call a walker who might be busy. And for the workers who populate the so-called sharing economy, cofounder Dave Comiskey believes the cuteness factor provides an edge.
“Of all the on-demand companies that are out there, there’s something really appealing about getting to spend time with dogs,” Comiskey told Technical.ly Baltimore recently over coffee at the Daily Grind in Fells Point. During our conversation, we were briefly interrupted by a nanny who inquired about using the service, and perhaps picking up a little extra cash.
Barkly is still in its early stages. Having formally launched in June, the app itself is in the midst of a redesign. The company is hoping to be on the App Store in early 2016.
And since we met Comiskey and fellow cofounder Chris Gonzalez at the kickoff of Baltimore Innovation Week in September, the company changed its name from Wepwo in part to make the connection to pets more obvious. Despite its canine connotation, Comiskey said he doesn’t believe Barkly pigeonholes the company to dog walks only. I mean, they could branch out into other pet visits in the future.
— Barkly Pets (@barklypets) September 25, 2015
The D.C.-based company offers the service within “I-695 perimeter” and Towson, where the company provided its first walks, Comiskey said. Walks can be pre-scheduled or “on-demand,” which is a walk with less than 24 hours’ notice. A walk can be provided with as little as an hour’s notice, he said.
The Barkly website shows pricing goes up from $16 to $22 for a pre-scheduled walk versus the on-demand option. The company takes 20 percent of the fees.
For all of the ease of booking a dog walker with a couple of clicks, Comiskey described a process that showed attention to the fact that the business involved walkers entering other people’s homes, and spending time with their much-loved canine companions.
“As a dog walker, there’s a ton of responsibility involved,” he said.
The company performs background checks, and a member of the team personally shadows the walkers before they begin. Barkly also distributes free lockboxes to dog owners to hold keys.
Baltimore is one of only two cities currently with the service, and the app appears to be first in Charm City. But, perhaps inevitably, competition looms on the West Coast, where Wag! and Zingy have been getting attention.
— Barkly Pets (@barklypets) October 5, 2015
Though they were voted off, a recent appearance in Fast Company’s Elevator Pitch competition got some national exposure. And along with their existing East Coast presence, Comiskey pointed to additional features Barkly offers. One such feature allows owners to select preferred walkers.
“So they can build meaningful relationships with their dog walkers and keep them for as long as they’re on the platform,” he said.
Comiskey also has a ready success story: himself. When they had other jobs and just knew each other as neighbors, cofounder Chris Gonzalez was a dog owner. Comiskey loved dogs, but didn’t want to commit with his work schedule. With the app launched, Comiskey became a dog owner as well as an entrepreneur.
“I wasn’t willing to become one,” he said of owning a dog, “because I didn’t have the pet care solutions available to me.”