Wag! CEO: We Want to Be the ‘Pup’ Button on Your Phone

Everyone and their sibling seems to have a pet right now.

Look outside on a sunny day in a big city and you are likely to see more furry friends than actual people.

“I think something like one in five people adopted a pet during the pandemic. And eighty-five plus million households have a dog or a cat,” Garrett Smallwood, CEO at Wag! tells PYMNTS CEO Karen Webster.

And that growing cohort of pet parents represents a highly attractive and increasingly captive audience.

“We call them pet lovers,” says Smallwood. “These passionate people who love taking care of pets… I think that’s been the catalyst for [Wag!’s] business, especially post pandemic — empowering the caregivers, these people who love pets, to do more.”

Before the pandemic, pet owners would leave their dogs, cats, and more at home as they went to work and traveled. And while they often found caregivers to look after their pets, it wasn’t always an easy or reliable task.

The pandemic-fueled surge in pet ownership changed the landscape of the pet care industry. As more people started working from home and taking care of their pets themselves, the need for reliable and convenient pet care services became paramount.

Recognizing a Foundational Shift and Leaning Into It

Recognizing this shift, Wag! diversified its marketplace during the pandemic, offering not just dog walking services, but also wellness plans, pet insurance and a marketplace for pet supplies.

“We branched off into other products and services including digital training, in-person training, advice and more,” Smallwood explains.

This strategic move allowed WAG to meet the evolving needs of pet owners and caregivers alike. Today, as different states and cities return to normal at varying rates, Wag! continues to adapt and find new ways to delight pet parents and enable caregivers to provide the best care possible.

As a pet owner himself, Smallwood understands the importance of finding reliable and trustworthy caregivers.

Many digital marketplaces and platforms suffer from the fact that once a user is connected with a professional — say, a cleaner or a handyman — they often then continue to work with that professional and take the relationship off of the platform, which is often cheaper for the buyer and more lucrative for the seller.

Smallwood explains that Wag! doesn’t fall prey to that trap because its care givers aren’t professionals — they’re just pet lovers who want to hang out with dogs and cats and other animals.

“More than 97% of caregivers on the platform are not doing this full-time, they are doing this highly episodically. One time this week, three times next week, four times a week after,” says Smallwood.

“Believe it or not, one of our largest demographics is millennial females who are in college. And they’re like, I would never drive for Uber or DoorDash, but I’d love to walk your dog,” he adds. “So, the idea that they’re going be able to be available whenever you want them is actually very low. What users end up doing on Wag! is building a community of their favorite pet caregivers — the average pet parent has 5 to 7 people that they love, and they get your request first.”

Becoming the One-Stop Shop for Pet Parents

The average pet parent using Wag!’s platform is on the app 4-5 times a month, while premium subscribers interact with the Wag! ecosystem 7-8 times each month.

When you’re in college and you just went for a walk on a sidewalk and made $27 for lunch that day, you’re going tell your best friend or your sorority, so we find that the supply is not what we spend most of our time on.

“That lends itself well to cross-sell and upsell and other opportunities. So, the services ecosystem is the sticky part and then everything else happens really organically,” Smallwood explains.

But the most interesting fact about Wag! is that the marketplace is “non-supply constrained.”

“There are so many people that want to be a caregiver that we have to charge them to join, and the average fee last quarter was $53,” he says. “We have a sophisticated back end that lets us know which markets need more supply so we lower the rate [to join], and which are full so we raise the rate. It’s a very fluid kind of marketplace, where supply is the easier part.”

Smallwood notes that “every marketplace company is a payments company… There’s a lot of dollars being exchanged, and we’re capturing those dollars in lots of different ways. But at the end of the day, we’re processing a ton of payments.”

As for what the Wag! CEO is looking forward to most?

“Meeting our customers’ future needs — they expect us to solve more of their problems, and so it’s our job to anticipate where they will allocate their dollars in the future,” he says.