Vested Capital
Vested Capital

Episode 17 · 1 year ago

(EP17): Sonya Petcavich Founder Of Meowtel, Uber For Cat Sitting In Over 150 Cities

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Sonya Petcavich is the founder and CEO of Meowtel.com, an 'Uber for cat sitting' service where a vetted cat sitter will come to your house and look after your kitties for as long as you need them to.

Full disclosure: I am an angel investor in Meowtel and Sonya via the Jason Calacanis syndicate.  

When I first had the opportunity to invest in Meowtel I was immediately a yes because I love cats and would use a cat sitting service straight away since I travel as a digital nomad (assuming I had a cat again - I haven't since I left Australia in 2015).

I also couldn't believe this service wasn't already widely available under one dominant brand because I've heard of similar services for dogs, for example Rover, which recently announced an IPO via a SPAC.

Sonya is a great founder, who keeps us investors updated with regular reports on the progress of Meowtel. 

Unfortunately, shortly after I invested Covid hit, which hurt Meowtel big time. Thanks to Sonya's decisive action downsizing her company, they survived the worst of Covid and in 2021 have been growing like crazy as people head out to travel again.

During this podcast Sonya shares the origin story of Meowtel, including how she 'wasted a lot of money' to build the first version of her platform, and also covers how she dealt with Covid, her strategy for growing a two-sided marketplace business and what the future holds for Meowtel.

Sonya is a first time venture-backed founder, so it was interesting to hear her thoughts on what it's like raising capital, and why if possible, she will avoid doing so in the future if Meowtel can continue to grow organically having just recently turned profitable for the first time.

Enjoy the episode.

Yaro

Podcast: https://www.yaro.blog/pod/
Blog: https://www.yaro.blog/

Hello, this is yarrow and welcome to episode seventeen of vested capital featuring my guest Sonya Pekovich. Best the capital is a podcast about how people make money and put their capital to work. I interview start up founders, Angel Investors, venture capitalists, Crypto and Stock Traders, real estate investors and leaders in technology. Sonya Today on the episode, shares the story behind the creation of meow tell. Me O tell is a hotel for cats, or really it's a person who comes into your house and looks after your cat while you're away. That's the simple premise that the business is built on. You consider it like an Uber for cat sitting, although, as Sonya explains during this interview, the original version of the business was an Airbnb for cat sitting, where the cat would go to the sitters house. Now the sitter comes to the cat. The company is one of my angel investments. That's how I was made aware of it. That's by a Jason Calkannis's syndicate, and it's been an interesting story to sort of see, because I invested right before the covid pandemic kicked in, which, as you can imagine, had a dramatic impact on a company that's all about doing something when people travel. In the case of mew tell, so Sonya went through quite a roller coaster ride during covid, having to very quickly scale down her company to reduce costs and try and ride through the storm that is covid. But she's very much made it through the worst of it and now the company has been growing really, really well, especially as people begin to travel and of course, need pets. It has and they have pets because a lot of people drink covid got themselves a new cat. So those cats need to be looked after as these people now travel. So we hear about how Sonia created her business. It's a two sided marketplace. She needs the people who do the cat sitting and the people who have the cats. As you'll hear, she's very much big on quality control, hiring and vetting the right people to be cat sitters. And then also she talks about growing the the marketing side of actually getting the customers for the business. We hear a little bit about her background. Interestingly enough, the very first version of me I'll tell was kind of like a side project while Sonnia was still finishing your studies. So it is interesting to hear the difference between doing something on the side versus going all in, and you can tell that really made a difference in the case for me. o Tell it is a company that's moving towards it's series A. However, it's now profitable, so I'm not sure if Sonia, as she said in this interview, she may not do or series a. If she can just keep growing the company at the pace it's going at now without needing more capital, she definitely will. Before you hear from Sonia. Once again, I'd like to remind you the sponsor for today's episode is Inbox Donecom, a company that provides an email assistant, a specialist who is brilliant at communication, to come in and manage and reply to email messages for you, as well as any area where communication is important. So if you deal with a lot of help, this support tickets, you have a lot of questions or comments coming in on your facebook or instagram posts or even the ads you're running my beginning, a lot of comments made to those. You need to manage them any area direct messages, certainly multiple inboxes, as well as doing, you know, the simple admin task that come from email, like updating software, managing customers, working with other members of your team. It's like a virtual assistant who specializes in everything that's inside your inbox and all the tasks that come from managing your email. That's inbox donecom. We're just about to hit our fourth year of business. We have an amazing array of clients that we love and help in all kinds of different industries. Everyone has email. Everyone's dealing with the challenge of email being a distraction and a time suck. So if, like me, I was looking for help with email and I went looking for an assistant to simplify my life, to get freedom, to be able to travel, to be able to start new businesses, write a book, all the different things you might be thinking about doing, I was thinking about doing them and really it wasn't Ntil. I was able to fully delegate my business, with an email manager as one of the key components of that, but I was able to experience that kind of true lifestyle freedom that we're all after. So if you are after too, if want to simplify your life and your business, head to Inbox DONECOM and we can help by assigning you a couple of inbox managers to make your life more simple. Okay, that's it. Let's dive in now to the interview with Sonia Pet Kevich. Hi, Sonia, thank you so much for joining me. Thanks for having me here. You are I really appreciate it. Okay, so I've actually been secretly really looking forward to this interview few reasons. One, you're running a business about cats, which is awesome. To Your weight basically in my portfolio as an angel investment via Jason Calcannis, so it's extra fun to see the growth of your company. I feel like I'm a tiny part of it, which is always cool.

