How We Run The World’s
Largest House Sitting Platform
Hi! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi! I’m Mathew Prior, CEO of TrustedHousesitters – the world’s largest platform for house sitting. The platform connects home and pet owners with house sitters to solve a two-sided problem – outstanding quality pet care and ethical travel, at an extremely low cost.
Members on both sides of the marketplace pay an annual fee to access the platform, entitling them to unlimited house sitting for a year. Crucially, owners and sitters find a match with each other and the home and pets are looked after by the sitter based on trust rather than any fees being payable. This model helps to promote a culture of honesty, trust, and ethics that sits at the heart of TrustedHousesitters.
The business was started in 2010 and the founders remain on the board. I took over as CEO in 2019 after the founders sold a share to private equity company and decided to take a step back.
What is your personal story and how did you come up with the idea?
I bring 20 years experience of leading digitally-focused international consumer leisure brands such as Crystal Ski, Le Boat, Sunsail & The Moorings. Each of these brands is very customer-focused, serving a particular niche market. As a portfolio Managing Director at Travelopia, I co-led the buyout of TUI Group’s niche leisure businesses.
Over time, I have seen how the sharing economy has disrupted the travel industry. TrustedHousesitters has created a blue ocean by enabling outstanding pet care and authentic travel experiences while smashing the accommodation value cost ratio, enabling homeowners to have unlimited pet care and house sitters to travel the world for around $100 per year. The marketplace model creates a true win-win-win for pet sitters, homeowners and their pets.
What challenges did you face when creating your product/service?
The key challenge we face is one faced by all marketplaces, keeping supply and demand in balance. All of our efforts have to be split between ensuring that we attract and retain members on both sides of the network.
We recognise that both owners and sitters take a leap of faith when creating their membership to join our community. Rather than simply pertaining to growth, our North Star Metric (NSM) states that our goal is for all members to achieve success within three months of joining the platform.
Who is your target market?
We are a global business with 80,000 members worldwide. The USA is our largest market followed by the UK and then Australia.
Our owners can be anybody with a pet (dogs, cats, fish, chickens, horses even the odd llama or two) who is going away and wants the best pet care option as an alternative to boarding. We recognise that pets are the happiest being cared for in their own environment. Our sitters are pet-loving people who are care orientated rather than pay motivated. They are looking for an authentic, ethical and sustainable travel experience.
How do you market your business and which approaches have been the most successful?
With such a compelling proposition, more than half of our new member acquisition comes via word-of-mouth and our refer-a-friend scheme. We have recently launched a brand ambassador program where we invite our most engaged members to help us spread the word about TrustedHousesitters and pet sitting.
Since you launched, what has worked in not only attracting but retaining customers?
Our retention rates are phenomenal. Once a member is into the second year we retain approximately 90% of those members, creating a connected community with animals (pets) at its very heart.
What kind of culture exists in your company, and how did you establish it?
Our team has three things in common.
- A love of pets.
- A desire to promote ethical travel experiences with a sharing economy ethos
- A deep-rooted respect for our membership community.
All of the major decisions that we take are centred around these three points, our team, our members, and the current and future health of our business.
What software, services or tools do you use within your business?
We have a unique business model and as such our digital platforms reflect that even if that leads to additional business complexity. All of our software is cloud-based and perfectly suited to remote working. With such a dynamic marketplace, we’ve invested heavily in analytics to power our Data Science team.
Of all the software we could call out, I’d like to mention Amplitude, which has helped us turbo charge our A/B testing capabilities.
What are the most important lessons have you learned on your business journey?
Firstly, and most topically as I write this in May 2020, you should always look to emerge stronger from a crisis. Take advantage of the opportunity to reflect on what is best serving your members and how you can further improve your product market fit in the post-crisis world.
Secondly, make sure you’ve got great data and you are measuring the right things. I have come across and taken over many businesses that haven’t had this at the heart. Inevitably it means the business misfires and operates sub-optimally.
And thirdly, lead your team well. Spend as much time thinking about your people and how you are leading them as you do on the strategy and operations of your business.
What is your favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
The incredible satisfaction you get when something goes well! A nice comment from a customer, some good feedback from a member of the team, or landing a major product delivery or deal.
What is your LEAST favourite aspect of being an entrepreneur?
A lot of entrepreneurs will tell you that it can be a lonely place. It’s therefore important to develop and maintain a strong network of people who can empathise with your position. It can be all-consuming, so it’s also crucial for managing stress levels to ensure that you have a life outside of work that enables you to broaden your horizons.
What books, podcasts or other resources have inspired and influenced your business journey?
I’m a big fan of the Four Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney. Too often poor execution lets down great market position and strategy! This book provides a simple framework. The biggest takeaway for me is the importance of having scoreboards for each part of the business. This enables every arm of the business to manage their own performance.
Where do you see your business 2-3 years from now?
As we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis, I see our proposition increasing in relevance and our growth momentum becoming even stronger. The crisis has led people to focus on the important things in life: authenticity ethics and of course the importance of pets. I, therefore, see a very strong future.