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From Cat Lovers To Technopreneurs, It's A Journey That Started With A Pet Hotel In M'sia

In 2017, Afifah and Shifa’s pet boarding service was recognised as the first pet hotel in Malaysia to implement a 100% online booking system. Their efforts won them awards including Site of the Month and Site of the Year for the e-commerce category in 2018 by Exabytes Group.

The duo got into the pet hotel business in 2017 purely because they wanted to surround themselves with cats. With limited funds, manpower remained lean, so they needed a system that could manage the operations at Meowclass Cat Hotel & Grooming (Meowclass).

Upon research, they weren’t able to find an existing booking platform to use, they claimed. So, with Shifa’s self-taught Python knowledge, she built a website complete with booking and simple service management systems to help run the hotel. 

“We saw the potential to expand our brick and mortar business and we were looking for advice from a successful entrepreneur to raise funds from investors,” they recalled. 

“We totally overlooked that we had a potential tech solution on our hands, and [we were] advised to focus on growing our solutions so that we can help other pet hotel operators to run their business as we did.”

After visiting other pet hotels to validate their idea, Afifah and Shifa shuttered Meowclass in June 2019 to focus all their efforts on a building digital pet platform, Petotum.

From IRL to URL

Malaysia doesn’t lack pet boarding marketplaces, with popular names like JomPaw and Petbacker. Although Petotum started as a direct competitor back in January 2019, Afifah and Shifa were still trying to find their product-market fit before launching publically. 

They were able to do so after joining MaGIC’s Global Accelerator Programme (GAP) to identify gaps they could fill. The result of that was Petotum being founded as a SaaS for pet boarding and grooming businesses to manage their operations.

While participating in GAP, Petotum went on to win TERAJU’s Superb competition which awarded them a grant worth RM500,000 in November 2019. It was the duo’s first pitch for funding under MaGIC.

Due to the pandemic, Petotum’s official public launch was delayed to December 2020.

But since then, the digital pet platform hasn’t slowed down and has been expanding its team, products, and services to serve consumers too.

Expanding amidst the MCOs

One of Petotum’s functions that users may find worthwhile—other than its booking services—is its digital database to keep track of a pet’s medical, dietary, or behavioural information. 

It’s most beneficial when a pet is being looked after by someone else, or when a rescue animal is rehomed with its new adoptive family. 

A link and QR code is provided in the app for users to share the recorded details in the app. Petotum doesn’t limit the number of pets listed per user, and the app is free to use.

This function came about during the MCO when Afifah was fostering 7 cats, in addition to the other 6 she already owned.

“When we rehome our foster cats to their new families, there is no way (other than on paper) to document the pet’s information that can be shared with the new owners. So, we figured that we have to do something about it and we did,” they said.

Furthermore, to support pet services and stray animals amidst the MCO, Petotum launched its Bulu-Bulu Initiative to feed the strays. Pet food is funded by donations within the community, where Petotum’s volunteers will aid in feeding the strays.

In July 2021, Petotum also launched the Petpreneur Programme to help pet services digitalise their business. It had allocated RM1.5 million worth of pet care management solutions to over 500 Petpreneurs around the country. 

These initiatives were part of the startup’s efforts to ease the burden for pet-related businesses impacted by the pandemic, while also reducing infection rates through digitalisation.

Already recording explosive growth

Within 2 years of its conception, Petotum has grown to offer 3 products. They include the digital pet database mentioned above, along with appointment and payment systems called PetotumBIZ (for groomers and hotels) and PetotumVET (for veterinary clinics).

The platform monetises through service fees from transactions made on Petotum’s app.

“If we take a step back and look at our achievements for the past 2 years, we have grown so much from a simple marketplace platform to an integrated platform for the pet ecosystem. We hired all our team members, built and launched our solutions, all during the pandemic. This is our biggest achievement so far.” Afifah, co-founder of Petotum.

As of late, we’ve seen the public growing fond of pet ICs, pet insurance, and even fine dining meals for pet celebrations. This points to the willingness of owners to spend more money on their pets and find novel ways to care for them.

Petotum came at an opportune time for both pet parents and pet-related businesses, which likely led to its explosive growth upon its public launch. 

However, to retain users, the platform would require some form of retention element to keep users active on the app as opposed to a one-off download, try, and delete situation. Perhaps having some form of a membership system with loyalty rewards via collected points could be its way forward.

To date, Petotum is currently servicing close to 10,000 pet parents and furbabies since its official launch in December 2020.

Petotum’s app has seen its highest growth rate of 174% while PetotumBIZ has recorded a 250% Month-over-Month growth in August 2021 since its launch in March 2021.

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