And on the flip side, I also saw what you guys have kind of went through during covid so I'd love to talk a little bit about that as well. Let's start. What exactly is me? I'll tell it's a name of your company. Me Houttellcom I said it's about cats, but what do you do exactly? Yeah, so we are the number one cat sitting up in the country. Cats are very territorial animals. They're skittish, they get freaked out any time you take them out of their home environment. So when a cap parent is traveling, you can't put them in a hotel. You can't put them in a Kennel. They really should be staying home. So we specialize an in home care. You can book a me out till sitter to come to your home to do drop in visits once or twice a day, or even do overnight stays in your home to keep the kiddies company while you're away. And it's really the optimal, ideal solution for cat parents because, like I said, cats are not dogs. They do not like to go for walks, they don't like to go play with their dog friends. So bringing that perfect hospitality to our cat parents in their home is really what we do best and what we want to deliver to every cat parent here in the US and then worldwide. Yes, and hopefully Montreal very soon. As I was saying before hit record, I grew up with cats. In fact I used to for a small period of my life. We had a caravan in the back of my parents house. In the backyard is sort of like a third bedroom. When we had a blended family and we had it. Some stray cats adopt US and one of the cats gave birth to kittens in my sock drawer right next to my bed. So that was quite the experience with these little kittens sleeping next to me. Yes, it was very cute, and the other time they gave birth and in our washing machine, which was very convenient for cleaning up afterwards. But yeah, it's interesting. Well, cats choose to do. They put their babies. But, as I also said to you, I haven't had cats because I've been traveling as a digital nomad for good, I don't know, five, ten years now, and it's just hard to you know, make that bond and then you know you can't bring it with you so easily, especially if you're crossing large oceans, it becomes difficult and I don't think cats really enjoy jumping to new homes constantly either, the way we might do it. So so I'm so excited that your company exists and especially excited for you guys to come to Montreal, where I currently live. Briefly in terms of like how long you've been running this and what are some numbers we can share with how well it's going so far? Yeah, so I've been on this full time for about four years. I just stove right on in after I finished my NBA at Oxford in the fall of two thousand and seventeen and we found our first investors the the weeks after and it's just kind of been snowballing ever since, which is really exciting. We started off with just a handful of customers and that it's ground to over tenzero customers across the country. We had an interesting year with covid over the last twelve months, but now we're seeing five x year over year growth, which is awesome. We're coming out of this, I'm even stronger than we were before and we're in over a hundred fifty cities across the US it with, you know, La New York being some of our largest markets. Okay, awesome. Yeah, I mean it covid. I mean initially it sounds like it would have been extremely challenging, but on the flip side, I think a lot of people got cats for the first time or, you know, new pets. So, as you're probably experiencing now, there's the runoff of all those new pet owners wanting to travel and looking for a service. Let me out tell before we talk about me out, although I love to go a little bit back into your background. I know we were kind of joking off. Are Your name Pet Kevich? Pet Kevich seems almost too good to be true a little bit. It's like I know one of those famous tennis players, Margaret Court, and you know, all these kind of funny situations like that. But my first thought actually with Pekovich, was your eastern European heritage. But of course, nowadays, just because you have the name. Like myself, I wasn't born in East New York, but I was born in Australia to Ukrainian father and and other eastern pan you eastern European mother. Is that a similist or if you born in the US to Eastern European parents? or where does the origin come from? Not even close. My parents are third, fourth, fifth generation. My Dad's side is from Pennsylvania, my mom's I it is originally from Pennsylvania to but now they live in the South Arkansas and Texas. So even though it you know, people think I was born in Russia or Eastern Europe, it couldn't be further from the truth. So born and raised in San Diego, kind of spent most of my life in California. I'm back here in San Francisco now, which is it's nice to be back. But yeah, born and raised us American Tru blue then. So in terms of your upbringing, then, I'm guessing in San Diego or maybe more recently in San Francisco, but if you go back sort of university or even high school, was there any entrepreneurial examples in the family, anyone close to you that kind of made you think of entrepreneurship as an option, or did it really come later in life? It was funny. My Mom would make fun of me. Like growing up I would run. I was constantly trying to like come up with business ideas. I was running like a store and our own house. I would try to charge my siblings for toast and then in high school I got really into web design, like back when flash was really popular and all these like bloggers have these flash websites. So I was doing some of that. I bought some domain names when I was five hundred and sixteen and got my first credit card and I was trying to essentially make like an e commerce surf friends.

