Two animal-loving PhD students from Massey University have launched a new social network for pets. Called Petsnearby, the website grew out of conversations the duo had while working long hours in the labs at the University’s Institute of Natural Sciences.
Mack Saraswat, a biochemistry PhD candidate, and fellow student Ralph Grand, who is working towards a PhD in genetics, found they shared a love of animals.
“I think we were just talking and we discovered we both loved animals,” says Mr 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 help turn the idea into a reality: another lab member, German physicist Lutz Gehlen; Indian businessman Sharif Zamir; and Mr Grand’s brother, Remo Grand, a designer and website developer. The start-up company was also assisted by the ecentre, Massey University’s onsite business incubator.
The website is unique in that it is both a social network and a comprehensive database of services, including Council-approved dog parks, veterinary clinics and pet stores throughout New Zealand. There are plans to include pet-friendly cafes and hotels, as well as breeders, and health and fitness services in the future.
While the database information can be publicly accessed, those who create an account can use geo-location to find pet services in their area, or other like-minded pet owners to converse with, or even meet up with. Another unique feature is the ability to have more than one pet per account.
“The pet owner has the account, but they can add multiple pets – all other sites we know of require you to create a completely new profile for every pet,” explains Mr Grand. “What’s really different about Petsnearby, though, is the interaction can be between the pets, or between the account owners. Two dogs can have a ‘conversation’ about meeting up for a play date, or the owners can talk to each other directly.”
He says that part of the site’s attraction for users is the possibility “you can find a date for your dog, and potentially for yourself”.
While PhD studies in genetics and biochemistry seem a world away from pets socialising online, Mr Saraswat says the data analysis skills have been extremely 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. As a group we like to meet, throw ideas around, and solve them mathematically,” he says.
The team is constantly developing new functionality and has recently launched a blog function on the site. They are also working on pet and breed selector tools, and geo-location functions that will suggest services that might be of interest.
“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 café near the park,’” says Mr Saraswat.