Aaron Hirschorn and his wife founded DogVacay organically after desiring to fill a void in the pet services industry. DogVacay matches vacationing pet families with potential hosts, allowing both a superior experience for dogs, peace of mind for their owners, and a way for regular people to earn extra income doing something they love. Erik Huberman, CEO of Hawke Media, talks to Aaron about DogVacay, how he became an entrepreneur and Santa Monica.

Erik Huberman: Tell me a little bit about yourself and DogVacay?
Aaron Hirschorn: DogVacay came out of an experience my wife and I had four years ago (in 2011). We left our two dogs, Rocky and Rambo, in a kennel when we visited our family on the East Coast. It was a ten-day trip and we came back to a $1400 kennel bill, and Rocky was hiding under my desk for three days after. We knew there had to be a better option, and it turns out it’s a massive market. There are 83 million dogs in the US, which is more than there are kids. In the pet services industry, which includes boarding, it’s a $11 billion current spend and no one has any market share. People hate the kennels and they don’t like calling in favors to leave dogs with friends and family. That’s where we enter, my wife and I started watching dogs in our own home. In 2011, we hosted over 100 dogs, learned a ton about what it meant to provide great customer service and care for dogs, and then at the end of 2011, started working on the DogVacay concept. We launched in March of 2012. Now we have over 15,000 dog watching host families across the US and Canada. We have 75 employees here in Santa Monica, about half the company is in Customer Care, which is really what our company is about. It has been an awesome, awesome ride.

E: What made you want to be an entrepreneur?
A: To be honest, I did not have an “I want to be an entrepreneur” itch for many, many years; it came out of this particular experience. After watching dogs ourselves and realizing it was a solution people liked, and thinking about how we could share that concept, it was a really natural evolution. As opposed to something really conscious, over many years, it was born out of this particular experience, and we got deeper and deeper to the point where we were actually running a business. We started working on a basic concept, started talking to a couple of investors and it started moving really fast. I would say, honestly, I’m not a hardcore entrepreneur by nature, but overtime, that’s what I’ve become.

E: Why did you choose to be in Santa Monica?
A: I absolutely love Santa Monica. First, I think it’s absolutely a great lifestyle; in terms of attracting the top talent that we have, it makes a big difference. People enjoy spending time here, and it’s just a great place to be in terms of dining and the beach and everything else. It also has become a real hub of innovation and of community. I think it’s really unusual that you can walk outside and see people that you know that are in the same industry and same community, and it happens all the time. I’m constantly seeing people from local venture capital firms, local entrepreneurs, other startups. That builds on itself; a lot of the great talent is here and that becomes a really great draw.

E: How is DogVacay changing the world?
A: There are 83 million dogs in the US, tens of millions of dog owners who travel every month and this is a really tough problem for them because they view leaving their dog in a cage, or calling in favors as difficult. This is changing the world in three different ways. It’s giving pet parents an opportunity to have a much better experience for their dogs and peace of mind when they travel. On the other hand, we are earning millions of dollars for our hosts. So regular people from retirees; stay at home moms; people who work from home; college students are now earning income doing something that they love. The third way is that we’re making a great experience for dogs, and the well-being of the dogs is ultimately what we’re about. I think all that together is a really rewarding experience for our employees; it’s really motivating for them and for me and I guess to use your words, changing the world.

E: Do you have one piece of advice you want to pass along to entrepreneurs?
A: The main advice is that you have to just move forward. Very often I see entrepreneurs who are constantly talking about their idea, talking about “if only they had this next investment” or this person, or this thing. They’re talking and they’re going to events and conferences, and the reality is that none of that actually makes a difference. You really have to just start building, and if you’re building then everything else really starts to come into place. When you’re having conversations, people see that you have momentum and they get more excited about it. So however possible, you have to figure out how to move forward with your idea, and that’s the hardest part for people, I think.

E: Is there anything you want to share with local people in Santa Monica?
A: Come on by the office here, we have a little dog boarding showroom and I’d love to welcome anybody in the community to come check out what we’re doing: 820 Broadway, Santa Monica, 90401

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