Growing up in San Diego, you're by the Beach, you're surfing, you're in the water all the time and that was kind of the lifestyle I was a part of, and so I was always dabbling in things and trying to find something that I'm really passionate about that I could then monetize. So it's always been part of WHO I am. I did have some examples. For my dad, he was starting his own projects and companies and stuff like that that. But it took a turning point in college because I wanted to go to college for graphic design since I was building all these adobe flash websites. My Mom's like, you won't make any money, so na, you have to get a business degree, and I'm like, what are you kidding me, mom? Okay, fine, I'll take my mom's advice. So I went to Berkeley and got my Undergrad and business administration. My first job out of college was with a big corporate company called all Tria, Big Tobacco, and then, you know, I got a couple promotions and I was like I don't know if I want to do this for the rest of my life, like I feel like I can do more. I want to go explore what's out there in the world. And right around the time that I was thinking about pursuing my Mba and I wanted to go to a European school or England, my childhood cat passed away. And so that was kind of the whole impetus behind the idea, from meal tall pass forward and here we are today. It's all because of my childhood cat. So then, from the point of going to Europe, there was no like did you think, okay, I'm going to start something while traveling, or was it like when I when I come back? What was the plan then? Yeah, I actually started me out till before I went to Grad School. It was only a one year program, luckily, and so I came up with the idea in two thousand and fifteen I incorporated everything. We built an MVP and about eight months and launched it and I was like great, we built it, they will come. It'll be a great success in like twelve months. But starting a company, especially a consumer company, is really, really hard and takes a lot of money and grit and scrappiness. And so I kind of spent the gap year two thousand and fifteen to two thousand and sixteen figuring things out how to be an entrepreneur, how to really run a company, all the legal things you need to think about, which is totally not fun. Then I went overseas to do a year at Oxford. I was still running the company from Oxford. We would have bookings, I would have to do these marketing emails in the middle of class. So I was trying to manage it as best as I could with a full time schedule. And then throughout the NBA I was like, man, look at all my peers getting these cool finance jobs and consulting and there's a lot of pressure to go pursue that track. But I was like, I have this great idea, it's built. What happens if I dedicate myself to it a hundred percent and see how far I can take it? And so I decided to take the less traveled path and it's worked out for me so far. But I just consider myself very lucky because most startup spale. So hopefully we won't be in that bucket and things are going well, but you know there's a lot in store in the future for us. Do you mind talking about that, MVP, because you know doesn't sound like her. If I'm wrong, you came from any sort of engineering, programming development background. I mean flash I know what sort of a programming language with the design I never don't too deep into it, but I know there was some code involved. With that. When it came to your initial thought, okay, and again if I'm wrong, but were you thinking let's build the Uber for cat sitting or I know there were some comparable, similar services from maybe dogs, and you're thinking we need this for cats. I what was the germ of the idea? And then how did you get the MVP made? Yeah, it was really originally pitched as air bb for cats, but what happened is that confused a lot of people because people were thinking, oh great, the cat goes and stays with somebody else, and that was initially the main core idea of mealtall is our sitters, our hosts, and the cat gets dropped off to stay in a home environment elsewhere rather than being at a cat hotel. But it turns out cats don't even like those situations. So we offered hosting as a service option on Yatil for about two years. Everything that could go wrong would always go wrong during the hosting reservation, and so we made a decision, I think this was in two thousand and eighteen or two thousand and nineteen, to say Nope, we're not going to do hosting, we're going to be the best at in home cat care in the clients home, and so we no longer pitch it as AIRBNB for cats. I think the corallary wouldn't be like Uber, where you can get an on demand cassid and we always have to explain it a little more because we still get a lot of phone calls like are you a cat hotel, like, can I drop my cat off at your location down the street, and we explain no, that's not the ideal solution. Here's what we offer. So that's been an interesting evolution to learn how to even pitch your company and learn what your customers want. And for us really what the end customer wants, the cats, is to stay home. So that was a great learning process. So then the the first version of your software. Did you kind of have to throw that completely out and and build something new? Or was it could you use it, or how did it go? Yeah, so I poured all this money to find this development team and huge mistakes to spend that much money on your MVP, but we actually still use...

...most of it in our architecture right now because we have so much technical debt that's accumulated over the past five years. We are in the process of rebuilding so everything runs smoothly and it can set us up for the next stage of growth. But it has lasted us this long. It's really just some of the Front End Design and the experience in the services that have changed throughout the years and of course, the copy transitioning from air bb for cats to really in homecas setting type of deal. It's good. So you could change the front end copy to pivot the idea a little bit, and maybe not a pivot, it's an adjustment of how the service is delivered and then still use the same software. That's good. So I wasn't a complete lice of hiring developers and creating an MVP. Yeah, yes, no, maybe, yeah, not really, but I mean yes, I don't you're thinking I got to do it differently, but I got us to where we are right. So yeah, so I think of an idea, like me, I'll tell and it's a challenge because it's a somewhat of a two sided marketplace right where you have to have the people willing to cat sit and you need the customers you want to hire them. I was a challenge because it's a supply to man balance. You have to do with your own initial thinking of this business and maybe, I guess the first few years you were sort of half studying half running it. What was your expectations around how hard it would be to build a market place? Because I don't know, you're like your background, it sounds like you weren't sort of studying entrepreneurship and like Oh, I see how uber got started or I see how AIRBNB got started in terms of starting with the supply side and then moving to the man side and vice versa. So how much of your thought process was around market place construction during those early years? So I know there's all of these fancy playbooks and I guess PDFs are articles that a lot of VC's put out about the perfect playbook for Buc market place type the thing. Unfortunately, you know, being a first time founder, I didn't really dive into as much of the advice pieces as I should have to really understand the mechanics of a two side in market place. My whole thinking was like this is such a good idea that if we build it, they will come and that's that and then it will be a flywheel from there. There was really no strategy behind the launch. How we've grown thus far. I shouldn't be saying this publicly, but I am because this is what every first time founder goes through and we got really lucky in the early days where I was going to conventions like catcn. Have you heard about this? It's great name, but no, I have not heard of that con no, so is the biggest cat convention specifically for cat owners in the world. Every year in La There's about twenty thousand, thirty thousand crazy cat people that just show up for this and so and I think I went the second year that it was happening. I dragged my brother with me. We got mealtol branded items like pinned and stickers and we would walk around the convention just handing them out and we actually, between that and craigslist post, which cost, you know, three bucks of Pop, we got our first couple of wonderful sitters who are still on the platform today, you know, for or five years later, because they've almost made a career out of this, which is really cool to see. So, you know, we got a lucky by just finding the right supply to initially drive that those first couple of customers to be like, okay, I think this is a trustworthy enough platform to let me give it a go at. This person looks like they really love cats, but I if we hadn't been like that scrappy and just try to find sitters wherever we could, I don't think we would have made it that far. We have learned a lot about what the right type of sitter is. For us, it's not so much about cat experience, is about other things like attention to detail, communication style. So that's been a great learning experience for us and we're constantly finessing the process. Yeah, that's the sort of thing you wouldn't know until you start really as well learning the new ones there. So I sounds like you did. I mean it makes sense. You have to do the supply side first ripe, because no cat sitters, you can have anything to sell. Right. How in terms of maybe I should put this into two face, I don't know. I feels like you had your first phase where you're the AIRBNB and it was kind of a not a side Hustle, bit half project what you finish your studies, and then it switched to being your main thing. You're going all in, and that's when it's more like the Uber for cats sitting, with the sitters coming to the house how has your marketing strategy like changed over time? Is it a case of, like, do you need to still go in ten conferences and put up craigslizads, do you? And on the flip side with the marketing, because you know you can find a great cats hit? Or but then you have no one hiring them and they've got no work, so they go and get a job somewhere else. Right. So how is the scaling being especially maybe in the last it's hard to say it's Covid S S. I can imagine has been all of the place of Covid do so. But simply put, how hasn't been to balance the two sided marketplace growth? Yeah, it was hard to manage it through covid because all these sitters just love the idea and wanted to become sitters with us. But then we would have to kind of manage our expectations and say you, guys probably won't get booked...

