This past May, Rover, the on-demand dog walking app that connects dog owners to walkers and sitters, secured a $155 million round of funding from prestigious venture capital firms, such as T. Rowe Price and Spark Capital. The $155 million round of financing brought their valuation to $970 million. Rover’s main competitor, Wag, similarly received $300 million in investment from SoftBank earlier this year in January. Both Rover and Wag, headquartered in Seattle and Los Angeles respectively, have thousands of clients all over the US and are making major impacts on the dog/human relationship. Now, dog owners have a choice between a local dog walking service and a massive technology company, in the vein of Uber or Tinder.
Rover and Wag pride itself on dog owners’ instant access to pet care, but these companies also market themselves to walkers and sitters in their ability to find customers in any city in America. On the surface Rover and Wag seem like a great idea — the owners have an easy and reliable way to find someone to care for their dog, and dog lovers have a fun way to make some money.
But the truth is: most dog walkers and sitters on these apps cannot make a living wage, especially in places like Brooklyn where the cost of living is so high. One reason why walkers struggle financially is because the market on Rover is saturated, which forces them into a price war with each other, driving their prices lower and lower. In looking at employee reviews on Indeed, a dog walker who uses Rover said, “This site is extremely over-saturated … Lots and lots of competition and people offering very low rates make it hard to make anything decent from this site.” Another walker said in a review, “I signed up several months ago, and have yet to walk a single dog. My calendar is completely open, so that’s not the issue. I think what it comes down to is the demand for dog walkers.” On top of that, Rover takes 20% of walkers’ earnings. Even worse, Wag, who actually has a standard rate for dog walking which eliminates the price war, takes 40% of the walker’s cut.
This week I spoke to a local dog walker in Park Slope, Brooklyn who works both for a local dog walking company and Wag, about his experience dog walking. I asked him if working on the app was sustainable to make a living.
“You can’t work at Wag for income,” he said. “Because of competition, because of glitches on the app — it can only supplement your income rather than be your only job.”
“What kind of glitches do you experience? What happens?”
“The app will freeze up,” he said. “And you’ll lose your client. One time I was in the process of confirming a walk, and the app froze up. By the time I got the app up and running again, the client cancelled the walk. I was already on my way to their apartment, so I tried to get paid due to Wag’s late cancellation policy. When I called customer service, the guy told me that since I hadn’t confirmed the walk, I wouldn’t get anything. I was furious. I took a big chunk out of my day to get to their home. I told customer service that it was the app’s fault because it froze, but he wouldn’t help me. I asked to speak to his supervisor, and he told me they didn’t have supervisors. What kind of business doesn’t have a supervisor for customer service people?”
“What’s the difference between working for a local dog walking company and Wag?”
“Definitely the support, the training, and the financial security. When I’m walking for the local company, I know they’ll back me up. If I have an issue with a client’s home key, or an issue with a dog, the managers are right there for me. In terms of training, they give a lot of guidance and instruction on how to use different leashes and collars, and how to handle certain situations you come across. With Wag, you get almost no training. They don’t even check if a walker knows how to properly put on a harness or a collar. Also, I have more financial security working for the local dog walking company. I have a set schedule, and I know that when I work my schedule, I’ll get paid no matter what. With Wag, there are no guarantees.”
There are also many downsides for pet owners in Brooklyn who use Wag and Rover. First of all, as a dog owner it is nearly impossible to cultivate a professional relationship with your walker or sitter on Rover or Wag because people who take jobs on these apps do it for the flexibility. They don’t have to have a set schedule and can stop working altogether if they want. They signed up on the app for the freedom to leave to move to another city or neighborhood, or to pursue another goal. This “freedom” may be a benefit for the walkers, but what about the clients who have to get a new dog walker every other week? That lack of stability, especially with a pet that you care about and love, is untenable.
Clients have spoken out about this. On the Better Business Bureau’s page for Rover, there are 61 negative reviews, and only 3 positive ones. The complaints range from, “My dog is dead” to the “dog walker never showed up and we have security cameras to prove it.” Clients complained of their dogs being mistreated, dog injuries, or their pet not being fed. In addition, clients complained that they had no one to reach out to, no one to help solve the problem. Well, of course Rover couldn’t solve the problem. This is a technology company in Seattle, Washington. They don’t know anyone in your town, or have any way to actually help you with your local problem. Even with their customer support, which people often complain about, no one is there to solve this critical, time-sensitive problem in the moment.
A local dog walking company, on the other hand, has a manager on-site, to go to your home themselves, or get a backup walker in case something happens. If a dog gets loose, which can happen, they can go around the neighborhood putting up flyers and talk to people. They will search for your dog themselves. With a local dog walking company, clients have a personal relationship with their walkers, so if any issue arises, they’ll be there. They know your pet personally, and know what your pet needs. How could this ever happen with a technology company staffed with over-worked computer software engineers 3,000 miles away?
For all these reasons, Rover and Wag are not solutions for dog walking needs. There are some very useful technologies/apps that have improved our quality of life, but Rover is not one of them.
In the US, there are 27,838 local dog walking companies that employ 28,576 dog walkers, generating approximately $1 billion in revenue annually. Obviously that $1 billion in revenue, which is spread out among thousands of people throughout the entire country, is what Rover & Wag are trying to gobble up for themselves.
But time is showing that this isn’t going to work. This technology is inappropriately placed in a field that didn’t need innovation. These apps exploit dog walkers, and put our dogs in potentially unsafe situations.