When Rover, a dog-sitting startup that works like Airbnb for canines, needed to grow beyond their headquarters in Seattle, they could have chosen any city in America, and that city would have likely rolled out the red carpet.
Consistently named one of the most promising startups since its founding in 2011 — and among Fast Company’s World’s Most Innovative Companies in 2018 — Rover has over 200,000 sitters spread over more than 14,000 cities across America and is also available in Canada and the United Kingdom.
The company was open to expanding pretty much anywhere says Jennifer Summers, Rover’s Director of Safety and Enforcement, but like the intensive screenings that take place for the dog walkers and house sitters allowed on Rover’s platform, company leadership was going to be picky.
Ease of travel to Seattle and an affordable market were important factors in their decision, but equally important was the city’s ethos. "We wanted it to be a dog culture, for sure. That shared the same values that we have. A city that was growing." says Summers, who headed up the search. The company wanted to put its second office in the heart of a city that prioritized multi-modal transit, had great urban culture and lots of green space for Rover’s two- and four-legged teammates.
They found everything they were looking for closer to home than expected. In Spokane.
In their downtown Spokane offices — situated a couple minutes’ walk from some of the city’s best dining and retail, and less than a block away from the 100-acre Riverfront Park — light streams through huge, century-old windows into an open-concept workspace with exposed brick walls.
It’s startup chic with canine flair. The floors look like trendy hardwood, but they're made from pee-proof rubber that provides traction for paws. Modular fences provide pups a little personal space near each of their owner's desks. "It's really hard to work sometimes, especially when the puppies start playing," Summers says.
Summers, based in the Seattle office, looks forward to her twice-monthly visits to Spokane for its walkability — she often opts for walking meetings through Riverfront Park — and its abundance of local coffee shops.
I love that I can jump on a plane in the morning, spend the whole day here and then be back in my bed at night."
The company offers parking and commuter benefits to employees to make working downtown easier, but Summers says the real benefits are all around them: Being able to bike the trails to work, walk through the park at lunch, and grab happy hour drinks a local bar after work.
"I had no idea,” Summers says after running down the list of things she loves about Spokane. “Mind blown.” She then lowers her voice a little, as if worried she’ll be thought of as a traitor to Seattle: “I really love the coffee places.”
The paint has barely dried on renovations that have just been completed, but the office is already bursting at the seams. Of the company’s 400 employees, 75 work from Spokane, a number Summers expects to grow. “We're hiring a lot of people right now," she says. "Once we're done with our final head count, I think there will be one desk left over for 2018. We've pretty much grown out of this space. " Summers says the company is in need of additional space in Spokane near the downtown office.
As the company expands, it will continue to hire more Spokane-area employees. While Summers banked on drawing a well-qualified workforce from Spokane-area colleges and universities, the applicants have exceeded her expectations.
"We've had fantastic hires. I am continuously impressed,” she says. “I've pretty much hired all of my agents in Spokane, versus in Seattle.” That includes snagging Spokane grads for the Seattle office.
Since coming to Spokane, Rover has seen an uptick in Spokane-area bookings on the site — and many more local dog walkers and dog sitters are now using the site to earn money.
Elizabeth Mischke, a hairstylist and student, joined Rover as a dog walker while living abroad. She created a profile from her apartment in South Korea and posted future availability for her return to Spokane. By the time she landed, she had enough clients lined up to start working immediately.
A few months later, Mischke has returned to her career as a hairstylist and soon she'll be back in school. But despite the fact that she doesn't need the work anymore, she plans to keep using Rover. For her, dog walking doesn't feel like a job at all — it feels like making friends. "I don't know why I'd ever stop," she says. "I really do want to meet every dog that I see."
Once she's settled in her new home, Mischke plans to expand her offerings on Rover to include dog-sitting. She envisions afternoons doing homework while her own dog, a heeler named Dottie, plays with a client's dog nearby. "That's the dream," she says.
Summers says the people who sign up as "Sitters" on the site vary from those who, like Mischke, are in it for the puppy snuggles, to people who make Rover gigs their full-time occupation. "It's really diverse. We have people who are in college, we have stay-at-home-moms, we have retirees that are deciding to do it."
And that's just as true of the corporate offices, where you can't walk down the hall without greeting an eager four-legged "co-worker." Each employee is drawn to Rover by a love of dogs, and what drew Rover to Spokane was its unassailable dog-friendly culture. Summers says that’s what has made Spokane such an incredible find. Not just what the company could get out of the city, but what they could give back.
"We also wanted to make an impact,” she says, “We wanted to be someone that could come in and really inspire and be an exciting employer in an area. I feel like we've done that."