...for six months due to Covid, like just be ready for that. And unfortunately we did have quite a number of sitters churned through the past twelve months because they weren't getting bookings due to covid impacting travel. Luckily, it looks like we've turned the corner and now we're in a really good equal lip, excuse me, equilibrium, of onboarding x amount of sitters each week. By week four, they have their first booking and then once they get their first booking, that is really what locks them in and then they're like, okay, this is cool, I'm going to do this as a long term side hustle. On the customer side, it's we've tried a lot of different things, from craigslist to Google ads. Just throw own money at different tests to see what sticks and what converts. Luckily or it could be. You know, bad luck for us is we have one channel that works really well. Google is amazing because think about it, when you're a CAP parent, you're about to travel your stressed, where do you go to instantly fight a cat sitter? You're not going to go to facebook, you're not going to go to Instagram, you're going to go to Google. And so paid advertising, Google, organic search, working on our SEO and optimizing that has put us in a good position to be where we are today. I think everyone, like when we talk to investors, they're always like, oh my gosh, facebook, instagram, those are going to be amazing channels for you, but those are just passive consumption. When you're on those platforms and yeah, you might see an ad for a cat sitting, but then you'll forget about it. So it requires a lot of money to constantly put ads in front of them until they're ready to travel and catch them at the right time. So we're still trying to figure out those two channels, but for the most part we're all about add words, Seo and just being top of the page on being Google, etc. I can imagine where to mouth is pretty helpful too, since once you use it once and tell ask you about how how do you travel look after your cat? You mentioned me. I'll tell so do you might have to go back to your story. So I am really curious about the first time you decide to raise funding and also how you dealt with covid. But where does that come in? So you graduated and then you decide to go all in with me. I'll tell what did you do at that point? Yeah, so it was October two thousand and seventeen. I was super broke. I had all this student debt and I was like, well, I don't have a choice, I have to go find an investor WHO's willing to put money towards cats and this idea. I was in Dallas at the time and amazingly enough, I found a new ish accelerator there. I was part of their first cohort under the new managing director. I got our first ten thousand check. I thought it was like so much money. I mean when we're spending like ten dollars a day and Google adwards and we think that's like going to make us broke. You know, that's how bad things were. But that got US enough money to, you know, make a couple of improvements based on what we had learned in the past year and get a couple customers and some key cities that just would come back and keep booking, and that's all you needed to really start to build a big business. That got US enough traction through q four, which is always our peak season, to catch the interests of another accelerator down in Austin and they wrote a hundred thousand dollar check and I was like, oh my gosh, this is like if the equivalent of a hundred million dollars. And again that got US enough traction all the way through two thousand and eighteen to then bring us out to San Francisco, go through Jason Callicanniss launch accelerator, get another hundred thousand dollar check and then he eventually syndicated us through this indicate, which was awesome. We closed a small seed round right before covid. I think we signed the closing Docs January two thousand and twenty, so we're really lucky in that regard. And then covid hit. I remember the day when San Francisco announced their lockdowns. I think it was like March Sixteen, and my cofounder looked at me and he's like are you okay? Your face is completely Pale because we just had cancelation after cancelation coming in. I'm like, oh my gosh, this business is going to go to zero overnight. So we had to make some tough decisions. We downsized, we went bare bones and we've just focused on what we could control, which was product. So that's how we used the ear yeah, and that's about the time I invested in that with Jason The syndicate rays, and I do remember it was like Oh, I I mean, because I said earlier cats great, I'm investing, but then be I was thinking through all the Angel Investments I've done and which ones would be more impacted by COVID. I'm like, well, no more traveling. No one needs their cats to be sat because they're going to stay home with their cats. So you would have been one of the most hardest hit by this and and obviously everything you just describe that you did makes complete sense. You just have to get your costs right down. You know you're going to get cancelations and then wait and see. I guess would have been part of it, right, because we didn't know how long covid was going to impact. Travel still going, I guess, in some ways, but travels certainly picked up. I'm kind of curious maybe now that we are exiting Covid, you get to think about your company less about surviving a pandemic and more about growing into the next phase. And I tie this back into the I guess this is just the biggest rays you did with this indicate right, so...

