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Aaron Hirschhorn

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DogVacay founder Aaron Hirschhorn had intended to be a doctor. After graduating from Swarthmore College with a degree in Neuroscience in 1999, he applied and was accepted to several medical schools. Talking to doctors in the height of the HMO backlash, however, soon changed his mind. Much to the relief of dog owners around the world, he headed instead to business school, earning his MBA from the University of California - Los Angeles’s Anderson School of Management in 2005. For the next six years he worked in investing and venture capital, holding positions at Monitor Group, Upfront Ventures, and Monitor Ventures.

Hirschhorn’s switch from investing in start-ups to building one was inspired by personal experience. Hirschhorn and his wife, Karine Nissim, came home from a vacation to find their dogs, Rocky and Rambo, seeming equally rejuvenated. The experience was in direct contrast to a previous trip, when a stay at a Los Angeles kennel left their dog hiding under a desk for ten days. Wanting to help other dog owners find positive vacation care experiences - and avoid the negative ones - the couple decided to try dog sitting themselves.

Hirschhorn and Nassim loved opening up their home to canine guests. As members of the start-up community, they could hardly keep the fun to themselves. In 2012, they founded DogVacay, a platform connecting dog sitters and dog owners across the country. Often billed as “AirBnB for dogs,” the Santa Monica-based start-up lets traveling pet parents find a dog vacation for their pooches, selecting from a community of screened and rated dog sitters. By 2016, the platform had grown to included tens of thousands of hosts in cities across the country, supported by around 100 employees. Their growth is supported by at least $47 million in funding from venture capital firms including Benchmark and Andreessen Horowitz.

Hirschhorn lives in Santa Monica with his wife and co-founder Karine, their three young children, and a Goldendoodle named Rocky.

(Sources used to write this profile include an August 2016 Entrepreneur interview, a 2012 Huffington Post article, an April 2014 Fast Company Q&A, a July 2015 Bloomberg article, the DogVacay website, and the entrepreneur’s LinkedIn profile)

Companies and Investments

DogVacay (Co-founder, CEO), Soothe (Board of Directors), Monitor Ventures (Principal), Upfront Ventures (Associate), Monitor Group (Manager), Kayne Anderson Capital Advisors (Analyst)

Lessons Learned

With Rocky and Rambo, we faced the same issue that most dog owners face when they travel. You have two options — put your dog in a kennel, which tends to be overpriced, and your dog is stuck in a cage most of the day, which you feel anxious and guilty about. Or you ask a friend or family member to pet sit. Often that works out great, but you’re calling in a favor, or they cancel at the last minute, or you feel like you’re putting a burden on them. So we found someone who was a friend and a dog trainer who watched our puppies in her home, and they had a great time. They ran around, got tired out, played with other dogs. When we got them back, we thought, “This is a great idea. Let’s give it a shot ourselves.” So we created a listing on Yelp and basically opened our home to other dogs. And business just took off. We realized we were filling a real need in the market. People loved the idea of having a trusted person watch the dog in their home. And after we watched about 100 dogs, we said, “OK, it’s time to turn this into a scalable online business.” (Aaron Hirschhorn on identifying market needs through noticing your own, in a Huffington Post piece)

I think a lot of people in my position will go home, spend time with the kids, and then spend another two to three hours online working. I do have my phone, but I try to really connect with her because that's our only time and that also is just critical. You have to recharge with your family. So my kids, my wife at the bookend of the day, again, puts everything into perspective as to what is important and what's not. (Aaron Hirschhorn on the importance of balance and stepping away from work to care for home life, in an interview with Entrepreneur)

It's about the relationships. With personal training you've got to look at someone's individual motivations. Some people have a very specific weight loss goal, other people have a long-term health goal, other people are pushed by you yelling at them, other people are pushed by you giving positive feedback immediately when they do something right. Putting yourself in the shoes of that other person and understand those motivations is important and that transfers to today. (Aaron Hirschhorn on the importance of empathy, understanding, and relationships in understanding customers and employees, in an interview with Entrepreneur)

Talk to other people. I like talking to other founders about their problems and challenges, because the things that I'm going through, other people have also gone through. Get out of the echochamber of your own company. There is a lot of external ideas that we don't have. Getting away from that and talking to people outside of that -- outside of the industry, outside of your close circle -- is really good for generating new ideas and new perspectives. (Aaron Hirschhorn on the value of reaching out of your usual bubble for new perspectives and solutions, in an interview with Entrepreneur)

I got back surgery in 2008 that I should not have gotten. It made it worse. I thought there was a shortcut, whereas if I had been doing the things I'm doing now, I wouldn't have needed surgery. In general, life is like that, there are very few shortcuts.

It's not a direct analogy, but DogVacay could partner with a bigger pet food company for example, but it wouldn't be the single thing that quintuples DogVacay. There are just no shortcuts, and I want to always remember that. (Aaron Hirschhorn on avoiding the temptations of perceived shortcuts, in an interview with Entrepreneur)

Inspiring Quotes

Aaron Hirschhorn's Quotes

There is never any shortcuts; you just have to keep focusing and grinding away at that. If you dilute that effort, youre not going to be as successful.

Aaron Hirschhorn

You want to find good people, point them in the right direction and then get out of the way.

Aaron Hirschhorn

You have to lose ego and be okay with the fact that things are not perfect.

Aaron Hirschhorn

Influential Books

Peter Hauri - No More Sleepless Nights

Garth Stein - The Art of Racing in the Rain: A Novel

Yann Martel - Life of Pi


Bill Gurley