Those who have adopted pets from a shelter or pound often talk of seeing their new cat or dog for the first time as if it were love at first sight. “He just looked at me with those big eyes and I couldn’t leave him there,” they say of little Spot. It may be hard to imagine replicating this insta-love feeling online but given it’s worked for the dating world, that’s exactly what Australian startup Zeppee is looking to do for pet adoption.
Founded by Ben Burton and Pierre Moio, Zeppee is a ‘Tinder for pets’ of sorts, an app that allows for the buying, selling, and rehoming of pets. Like your Tinders, it allows a user looking for a pet to sign on and begin swiping through the profiles of pets closest to them. Users can search for specific animals and breeds.
Burton explained, “Zeppee caters for registered breeders, shelters, and private individuals in certain situations, the people who have to move and urgently rehome their pets, the unexpected litter of puppies, and so on. We are building a community of like minded people, with the common goal of rehoming the pets on the app, and animal welfare.”
The idea, Burton said, came from seeing a lost and found poster for a dog on a street pole in Byron Bay while out walking with a friend.
“I turned and said to him, ‘how good would pet Tinder be?’. We laughed about it that night, and in the morning the idea was still there in my mind. I thought about it more, talked to a few more friends, and decided it was definitely worth pursuing. I called Pierre, he literally said, ‘let’s do it’, and by the end of the conversation the idea had multiplied tenfold into different ways to build, monetise, and grow. The next day we began research and planning.”
Moio, a solicitor, and Burton, who has owned a café business and then spent time selling prestige cars for private clients, originally had an eight week development timeframe in mind that blew out to 7 months. After getting a sky-high quote from an Australian company, they decided to look for developers offshore – “a great idea when being frugal, but not having the tech background made it really hard to know when you were being led up the garden path,” Burton said.
Eventually, the app came together, with the cofounders bringing on an investor in the form of a former client of Burton’s who had himself adopted rescue dogs and loved the idea.
While breeders can also list through Zeppee, Burton said the app was built with shelters in mind, in that shelters all have one thing in common: zero time on their hands. Burton explained that Zeppee has built a “fairly stringent back end” to monitor and filter through all ads on the app. Breeders must be registered and include their registered breeder number to sign up while private users looking to list have limited capabilities and can have their ads reported if suspicious.
The focus on shelters is important, with a number of public awareness campaigns over the last few years urging aspiring pet owners to forgo pet stores and adopt from a shelter or pound; the RSPCA alone received 133,495 pets in 2014-15. However, when it comes to the potential adoptees, the due diligence must essentially be done by the shelter or the seller themselves.
“As we are basically a third party advertising platform connecting the pet with its potential forever home, it is also the responsibility of the owner and adoptee to check where and what they are getting. We are continuing to update our backend to make it more and more watertight, and working with feedback from shelters and pet owners to make sure we cover all bases,” Burton explained.
This is where Zeppee differs from US app BarkBuddy, which also boasts a ‘Tinder for pets’-style interface, complete with the tagline ‘find fluffy singles near you’; BarkBuddy has the aspiring pet owners apply to join the platform by filling out an application, with the startup’s ‘adoption counselors’ then approving users as ‘an eligible pup parent’.
Given that thousands of pets are sent in to shelters each year because their owners were ill-suited or ill-prepared for the realities and responsibilities of caring for a pet – the numbers go up in the weeks after Christmas as many discover that pets aren’t the perfect gift for everyone – a similar feature on Zeppee may be useful.
While listings can be created through the app, Zeppee is also set to roll out a web admin interface for listing users over the next week to make the process easier.
There are 3,000 animals from across Australia on the app already, with Zeppee having contacted bigger shelters to get them on board and walk them through the app and others coming on board through word of mouth.
Burton said it’s hard to track exactly how many animals have found new homes through the app, though Zeppee is seeing around 10 a week removed from the app, which one can assume means they have been rehomed.
The app is currently free for all users, with Burton saying monetisation “will never be at the expense of shelters or the RSPCA [who] do phenomenal work, and we want to do what we can with our technology to aid them.”
Down the track, he said, Zeppee will look to monetise through premium accounts, in-app advertising, and a handful of other features.
“We will expand and grow and add certain features, but we want to stick to being a platform to buy, sell, and rehome pets in need.”
Image: Ben Burton. Source: Supplied.