...that that would have been, you know, the biggest investment you had. I'm always curious if you don't hear much about after the investment how, as a founder, you think about using this money, because it's a lot of once and you obviously have to plan a runway, but at the same time you know you want to make the best you see that money like. How did, and I totally understand covid would have flipped those ideas on your head. But now that we're out of it, how do you think about the best way to make use of investing money? Yeah, for us it really comes down to the two sides of the marketplace. So one make sure we have a hundred percent sitter coverage across the country. That means onboarding as many sitters as we can. What we need to be able to do that is get butts and chairs here at HQ and people who are capable of wetting and on boarding them. We have the most rigorous sitter wetting the process across like the major pet platforms, including rover and Wag, where we do facetoface zoom calls with all of our sitters, so we get to know them. They are very clear on our policies and expectations and you know, because we wouldn't feel comfortable putting someone publicly on our site if we hadn't at least had a conversation with them and seeing them facet base. So it does. That does require a bit of time and quite a number of staff members to help with that. So that's really where the money is going. On the supply side, luckily, for like sitter acquisition, there's a lot of word of mouth and we have a good seo with cat sitting APP and cat sitting jobs, and then we get random shoutouts on ticktock, which drives like hundreds of applications for free to us that we don't have to spend a ton of money to get the right number of sitter so that's great. On the flip side, for customers, really, you know, managing our monthly spend for PPC and it's it takes, you know, seasonal highs and lows, like q four or cat drops significantly because there's just so much demand that we don't need to spend a whole lot to get a ton of conversion. In this lower time, such as q one or CAC increases a lot, so we do have to spend a bit more. So just balancing how we want to spend it in which digital channels we do want to spend and then, of course, allocating a bit of money to constantly test to see where we can acquire more customers and more efficiently. Okay, makes a lot of sense. As funny as you talk, I run a company. We provide email management. Think I might mention to you one point. It's so similar in the sense that people go searching for a solution, and you know, we get most of our customers from Google too, because it's when they need to solve a problem. And one of the things that I struggle with is this. You want to spend as much money as you can in some some shape or form to get as many customers as you can, but of course the supply side has to meet that demand. So you probably feel the same way. You want to quality control the people you're hiring, as you just said, you have a great hiring process and betting an onboarding process. You know, as a founder, if you feel the same, you feel like I wish I could just press the button and get as many customers as I can. Or do you actually like the kind of the balancing of both sides? And obviously you see it's necessary. The balancing is necessary, but I wish there was a magic button where if I press it I get too new on boarding specialists, five hundred new sitters and then a thousand new customers what I think what we currently struggle with us. I mean we double the size of its internal team overnight in the past like six weeks or not right in the past six weeks, and just hiring the right people for the core team. That's in itself is like, I mean that could take my entire week, but that's the CEO's job right to hire the best people, get them into the rules allocate resources accordingly. So I think right now we just need to do more of that hiring for the core team so that we can eventually start pushing the buttons on both sides of the market place. So, you know, we'll see customers come in, like a newer city that we recently got a couple of great sitters in and for some reason or another other outside the sitters radius or the sitters actually not available, and to see us, you know, spend money to acquire them and then no sitter can health. There's nothing more frustrating to me than seeing those scenarios happen. So of course we need massive sitter coverage. So, you know, getting the onboarding team first, then get the sitters, than gets customers. It's process, but it's necessary. Yeah, jungle, I am curious then, what is the day in the life of Son Your right now in terms of your your CEO, but you just an HR manager right now or like, what is the day in the life like for you? I do a little bit of everything. I even do cast sitting on my own platform. I what is it called, dog fooding the the platform. Yeah, so I have my own kitty clients and my own to profile me ut also. Usually I'll have, you know, a kitty visit in the morning with my own clients and then I get into the office, talk to my technical cofounder. We talked about product for a little bit, talk about bugs that came in overnight and then I kind of check out the phone call see what kind of tickets are going on with our customers. I still make a lot of reference calls in the sitter process. I still answer are eight four for meal tall number at least a couple times a day. So a lot of our customers and sitters that call in they're actually still talking to the CEO from there. All you know, take a look...

...at slack, see which team member needs guidance how I can help clarify anything that someone stuck on. Then I do try to spend a few hours each day reviewing our processes, budgets, allocating our ad spend accordingly based on new sitters that we have. So I guess that would be a representative day, but it varies so much. But just you know, spending about an hour on each of the core functions and that's really varied. Are you delivering the making the choice to still be a cat sitter and still add to the phone, just to keep your pulse on that part of the business. And also, you know, we're seed stage company. I live in San Francisco. I don't have the highest CEO salary out there, so of course the extra income helps me a lot personally. But it's always interesting to talk to our customers see what the actual sitter experience is light because I think if I didn't do that I wouldn't be able to provide excellent customer service. We consistently have NPS scores that are over ninety because we are so in touch with the experience and that trickles down from the CEO down to the entire team and then outdo our our sitters. So even if, for you know, series a series B, I'm still going to be cat sitting on the platform. I'm still going to be talking to our sitters and answering calls because I think that's so crucial to the overall experience. Do you foresee, or maybe this is already in place, every new employee has to be a cat sit are at least once as part of their own boarding with me out town? That would be ideal. But we do outsource a lot of our team. So we have team members in the Philippines and Mexico, which helps with our overhead. So they're obviously they can't be sitters because we're only in the US, but they are training as such that it's so thorough and I expect every team member to know all of our processes through and through that and I share my personal sitting story. So I think they have enough knowledge at their fingertips that helps them understand it's going on. I guess long enough time frame. If it is global, at some point you could have every employee, potentially you do at least one cat sitting session, but you know, obviously, yeah, you know in Mexico yet and so on. I'm curious. So you mentioned your see your series a as a possibility, as a next sort of phase, and growth, I guess as well, or at least fueling growth. How do you like prepare for that? I know you're first time founder, but I've never raised this a series a was bootstrapped. What is it like to prepare for that as the CEO, and I always wonder too, how much of a distraction do you find fundraising is versus running the business? I know you have to do both, but how do you find they can the whole experience? I will answer the second part of the question first. Fundraising is a nightmare. I don't enjoy it. Even raising our precede seed that was like pulling teeth. I had, you know, dozens and dozens of meetings that. I know that's standard, but it's just like I am such a people pleaser and I want to be so involved with the business and know what the customers are experiencing that I would rather dedicate my time to just providing an amazing experience rather than going out raising money. If you can build a business such that you don't need to raise funding, then that's a to me. That's a much stronger business in the long term and the only type of business you should be building. So to answer the first part of your question. Series a isn't off the table. All of our investors. Do you want us to go raise money? They're like, your matrics are amazing, now is the time to go raise the market is hot, and I'm like yeah, but you know, we're profitable, we're growing on a really nice pace. Why would I go dilute myself when we don't need to? And the interesting thing about me, iutill, is we collect cash up front, usually about thirty days in advance of the booking happening. So we have, you know, a really nice free cash flow happening in case we need to use it on payroll or increase our ad budgets. So it's like a zero percent loan that we constantly have from our customers. So keeping that in mind, is just like, if the terms makes sense and we find a great lead who we do want to work with over the course of ten years, and yeah, you know, I would be open to talk about a series D A and getting them on our cap table, but until we find the right people and the right terms, we're still just going to be scrappy boostrap it, because we did reach profitability as of last month, so it's just a really great place to be in right now. Yeah, I think Jason uses the term Pegasus. I think, for yeah, it's someone who doesn't need to do more rounds because they can grow off of cash flow. I think fitbit was the company was talking about more recently that did that. And sure, why not? Like for all the reasons you just said, and don't have to dilute anymore. You can still grow at the pace that investors are happy with. You're happy with way you go in terms of that, then what is your vision for the way this is going? I know clearly passionate about the business itself, so you probably see yourself doing this for ten years. But where do you want it to go? What do you most excited about? I'm most excited about just providing a service that has never been offered to the cat parent community and doing it so exceptionally well that no one is...

