Julie Barnes and Kathrin Burckhardt of Cat in a Flat
Cat in a Flat, the London-based tech start-up dubbed ‘the AirBnB for cat lovers’, is growing rapidly after expanding into Amsterdam and Dublin…
Julie Barnes and Kathrin Burckhardt launched Cat in a Flat after struggling to find a trusted cat sitter to look after Julie's feisty tomcat whilst on holiday.
Taking inspiration from AirBnB and the booming sharing economy, the pair knew there must be an easier way to find a cat sitter and Cat in a Flat was born.
The online platform brings together vetted cat lovers and owners to help make the process of finding a trusted cat sitter easier than ever before.
Now they can rely on a huge cat-loving community to meet their needs as cat owners with no more stressful trips to the cattery.
Julie told BQ: “Combining our passion for cats and creating digital platforms, our goal was to build a community based network for all cat lovers whether they’re an owner, sitter or just love cats, everyone is welcome.”
Kathrin is an experienced businesswoman and entrepreneur. She studied design in Germany and Italy and gained an MA from the prestigious Royal College of Art.
Prior to Cat in a Flat, she ran her own award-winning company building interactive installations and digital publications and has helped build services for large brands with agencies such as LBI, the Mill, Imagination and StinkDigital.
Julie on the other hand is an award winning creative and a true cat lover and had previously set up her own cat sitting business as a side income in 2012.
Her career as a creative/art director also saw her work on big accounts, manage clients, and direct design and tech teams for award winning agencies including Poke London and Work Club.
However, starting up a business is always challenging and despite their vast digital experience and passion for cats, launching Cat in a Flat was no different.
Julie adds: “Despite the catchy brand name, success didn't come overnight for Cat in a Flat. Like any business, it took hard work, persistence and discipline.
“We worked on the project in our spare time for the first six months, this involved research, planning and the creation of a minimal viable product (MVP).
“We officially launched the Cat in a Flat website in 2014. By June 2015, we were able to commit to the business full-time as we had secured the investment needed to move forward.
“It was a 'now or never' moment in our journey.”
And that wasn’t it. After overcoming the teething problems of starting up, there were more challenges ahead.
Julie recalls: “Building a two-way market place was always going to be a challenge, as naturally you have two audiences to please.
“After building our MVP, all new feature updates were built based on learnings from our community’s feedback and needs.
“As our charging model is based on micro payments, growing a community with a minimum budget has proven to be quite a crowd-hacking task.”
Once they had overcome the challenges and had perfected their business model, it was time to start taking the service to market and spreading the word.
“Like many other new businesses, money was tight for Cat in a Flat at the beginning,” Julie said. “But the beauty of having an internet-based business meant that investment capital and running costs could be kept to a minimum.
“For half a year, we limited ourselves to a shoestring marketing budget of £100 a month. We came up with cost-effective ways to advertise the business, including posting flyers at newsagents and bars as well as using Facebook to spread the word.
“Only once the business started generating a regular revenue stream we branched out into paid advertising such as Google Adwords and launched poster campaigns on the London Underground.”
Cat in a Flat is free for users to join and the company generates revenue by taking a 19% service fee per booking from the cat sitters with all owners paying a fixed £1.50 booking fee.
It has now been three years since the pair launched Cat in a Flat and it has expanded from covering just London to the rest of the UK and major overseas cities such as Dublin and Amsterdam.
So, what’s next for the business? Julie concluded: “Compared to last year, we’ve had a 400% growth in revenue and community. We now also employ eight people, all of whom work cloud based.
“Our biggest challenge has undoubtedly been growing the business and scaling it on minimal budgets. Looking forward, UK growth and European expansion will be our main focus for 2017.”
Julie’s top tips for aspiring entrepreneurs: