The CEO of Brooklyn-based startup – and YNY client – Dog Parker recently opined on the benefits of working with, not against, government.
My company, Dog Parker, was born in Bedford- Stuyvesant in 2014 as a novel solution for people who need a place for their pet while they duck into a store or restaurant. Entrepreneurs tend to view government as an impediment to new ideas, but from day one we pursued it as a partner.
Needing capital for a prototype, we were awarded seed grants through the city’s Economic Development Corp. and the Brooklyn Public Library that allowed us to create our first Dog Parker in a garage across the street from my apartment.
My company licenses self-service, technology-enabled doghouses to retail businesses that cannot welcome dogs under the health code. Instead of leaving pets tied up or in a car (both dangerous options), customers can secure them in a temperature-controlled and video-monitored enclosure, using an RFID card or smartphone app to open and secure it.
As our prototypes caught on with investors and retailers, the city helped connect us with an amazing manufacturer in Queens. We deployed more doghouses to more retail locations and were thrilled to see our membership grow. The mayor’s office even invited us to exhibit at its pavilion during a smart-cities conference in Spain.
Then, after more than a year of operating without incident, we were surprised to be told by a city agency that our operating model violated existing laws. But we did not panic. Instead, we found champions in the City Council who offered to advance legislation to amend outdated regulations.
Any innovative company will face myriad challenges such as financing, marketplace adoption and regulatory hurdles. And even though antiquated, ambiguous rules have presented serious roadblocks along our journey, we have always worked to forge relationships with policymakers.
The council bill, sponsored by Rafael Espinal and Stephen Levin, would allow merchants to place pet harbors like ours on sidewalks in front of their stores. At least 9.5 feet of clearance would be required to ensure pedestrians have ample room.
One in seven households in our city has at least one pup, and there are approximately 600,000 dogs across the five boroughs. The legislation would provide a safe and humane alternative to leaving dogs unattended, and attract additional customers to businesses that cannot allow dogs inside.
Just as important, it will send a message to entrepreneurs that when they make the effort to work with government, government will work with them.
In the age of disruption, entrepreneurs often argue that they are best suited to innovate without interference from bureaucracy. Dog Parker, however, would not exist but for the public- sector partnerships we have built.
The road hasn’t been easy, but our commitment to collaboration has already borne fruit. The time that we operated without complaint in the city demonstrated our ability to serve merchants and dog guardians. Having achieved a proof of concept, we are on the cusp of announcing agreements with other major cities.
Even as we hope that the council legislation returns us to New York’s sidewalks, our experience serves as a lesson to other disrupters at startups everywhere: Give government a chance—you might be pleasantly surprised.
The original Op Ed ran in Crain’s online on May 22, 2018, and can be viewed here.