...going to leave your service in Churn. So I usually compare this. I know this is a silly comparison, but do you know in and out Burger? Yep, so they do one thing and they do it exceptionally well and their customers ry of about them, Yada, Yada. That is the equivalent of what I want me. I'll till to be for the cat world. So yes, we can eventually expand into other services or in products, even though that's becoming a more and more crowded space as you have more niche consumer brands hop in there and notice that there is a gap for all cat parents and services are way more difficult to do because you do need the supply, you need the right supply, you need a loil supply. So if we can figure out the services and do it really, really well, you know that will be a huge and successful business on its own. But once we have that part down, you know the opportunities are endless and we can just conquer each service vertical for cat parents as we wish. So that can include in home grooming, in home vet visits, anything related to in home experiences, even cat health insurance. You never know. So kind of building out this full stack model, assuming we can do each exceptionally well, a Llah in and out make sense, make sense. Do you ever think like, especially now with the growther going through, does the idea of one day you might be the Unicorn founder and all the potential publicity and limelight that might be showing on you, especially as a female founder. Does that ever cross your mind? It's a little terrifying. I am naturally introverts. I don't use social media. You know I have instagram facebook accounts, but I'm never on them. I am willing to do interviews, but I don't want my face on the front cover of a magazine or a blog. So, while you know that is the end goal, to have a company that big, that Garner, there's that much publicity, am I going to be the right person at that stage to handle that? I don't know, and as a CEO of a startup you always have to be the mindset of yeah, you are replaceable to for this stage. I might be the perfect CEO for years ten through twenty. I'm probably not going to be the perfect CEO for the company. So we'll wait. You will cross that average when it comes. It's exciting, Sonia, for the people listening in who especially are interested in a marketplace business like yours, like they're thinking of starting something. You know might be very fun phrasing to the general public the way you are, or maybe it's no more business to business, but it's still a market place. They have to find the supply and have to find the demand and there's probably some kind of software that needs to be built to make this least again the project. How would you advise they start, especially now that you sort of had almost two phases, the little it with a development house and then change the topic a little bit, and now you're doing a complete rebuild of your technology stack, so you kind of have this experience. How would you suggest, or even how would you recommend Sonia from five, six years ago get started if she was starting, you know, right now. So locally now, and I know Jason Talks about this all the time, there's the no code dragon drop APPs that you can build. Of course you want to prove out your idea because there's so many. I mean there's still a lot of good ideas that are out there that can you can build a big company around, but increasingly there's we're going to run out of ideas, especially around market places. I mean, how many more market places can you build for what services and products? EAMONN at Delaware? So use like a no code APP to build your mvps. You're not spending up boards of like a hundred thousand dollars like I did on your MVP with a full development team and then validate that your supply wants to provide the service or product that they are going to do to your marketplace. Validate and talk to customers before you even work on the MVP. That's something I didn't do well in the early days. I was just like, Aha, I'm a cap parent, I had this problem, I now want to go solve it. I didn't talk to anyone else who owns a cat. Huge Mistake. So talk to people who would potentially be your end users. See what their pain points are, because it will probably be very different from how you're thinking about solving the problem that you're trying to solve. So, using those insights, you'll be able to build a better marketplace and that will also dictate what you need to get on the supply side and how you bet them or find them and stuff like that. So just do your research. You probably want to do, I don't know, fifty to a hundred hours of research for both sides and then figuring out how you're going to build the MVP and then, if everything checks out and it sounds like your supply could really solve the problem for your customers, go go build it, but again, use the dragon drop. Don't build a belt and team. So you shouldn't spend more than, I don't know, five to ten thousand dollars on this whole process and building your MVP in full. And do you recommend raising some kind of finance or joining an accelerator like you did? Yeah, I think accelerators are really helpful. Being a first time founder, female found under coming from the corporate world, I had no idea what I was doing. I had no idea about how to review term sheets and what cap tables are and all that fun stuff, and they teach you all...

