When I started this blog many years ago, my goal was to pursue ways that I can better use my resources to secure my financial future. By resources, I mean "time" and "money."
After reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad, I was focused on trying to create an income aside from my software engineering career that would allow me to retire early. The hope was that I could retire around the time my wife's military service pension kicked in. Time flies and that is just a few short years away.
The reality is that passive income is hard to find. I was really excited about peer-to-peer lending via Prosper. I thought I'd earn 13% lending money to others with bad credit. It turns out that those people with bad credit default a lot and over a 5-6 years now I've earned around 7.5%. That's not bad, but money compounds much, much slowly at 7.5% than it does at 13%.
I started earning income from an unexpected source, my blog where I was writing about my efforts. Years later, I'm still a little uncomfortable about how that works.
For the most part, that was all I found.
Yes there are things like growing a dividend snowball. I have mostly stayed with index funds. I don't really need dividend income in my retirement accounts at this stage. There's also traditional real estate investing. These areas aren't exactly innovative ways of making an alternative income. I have some investment real estate, which has been breakeven at best. (The hope is that when the mortgages are paid off in 13 years, they'll be much more profitable.)
Last week, I started a new venture, dog sitting. I had been writing about doing it for a while now. I kept thinking I'd dip my toes in the water, but I found it easier to cannonball myself in the pool.
I'm using a service called DogVacay. It's like Uber or AirBNB for dogs. When people go on vacation. they go to the website, read reviews and information about hosts and book someone to watch their dog. There's a competing site called Rover, but I heard about DogVacay first so I'm working with them first.
DogVacay takes 15% of the money for matching up the people, providing insurance, and customer support. Hosts typically charge around $40 or $45 a night in my area. Watching a dog for week would gross $300 and net $250 after DogVacay fees. That's the financial side.
It's a lot of responsibility to watch someone else's dog. It's not passive income by any stretch. However, it's a good fit for me for several reasons:
- Because Dogs! - Dogs are so much better than people. There seems to be good and bad people out there. Maybe it's because I've got some Cesar Millan in me, but I've never come across a bad dog. I'm sure if a dog is trained to harm, I'd change my story, but I've never come across that. I could spend hours at the local dog park playing with dogs.
- Company for My Dog - I bring my dog to the dog park for socialization. Throwing him a slumber party is even better. On my first dog hosting experience, they ran each other into the ground.
- I Have the Time - Working from home gives me the opportunity to do a job better than most people.
- I Have the facilities - I have a big, fenced-in yard. Being just outside the city many locals don't have that luxury. Dog owners know that their dog is going to get a lot of fresh air and room to run.
You add it all up and it's a win for everyone.
That all sounds great in writing, but how does it work in practice?
I've only been a host for a short time and I've had only dog stay overnight. (I have another dog scheduled for later this week.) This dog had so much energy. It was non-stop motor for 8 hours after they dropped him off before he collapsed to rest. He woke me up at 3AM to go to the bathroom. After I let him back in, he raced into my bed and made himself at home.
Sounds terrible right? I'm used to waking up at 3AM. I often get some writing done for an hour or two and than go back to sleep. This wasn't a big deal to me. Reclaiming my bed was a little more difficult, but I was able to relocate him to one side and give him a little hug as we drifted off to sleep (again, "Because Dogs!"). The owners had warned me he often sleeps with them. If that was behavior they wanted me to correct, I would have, but if everyone is okay with it, I was happy to let it be. The energy level got to be a little much, but if having a happy, energetic dog overnight is my biggest problem, I'm doing very well in life.
There were a couple of hiccups with DogVacay itself. They sent email notification of a vacation request from a different email account that they typically use and Gmail put it in the promotions tab where it got buried. So for 8 days, I didn't respond to this request, simply because I never saw it. DogVacay finally sent me a text with the equivalent of, "Hey what's up, why aren't you responding to your request?" Within minutes I found the problem.
I was fortune in that the owner was still looking to book with me. I think they'd typically go to someone else, but for some reason they hadn't yet. The only issue is that dog owners are given an average response time of hosts. It looks like it takes me an average of days to get back to people now. It's probably costing me business. I explained this to DogVacay customer support and they blew it off. Sure, over time the average will come down, but it's always going to be a poor representation of my actual response time once I'm made aware of the request.
DogVacay essentially said that they won't fix it. As a software engineer, I understand that going into the database and editing data is a pain and a last resort. Instead, I suggested that they throw out the fastest 5% and the slowest 5% of response times, to eliminate the outliers. That request went no where as well. It was met with a Roger Goodell-like response something to the effect of, "We are looking to improve everyday. Thanks for the suggestion."
Yesterday, I got an email from DogVacay about hiring a dog sitter for my dog over Labor Day. As a customer, I'm used to getting these emails over time. There were two obvious problems with the email:
1) DogVacay knows that I'm booked to host a dog over Labor Day weekend.
2) Their top suggestion was a host that lived 3000 miles away from me. They had hosted my dog in the past, but they've moved well over a year ago.
I shot them an email about the second point, because it was obvious that they should add a location check to their host suggesting algorithm. Yes, it's an edge case, but it's one that is easily caught and fixed. Hopefully, DogVacay will this article and consider adding logic to fix the first problem.
These are really small potatoes and not worth bringing up... unless DogVacay wants to hire me as a consultant (hint, hint).
I'm really optimistic that this is going to work out well. I don't expect to have 100% occupancy, but I've seen some dog sitters with multiple dogs at a time. If it did even out to having 1 dog all the time, it could be an extra grand a month. That's some good alternative income!
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