Woof! Rover.com Fetches $3.4 Million to Be Airbnb for Dogs.

Rover.com has raised $3.4 million to be the Airbnb of the dog-boarding market.

Rover is an alternative to dog kennels, much like how Airbnb offers an alternative to staying in hotels.

In addition to announcing the funding today, the Seattle company is also rolling out nationwide, after supporting only a handful of test markets.

Airbnb raised a blockbuster $112 million second round of funding last July from well-known Silicon Valley investor Andreessen Horowitz. In comparison, Rover has raised a much more modest round, and has nine employees. Investors in the round include Madrona Venture Group of Seattle, which led the round, CrunchFund, and other angels.

On the business side, there’s a big scale difference between the dog- and vacation-rental businesses. Despite the differences in scale, however, Rover’s CEO Aaron Easterly said the market opportunity is massive.

Easterly, who most recently worked at Microsoft in its advertising business, estimates the formal commercial dog-boarding market is worth up to $6.5 billion annually, and said that there’s a much larger informal market of people who rely on friends and family to take care of their pooches. He says that together the two are worth closer to $35 billion to $60 billion. That’s a lot of biscuits and squeaky toys.

The decision about where to leave your dog when you’re away from home is an emotional one, Easterly noted.

People want to make sure that their dogs are happy, and not just locked up in a kennel. On Rover, people can review homeowners’ profiles, so they can get a sense of how the owners would treat their dogs. Additionally, Easterly said, it’s common for the two sides to meet before a stay is booked.

Last week, I visited the company in their downtown Seattle offices with my dog, Fletch, to see just how much Rover drinks from the dog bowl.

Sure enough, my hyperactive mutt was allowed full access to the office, finding a variety of toys, from tennis balls to stuffed animals. The other four-legged residents welcomed him into their domain, although Easterly’s four-pound Pomeranian Caramel (a.k.a. Chief Rover), was wise to stay out of the way. A developer even offered to take a break to give Fletch a walk around the block.

Since launching in Seattle in November 2011, Rover.com has grown to over 10,000 active members in hundreds of cities across the country. It charges between 5 percent and 15 percent for the service, depending on a homeowner’s track record, including reviews and response times.

It has already dealt with some issues that Airbnb struggled with early on, like offering round-the-clock support and guarantees. Today, Rover is rolling out a Barkline (providing 24-hour customer service) nationwide to handle any emergencies. Rover also offers a satisfaction guarantee that covers the dog, its owner and the host, in case any problems arise.

But there are other requests that come up that are more cookie-cutter in nature.

In the video below, Easterly explains how one of the most important topics to dog owners is where their dog will sleep. Out of the 11 dogs he’s hosted, he said the biggest request was for the guest dog to stay in his bed — and sometimes under the covers.


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