Every time pet owners travel, they're faced with a dilemma: what to do with their pet?
"I was asked by my good friends to look after their dog, Honey," says Alexis Soulopoulos, CEO and co-founder of trendsetting start-up Mad Paws.Opens external site
"They were going on holiday and didn't want to put their dog in a kennel. I looked after Honey, had a fabulous time, and realised other people would like to do this as well."
Alexis launched his company in November 2015, not long after graduating from university. "I got excited about this idea for reliable pet sitting. I went to dog parks and spoke to potential customers – they were just as excited as I was because a lot are faced with the problem of not knowing what to do with their pet when they travel."
Without a roster of sitters on board, Alexis approached the veterinary department of his university and put the word out. "The first pet-sitters were vet students," he says. "They love pets, they have some extra time and want to earn some income on the side for doing what they love."
Since then, his company of one has grown to a team of 33 full-time staff, with 15,000 registered pet sitters and 300,000 registered pets all around Australia.
"Our goal has always been to make pet ownership easier in Australia. We want people to know they don't have to be stressed about their pets when they go on holiday."
Alexis sat down with us to talk about how you can rest easy knowing that your pet is being well looked after the next time you're away from home, how you can earn Qantas Points as a Qantas Frequent Flyer using the Mad Paws service and how as a small start-up, the company is making the most of being a Qantas Business Rewards member to help take their staff further.
"If you go away you can book someone to come to your house (which we call pet-sitting) or they can look after your pet at their house (house-sitting). People are very trusting of our sitters and leave their pets with them for 7-8 days on average. If your pet needs a little extra company and attention while you're at work (or if it doesn't need that much attention while you're away), you can opt for daytime services such as dog walking, day care and house visits."
"Before we sign up pet-sitters we do all manner of tests and checks at our end. If you want to become a sitter you need to fill in an application form that asks about your experience with animals and your knowledge of pet care – how to look after them, and what to do in certain situations. We also find out about your house, to make sure there's the space to look after animals."
"Potential sitters also have to complete an online course and sit a test. After we've assessed all the information and results, we allow around 30% of applicants to become registered sitters."
"Then there's the community side of things, which requires owners to give sitters reviews and ratings – a bit like Airbnb or Uber. Because of this, most sitters go above and beyond to look after the animals they're entrusted with, sending regular updates and photos to owners."
"Plus, there's always a meet and greet between sitters and owners before anything is booked. So the process is very thorough – we know how much people love their pets and want to ensure the service is faultless."
"Most of the animals looked after are cats and dogs but about 10% are birds, guinea pigs and other small creatures. We do get the occasional snake and piglet; there have been no crocodiles yet!"
"The great thing about the system is the sitters and owners can list their preferences in terms of what types of animals they want to look after and what type of people they want looking after their animals. So we have sitters that specialise in cats or dogs, or dogs under a certain size, for example."
"We have a customer support team that is very experienced in dealing with a wide variety of situations. If anything goes really wrong we also have an insurance policy in place that covers damages and vet bills."
"People take their pets on planes when they go on holiday and Qantas offers great solutions for this. But there are instances when it's not possible to take your pets away with you and Mad Paws offers the solution. That's the perfect synergy between what we do.
Both Qantas and Mad Paws saw the benefits in collaborating and through the AVRO Accelerator program Mad Paws received investment from Qantas and also entered into a commercial partnership with the company.
Our business is very seasonal, based around peak holiday times every year so there's a lot we can learn from Qantas about the travel industry and how to structure business proceedings accordingly.
Because of our relationship we offer any pet owner who books a service through our digital platform 1 Qantas Point for every $1 spent."
"Our team is based in Sydney but we do events across the country. We also have an international team, with offshore support and development staff in the Philippines and Russia. As a small company, culture is really important so we fly a lot to visit each other. Personally, I travel a lot domestically, while our Head of Operations, Operations Manager, Head of Technology and Head of Product travel to see our international teams regularly."
"At the moment, flying is the main way we accumulate Qantas Points for the business, although we are starting to look at earning points through other everyday business expenses such as hotels (Qantas Hotels) and car hire (AvisOpens external site)."
"We haven't redeemed any yet but I plan to use them to purchase or partly purchase flights for staff business travel to our offshore destinations. I'd love to use the points for upgrades but because we're a start-up we have to do things in a very resourceful manner."
Earning points and being rewarded for business expenses is very useful and being able to redeem them for flights is even more so. These points are really helping to take the company further in this initial stage while we are small and still growing.