Co-founder Chris Gonzales holding Rex, a Yorkie, left. On the right is co-founder Dave Comiskey with Atlas, a mini-Husky. (Photo courtesy of Barkly.)

This week, an expert at the D.C. chapter of the business mentoring nonprofit SCORE offers advice to entrepreneurs who developed a dog walking app.— Dan Beyers

The entrepreneurs

Like many dog-owners in the Washington area, Chris Gonzalez and David Comiskey manage demanding schedules that often make it difficult to care for their dogs. To accommodate their pets’ needs, they would lean on neighbors and friends, make social and professional compromises, or rely on local walking and doggie day-care services.

Throughout the years, it seemed impossible to find a single quality, flexible solution — a problem that ultimately inspired them to start a business.

Barkly was launched to put reliable pet care in your pocket via a smartphone app. During planning, they recruited Jim Camut, Gonzalez’s high school friend, to build the technology.

The challenge

Chris Gonzalez, co-founder

“I was working 9-to-5 and going to graduate school in the evenings. It felt impossible to arrange care for my beagle, Schroeder. Local dog walking companies would only take me as a client if I committed to packages of three-to-five walks a week. I was charged a premium for evening walks and could never arrange a last-minute walk when class went long or when the inevitable traffic jam prevented me from getting home in time.”

David Comiskey, co-founder

“We’re making pet care accessible, affordable, and transparent. We built a network of dedicated pet professionals in neighborhoods throughout the D.C. area and Baltimore who are available in under an hour to walk dogs. We offer customers free meet-and-greets and special lockboxes for house keys enabling on-demand care, and ultimately deliver an elevated customer experience.”

Jim Camut, co-founder

“Until Barkly, no solution hit the sweet spot between service and stellar technology to pair with it. Our application tracks walks on GPS and sends a detailed summary and map of the walk to the dog owner immediately after the walk is completed. Payment is just as simple and dog owners can book as many or few walks as they want. We’re using customer feedback to add features and make changes in the user interface for ease of use.”

Dave Comiskey

“We launched in late June and have already completed more than 3,000 walks. Our on-demand revenues consistently grow 100 percent each month. The goal for nearly every start-up is customer acquisition and retention, but for a pay-per-service company like ours it’s not that simple. We have customers who use us every day and then we have customers who use us once a month. What is a good way to show our company’s traction to prospective investors and partners?”

The advice

Hal Shelton, SCORE mentor

“In fact, your business is even more complex as some walks are scheduled in advance while others are “on demand.” As you are a first in this industry segment, you have an opportunity to set the standard on which you and eventual competitors will be evaluated. In essence, what are the key drivers of a sustainable business—is the focus on the number of customers, number of walks, dog walker utilization or something else? I would look at how companies in the collaborative economy like Uber evaluate their performance. Also, look at so-called SaaS [software as a service] company metrics for such items as monthly reoccurring revenues, churn, customer acquisition costs, etc.

“As your business grows and you obtain investors to expand into additional markets, you will need to share the traditional financial formation, but the non-GAAP [generally accepted accounting principles] measures noted above are often the lead metrics.”

The reaction

Chris Gonzalez

“Thanks Hal, that is helpful context when analyzing the data and describing our momentum. Because we want to be the pet care solution in everyone’s pocket, usage and revenue-based metrics don’t quite fit. We think ‘Walks per Week’ best indicates our traction right now. It shows our volume growth whether we are adding regular weekly users or infrequent ones. Our walks per week more than doubled from August to October well into the hundreds and we expect to do thousands per week in early 2016.

“With on-demand services and other features, we do share attributes with other SaaS companies like Uber and Postmates. Because of this, utilization, fulfillment, and satisfaction metrics will always be important gauges of our business’ overall health and ours are strong. Over 95 percent of our users are repeat booking and we have incredibly high walker retention. We know most users want consistency and we’ve prioritized supporting our walkers by offering on-the-job medical coverage and the highest wages in the industry. The benefits factor heavily into our reliability and overall customer satisfaction. We hope to be available in the Apple App Store in December, and in the Google Play Store in February of 2016.”

SCORE is a nonprofit association dedicated to entrepreneur education. Looking for some advice on a new business, or need help fixing an existing one? The Greater Washington DC Chapter provides confidential counseling and mentoring from more than 50 executives across the region. Contact us at capbiznews@washpost.com or request a mentor at www.washingtondc.score.org.