HOBOKEN — Emily Hammond had just moved back to New York after college in Wyoming and the animal lover was hoping to find a job in human rights. But in the meantime, to help pay the rent on her East Village apartment, she took what turned out to be an ideal temp job: walking dogs for a new company called Barkly.
“I care about animals so much!” said Hammond, 23, who also feels good about the humans who feed her dog-walking jobs. “They’re really easy to communicate with, you can tell they value their clients and the dogs, as well as the walkers.”
Newark-based Barkly — call it a leash-hailing app — was founded in Washington, D.C., in 2015, and has been making its way up the East Coast since then, expanding into Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and now, the New Jersey Gold Coast. Last week, Barkly began operating in the Hudson County K-9 strongholds of Jersey City, Hoboken and Weehawken.
“We think that Hoboken, Jersey City and Weehalken hit our demographics really well,” said Dave Comiskey, a former Defense Department analyst who is a co-founder and chief operating officer. “Younger working professionals who have a commute. Having that commute makes it challenging to care for your own pet when you’re working. And that’s where we come in: to lend a helping hand should work go long; should there be a happy hour after work. We’ll be available in under 60 minutes in all those areas of New Jersey.”
Pet owners who download the app or sign up at Barkly’s web site, pay a basic rate of $18 for a half-hour walk, 80% of which goes to the dog walker. Payment is by credit card through the app. The site also includes articles under the headings Health & Safety, Pet News (“Trump White House to Remain Pet-less”) and General Fluff.
To have their dogs walked, owners contacts Barkly to arrange scheduling and access to their house or apartment. For regular walks, particularly at single family homes, Barkly will come and install a lock box outside the house. For emergency or unforeseen situations when nothing’s been set up in advance, the pet owner can arrange for a doorman, concierge or some other third party to let the walker in, or they can let Barkly know there’s a key under the mat.
In a very few emergency situations, when there is no prior relationship between a pet owner and Barkly, and there is no way to provide emergency access, Comiskey said Barkely will not be able to walk the dog.
To protect pet owners, their pets and their personal property, Comiskey says Barkly does background checks on all walkers, thoroughly trains all walkers in the handling of dogs, and insures against theft or damage. Barkly will also arrange meet-and-greet sessions to let pet owners get a sense of their dog’s potential walker. The walkers are also insured against injury or liability, Comiskey said.
Barkly was one of nine startups in the inaugural “class” of Newark Venture Partners, a tech incubator and investment fund launched by Audible founder Don Katz. Like other members of NVP’s first and second incubator classes so far, the company is provided capital, office space at NVP’s downtown Newark location in a building shared by Audible and Rutgers Business School, mentoring and training in marketing and other business principles beyond their particular expertise.
Comiskey declined to provide sales figures for the company, but he said, “I would say we’re doing several thousand dog walks a month.”
Would-be walkers who visit the site are told, “Earn over $1,000 a month,” and asked for a name, email address and zip code, and must agree to a background check. They are regarded as independent contractors, not employees, a model made familiar by the ubiquitous ride-hailing giant, Uber.
But Comiskey dismisses comparisons between his company and the controversial transportation startup, which has been accused — unjustly, Uber insists — of treating its drivers like employees but depriving them of common employee benefits.
“Whatever it is, we will go to every lenth to insure that our dog walkers, pets and pet parents are happy,” said Comiskey, 30, who founded the company with Chief Technology Officer Jim Camut and Chris Gonzalez, the chief executive officer, both about his age. “So if that means getting the dog walker medical attention or getting a dog medical attention, we will do it.”
Rave reviews light up the Barkly Pets Facebook page. And Comiskey said the 1,000 applications a month the company gets from people who want to walk dogs is both a testament to the company’s commitment and a way to insure a quality workforce.