Ideas and ventures often spring from a common problem that entrepreneurs and their communities face. This was true with Sarah Zohdi and Jasmin Hussein, cofounders of The Dogs Network, a digital directory service that aims to build a community hub for pet owners, particularly dog owners.
The Dogs Network aims to be a digital one-stop shop pet owners and animal lovers. (Images via The Dogs Network)
"I used to live abroad until recently," said Hussein, "and as soon as I came back to Cairo, I started having problems with my neighbors, and their constant complaining of my dog's barking." She continued: "I noticed a huge lack of digital content concerning places that allow dogs in Egypt, such as cafes, hotels, open parks, summer resorts, private clinics and pet-sitting places."
Following this observation, Hussein and her pal Zohdi, who was going through the same trouble, decided to found The Dogs Network in the last quarter of last year. They launched this January. "With constant research," says Zohdi, "it became clear that the problem is not the lack of services, but their limited availability on the web. Therefore, we decided to aggregate all services that dog owners might need under one roof."
A one-year incubation at VENTURE LAB
A pet-service platform that is specialized in dog services may not be a typical venture for the Arab user. Yet the idea received wide praise from key figures in V-Lab. "We joined the fourth and last round of V-Lab incubator," says Hussein. "There, we received all privileges, including constant training, support in finalizing registration procedures, writing a business model, benefitting from co-working spaces and the university community, and a fund of [around] 3,000 dollars."
The partners intend to use those funds to hire a sales person that can help convince pet-shop owners, veterinarians and dog-product manufacturers to place ads in the directory.
As V-lab decided to prolong its incubation period for a year in support of the graduating participants, Hussein and Zohdi decided they would continue their journey with the incubator.
The platform of The Dogs Network is divided into a range of services that vary according to the geographical area. They can include accessory shops, veterinary clinics, and dog-friendly spaces in Cairo.
The platform also mentions places where dog owners can place their pets if they want to travel, as well as places with dog-walking services. It also publishes articles that raise awareness on the various methods of caring for dogs of different breeds and different ages.
Friendly advice from the pet lovers at The Dogs Network.
And in order for users to get the best possible care for their pets, the cofounders also added an option for evaluating services and products.
Despite the difficulty of reaching a certain population segment via social media platforms, like Twitter and Instagram, the cofounders are relying on word of mouth advertising. They've also launched a Facebook page to raise awareness on all topics related to dogs, and have recently announced live counselling sessions on Hangouts, in order to expand their followers.
Profit model and expansion plans
The platform currently serves five areas in Cairo, but the cofounders plan to cover the remaining areas of the city, after which they would have their eyes set on Alexandria and the Red Sea.
When asked about funding, Zohdi replied that they are "still in the process of building a pet-caring Egyptian community on the internet, and we're not very concerned with looking for funding since we've got a lot of tasks we should finish first."
Zohdi and Hussein don't seem to be considering crowdfunding as an option. "The ventures competing for funds have become way too many," said Hussein, "and we don't intend to join the competition because we believe that our project is different in form and in content."
By the first quarter of next year, The Dogs Network expects to start making money through their affiliate program with hotels and restaurants, as well as online payment of services.
Competitive edge and future plans
The international model for pet-specialized platforms is completely different than Hussein and Zohdi's platform, due to a difference in culture. Global platforms are more specialized, where users would find one specialized in food, and another in hotels or vet clinics.
As for The Society for the Protection of Animal Rights in Egypt (SPARE), it can not be considered as a digital directory that covers all aspects of the daily life of a pet owner, despite its providing a medium for awareness and care services.
There are, however, digital platforms that offer specialized pet-care directories, where they cover Middle Eastern countries including Egypt. One example is BringFido.co. But the competitive edge of The Dogs Network, in Zohdi and Hussein's opinion, is that they derive their content "from the direct contact of people in the street."
It is precisely this that the two founders are betting on in their attempt to gather the first accurate number of pet owners in Egypt, and to consequently license them. This way, The Dogs Network will be "the closest to accuracy" in such content for organizations and institutions.
Will their vision become a success?