Pet startup smackdown leaves vital question unanswered: Who will let the dogs out?

Petco and PetSmart are waging a war for pet supremacy -- and now the venture-backed startup Wag is on the market, and Petco is interested.

America spends about $70B annually on food, supplies, vet visits, and other pet services — up from around $40B a decade ago. But even with so many dollars dropped on Fido and Fluffy, there’s no clear winner in the Pet Wars.

Pet startup smackdown leaves vital question unanswered: Who will let the dogs out?

How much is that doggy biz in the window?

As Recode reports, the dog walking startup Wag is looking for a buyer. Despite having raised $300m in backing from SoftBank — the VC of WeWork, erm, fame — Wag has failed to dominate the market and has come under fire for disasters like runaways and doggy-doo financial performance. Woof.

Wag is currently in talks with Petco, which stands to gain a stronger digital presence and connect with younger pet owners should a deal go through.

Naturally, Petco isn’t the only old-guard dog trying to get in on the digital game. Its immediate rival, PetSmart, acquired Chewy, an online pet product supplier, for $3.35B in 2017. 

This shoulda been a walk in the dog park…

… but in truth, it’s been a bumpy ride. Any startup trying to create an on-demand model faces big challenges. And even as Wag was able to vet and train its walkers, there’s no way to predict how a dog will react to strangers.

Then there’s the business side of things. There have been management shake-ups and several rounds of layoffs. Wag later opened a call center in the Philippines, which did not win over customers who assumed they’d speak to someone local when the dogsh*t hit the fan.

And that ain’t all

Adding to Wag’s woes, California recently passed a law that will require companies to provide benefits to contract workers — like dog walkers. This hasn’t been a boon to the Wag sales process.

Meanwhile, Petco and PetSmart were both bought out by private equity firms, proving there’s truly no single top dog.

Get the 5-minute news brief keeping 2.5M+ innovators in the loop. Always free. 100% fresh. No bullsh*t.