Meowtel: Cat-Sitting App Finds Niche Success in Dog-Dominated Pet Industry

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Dogs are the most popular pets in the U.S., with 65.1 million households owning one, according to the American Pet Products Association. While cats are also popular, with 46.5 million households having one, innovation in the pet industry has largely focused on dogs. Even when services cater to both species, the emphasis is typically on dogs.

Sonya Petcavich, the founder of the cat-sitting app Meowtel, believes that both cats and their owners deserve more attention.

When Petcavich’s cat Lily passed away in 2015, she realized she might not have been the best cat mom. Her job in sales for Philip Morris required her to travel frequently, leaving her unable to be home as much as she thought her senior cat needed. While pet-sitting services were available, she felt they didn’t sufficiently cater to feline needs.

“There needs to be a service specifically for cat people; they have very different needs,” Petcavich told Truth Voices. “Rover had been around for a few years, and Wag was gaining momentum, but they were so dog-focused. I said, ‘Forget it, I’m going to be the crazy cat person who does this.’

She invested $100,000 of her own money, assembled a development team, and launched Meowtel in 2015. The startup serves as a marketplace for cat owners to find cat sitters who have direct experience with tasks like administering medication (cats are particularly prone to chronic illnesses as they age) and caring for cats with special needs. Prospective sitters go through a rigorous six-step process before being allowed on the app, including a 30-minute call with the Meowtel team to verify their identity. Petcavich jokingly remarked that it’s easier to get into Harvard than to become a Meowtel sitter.

Operating largely in stealth since its inception, Meowtel has now emerged because the team feels confident in the work they’ve done, the brand they’ve built, and the user experience they’ve developed over the past nine years.

Meowtel is profitable, with its gross booking volume revenue growing 50% year over year. The platform has more than 2,200 sitters, some of whom have been with the company for all nine years. Meowtel has completed over 95,000 sitting requests, focusing mainly on larger cities like New York and Los Angeles, but is also looking to expand into smaller cities.

To date, Meowtel has raised just under $1 million in venture capital, with $500,000 from angel investors including Jason Calacanis’ Launch and Elizabeth Yin of Hustle Fund. Additional funding came from accelerator programs like Tech Wildcatters and Sputnik ATX. The company’s most recent funding round was in 2020.

Raising funds from VCs proved difficult for Petcavich because the venture capital community tends to be more dog-centric, and many didn’t understand why cats needed their own sitting service. Nonetheless, she believed Meowtel’s marketplace business model made it a good fit for VC funding due to its capital-intensive nature.

Indeed, there are significantly more venture-backed companies focused on dogs than on cats. Numerous startups are dedicated to dog food, accessories, and health. For instance, Butternut Box, a U.K.-based dog food company, has raised over $466 million in VC funding. ImpriMed, a startup focused on dog oncology, raised $23 million, and Fi, a smart dog collar company, has raised over $40 million.

In contrast, there are fewer venture-backed companies for cats. Smalls, a fresh pet food company, is among the few, raising $19 million last year. Its founder, Matthew Michaelson, also believes innovation in the pet category has largely targeted dogs.

Is there a real market or need for a dedicated cat-sitting service? Petcavich believes so, and Meowtel’s success and growth trajectory support that claim.

“In the era of 2020, there is a brand that caters to every specific type of audience,” Petcavich said. “These species are different, but no one is making that distinction. It’s the psychology of the cat owner and the medical needs of the cat that have opened up this opportunity.”

Rebecca Szkutak
Rebecca Szkutak
Rebecca is a senior writer that covers venture capital trends and startups. She previously covered the same beat for Forbes and the Venture Capital Journal.

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