Jessie Akkermans, Founder & CEO of Doggies in Town tells us about an all-in-one app designed to help dog owners easily find dog-friendly places, products & services.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Jessie Akkermans: Luckily, we are healthy, and nobody had COVID, but living in Spain and having my family live abroad in France, The Netherlands, and Colombia makes it difficult at times. Luckily, we have video calling these days, so you still kind of feel close.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Doggies in Town.
Jessie Akkermans: I’m a driven serial entrepreneur from The Netherlands. I previously founded four companies, two in The Netherlands in the art and event industry, which grew from 700 visitors to 3.000 by its third event.
In Colombia, I founded a company in the export of cacao beans which failed due to a disastrous harvesting season impacting crops around the country. So, later that year, as I was talking to many locals, I spotted an opportunity in the dating industry, “niche dating”. After leading a team to build a beautiful app for higher educated singles in Colombia, I launched and used my marketing experience to acquire more than 15.000 sign ups within its first month. “I always had a passion for entrepreneurship! It’s what keeps me going and excited in life, and I never stop until I’ve reached success”.
Before taking on entrepreneurship, I studied Communication & Public Relations in Geneva, Switzerland and obtained my MBA in Boston, USA.
After living in several countries around the globe, I settled in Malaga, Spain, where I started Doggies in Town, to follow my passion for dogs. After a thorough validation process, I found out what the problem was for dog owners & I’m super excited to solve the problem all dog owners face on a daily basis “Where can I bring my dog?”. Doggies in Town is very close to my heart, and I’m so happy to hear every dog owner I speak to share the same enthusiasm and excitement. Just like me, they can’t wait for us to launch.
We will first focus on the Spanish market, launching per city, starting in Madrid, followed by Barcelona, Valencia, Malaga and the rest of Spain. After Spain, we will expand to the UK and the USA.
Doggies in Town is an all-in-one app to easily find dog friendly places (accommodations, hotels, restaurants, shops, parks & beaches), activities, dog products & services.
For businesses, we offer an AI-powered sales and marketing SaaS platform where they can target our dog owners based on their location and interests & let dog owners make direct reservations & bookings.
How does Doggies in Town innovate?
Jessie Akkermans: There are a lot of ways that we are innovating. The first thing is, what we do, no-one else does yet.
What we also did is analyze our competition. Why is there such a big problem within the dog community, and why has no one been able to address the problem and execute it well?
We are innovating based on design, customer experience, listening closely to our users and adapting accordingly.
We are going to be the most intelligent data-driven pet community in the world by integrating AI to match dog owners to relevant dog-friendly places, products and services.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Jessie Akkermans: We launched our SaaS platform for businesses in January 2021, and our app for dog owners will be launched in April 2021. We have not been affected by Covid financially, but investors have been more careful during this period regarding investing in very early-stage startups.
What we do see are the effects of Covid impacting the businesses we will help. Our sales team calls potential businesses to register on our platform, which includes hotels, restaurants and stores. What we hear on a continuous basis is that a lot of those businesses are bankrupt due to Covid. It is sad.
We will help the businesses that are struggling by giving them the opportunity to register their company for free on our Doggies in Town platform and to give them visibility among all the dog owners in our app. With Doggies in Town, we’ll allow them to attract new customers globally as well as locally, which is especially important now as businesses rely more on local tourism than ever before.
Dog ownership has increased tremendously during Covid and will continue to do so. To give you an example of how businesses can benefit from allowing dog owners to enter their business, a dog owner will stay 60% longer with their dog at a restaurant than without their dog, and a dog owner is 47% more likely to visit your store if they can bring their dog with them inside.
For the Spanish, their dog is like their family, like their child, and wish to bring their dog everywhere, just like you would do with your kids.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Jessie Akkermans: As a startup without any budget, we had several people join over the course of a year. As a founder, you are very grateful that there are people out there that love the project and want to join for free, but the input & results usually don’t meet the expectations.
To give you an example, we had some junior developers on board, but development was very slow, and in the end, the code was not up to scratch. This was definitely a learning point because now we focus on hiring professionals, and work goes much faster with the wanted results.
We had to let developers, marketing and salespeople go, it’s not the easiest thing to do, especially because you are grateful for their input, but as a CEO, I have to make important decisions that will benefit the company and make us grow.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Jessie Akkermans: We are making use of several growth hacking techniques.
We also integrated a tool called Froged. This system allows us and users to interact live with each other in the business platform, this allows us to solve problems customers face quickly, gives a very personal touch, which customers appreciate a lot. In addition, it allows us to gain a lot of feedback, which enables us to make continuous improvements within the platform.
We also integrated behavioural emails, allowing us to target customers with messages and emails based on certain behaviours on our platform and improve the retention process.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Jessie Akkermans: We are in the process of applying for grants. There are a lot of grants for innovation, development & marketing, which will cover 50% of the costs for a particular project or feature that we would roll out with a max. of €150K.
Your final thoughts?
Jessie Akkermans: In June 2021, we will launch our Crowdfunding Equity Campaign on Crowdcube. You can become a co-owner of Doggies in Town by acquiring shares for as little as €5 or as much as €250K. It is a way for us to raise funds and create awareness & build a network of ambassadors among dog owners. Together we will build the best, and only dog app a dog owner & their dog will ever need!
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