Mad Paws tripled its growth in just one year.
Mad Paws tripled its growth in just one year.

How a favour for a mate made $5 million

A FAVOUR for a university mate led to a multimillion-dollar business empire for entrepreneur Alexis Soulopoulos.

A few years ago, Mr Soulopoulos, originally from Belgium, was studying a masters of international management at the University of Sydney when his friend asked him to look after his dog while he was away on holidays.

Mr Soulopoulos, who was pining for his own pets back home, moved into his friend's Bondi pad for the week and had a "fantastic time" with Honey the Labrador - and soon realised money could be made from the arrangement.

In 2014, pet minding and dog walking start-up Mad Paws was launched by Mr Soulopoulos and fellow founders Jan Pacas, Rolf Weber, Justus Hammer and Bjorn Behrendt.

Just three years on, Mad Paws now has 15,000 approved sitters and dog walkers and 300,000 pets across Australia on its books, with the company tripling its growth in the past year alone.

The company's revenue has also tripled each year since launching.

Mr Soulopoulos, 27, said Mad Paws' success made sense, considering Australia was such a dog-loving nation.

"I had a fantastic week with Honey in Bondi and I realised there were probably many more people like myself with a flexible schedule who loved animals and who would love a bit of extra income looking after people's pets," he said.

"I was hoping it was going to grow quickly but I definitely didn't think it would take off that quickly to such a scale.

Just 25 per cent of applicants end up being approved as a Mad Paws sitter.
Just 25 per cent of applicants end up being approved as a Mad Paws sitter.

"But as an exchange student I had noticed there were so many dogs in Australia, and later when I did market research I found per capita, dog ownership in Australia is among the highest in the world."

Mr Soulopoulos did field research by chatting with owners in dog parks across the city, and quickly realised he was onto a winner.

After contacting experienced entrepreneurs to discuss business models, Mr Soulopoulos settled on one that worked in a similar way to Airbnb.

After passing a strict vetting process - just 25 per cent of applicants end up being approved - pet minders and walkers create a profile that includes the type of animal they are happy to care for, their availability, interests, whether or not they have other pets and the type of home they live in.

Owners also create a profile for their pet, including its weight, sociability, health and dietary requirements, personality and photos.

They then do a search on the site based on location and dates, and are matched with potential sitters.

Owners and carers can introduce themselves and chat through the site before arranging a face-to-face meeting.

If all goes well, the owner drops their pet at the sitter's house, and then leaves a review at the end of the service.

As you’d expect, the Mad Paws office is very pet-friendly.
As you’d expect, the Mad Paws office is very pet-friendly.

For Mr Soulopoulos, developing his company has been a dream come true.

"In Belgium I was always an animal lover and that's one reason why it's great to work in this business - I have a team of pet lovers so we always have many office pets coming in, which creates a very nice atmosphere," he said.

"I definitely love Australia and the business so I'm very serious about staying and making dog ownership in this country easier."

According to Mr Soulopoulos, one of the keys to Mad Paws' growth has been the stringent vetting process for sitters, who go through an online training program and test, ID checks and an optional police screening.

Another plus is the communication between sitters and owners.

"The cool thing is we invest heavily on allowing communication during the day, so pet owners receive photos of their dog having an absolutely wonderful time," Mr Soulopoulos said.

Mad Paws has just raised $5 million through Series A funding from investors including Qantas, Microequities Venture Capital, Scaleup Mediafund, existing investor Macdoch Ventures and Airtasker CEO and co-founder Tim Fung, who will be joining the Mad Paws board.

Mr Soulopoulos said the funding would help cement the company as the leading player in Australia's lucrative $12 billion pet industry, with $2 billion a year spent on pet services such as boarding, minding and grooming alone.

It's estimated there are around 24 million pets in Australia.



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