...of that and they also teach you a lot of great like why commentator, I guess, like guidelines on how to build a great company that customers love. So it's a great twelve to thirteen weeks that you're going to spend just learning about how to run a company and be an entrepreneur. Yes, they will take a big chunk of your company up front, but I think that is worth it if you are first time founder. If you're a second time founder, you can skip the accelerator stage and either bootstrapper, go raise a seed or precede. But first time founders, yes, do an accelerator and if you can somehow manage to build a company that people will pay for from day one, then maybe you don't even need to raise funds. Yeah, depends on your business model. And just in terms of raising, do you think, especially for selling brand new that they should get to a point where they show some kind of money, revenue, profit or, you know, traction of some kind before they attempt the raise? Because I know some people think it's a cash twenty two. You know, I can't get into raising money because they want me to show tenzero dollars a month in run rate. But I can't get to tenzero a month and run rate until I build the first version of my software my MVP and try and get customers. I haven't got money to do that. So what do you think it is it a case of friends and families and fools, as they say, to get your first investment and try and build the first reasoning with that, like, what's your advice? I think so, and I think if you're going to be a founder, you need to take that risk yourself to and invest your own money, or else investors will be like why am I going to take the risk? So and I struggle with the whole idea of like, oh, I can go raise money off of, you know, my tenzero active monthly users. That's growing every single month. Because the question is like how do you monetize them eventually? And yes, that works for social platforms, and I know there's a lot of different tactics you can use to then, you know, take the facebook route. But to me it's like, if you're going to start a company, you are in business to make profit, so demonstrate that you can make profit from day one, that people are willing to pay. So and I know back in two thousand and seventeen I was just like so frustrated with the whole fundraising process because I was like I just need more money for Google to show them that I can get to Fiftyzero a month and revenue. But I think if you're just you keep your head down, you focus on your end users and your customers, you will get there, with or without money. So that's why it's so important to be in touch with your your in users, talk to them and then just keep building to address their needs. Yeah, good advice. You're right. Like the whole social raising capital without money does seem to work well or works in the social community side of business models. But certain business models. I don't think, like you said, you got to show some kind of sales at least least. I'm curious maybe, as we kind of wrap up interview here, in terms of running the company today, now that you really do have traction, I think you've fair to say you will untually a product market fit and we've talked enough about how you're planning to scale both sides. What is the greatest challenge? I often think with the text startup it's more peck. It's software related. You're a market place, so it could be market place related. But what do you personally find is the hardest thing to deal with? People, both at the HQ level and because people is what drive our business. The sitters, just making sure we have the right ones on board, making sure that they're going to be loyal to us, mayking sure that they're not going to do anything stupid or silly that could then result in, God forbid, a lawsuit for us. And of course those are going to be growing pains and we will reach the critical mass where it's just inevitable that those things happen. But finding the right people, making sure they're not our bottleneck on our growth trajectory, because I am very, very adamant that even if we have to curb our growth due to lack of supply, or, let me refuse that, a lack of the right supply, that is an unfortunate risk or slowdown I am willing to take because I'm sorry to wag, if you guys are listening to this, but wag the on demand dog walking APP. They got three hundred million dollar in funding from Soft Bank and they're Achilles heel was really the quality of their walkers. They had so many issues they got slammed in reviews and they just could never recover from that and they went from having like a twenty percent market share down to I think five percent now, based on the most recent article I read, and they lost that to rover, who does have a few more QA controls, but still not so level that we have. So just making sure that we're a people oriented business, making sure we elevate the capabilities of whoever joins us, whether it's HQ or on our supply side, and making sure they feel valued. Nothing is worse than coming to a job where your boss is constantly yelling at you you're doing everything wrong. So just setting everybody up for success and I think my corporate background and being a leader and they did all the corporate manager training with me...

...because I was leading teams. That still has a strong impact on how I run the business and how I managed my people. So and just, you know, treating everybody with respect. So, yeah, people are is the biggest hurdle. Yeah, no, also good advice, and I can coming from experience. You can really tell. You did mention there you you left the corporate world and you said earlier that almost of your friends were all heading in the direction. They're graduating, and no doubt the salaries would have been healthy at the time. And yet you decide to take the leap when you raise funding. I mean even in this interview you said you're still doing some sitting on your own platform because it's expensive to live in San Francisco and you've got a thunder salary right now. So it's not just to know your customer, it's a little bit, you know, be a true side hustle. That might be talking to hear for some potential founders as well. What is your advice for those who are at that stage in their life, or maybe it's even later in life? But they're thinking, I'm going to leave the security of the salary and the employment to jump into a startup. And in your case, you know, you really came to it without having lived in the startup world before, so it was truly a jump into something new. What what's your advice to someone doing that and maybe is there anything different you would advise them to do compared to what you did? I think my Achilles heel is that I'm a very decisive person. So when I'm motivated and passionate about something, I just go do it and I figure it out, no matter how broke it leaves me or you know how miserable I am, because it's hard. You eventually figured it out and hard work always pays off. So just if you think you have a great idea, if you want to go pursue something you're really passionate about, just go do it. Take the risk. It does help to have a nest egg or just, you know, a little chunk of money set aside, which I didn't have, but I was so decisive and ready to do this that I was just like, I'm going to figure it out, it's fine, and you know, I was like if everything fails, I can be a cassiter and support myself that way, and that still holds true today. But also when you're ready to jump off the cliff and take the leap, please have make sure you have done some research on your idea. Make sure it's validated. Did make sure if you're joining at an early stage startup team, maybe you're not the founder. Please do your diligence on them. Make sure you are willing and able to work with these people for next ten years to make sure the equity is worth your time and money and opportunity cost. So have some money so aside. Be Decisive and jump in, but do your research beforehand. Also sound advice. Maybe last question for your son yet and my second last question. First of all, you're growing. Is there any hiring positions you want to shout out that? Never know, the might be a listener in here who wants to work with Meltell is. Any positions particularly you're going for right now? Yes, we need a junior full stack developer or someone who does full stack but also mobile development, specifically react for our mobile APP, and then we always needs support specialists. So if you want to die right on into are cittervetting process and support our customers with help tickets and helping, you know, them have a great experience. We're always hiring for those seats. So you can email me, Sonya as Sonya at Mealtillcom, if you want to chat more awesome, and I'm assuming me outailcom would have possibly those list things are. Is there a external job site you you put job postings on our not yet, but so yeah, just email me or email fell off at me a'llscom email. So last question then. Let's say we get you back on the show in five years time, what would you like to be talking about regarding me? I'll tell what would you like to see it? I know it's a long time, five years, but you know, roughly speaking, yeah, I want me I'll hold to be a household name if you are a cat parent. I want us to have national exposure, national coverage, and for everyone to equate the word or the phrase cat sitting with me out all, just like if you're going to start for something, you go google it. That would be the biggest honor to own a service, I guess, and have the brand represent the service type. So that's where we're going to be in five years. Nice and you see yourself doing much like you're doing now, or do you think your role would be different then? Oh Man, well, I will for sure have like stepped out of the daily grinds and being in the weeds with our customers a little bit. Of course I'll still do a little because I just can't help myself, but I will be doing more high level strategy, hiring CFOs, sea level people, eventually finding my replacement CEO maybe, and just thinking more high level strategy. Okay, Awesome, Sonia. Thank you for taking the time. Anything else you want to throw it us before we wrab? What the call? I don't think so. Just if you want to be a cat but you still want to be a nomn, you can be a cat sitter when you come visit the US and get free accommodation with overnights the yeah, no, I'm good. So thank you for having me. This has been great. Thank you. Right, and that's a good point. You too like it's cat...

