Interview: Baxta talks to MadPaws founder, Alexis Soulopoulos

Interview: Baxta talks to MadPaws founder, Alexis Soulopoulos

We are pet mad. But you know that right?

But you know what we love just as much as pets? Speaking to other pet crazy people! We talked to Mad Paw’s founder, Alexis Soulopoulos, about how he co-founded Mad Paws straight after graduating university and now has over 600,000 pet owners!

Mad Paws is a Sydney-based start-up that was created to fill in the ever-growing need in the pet boarding market for affordable, and local pet accommodation whilst still maintaining the care, love, and attention pets received at high-end, expensive, pet boarding services.

They have two simple aims:

  1. To assist pet owners in finding passionate and trusted local pet sitters when they have to go away.
  2. To create a safe, affordable, and efficient way to find the best sitters in local, trusted neighbourhoods that will give you the peace of mind that your pet is having as much fun away as you do.

Alexi has also been recognised by the industry for his success with Mad Paws, and is on the Forbes 30 Under 30 list of 2019. Mad Paws was awarded 14th place on LinkedIn Australia’s Top Start-up list of most sought after growth companies to work for.

Read more of our conversation below.

Baxta: Can you tell us all about Mad Paws and what you guys do?

Alexi: Our mission is to make pet ownership easier. In doing that, we’re building Australia’s number one online platform where we want to help you with all of your pet’s needs. And the first need that we started with is what to do with my dog or pet or cat or, or bird when I’m travelling. And this is very much the Airbnb for pets, in terms of having a marketplace for those services.

Now, from there, we branched out into dog-walking and daycare, for people who are at work and need someone to look after their dog.

Photo by Matt Nelson 

We’ve also launched pet food, to be delivered to your pet every week, which is a healthy portion of nutritional goodness delivered to your dog! We also launched pet insurance and we’ve got a few other things in the pipeline too.

Baxta: So, let’s start at the beginning. Can you tell us about how Mad Paws got started?

Alexi: We got started in January 2015, when we launched to the public. But before that, we spent time in the dark parks, speaking to pet owners, to validate the idea and see if it’s something they needed.

We asked them questions like, ‘Hey, what do you do with your dogs when you travel? And is it a problem for you?’ And we just found such enthusiasm from pet owners to solve their problem, of what they do with their dog when they’re not home. So providing pet sitters for pet owners was the first revenue stream for us.

Baxta: And what’s your favourite thing about Mad Paws?

Alexi: I’ll answer this in one in the form of one of our company values:  embrace the madness. This very much goes back to our passion for both pets and people, which goes very deep. We’re not afraid to show it. And I think that’s why we have here.

We’ve got all these pet lovers in the office, which is just super exciting and we’re solving problems for pets and their owners. And so there’s a lot of passion in the business, both from our customers, from our pet sitters, because all just love our jobs.

I think bringing that together to solve a problem that matters is, I think, what I love the most about my job!

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Photo by Priscilla Du Preez

Baxta: What has your journey been like, on the way up to launching Mad Paws?

Alexi: Before Mad Paws, I was studying for a postgraduate Master’s degree at the University of Sydney. There were a few pet fanatics and business leaders, who got together and considered the problem of pet owners needing people to look after their pets. It came to us from when I was looking after my friend’s dog and knew something like Mad Paws was needed. We all thought it was a good problem to solve.

That’s when we took the idea to the dog park and started asking people, to validate the idea. Once we got positive validation, we paid some people to string some code together, to validate the idea further. The first few months were just so strong, so we knew there was a big demand. So, that’s when we saw the opportunity to invest more, over time and eventually raise capital, to invest in creating more technology.

Baxta: What’s the vision for Mad Paws overall?

Alexi: So, our vision is to be Australia’s number one pet platform.

And that means being the one destination, where people can find a trusted solution to their needs.

Baxta: How many users do Mad Paws have and what has it grown from?

Alexi: In our first year, we were just a few hundred people a month, as we grew. Now we’re lucky enough to have 600,000 users in our community!

Baxta: Do you have a pet yourself?

Alexi: Not just yet, but we are getting one! We just moved into an apartment that allows dogs, so I am very excited.

We’re looking at several different types of dogs, but I think we want a border collie!

Baxta: How exciting! Will he go into the office with you?

Alexi: Yes! Our office is extremely dog friendly. We already have some office dogs, including a Labradoodle called Charlie who’s here most days. A lot of our team got puppies during the Covid lockdown, so when they brought them into the office, it was great.

Baxta: What would you say has been some of the most challenging things for you?

Alexi:  We started as a one-man-band which was challenging, then as we grew we also evolved into having a great board and team of partners. But, in the beginning, it was just me and the business needs to evolve from having just one person. I was doing a lot of customer support and then I’d implement those insights from customer’s problems, as solutions with the technology. It helped us to scale and as we did, we needed to bring in specialised skills, such as marketing or tech. My role within the company also started to change and evolve. I had to hire the right talent and empower them to make a decision – that we’d put marketing or technology on steroids, alongside the best customer experience. All this would make for the best online pet experience possible. 

My role of course also evolved into capital-raising, which became important, but also looking at partnerships, which is very important.

My co-founder has recently rejoined us and we have a great partnership going on between the two of us. I’m going to focus more on revenue streams, such as dog food and insurance. Where, as his role will focus more on the pet services side of the business, alongside capital raising. So, between the two of us, I think it’s going to really us achieve the vision I mentioned earlier.

Baxta: So helpful, when you have the right team! When it comes to your customers, what do you think is the most powerful thing Mad Paws does for them?

Alexi: A lot of people love their pets and want to spend a lot of time with them. And if they can’t, they want to know that they’ll be looked after by someone who shows them just as much love. That’s what we provide.

For example, there’s a lot of people adopting or have adopted puppies during Covid19, but now they have to go back to the office, they’re sad to leave their puppies at home. So we help them find someone who’s going to treat their puppy as well as they do! That makes them trust us.

Baxta: Yes! Pets are family, so it’s great when you can have someone to trust to look after them.

madpaws
Photo by Roberto Nickson

You mentioned partnerships earlier. What kind of partners do you work with and who’s your dream partnership?

Alexi:

We started with our dream partnership when Qantas invested in us. They also have the largest database of travelling people, which is perfect for us. Because a big chunk of our revenue is for travellers who need us to help find pet sitters!

We’re always looking to partner with travel brands and also be friends with other companies in our Industry – such as Baxta!

Baxta: We would love that!

What would you be doing, if you hadn’t started Mad Paws?

Alexi: If you’d asked me three years ago, it might have been at consulting with companies, as a lot of my peers did that. I always thought I was going to get some experience in corporate land, or other companies before starting a business, but it didn’t play out that way, which I’m quite happy with.

I do think I would have launched another business in an area I care about. I do care about pets, but I’m also passionate about education. But overall, I love solving other people’s problems!

You can find Mad Paws on the following links: Website | Instagram | Facebook

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