Tom LeGrice was a salesperson for a large technology company, dealing with the top decision makers in very large organisations, before he chucked it in to run PetHomeStay, a website that lets pet owners find people to look after their pets when they are away.
How did the idea for the business come about?
My partner Bronwyn and I moved to Melbourne from New Zealand with our two dogs and we really struggled for help when we wanted to go out or travel. We had no social circle of friends and we didn’t really like the idea (or the cost) of leaving them in a cage in a kennel. We trialed the concept with a few people down at our local dog park and it grew
When did you start it?
PetHomeStay.com was launched in beta on August 24th 2012. In less than four months we had over 450 registered members, 200 pets and 150+ home-stays in the Melbourne region. What was the toughest challenge to overcome when starting out?
Focussing your mental energy on the core framework of your business. It’s easy to spin your wheels on completing lots of small tasks (ie the ones which you are good at), because it gives you a sense of achievement, but your business will progress much faster if you solve the big problems first.
In the first months were several issues around insurance and liability, which we have sorted now, but its hard to change things in retrospect.
What has been the most successful form of advertising for your business?
We were fortunate enough to get some media coverage by using Plan Big, an initiative of Bendigo Bank. We were featured in the Herald Sun and Leader newspapers in early December, and on the Win 6pm news, which is the peak pet boarding period, and our user numbers rocketed. We have also run Google and Facebook ads – in general we find Facebook is good for awareness and getting members, but Google is much better as it at the crucial decision point when people need a service.
How does your business model work (how have you monetised the process)?
PetHomeStay matches pet owners with trusted local pet boarding and other pet services. Right now PetHomeStay.com is free to use – pet owners just pay the HomeStay directly – but in the future we will look to take a % of the transaction, just like Airbnb.
What do you think the federal and state governments could do to make things easier for small business owners?
I would love to see a bit more anticipation and legislation to encourage global trends. For example, one of the big global trends right now is called collaborative consumption. That’s the trading or bartering of spare resources like time, space, gardens, tools or whatever.
Companies like Airbnb (peer-to-peer hotels), Zopa (peer-to-peer mortgages) or PetHomeStay (peer-to-peer pet care) have the potential to really change how people live, but we are pushing the legislative boundaries all the time, which is a risk to our business model and slows us down.
Early anticipation and encouragement would enable Australia to be at the front of these global trends, and delivering tax revenue sooner, rather than playing catch-up.
Another one could be tax breaks for people setting up their own small business – for example, if you have a job already, $20k of your salary is untaxed if you start up a business in a 12 month period. I think it is hard enough to hold down a job, while starting another one – so that would really help the entrepreneurs out there. No idea how it would work in practice though so people didn’t rort the system.