...sitting, but as the cats that are you get to stay in someone else's house to right, so it's kind of like an AIRBNB's that yeah, that's a not a benefit you don't hear about. Yeah, or the other services like trusted how Sitterscom, where you travel the world and get free commodation, so you can technically you the same with me aunt all, yeah, except you're getting paid to do it rather than just getting for your commodation, so it's even better. So, yeah, interesting, okay, so me, I'll tell, I will put the link, but it's me ow like a cat, tell like hotelcom. Thank you, Sonia. Good luck with everything in the future and and hopefully we will get to talk in maybe even one or two years, with the continued growth and obviously, as an angel invest in your company, I wish you the best of luck and I love your updates. So you know, not every investment I do does the updates like you do, and it's so great to read that. You know ongoing, weather bad or good. As you went through the covid it was just great to hear what was happening there and knowing you were still alive. You know one anything. And then now, as things are much better and hopefully will continue, just to see that the passion get litten, see the continued growth. So you have the good work. Awesome. Thank you so much. I hope you enjoyed that episode with Sonya Pet Kevich. That was a fun one for me, especially because I got to hear a little more behind the scenes of a company that I'm an angel investor in. I have a very, very small share in her company, me Ou tell, and I'm excited about his future. I really do think it's got a potential to own the space that it's in, and you can see that's very much Sonia's goal. Just a little insight into angel investing in case your you've never done it or you are curious about it. I will be straight up with you. I'm relatively new to it. I did have one very early investment or exit. That was one kind of outlier. More recently, in the last three four years, I've been putting a lot more investments out there. Small investments there anywhere from two thous all the way up to maybe fiftyzero. When you're going back in investing a second and a third time in a company that's already, you know, doing well, and I very much follow the philosophy that Jason Calcannis puts in his book angel and we talks a lot about on his this week in startup podcast. It's very much because of Jason. Then I got more serious. I read his book, I listen to his podcast. I joined his syndicate and seeing the potential companies that came through his syndicate and also a few other places like Angel List and some other syndicates I joined, really made me get excited about the potential. Not to put my entire net worth into angel investing. It really is a, you know, small proportion. I mean my s early S, so I'm not young enough that I would be putting, you know, fifty percent of my net worth and angel investing because I could lose it all. But I'm happy to put ten percent and even twenty percent potentially, once the winners start to surface, with the expectation of, you know, some some big returns. Like there will be no bigger return in terms of multiples, I think in terms of investment then I will get from angel investing, assuming even one of these companies, does you know any kind of result that would be considered a good result? If any of them become a Unicorn, of course that's a billion dollar evaluation plus, then the result be even better. That are like a minimum twenty plus return on initial investment. Some of them, if they reach that point, we can be talking a hundred times the investment money and you're not going to get a hundred times a return on the you know, anything in the stock market or property investing. You know, maybe if you're the founder of your own company, you're obviously going to get a hundred times return because you probably didn't, you know, put much money in it, but you put a whole lot of sweat equity in. So that's the only place where you can potentially get this a similar kind of outcome, but it is very high risk. So that that's clear. Sonya is just one of about thirty three companies I have. I should say mew tell. It's not son yets her company that I'm invested in and there are very different results. Like Sonya is one of a few of the companies that are in my portfolio that is now, I mean she had troubled during covid for very obvious reasons, but is now today, especially most of two thousand and twenty one, as we record, this has seen some very good, solid growth, the kind of growth you're looking for from an angel investment. Obviously I can't real when I know around numbers because that's private information from from the company, but it's great and if it continues along those lines and this will be a great success story. But you never know. Companies can stall, they can slow their growth dramatically, they might get an exit early that turns out not to be as big. I had one of my company's exit early for a x return, which is still considered, you know, pretty amazing. If you think about it, getting three times your money back after just a year or two would be huge. In a stock market or property investment or something like that. That would be called a crazy boom market like, you know we are in some parts of the world right now. So that's considered, you know, a good result in angel investing, but not the kind of result we're looking for, looking for the x plus kind of results. So time will tell. With with me, I'll tell. And of course I also back Sonya and the company because I actually want the service. I really am hoping that mealutell gets up...

...and running soon in Montreal so where I live I can get a cat and when I want to travel we have no problem getting someone in to look after the cat and the whole time. And I thought it was actually a really interesting point about potentially you could be a digital nomad pet sitter. You could use something like me Otell, get paid for looking after cats and get your combination for free. So it could could be a way to be an amazing, you know, digital nomad hack the way. Some of those house sitting companies are used for that, but that's usually this free homes. This is actually getting paid to stay in someone else's house and, of course, look after their cat or their cats. Okay, that's enough. As I said, I hope you enjoyed the interview with Sonia and even if you're just listening to this podcast as a potential entrepreneur or a current entrepreneur, you hopefully got something out there regarding son new's advice, you know, investing, hiring, building a two sided market place. There was a lot in that. And on that note, if you do know a person, a friend, a family member, a League, who's considering leaving their job, or maybe they're young and they're just about to graduate from High School, university and they want to be an entrepreneur, share this episode with them because it will be one of an important tool kit resources, a research tool to give them insight into what they need to start learning about as an entrepreneur. Tonia, I think is a great actually an interview guest for that because she has just lived it. She just gone from not being an entrepreneur to being one, learning about, like she said, you know, cap tables and raising funds and the legal structure and all that sort of things. So she surfaced a lot of the ideas that anyone who's a new entrepreneur will need to know about. So if you have one of those people in your life, send them to vested capital episode number seventeen with Sonya Pet Kevich, or just send them to vested capital in general and they'll get lots of interviews with people like Sonia. You can subscribe to the show. Please do so. Hit The plus button, the follow button, the subscribe button in any of the APPS you use to listen to podcast Google, apple, Amazon, spotify, I mean all those places. Best to capital. You can find the show there. You can also find it on my blog. Just head to yarrow why a ro Ot blog, forward slash pod pod, and that's the podcast page where all the episodes are slowly released as we release them on the feed. Okay, that's it for me. My name is yarrow. I will talk to you on the very next episode of vested capital.

In-Stream Audio Search

NEW

Search across all episodes within this podcast

Episodes (86)