The Pet-Friendly Version of Uber and Lyft | SpotOn

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ANIMAL INNOVATIONS SHOW - EPISODE 35 - APARNA SRINIVASAN

The Pet-Friendly Version of Uber and Lyft | SpotOn

It’s one of those days when your car breaks down, and you and your pets can’t wait to get home after a tiring day at the park.   For the first time ever, you tried to book an Uber ride, but the driver balked at having your pets onboard the car. When you tried to book Lyft, or even Grab, the same thing happened, and now, hours after, with no success, you’re exhausted and left with tired pets that are dying to go home.   Sounds familiar?   You aren’t alone. In fact, Aparna Srinivasan, a parent to two dogs, found herself in a similar situation a while back and described the experience as “a total disaster”.   Not wanting to go through the same thing again, Aparna reached out to her now co-founder, John Betley, to establish SpotOn, a ride-sharing service that makes traveling with your furry companions easier and less hassle-free.   The Pet-Friendly Version of Uber and Lyft | SpotOn   Aparna shared,

“We are a ride-hailing service very similar to the existing ones that are out there, but we’re pet-friendly. All our drivers are vetted to be pet-friendly, so you are guaranteed a ride from your house to the park. And all you have to do is download our app, request a ride, and the perfect perfect driver will come out and pick you up. And basically, it’s tailored to your situation.”

  As the only ride-hailing company that’s equipped and licensed to take not only humans but also pets as passengers, SpotOn offers a ride-sharing service in the five boroughs of New York City and the surrounding areas.   Aparna, who also serves as the founder and CEO of SpotOn, shared that the service makes it possible to match drivers with passengers who request rides using SpotOn’s mobile app. So, whether you want to offset your costs, cover your bills, or fund your dreams, driving on SpotOn will give you the freedom to be your own boss.  

“We actually work with a lot of vets and groomers, and hopefully, we can work with a lot more to do pet-only rides. So, we know these days, everybody’s sitting on Zoom all day long with meetings back to back. But your pet still needs to be taken care of. They need to go to the groomer, they need to go to the vet. With our service, you can simply request a ride specifically for your pets, so this is a pet-only ride. And again, the perfect driver will come to pick it up, take him to his appointment. And if you want them back in your house, then you have to request a round trip, but yeah, we can drop them back off,”

Aparna added.   As a ride-hailing company, Aparna and her team at SpotOn makes it a point to provide a customer-oriented service that takes care not only of the passenger but also the pet and the driver—all in one shot.   So, if, for instance, you want to go somewhere with all your pets, all you need to do is request a ride on SpotOn’s application and inform the system which pets are coming with you. You don’t have to worry about them staying safe during the entire ride since SpotOn will provide you with an appropriate car that has back seat covers to mitigate pet wear and tear, as well as a driver who already has an idea about your pets and has been trained on how to handle their transportation safely.   The Pet-Friendly Version of Uber and Lyft | SpotOn   The company is also licensed, bonded, and insured, so that’s one less worry for safety-focused passengers.   According to Aparna,

“We have safety restraints to keep the pet safe during travel. And in some of the bigger cars, we have GPS-trackable smart crates. So if you are doing a pet-only ride, you would hopefully get one of those cars, and we put the pet into the create, and you can track it obviously on the app… But we also send a messagea GPS-stamped messageto you when the pets have been dropped off and where they are.”

  One thing you have to take note of, though, is that you need to book at least two hours in advance if you need to avail yourself of SpotOn’s service. Since the company is still not as huge as Uber or Lyft, they don’t yet have that many drivers who can roam around New York City on demand. However, their goal is to grow the business, so hopefully, they will be able to service the entire city in the foreseeable future.  

“Well, at least, you know, you have two hours that you can book a ride and get a ride back. And we have made some adjustments. If there happens to be a driver close by, then we do make those adjustments and say, ‘Hey, we know you book your ride for 2:20. We have a driver that’s 40 minutes away. Can they come to pick you up early?’ So we do make those adjustments if and when necessary.”

  Despite her non-tech-savvy background, Aparna attributed the foundation of SpotOn to the “disastrous” experience she had, saying,

“I definitely spend quite a bit of money on them (her pets). And it dawned on me. I’m like, ‘Why don’t we get the same type of service? What do we have to do? Play roulette, you know, do a horse and pony show, show them how amazing my dogs are in a car.’ Then we get into the car if we get the ride. And then they’re like, ‘Oh, your dog can’t sit here. It’s drooling here.’ And I’m like, ‘Okay, you know what? I’m thankful for the ride, but you’re really treating us like a third-rate citizen.’ So, those are the things that were going through my head.”

