For Rikke Rosenlund’s business BorrowMyDoggy, it’s about keeping it real.
Social media companies and platform businesses are steeped in the language of trust. They talk about ‘friends,’ ‘communities,’ indeed an entire ‘sharing economy.’ ‘Peer-to-peer’ transactions sound a lot less transactional than standard buying and selling by customers and impersonal corporations.
Still, language alone does not create trust. And the scale at which many of these companies now operate means that you actually have very little to go on when engaging with another member. Reviews may be enough when buying or selling a second-hand guitar—but what if you’re talking about taking responsibility for something more valuable, such as living in your home, or looking after your dog?
You know amongst your own friends and family exactly who could be trusted to house-sit for you—and who couldn’t. You know this because you know them. You’ve seen the scorch marks on their own coffee table where they put hot mugs down without thinking; you’ve witnessed the way they pull a bit too hard on the curtains when opening them; you were actually at that party that got so out of hand the police were called. They’re great people and good company, but you still wouldn’t leave them in charge of your house. How would someone who had just read their profile or communicated with them via email know that?
This was the question that Rikke Rosenlund wrestled with when she founded BorrowMyDoggy in 2012. BorrowMyDoggy started (as so many successful companies have) as a very simple idea. Having enjoyed a day looking after a neighbour’s dog, Aston, Rikke wondered, ‘Why are people spending so much money on dog walkers and kennels when there are people like me who would love to look after the dogs for free? There really should be a website for connecting dog owners with people who love dogs…’
She talked to family and friends, validated the idea in a Lean Start-Up Machine, and found her first 80 members through putting up posters around Hampstead Heath. Hearing those people explain why they had signed up – and especially a story of a little girl who desperately wanted a dog even though she was scared of them – turned the idea ‘from a concept to a very personal mission.’
Behind this idealistic motivation, however, was a serious business sense cultivated during an MBA at INSEAD and a corporate career. Rikke says that she had seen the reputational damage done to AirBNB when some guests didn’t look after the properties they were staying in. So she thought very early on about what could go wrong with BorrowMyDoggy and how problems could be prevented. ‘We did a PR plan before we made the first match. We went through all sorts of possible scenarios and then thought about how we would respond to them.’