clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Yeah, everyone calls us ‘an Airbnb for dogs.’ No, we’re not a tech company.

Advancements in technology have had an amazing impact on the world of business, but that doesn’t make every new startup a tech company.

Waiting and hoping to adopt, Sydney Rivette holds the leash tied to Treaty Tuesday at the DogVacay offices in Santa Monica, Calif.
Frederic J. Brown / AFP / Getty

If Petco were launching next week, it would likely start with a website. It would skip a brick-and-mortar location altogether, it’d probably be (that domain is up for grabs, by the way!), and it’d have an app, too. That doesn’t mean Petco would be a tech company.

People often call DogVacay a tech company, consider it part of the “Silicon Beach” tech scene, and think of it as an “Airbnb for X” model. I love that we get to be part of the tech community, but to be honest, we are not a tech company. We’re not even really an Airbnb for dogs (but I’ll get into that another time).

We’re a services business that happens to be enabled by technology, because any company starting today is going to be enabled by technology. If you think you’ve created a tech startup just because your company has a slickly designed website and app, you’re going to miss the big picture for your business.

Websites and mobile apps are par for the course — you wouldn't start a business today without at least one or the other. Even small, one-person businesses often have a website; DogVacay started with just a Yelp listing.

I got the idea after I got back from a vacation and was greeted with a $1,400 kennel bill and two terrified dogs. My dog Rocky hid under the desk for three days, and that kennel bill cost more than the rest of my 10-day vacation. I knew there had to be a better way, so I decided to try putting a listing up on Yelp called “Aaron’s Dog Boarding.” My then-fiancee and I watched more than 100 dogs over the course of seven months.

I wasn’t looking to “launch” a “tech startup.” This was 2011, when Silicon Valley wasn’t a show on HBO and breakout entrepreneurial wunderkinds still didn’t stand a chance with Victoria’s Secret models. I wanted to build a business that would solve the issue I faced. Tech was naturally a part of that equation, but it’s not the whole solution.

Today I see a lot of people almost laser-focused on just the tech side of business. Tech can be great — it gets us analytics that empower optimized decisions, makes user acquisition more scalable and makes it easier than ever to match two strangers in a smart and meaningful way.

However, if we focused on only the tech, we’d be missing the most important elements for our business: Strong unit economics and a high-quality supply (in our case, more commonly known as our host community). These are the same elements that would have been just as important if DogVacay had started pre-internet.

Because we’re providing a service, the most important developments in our business often come from living and breathing it every day. We send daily photo updates to our guests because my wife and I learned how much pet owners loved them when we were watching dogs ourselves. We custom-created a first-of-its-kind insurance policy to make sure dogs in our care are protected. About half of our employees work in customer care, because we want to make sure there’s someone to support our hosts 24/7. We hand-approved each of our 30,000 hosts, because we know our business is nothing without quality people in our network.

Advancements in technology have had an amazing impact on the world of business, but that doesn’t make every new startup a tech company. I view tech as a way to better enable our business, but it will never fix the problem. I’m just saying that if you only focus on the tech side of the equation, you won’t ever find a solution to the issue you’re trying to solve.

Aaron Hirschhorn is the founder and CEO of DogVacay. the leading pet-sitting service, with 30,000 hosts across the U.S. and Canada. DogVacay has booked millions of nights to date, and will book millions more this year. Reach him @aaronwh.

This article originally appeared on