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It’s a dog’s world on social networking site

Andy Simon wants to change the way Rochester views canine culture through his social networking venture, Dogways LLC. He hopes the startup will attract 2,500 users by the end of the year and eventually go national.
"It takes a village to raise a dog," said Simon, CEO and founder of Dogways. "It’s your dog 360, basically."
Much like Facebook, Dogways offers owners the ability to showcase their dogs through profiles created from the dogs’ perspective. Groomers, walkers and day care are some of the services to be found on the site. Users can do an advanced search for and connect to area services under a tab at the top of the page.
Launched in late April, the website connects the Rochester dog community with the regional dog industry. Users, now about 400, can endorse local businesses if their dogs have had good experiences.
Simon, 43, was a songwriter and manager of music software before he started Dogways. After getting his dog, Marley, he realized the potential he had as a dog owner to connect to other people and create a business to link dog owners together.
The site is limited to dogs because of their social nature. One idea Simon is pursuing is to have owners of puppies in the same litter be able to stay in contact with one another as the dogs grow up. He believes such connectivity will benefit his business. 
"Dogs I’m passionate about because I have (one)," Simon said. "And they are social animals, so everything about the site is connecting owners online as well as off. You don’t really take your cat for a walk."
Alexander Zapesochny, an informal adviser to Simon and president and chief operating officer of iCardiac Technologies Inc., calls Dogways a novel idea.
"I think it is always interesting to find a way to connect people to something they care about with their business," Zapesochny said.
Dogways has three investors: Simon and two local, undisclosed private investors. Simon declined to comment on how much money he has invested.
Simon outsourced the development of a mobile application and the company’s website to developers in New York City and India.
The Dogways app, expected to be launched soon, will complement the website. Owners dictate their social interaction. When ready for a walk, users can change their status to walking through a Walk button, alerting their friends and other users in a 25-mile radius of their location by checking in.
Once users check into a location, they can send messages to other walkers directly about walking together. Walking, at times a mundane part of a dog owner’s life, becomes an opportunity to increase face-to-face social networking.
"I think it’s changing how we can use technology to connect in real life," Simon said. "Your dog will be happier; your dog will love you more."
Simon and Henrik Frenne, Dogways’ Sweden-based digital strategist, understand it is not easy to predict the return on investment with social media ventures.
"Success stories in social media are hard to foresee," Frenne said. "It might flourish next week or it might take a year. But I do know that the day will come soon."
Those involved in Dogways expect its biggest source of revenue to be advertising. The company has sold no ads yet and has generated no revenue.
While other social media sites such as PuppyMatch and Dogbook are tapping into the dog socialization market, Simon believes Dogways offers opportunities unused by other sites. 
  "You’ll never go to an empty park again," Simon said.
The website is meant for all dog owners, but young, single dog owners in their 20s and 30s are the target demographic. According to 2009 census data, the Rochester region is estimated to have 123,240 25- to 34-year-olds.
The goal of the business is to expand to major cities such as Chicago and New York once it has been tested and established in Rochester.
"With any startup it is challenging, but I think one of the ways people in Rochester can help is to be early adopters," Zapesochny said.
He added: "I like the idea of Rochester testing out technology startups. We haven’t had many examples of success in the Internet industry in Rochester, and I think it would be a great place to start.

Kerry Feltner is a Rochester Business Journal intern.

8/30/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email [email protected].



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