A Q&A with Swifto CEO Mohammed Ullah. The New York City–based startup announced at the end of April that it had raised $2.5 million from Benchmark Capital, its first round of institutional funding.
SUB: Please describe Swifto and your value proposition.
Ullah: We are a dog walking company with the goal of turning pet services into a scalable project by integrating it with technology and an enterprise level back-end. Pet services is a huge industry but currently dominated by small businesses. Here in New York City, after a certain point of growth, dog-walking companies find that there are too many complexities in their operational back-end to make it profitable to grow any further.
SUB: Who are your target markets and users?
Ullah: Our target markets are large metropolitan areas with dense concentrations of dog owners with high disposable income. Our clients are commonly professionals who love their pets and want to give them enough exercise, but find it difficult to do so because of time and work constraints.
SUB: Who do you consider to be your competition?
Ullah: We have two major sources of competition. Independent contractors and small dog walking companies are the first type. The second include major pet service marketplaces like dogvaycay or Rover.com The core of Swifto is to combine the best of both worlds. Unlike marketplaces, we control the entire client experience and provide them with everything they need from end-to-end. Yet, unlike small dog walking companies, we’re creating an economy of scale so we’re able to provide lower prices for a much better service, be more accommodating to clients and their needs, and extend our market-share across large geographical areas.
SUB: What differentiates Swifto from the competition?
Ullah: A few things. First, our GPS tracking mobile application allows owners to guarantee that their walks are taking place, which is a concern many owners have in the city. Second, because our back-end is built as a web application designed for scalability, we have fewer restrictions in terms of being able to accommodate a client. Many of the other companies in Manhattan for example, are only able to take on clients who use them 10 times a week, and so forth. And lastly, because we’re able to execute to scale, we can spend a large amount of resources on customer service, the core of our business.
SUB: When was the company founded and what were the first steps you took in establishing it?
Ullah: The company was originally founded in Israel as a virtual job market called Today-Job. It eventually became Swifto after we were scouted by VCs, brought to New York City, and pivoted into pet services because it was the most profitable area for us.
SUB: What was the inspiration behind the idea for Swifto? Was there an ‘aha’ moment, or was the idea more gradual in developing?
Ullah: It’s a combination of both, I imagine it’s the same way for most startups. You originally start with an “aha” moment, and begin to draw up the blueprints for your vision. Then as time passes, you run into new problems, both complex and simple ones. As you work through them, your vision becomes clearer, your machine gets tweaked, and gradually you develop a smooth running scalable business.
SUB: How did you come up with the name? What is the story behind it?
Ullah: Unfortunately this is Top-Top secret. Has to do with our goals of world domination.
SUB: You recently raised $2.5 million in new funding. Was this your first round of institutional funding?
Ullah: Yes. Our Seed funding was generated when our founder—a brilliant serial entrepreneur from Israel–won several business competitions all over the world and received a fair amount from Angel investors. We were then scouted by Benchmark, who provided us with our first round of institutional funding.
SUB: Why was this a particularly good time to raise funding?
Ullah: The funding was raised a year ago, we were just holding on to the announcement till we needed to build momentum. Now is a particularly good time to raise funding because we’ve smoothed out our back-end problems, and we’re ready to begin transferring our business models to new cities. We’re also growing at a rate of 20 percent from month to month, just organically. Series B, if we decided to take it, would allow us to take our growth rate to dizzying heights.
SUB: Do you have plans to raise more in the near future?
Ullah: Yes, we’re actually looking for investors right now. But since we’re already cash positive, we’re only exploring the possibility of partnering up with an investor. We may instead choose to grow out organically, although that’ll take more time.
SUB: What have the most significant obstacles been so far to building the company?
Ullah: Two major ones stand out. First is finding talent, but I think every startup runs into that problem. You want only ‘A’ players in your founding team, and it’s absolutely crucial that you don’t remain complacent with anything less than that. Second is overcoming problems of scalability as we grow. The back-end model we have that can run smoothly for a few hundred clients will look completely different as we need to build something to cater to 1,000-plus clients.
SUB: How does the company generate revenue or plan to generate revenue?
Ullah: This is one of our biggest strengths. We recognize revenue right away, as a client begins paying before services even begin, or soon thereafter. As a dog walking company, we have a steady stream of recurring revenue and a healthy cash flow.
SUB: What are your goals for Swifto over the next year or so?
Ullah: Before the end of this year we want to be in Boston, and then San Francisco sometime Q1 or Q2 of 2014.
Swifto – www.swifto.com