Christopher Adams

The Business Herald’s markets and banking reporter.

Website to get tails wagging

Animal-loving science students design network to bring pets and their owners together.

Petsnearby is both a social network and database of services, including vets and pet stores. Photo / Richard Robinson.
Petsnearby is both a social network and database of services, including vets and pet stores. Photo / Richard Robinson.

Two animal-loving Massey University PhD students have joined forces to create a social media network for Kiwi pet owners.

The website, petsnearby.com, is both a social network and database of services, including council-approved dog parks, veterinary clinics and pet stores throughout New Zealand.

There are also plans to include pet-friendly cafes and hotels, breeders and health and fitness services.

The website grew out of conversations that took place between founders Mack Saraswat, a biochemistry PhD candidate, and fellow student Ralph Grand, who's working towards a PhD in genetics, in the labs at Massey University's Institute of Natural Sciences.

"I think we were just talking and we discovered we both loved animals," said Saraswat.

"I had a pet cat, Ralph has a pet cat, and we wanted to create something cool, something that would connect people through their pets."

Three others were brought on board to form the start-up company - another lab member, German physicist Lutz Gehlen, Indian businessman Sharif Zamir and Grand's brother, Remo Grand, a designer and website developer.

Petsnearby also received assistance from Massey University's business incubator, the ecentre.

While the database information can be publicly accessed, those who create a Petsnearby account will be able to use geo-location technology to find pet services in their area and other like-minded pet owners they can meet up with.

"For example, if you find a dog park in Northcote, the system will automatically tell you, 'By the way, there is also a pet-friendly cafe near the park'," Saraswat said.

Grand said users could add multiple pets to a single Petsnearby account. "All other sites we know of require you to create a completely new profile for every pet."

Part of the site's attraction was the possibility to "find a date for your dog, and potentially for yourself".

While PhD studies in genetics and biochemistry might seem a world away from creating a social media start-up, Saraswat said the data analysis skills they had learned came in handy while developing the Petsnearby website.

"We're used to dealing with a lot of statistics and we have a physicist on the team who can come up with cool algorithms," Saraswat said.

"As a group we like to meet, throw ideas around, and solve them mathematically."

The Petsnearby team is developing new functions and will soon launch a blog on the site.

The company is currently at the stage of recruiting and building up new members but Saraswat and Grand are confident of the website's long-term success.

"New Zealand has the largest per capita pet ownership rate in the world and people spend an enormous amount on toys, food, health and grooming," said Saraswat.

He said the website, which users can join for free, would be able to earn revenue through advertising.

"Petsnearby will be a really attractive place for the pet-related industry to advertise because it's a perfectly targeted audience for them."

- NZ Herald

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