From Techstars Startup Weekend to $970 Million Valuation: Rover.com
Rover.com has raised more than $300M and registered more than 100,000 pet sitters.
“Without Techstars Startup Weekend, there would be no Rover.com,” says founder Greg Gottesman.
Back in 2011, the Seattle-based venture capitalist had a terrible experience boarding his dog at a local kennel. He was determined to create a better way for pet parents to find quality care for their animals, and Techstars Startup Weekend Seattle gave him the perfect opportunity to test his idea and meet team members who shared his passion.
Being authentic and personal when you’re pitching someone a problem and a solution is far more compelling than when you pitch an idea that isn’t authentic to you.
Though Greg didn’t know it at the time, that one weekend would serve as the launchpad for what is now a doggy-daycare juggernaut, which has raised over $300M and registered more than 100,000 pet sitters.
From Day One Dream to Petcare Platform
On Day One of Techstars Startup Weekend Seattle 2011, Greg gave a one-minute pitch, explaining his idea — — to create a customer-centric company that serves as matchmaker between pet parents and dog sitters, walkers and caregivers. His relatable, authentic pitch scored him a diverse, super-smart 10-person team.
That team got to work, striving to build a company in just 54 hours. Over three days, they experienced the highs, lows, fun, and pressure that make up life at a startup: learning from local mentors, finding customers, building the product, and finally presenting the brand new company to a panel of local startup leaders — who awarded Rover first place!
Since then, Rover.com has raised more than $300M and registered more than 100,000 pet sitters. In March 2017, Rover acquired DogVacay, joining forces to create dominance in the online dog care market. Earlier this year, Rover.com announced a round of $125M in equity funding, and an additional $30M in debt to continue their aggressive growth trajectory.
Greg has made a career out of starting up. He currently serves as managing director for a startup studio called Pioneer Square Labs in Seattle, where he and his team create companies from scratch. For 20 years he served as managing director at Madrona Venture Group, the largest venture capital firm in the Pacific Northwest. For the past 15 years, he has taught entrepreneurship and computer science at the University of Washington.
How to Standout at Startup Weekend
We recently caught up with Greg to get the back story on Rover.com. We asked him to share his top tips for anyone considering attending a Techstars Startup Weekend in their area.
“During the one-minute pitch, I told a personal story about my own dog and that was compelling to people. Being authentic and personal when you’re pitching someone a problem and a solution is far more compelling than when you pitch an idea — even if it’s a great idea — that isn’t authentic to you.
And second, choose a problem that you can see yourself spending more than a weekend working on, something you are passionate about. The reason we were able to recruit so many people to the team is that they were excited about solving a real problem that was relatable.”
“When you’re choosing a team to join at Startup Weekend, base your choice on the people more than their ideas. Make note when you hear someone pitching and you think they would be an incredible person to work with. Too many people listen to the idea rather than focus on how much fun they are going to have working with someone.”
One team member who signed on to Rover.com for Techstars Startup Weekend was Phil Kimmey, a developer and (at the time) rising senior at Washington University.
Over the weekend, Greg realized that Phil was an exceptionally talented young engineer, who also didn’t have a summer job lined up. Today, Greg says, “Had Phil Kimmey had a summer job, had someone realized how talented he was, there would be no Rover.com.” Phil became a co-founder, and is still a member of the leadership team.
The roots of Rover’s culture are entrepreneurial and customer focused, which is a culture that is grounded in Techstars Startup Weekend. At Techstars Startup Weekend, finding and focusing on the customer, not just the product, is an important part of the weekend and learnings.
“The team has executed very well on the product, but at the end of the day, it’s the customer experience that we focused on at Startup Weekend and that kind of thinking has been really helpful to people as they come out into the real world.”
“I think a lot of times what happens is that people get very sensitive about equity splits and those kinds of things. When in reality, as you think of the many thousands of businesses that have been started at Startup Weekend, I bet there would be a larger number of companies that were successful if people weren’t as sensitive about the equity splits.
If someone really wants to run with a company, being open to giving up most, but not all of your equity is the right way to do it. I think holding on too tight ends up killing a lot of the projects that have promise.”
“I wrote the Rover deck that first night of Startup Weekend, so by early Saturday morning I knew very clearly the brand story I wanted to tell. If we could tell the story and demo part of the product reasonably well, that’s a nice formula because it’s not possible to build out all aspects of the product during the weekend.”
Greg knows to avoid the trap of an overly high level, general pitch. He advises: “Share a personal story about someone you know well and take me through why it’s an important problem worth solving, and how you would solve it. It sounds so simple, but it’s amazing how hard it is to do that.”
Build a Company in 54 Hours
Techstars Startup Weekend has hosted over 5,800 events in more than 150 countries, with over 330,000 alumni. At these events you’ll be immersed in the ideal environment to learn, build, and meet your next team.
In Greg’s words:
Startup Weekend is an incredible, intense, addicting experience. For those who haven’t tried one yet, you should sign up for the next one.
Find a Techstars Startup Weekend near you.