Rover.com has raised more than $300M and registered more than 100,000 pet sitters.
“Without Techstars Startup Weekend, there would be no Rover.com,” says founder Greg Gottesman.
Back in 2011, the Seattle-based venture capitalist had a terrible experience boarding his dog at a local kennel. He was determined to create a better way for pet parents to find quality care for their animals, and Techstars Startup Weekend Seattle gave him the perfect opportunity to test his idea and meet team members who shared his passion.
Being authentic and personal when you’re pitching someone a problem and a solution is far more compelling than when you pitch an idea that isn’t authentic to you.
Though Greg didn’t know it at the time, that one weekend would serve as the launchpad for what is now a doggy-daycare juggernaut, which has raised over $300M and registered more than 100,000 pet sitters.
From Day One Dream to Petcare Platform
On day one of Techstars Startup Weekend Seattle 2011, Greg gave a one-minute pitch, explaining his idea — to create a customer-centric company that serves as matchmaker between pet parents and dog sitters, walkers and caregivers. His relatable, authentic pitch scored him a diverse, super-smart 10-person team.
That team got to work, striving to build a company in just 54 hours. Over three days, they experienced the highs, lows, fun, and pressure that make up life at a startup: learning from local mentors, finding customers, building the product, and finally presenting the brand new company to a panel of local startup leaders — who awarded Rover first place!
Since then, Rover.com has raised more than $300M and registered more than 100,000 pet sitters. In March 2017, Rover acquired DogVacay, joining forces to create dominance in the online dog care market. Earlier this year, Rover.com announced a round of $125M in equity funding, and an additional $30M in debt to continue their aggressive growth trajectory.
Greg has made a career out of starting up. He currently serves as managing director for a startup studio called Pioneer Square Labs in Seattle, where he and his team create companies from scratch. For 20 years he served as managing director at Madrona Venture Group, the largest venture capital firm in the Pacific Northwest. For the past 15 years, he has taught entrepreneurship and computer science at the University of Washington.
How to Standout at Startup Weekend
We recently caught up with Greg to get the back story on Rover.com. We asked him to share his top tips for anyone considering attending a Techstars Startup Weekend in their area.
“During the one-minute pitch, I told a personal story about my own dog and that was compelling to people. Being authentic and personal when you’re pitching someone a problem and a solution is far more compelling than when you pitch an idea — even if it’s a great idea — that isn’t authentic to you.
And second, choose a problem that you can see yourself spending more than a weekend working on, something you are passionate about. The reason we were able to recruit so many people to the team is that they were excited about solving a real problem that was relatable.”
“When you’re choosing a team to join at Startup Weekend, base your choice on the people more than their ideas. Make note when you hear someone pitching and you think they would be an incredible person to work with. Too many people listen to the idea rather than focus on how much fun they are going to have working with someone.”
One team member who signed on to Rover.com for Techstars Startup Weekend was Phil Kimmey, a developer and (at the time) rising senior at Washington University.
Over the weekend, Greg realized that Phil was an exceptionally talented young engineer, who also didn’t have a summer job lined up. Today, Greg says, “Had Phil Kimmey had a summer job, had someone realized how talented he was, there would be no Rover.com.” Phil became a co-founder, and is still a member of the leadership team.
The roots of Rover’s culture are entrepreneurial and customer focused, which is a culture that is grounded in Techstars Startup Weekend. At Techstars Startup Weekend, finding and focusing on the customer, not just the product, is an important part of the weekend and learnings.
“The team has executed very well on the product, but at the end of the day, it’s the customer experience that we focused on at Startup Weekend and that kind of thinking has been really helpful to people as they come out into the real world.”
“I think a lot of times what happens is that people get very sensitive about equity splits and those kinds of things. When in reality, as you think of the many thousands of businesses that have been started at Startup Weekend, I bet there would be a larger number of companies that were successful if people weren’t as sensitive about the equity splits.
If someone really wants to run with a company, being open to giving up most, but not all of your equity is the right way to do it. I think holding on too tight ends up killing a lot of the projects that have promise.”
“I wrote the Rover deck that first night of Startup Weekend, so by early Saturday morning I knew very clearly the brand story I wanted to tell. If we could tell the story and demo part of the product reasonably well, that’s a nice formula because it’s not possible to build out all aspects of the product during the weekend.”
Greg knows to avoid the trap of an overly high level, general pitch. He advises: “Share a personal story about someone you know well and take me through why it’s an important problem worth solving, and how you would solve it. It sounds so simple, but it’s amazing how hard it is to do that.”
Build a Company in 54 Hours
Techstars Startup Weekend has hosted over 5,800 events in more than 150 countries, with over 330,000 alumni. At these events you’ll be immersed in the ideal environment to learn, build, and meet your next team.
