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The Short Version: Borrowing from the dating world’s concept of “swiping right” on what you like, AllPaws helps users find the perfect pet with more than 170,000 profiles to browse through. Shelters and rescues upload profiles for the animals they are currently housing, and users can filter searches by preferences, like coat length, gender, and temperament, to find their best match. From pooches to alpacas, the AllPaws database is accessible online or through its highly rated iPhone app.
It’s a Saturday, and you’re heading out to run some errands. When you arrive at your destination, you begin to make out the circular, knee-hire wire fences housing bouncing balls of fur. You smile as you realize it’s pet adoption day.
So, what’s the problem? For one, you’re probably not going to take home a new friend right on the spot since you’re out to check items off your to-do list, not add to it. Furthermore, these animals are from a single shelter and likely a collection of the “most adoptable” pets rather than those most in need of your love, such as black cats, pit bulls, and older animals.
Despite never having had a four-legged friend of his own until January 2016, Darrell Lerner has always considered himself a dog person. As an animal lover, he wanted his next entrepreneurial project to positively impact the pet community somehow.
The Internet popularity of #dogsofinstagram and Lil’ Bub proved there is no shortage of people wanting to look at aww-dorable pet pics, so in a singular moment of clarity, Darrell decided to bring the notion of “swiping right” on a cute guy or gal to the pet adoption scene.
He realized both pets and people could benefit from more robust browse and search functions if local shelters could supply a database of pet profiles. With his background co-founding the SNAP Interactive network of online dating ventures (The Grade and FirstMet), he knew he could make pet adoption more streamlined and fun.
“I just didn’t understand why I couldn’t go online and say I wanted a golden retriever that’s good with children and not too young,” Darrell said, explaining his surprise at the lack of options for potential pet parents seeking the perfect fur baby.
Eight years after he founded SNAP, Darrell began work on his new passion project. He took what he knew worked within SNAP, as well as popular features from online dating, and began to frame them within the constructs of pet adoption.
AllPaws, which officially launched in April of 2014 and released an iPhone app later that same year, now boasts nearly 1 million visits each month with more than 650,000 registered users, a required first step to adopt one of the 170,000 animals it has available.
Moving on from his success with SNAP, Darrell wanted to branch out of the dating scene while applying some of the “fun” aspects of dating websites and apps that make them so appealing and successful. On the AllPaws app, visitors can view cute animal photos by swiping through profiles and conducting searches based on 30 criteria within an area from one mile to over 500 miles away.
While dogs and cats make up the majority of the profiles, there are also nearly 50 barnyard animals (not including pigs, which account for even more) and over 500 “small and furry” pets for adoption, including guinea pigs, hedgehogs, and a single degu rodent.
Shelters and rescues that join the site can import pet profiles from their database or create them individually with up to 10 photos for each animal. The profile can also include details about the pet’s temperament, coat, training, and more, which can then be used in searches.
Taking another page from dating profiles and websites, visitors can message the shelters right through AllPaws to discuss the animal that caught their eye and set up a time to visit and adopt. Within the free account, which is required for messaging, users can flesh out their own profile, including fields for their current pets and their photos.
Because AllPaws is adoption-only and provides 501(c)3 charities with advertising for their animals, users can feel good about turning to the company to find Man’s Best Friend. Plus, all pet profiles are vetted either at the organization level when a shelter, rescue, or sanctuary joins the site or at the profile level if an individual posts it, so users know puppy mills and other bad breeding business practices are weeded out. That kind of verification pruning is rare in the dating space.
“We try to think of everything on the site in terms of online dating,” Darrell said as he explained how AllPaws sends “matches” out to its registered users via email that read something like, “There are 6 new dogs in your area that match your recent search.”
Thanks to that additional engagement, users come back to see what they may be missing, a common theme among online dating. Another engagement-driven tactic AllPaws employs requires users to register for an account to create a favorites list, save a search, and access more robust search tools.
Because users can drill down and search for exactly what they want in their next pet, the conversion rate is pretty high. Darrell told us AllPaws receives hundreds of successful adoption stories each month, a statistic that has helped to prove his project, quite literally, has legs.
“Since adopting my dog Kona in January,” began Darrell, “I now have the ability to look at the experience through the eyes of a user.” Following his experience pet shopping and adopting first hand, Darrell adjusted his strategy to grow AllPaws so every segment of its community receives additional benefits to keep them coming back for more.
One of the ways Darrell is able to offer the AllPaws service free to users and shelters is through advertising and partnerships that add value for the user. For example, AllPaws has a sponsorship through Royal Canin pet food that not only helps introduce users to a quality brand, but also gives them a free bag of breed-specific pet food upon confirming an adoption of a cat or certain dog breeds. Other partnerships, such as with leading pet retailer PetSmart, offer coupons and discounts to pet owners and new pet parents at the highly-coveted point of market entry.
The goal is to build a larger community that brings together current pet owners and those in the market for a new furry friend and provides a place for them to share experiences and offer advice from breed-specific issues to flea shampoos.
For the 501(c)3 organizations caring for the critters, Darrell built integrations with companies that make shelter management software so pet data entered through the software can be pushed to AllPaws to create new profiles for new animals received at the shelter. Shelters and rescues can also create accounts directly on AllPaws to list their pets and access some of the great free tools that the site has built, such as a custom Facebook tab for shelters and rescues to list their adoptable pets directly on their Facebook page.
Darrell has been able to take the fun experience of looking for a fuzzy friend in person, either at a pet store or a shelter adoption day, and has translated it to the web and for mobile using successful interfaces borrowed from the world of online dating.
“I’m extremely proud of what we’ve done and especially of the iPhone app,” Darrell said. “The numbers and engagement we’ve seen reflect we’ve done a hell of a job.” With the iPhone app rated at 4.5 stars in the App Store and appearing at the top of most pet-related search terms, we’d tend to agree. Now, he’s setting his sights to move into the Android market so even more pets can get the exposure they need to find good homes.