Entrepreneur sees bright future for dog-friendly app


By Dave Yochum. Jeffrey Kaplan is pursuing a high-tech, start-up dream like a bulldog, or maybe a terrier. If you need a brick and mortar store for dog metaphors in Iowa, the 30-year-old entrepreneur could find it for you in a couple of clicks.

Kaplan is the founder of, which, right now, is based mostly in Durham at the Groundworks Labs Startup Accelerator, his brother-in-law’s couch in South Durham (where he sleeps weeknights) and in Cornelius where he lives with his wife Danielle, a veterinarian.

His long-term goal: To be the ultimate online app to find where to eat, play, and stay with your best furry friend.

Short-term goal is to successfully graduate from Groundworks and in March move into co-working space at Lake Norman Labs, an informal incubator with like-minded tech-preneurs in Huntersville. (That’s lab as in laboratory, not Labrador.)

Indeed, there’s a burgeoning young tech scene coming out of Lake Norman Labs, near Birkdale. It includes ProctorFree, an online testing verification outfit, and Versame, a word-tracking system designed for toddlers and eager parents.

“We’ve developed software to aggregate and curate information about dog-friendly venues from numerous websites, we summarize the reviews, average the scores, and display it for our users in a great interface,” Kaplan says.

In non-nerd language that means can fetch up-to-date information on 12,000 dog-friendly—yep that domain name was taken—locations complete with ratings and reviews. So far Kaplan has about 12,000 locations in all 50 states.

Total annual revenue right now: Well, Dogphrendly is in the pre-revenue stage. But Kaplan, a serious dog lover, knows his stuff.

He went to the University of Florida, where he graduated with degrees in History and Education, as well as a masters in entrepreneurship in 2013. He taught at the Center for Entrepreneurship in Gainesville. Grandfather Sam Kaplan is a textiles entrepreneur who was involved in the first run of Spanx “shapewear.”

Jeffrey applied to Groundworks Labs which has a looser, millennial-phrendly approach to incubatees. In fact, right now there’s a debate in the world of entrepreneurship and academia over whether or not to have a business plan or a “business canvas,” sort of a lean start-up plan sketched out on a big piece of paper with multiple sections.

Kaplan has the latter.

The business got started during a road trip. Kaplan and his future wife set out from Miami, Fla., heading to Berkeley in 2010, when Kaplan was 24. They made it to Indiana, worn out from trying to coordinate things to do, places to eat and sleep with two dogs on board. “Every time we started, it was this whole song and dance with the dogs, using different web sites, to see if they had outside sitting, to see if they were basically dog friendly,” Kaplan says.

He decided to take the plunge this past summer, incorporated in September and successfully applied to Groundworks, which provided space rent-free, a conducive environment and even a share of a software “developer in residence,” 26-year-old Scott Williams.

Groundworks is funded by the NC IDEA fund that supports entrepreneurial business innovation. It has awarded more than $4 million in grants since its inception in 2006.

Kaplan sees three revenue sources for Dogphrendly:

Premium ad placement, including highlighted locations on the live map and banner ads on the map. Dogphrendly will display ads that are linked to user’s locations, showing them only relevant ads.

Sponsored content in the form of gear and product reviews.

Affiliate programs through and Dogphrendly gets a share of commissions from sales directed through its page.

“We expect our first customers to be pet resorts and vets,” Kaplan says. Who is We? “Right now, me,” he says. But he’ll be in good company at Lake Norman Labs, he says. In fact, Proctor Free just received early stage venture funding from Real Venture, Task Force X Capital and individual investors.

Right now Dogphrendly has 1,700 regular users, and that’s with no marketing.

Kaplan forecasts $225,000 in revenue this calendar year; $3 million in 2017; $11.8 million in 2018.

There are more than 300,000 dog homes in Mecklenburg County—which is a lot of page views even if he captures only half the market.

“Over the next six months, we want to prove our model in Charlotte…and that will take us to July of this year…and by July of 2017 we will be in 15 markets,” Kaplan says.

Ramping up comes next, with sales people, digital marketing, a lead developer.

“We are bootstrapping through the first half of 2016, then raising a seed round to expand development and marketing,” Kaplan says.


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