In Greg’s words:
Startup Weekend is an incredible, intense, addicting experience. For those who haven’t tried one yet, you should sign up for the next one.
Find a Techstars Startup Weekend near you.
Меѓу успешните стартап приказни кои произлегоа после Стартап Викенд Скопје е и SociaLab кој на минатогодишниот настан ја претставија идејата The Offline Social Network.
Идеата за продуктот е да се создаде мобилна и веб платформа која што би помогнала обичните корисници на социјалните мрежи да поминат помалку време гледајќи во екраните од телефоните и компјутерите и да се социјализираат повеќе во вистинскиот свет без да се намали нивното присуство на социјалните мрежи. За нивната активност на апликацијата тие ке добиваат награди од типот на попусти и гратиси.
Од SociaLab деновиве зборувавме со основачот Волхан Салаи, кој го сподели своето досегашно искуство после Стартап Викенд.
Дали апликацијата што ја изработивте работи во моментов?
На Стартап Викенд Скопје имавме само мокап за iOS. Од тогаш имаме развивано Android апликација која што ке биде пуштена во бета во Македонија, се надеваме пред следниот стартап викенд на 8ми Мај.
Дали во меѓувреме најдовте инвеститор за апликацијата?
Ние всушност најдовме инвеститори две недели пред почетокот на стартап викенд. Но како што знаете можат на една рака да се избројат стартапите кои што имаат добиено инвестиција од Ангел инвеститори од странство така да беше многу тешко да се направи целиот процес на примање на инвестицијата и се одлагаше многу поради административни проблеми. Но можам да кажам дека сме скоро готови, преостанува уште многу малку, според планот за една недела ке имаме основана компанија со примена инвестиција. Инаку инвеститорите се од Норвешка и од Америка, не би сакале да објавиме колкава е количината на инвестицијата.
Што е она што го добивте на последниот #swskopje?
Ух.. што да кажам попрво. Добивме големо искуство, на пример прв пат во живот презентирав нешто пред публика поголема од 1 човек. Исто така запознав многу важни, успешни, паметни и страсни луѓе од малиот но ветувачки свет на стартапи во Македонија. Морам да се пофалам дека, баш на стартап викенд запознавме многу паметни и успешни ментори. Благодарение на еден од нив, денес имаме неофицијално партнерство со над 300 големи успешни компании во Америка меѓу кои што се, McDonald’s, Pepsi, Ford, P&G и многу други.
Дали се гледаме пак на 8ми Мај?
Секако. Многу сум возбуден за следниот стартап викенд. Бидејќи сигурен сум дека овој пат ке биде подобар, поголем, позабавен, понапорен, поуспешен и сега преостанува вистинскиот предизвик да се победи. За 8ми Мај се спремаме, и ќе дојдеме спремни за победа 🙂 се надевам дека нема да биде лесно.
Картите за Стартап Викенд Скопје се веќе во продаба. Повеќе информации за како да бидете и вие дел од настанот можете да пронајдете тука.
This is a guest post by Celina Ploskonka, founder of Planabee and Startup Weekend Sheffield attendee. Celina attended Startup Weekend in March 2014 and her team came in third at final presentations.
Last year I was lucky enough to win a ticket to Startup Weekend Sheffield, a three day event during which you work as part of a group to turn a concept into a minimum viable product. I went along to the event with very few expectations, having never attended an event like this previously, and it ended up being the starting point for our new and exciting business idea, planabee – a mobile website providing people who plan events with a supplier search and booking system, event planning tool and social hub all in one place.
During the weekend I met a whole host of interesting and extremely useful people from a range of backgrounds and industries. It was a new and exciting experience to work alongside my ‘dream team’ and it gave me a real insight into the stages involved when developing a new product. I met some great people who provided me with inspiration and support throughout the weekend, and thereafter, which really got planabee off to the best possible start. Prior to this event I had very little experience in pitching a business idea to an audience, and in all honesty I found the idea completely terrifying, but after going on to finish third at the event not only was I really proud I also gained a huge confidence boost and have since gone on to do countless other pitches and presentations.
Since the Startup Weekend my business partner and I have been on a whirlwind journey and planabee has developed and come a long way since the initial idea. We’ve spent the past few months fine-tuning our concept, conducting thorough market research, finalising our business plan and looking into several funding options. We’re hopeful to begin our software development within the next few weeks, with the aim of launching our finish product to the market at the beginning of next year. Overall this has been a fantastic journey, which wouldn’t have come about if it wasn’t for Startup Weekend Sheffield, so we’re extremely grateful and would encourage any other young entrepreneurs to go along because you never know what you might get out of it!