  Wanting to make the service accessible to any and all pet parents, Aparna envisions a future where SpotOn takes the pet-friendly riding service all over the world. They’re already looking at expanding into New Jersey so that, eventually, they can start offering their service to the metropolitan areas in the country.   The Pet-Friendly Version of Uber and Lyft | SpotOn   As someone who is also passionate about the mission of shelters and animal rescue groups, Aparna and her staff at SpotOn also implemented a program called “Take a Ride, Save a Life”.   She elaborated,

“It’s very simple. If you take a ride with us and use a coupon code from one of our rescue partners or shelters, then you get a free ride from us to take an adoptable pet to the doctor’s office, or maybe, to its forever home.”

  With your pets’ (and other passengers’) safety being SpotOn’s priority, it’s safe to say that the company has what it takes to reach its long-term goal. So, if you also want to get from and to your destinations with your pets with ease, SpotOn’s pet-friendly policies may just make your rides worth your while.    

Want to know more about SpotOn?

Check out their website at https://www.spoton.pet/.

Have suggestions for who we should interview next?

Send us a message at [email protected]!

Aparna: Hi, my name is Aparna. I’m the founder and CEO of SpotOn, and you are listening to The Animal Innovations Show.

Chris: Awesome introduction, Aparna. So, welcome. Glad you’re here.

Tell us who you are and how you’re innovating and helping animals.

Aparna: Again, my name is Aparna. I’m the founder and CEO of SpotOn.

We are a ride-hailing service very similar to the existing ones that are out there, but we’re pet-friendly. All our drivers are vetted to be pet-friendly, so you are guaranteed a ride from your house to the park, and then all you have to do is download our app, request a ride, and the perfect driver will come out and pick you up.

Chris: That is really awesome! And I love the fact that you’re thinking and tailoring it, like you said, to that specific customer because that is so important.

Aparna: And we actually work with a lot of vets and groomers to do pet-only rides. We know, these days, everybody’s sitting on Zoom all day long with meetings back to back. But your pet still needs to be taken care of.

They need to go to the groomer. They need to go to the vet. With our service, you can simply request a ride specifically for your pet. So, this is a pet-only ride. And, again, the perfect driver will come to pick it up, take him to his appointment. And if you want them back in your house, then you have to request a round trip. But yeah, we can drop them back off.

If you are going to one of our partnered vets or groomers, it’s really pretty hands-off. We take care of all the—you know, letting the vet know, letting the groomer know that the dog or cat is on its way, and things like that.

So, you just book a ride and just relax.

Chris: Wow. So, you even take care of letting them know, kind of like, “What’s your ETA?” and “We’re on the way” and “Here’s who you’re going to meet” and all that stuff.

That’s really cool. So, now what’s the area of the country that you guys serve? 

Aparna: So, currently, we’re in our very first market. It’s New York City. We service all five boroughs of New York. We’re licensed, bonded, and insured in the five boroughs. We’re in the same classification as Uber or Lyft.

Our biggest difference is that we are equipped to take pets. Uber, Lyft, VIA—they’re not. Not only are our drivers trained to take pets, but we have back seat covers to mitigate pet wear and tear. We have safety restraints to keep the pet safe during travel. 

We have GPS-trackable smart crates. So, if you are doing a pet-only ride, and we put the pet into that create, and you can track it obviously on the app— the app tracks the car, but we also send a message—a GPS-stamped message to you when the pet’s been dropped off and where they are.

Chris: So, now how far in advance do I have to book in order to get one of these rides?

Aparna: Yeah. So, that’s another cool thing. We have a minimum of a two-hour advanced booking. So, if you wanted your ride, say, at 2:20, you’d have to book by 12:20. That’s just a minimum.

We have many passengers that book rides weeks in advance, say if they’re going traveling, or they have a vet appointment that’s already been set up. As soon as you know when your appointment is or where you have to go,  you could book that ride.

Chris: Yeah, and I really love the flexibility of this. Like you said, I can take my dog to the dog park. And I know that the driver that’s coming to get us is expecting a dog and is prepared for that.

Or if I need my dog to go to the vet or the groomer or something like that, it’s easy for me to do, right? I bring the dog down, put them in the car, and off they go.

Take us back to when you kind of came up with the idea. Have you always been a tech person?

Aparna: I’m a pet parent. I’m a dog parent. I had two dogs when I was living in LA, and one day— I have cars on my own, but I rented a car to go on a trip with my dogs, and I was coming back, and one of my friends was supposed to pick us up from the Carline rental car.

And for some reason or another, she flaked on me, and I was like, “Oh, no worries. I’ll take an Uber.” Right?

“I’ll take an Uber. I’ll take a Lyft. Whatever.”

So, this is the first time I attempted to take one with my pets or with my dogs. And I’ll tell you, it was a disaster.

I called an Uber. He came by, and he was like, “I’m not taking dogs.” I’m literally 4 miles from my house. Four miles from my house—not a long run at all.

So, then, I was like, “Okay, let’s try Lyft.” Tried Lyft. Same thing. I got rejected, rejected, rejected. I think I went through, like, six cars.

Chris: Wow.

