So much entrepreneur-speak is about passion. Passion is important for building a great company, but only if you harness it properly. Aaron Hirschhorn stumbled upon how to turn his passion for dogs into a money-making venture and has been wagging his tail ever since.
Hirschhorn, an active member of the Young Presidents' Organization (YPO), created DogVacay in 2012 when he and his wife struggled with finding ways to manage their dog-sitting needs. Hirschhorn believed his dogs deserved better than being left in uncaring kennels when they needed to travel. He decided to build a network where passionate dog owners and lovers willing to dog-sit could interact and provide the best welfare for canine companions.
In a little more than three years, DogVacay.com has grown to a community of more than 20,000 dog-sitters across both the United States and Canada. With millions of transactions, DogVacay has earned sizeable investment from VC firms such as Andreessen Horowitz and Benchmark. Hirschhorn believes having passion by itself is not enough for success; you have to integrate the passion into the business. Here is how he does it.
1.Make the first major act of passion your own.
Hirschhorn knew that building an online community could have trust issues. He figured he would have to sniff out people just as passionate about their dog care as he was to jumpstart the process. So he physically went out to find people that would share his vision. "From day one, I knew that the growth of our business relied on being on the ground talking to people," said Hirschhorn. "We performed grassroots efforts from the beginning by doing things in person, and gaining information and knowledge first hand. I called the first 1,000 sitters myself to sign them up."
2. Show customers your passions are aligned.
Dogs are not viewed the same way as many other pets. Cats are more aloof, and some pets like snakes, hamsters or rabbits may be interesting conversation topics or simply play things for the kids. Hirschhorn had to match his level of commitment to the constituency he was courting. Dog Vacay ensures customers that their dogs are being left in the best hands possible through a five-step vetting process every host applicant undergoes He notes, "People, myself included, often view their pets as members of their own families, so we hold ourselves to incredibly high standards of quality. Many people are more concerned about the health and well-being of their animals than even perhaps their children, so maintaining consistency in the providers is critical."
3. Make it easy for people to stay passionate.
Half of Hirschhorn customers (the dogs) can't fully communicate. They're wagging their tails and growling at the same time so it's hard to tell which end to believe. And it's not like they can type up a review. So Hirschhorn has to be super proactive to make sure the DogVacay community is happy and positive. The company makes a point of engaging on an interpersonal basis. They have a 24-hour hotline, and create community gatherings like the DogVacay Fit Fest, a Los Angeles-based event that provides fun activities for dogs and owners alike.
4. Use tech to fuel the passion.
Too many companies are passionate about technology itself instead of the benefits the technology creates the customers. Hirschhorn only implements technology to get people more involved and allow for easier customer interaction. For example, he implemented an improved messaging system between hosts and guests allowing for more transparent and direct communication between the two parties. Hirschorn proudly shares "We designed an app that allows sitters to send fun pics of pups to pet owners. This is a top reason why our customers love DogVacay. It makes it easier to gain trust."
5. Acknowledge the customer's passion, good or bad.
A company only grows if it's aware of what isn't working and works hard to improve it. Hirschhorn is like a dog on a bone about getting customers to communicate about their experiences and how the services provided by DogVacay can improve. "We need to be aware of any issues and be able to ensure we have the highest standards for pet care," said Hirschhorn. "We provide forums for Guests to review our Hosts which we monitor to ensure top notch service." he added before explaining that there is also a forum for Hosts to communicate any concerns through the Host Happiness team.
Each week Kevin explores exclusive stories inside the Young Presidents' Organization, the world's premiere peer-to-peer organization for chief executives, eligible at age 45 or younger.