My Shanghai, an Urban Family series where we ask a Shanghai-based somebody to tell us about their life.
Shanghai truly is the city of opportunity and when you have the chance to speak with entrepreneurs such as Elsa Medin and Erin Leigh, it can inspire anyone to take the leap and pursue a dream. They followed their passion for animals, identified a need in the market and founded Spare Leash; a WeChat-based platform that connect pet owners with pet sitters as an alternative to kennels or caged accommodation.
“Spare Leash is a platform connecting pet owners to pet sitters all around China. The services are cage-free, safe and reliable. The Spare Leash vision is to be the safest pet sitting choice for both pets and pet owners worldwide.” Explained Elsa.
With over 700 registered pet sitters across five cities in China, Spare Leash has certainly become a driving force in the industry, and they are well on their way to realizing their vision. With a menu of services that extends from pet sitting to dog walking and vet runs, it seems these two businesswoman have the animals of China covered and will no doubt continue to thrive in the years to come.
Can you explain the Spare Leash concept and where your inspiration for the business came from; how did it start?
Elsa: I was still in school when it all started. I really wanted to adopt a dog from the street outside my school building; a small puppy who was being kept inside a cage by a Chinese man. As I was traveling quite often and I had planned a two-month trip to Australia, I started to look for pet sitters and could not find any cage-free options. I did not adopt that puppy, but the idea of a platform to find the perfect pet sitter started. Two months later when I came back from my trip, I could not stop thinking about it, so I decided to create a name, logo and start the project. I realized early on that I could not do this alone and met with my co-worker Erin and we started Spare Leash from her living room.
Erin: Before Elsa approached me with this idea I had to beg friends to watch my pups for me, and I always felt like I was being a pain asking them every time I had to travel. I knew this platform we wanted to create would fill a huge need in the pet community. We were so excited about it that we started right away, as Elsa said, in my living room, and we haven’t stopped since.
You co-founded Spare Leash together, can you tell me more about the dynamics of running a business in partnership.
Elsa: The fact that I met Erin and we started Spare Leash together was the best decision I have made. I would say that you should always find a co-founder that has the characteristics you lack. Erin has the patience that I don’t have; she is more experienced and had adopted and rescued many pets in Shanghai before I met her. Therefore, she already knew the pet community very well.
How can the Shanghai community get involved with Spare Leash, what options are there?
Elsa: You can either become a pet sitter, intern with us or of course, use our platform to find your own pet sitter. We also do monthly charity and adoption events. The best way to stay updated on how to get involved is to follow our official Spare Leash WeChat account.
What has been the biggest success for Spare Leash since you launched, and what’s next?
Erin: Taking this idea and turning it into a reality was a big success for us. Neither of us had owned a company before, so we knew it would be a challenge. Once the operation was up and running, that was a big win. Last year, expanding from Shanghai to other cities was great, as our main goal is to help as many pet and pet owners as possible. For us, being able to help more and more people is one of the best feelings. Lastly, a nice pat on the back was winning the Time Out Lifestyle Service of the Year award two years in a row.
Elsa: What’s next for Spare Leash is finalizing our new platform so it’s available in both English and Chinese, so stay tuned as we hope to connect even more pet owners and pet sitter when that launches.
What has been the most challenging aspect of launching a business in China?
Erin: Owning a company in China is a lot of work and can be super stressful, but we make sure to work with what we can control. Like most things in life, not everything will go as planned, but we are getting really good at just laughing it off and not taking anything too seriously. Just a couple months ago we had to sign a paper five times because the company we were signing a contract with said we kept using the wrong black pen, who would have known that it had to be a particular black pen? Therefore, this contract took five days to sign. At the time we wanted to scream, but in the end, we just laughed, because sometimes that's all you can do!
Where do you turn for business advice?
Elsa: I have a few mentors I talk with from time to time, and of course friends with their own businesses who I can turn to for inspiration. One good piece of advice was actually from my old university teacher, who told me, “Always put your idea inside the fridge for a while, take it out to look at, put it in again and then, take it out when you are ready.” Also, my brother is a coach on mindfulness and how to manage stress, so he is the one I call when I need some positivity and mindfulness tips.
Erin: For business advice, I usually turn to past co-workers or other entrepreneurs who understand what I am going through firsthand. I am also a big bookworm, so reading and taking notes really helps me find a lot of the answers to my questions.
What is the best advice you have for others looking to start a business in Shanghai?
Elsa: Find an amazing co-founder to start with. Starting small was important for us, so I would recommend to understand and learn what your clients’ wants and needs are. Create something that the market needs and something that will actually help people. Do something you love!
Erin: The best advice I can give is to just start. This takes courage, it’s going to be scary, but the only thing worse than failing is not trying at all.
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For more My Shanghai series, click here.