Aparna: And I’m sitting there for almost an hour now, and I’m tired. My dogs are tired. I just want to get home.

Finally, the first driver I called happened to be in the area and swung by. And he was like, “Okay, look, I can’t believe you’re still sitting here. I don’t like dogs, but I feel sorry for you. Jump in my car, I’ll take you home.” Granted, I gave him a really good tip, but, I mean, it just wasn’t in my head.

I was like, “This is just not necessary.” Pet owners, we command so much of the market. Over 900 billion dollars is spent on our pets every year. And I’m like, “Dude, that’s pretty significant.”

And it dawned on me. I’m like, “Why don’t we get the same type of service?” Since I’m not techy—I couldn’t build the app myself. So, I reached out to my now co-founder and CTO, John Bentley. We’ve been working together on my other business for a while.

He was doing some freelance stuff for me, and I told him, like, “Hey, John, I want to do, like, an Uber for pets. What do you think?”

And he was like, “Hold on.” That “hold” was for three months. And during that time, he became an Uber driver. And he came back to me and said, “Dude, we can do this, and we can do it better.”

And ever since, we have been. I mean, we’ve been rocking it in New York City. And it really wouldn’t have been possible without John because he is the brains behind this whole organization with the technology.

So, this is the kind of team that we have—that John becomes an Uber driver to figure it out. I become a driver just to see what is this.

Because I mean, of course, I’m used to driving my dogs around, but when you have a stranger in your car with their pet—what is it? Can you just go willy-nilly in your car? No. We need some certain rules. And we expect passengers to follow some rules, like:

Don’t let your dog run around the back. They should be restrained. And there is some education that goes into what we do with our new passengers. Just because, like I said, you jump into your car, you don’t think of putting your pet’s seat belt on, but for sure, you’d put your kid’s seat belt on, right?

There are some passengers that have hemmed and hawed with putting the safety restraint on their pet. But the second there is, like, a little hard break, and their pet goes flying, then they’re going to be like, “Why didn’t I do this?”

Chris: I love that. And you’re so right.

I mean, you’re thinking about the pet restraint, and a lot of people don’t. And it is something, you know, as you say, the dog is going to go fine, right?

Even with a small, minor fender bender, or you slam on the brakes really fast, there’s really nothing holding them back if they don’t have a harness and they’re not tied to a seat belt.

Aparna: I mean, it doesn’t even have to be a fender bender.

Like, say, the right light turns green to red really quick, and you have to stop, so they can go flying.

And it’s just not—honestly, yeah, safety of the dog, but think about everybody else and anybody else in the car. That animal now becomes a projectile. And, I mean, that’s just disastrous.

Chris: So, what’s next? Where are you going to take this? You’re going to expand out of New York City, take it coast to coast?

Aparna: Yeah. Take it all over the world. The coast is not enough. We’re actually starting our expansion into New Jersey with our pet-only rides, parts of New Jersey that are closer to the New York City area.

The goal is to eventually be in most of the metropolitan areas in the United States, and then look at areas outside of the United States, which we’ve already started exploring.

But yeah, the goal is definitely to make SpotOn accessible to any and all pet parents.

Chris: That is really cool. I love the vision. I love the fact that you’re thinking globally. I’m just constraining you to the US, and you’re like, “Oh, no, we’re going to go global.”

Though, the other thing I want to mention, Aparna, is you also are very focused on giving back to rescues and shelters. So, tell us about that.

Aparna: We love our rescues. I say I have a 50-50 household. One dog that I had, Raja—he passed away in 2017. I got him from a breeder. I also have another dog, Krishna, and I also got him from the shelter.

So, one from a breeder, one from a shelter. And shelters are very close to my heart. And what we do is we have a program called “Take a Ride, Save a Life”.

It’s very simple. If you take a ride with us and use a coupon code from one of our rescue partners or shelters, then they get a free ride from us to take an adoptable pet to the doctor’s office or maybe to its forever home. We want to make sure that it keeps expanding.

Chris: I really love that.

I think that’s so awesome that you guys are supporting the rescues and shoulders and doing that.

So, thank you for doing that. This is really cool. I’m really excited to see where you guys are gonna go. Is there anything else you wanted to mention before we wrap things up today?

Aparna: Yeah. I mean, hey, if you want SpotOn in your area, reach out to us.

The more we hear, the sooner we can get into your area and just support the little guy. You know, we’re fighting a good fight, but we need the support.

Chris: As we wrap things up here, we’ll remind our viewers and listeners that if you’ve got an innovative idea or know somebody that does, and I should have them on the show, just go to INNOVATIONS.SHOW, and let us know about it.

So, thank you again, Aparna for coming on. I really appreciate it.

Aparna: Hey, no problem. Thanks for your time.

And I’ll make sure to send a coupon code for your listeners. So, if they’re in the New York-New Jersey area, they can definitely try us out.

Chris: Awesome. Well, thanks again.

Aparna: Thank you.

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