The barriers to owning a horse is astronomical, leaving many potential and enthusiastic people unable to afford one outright. On the flip side, owning and maintain one is extremely expensive, the reality is many owners do find it pricey.
The time that is needed for the daily training and maintenance is the other ‘burden’ of owning a horse. Horses should optimally be trained every day, two to three hours a day, and most working people struggle to fit this into their busy schedules.
Danish company Hooves has stepped in with a digital solution that aims to reduce these expensive barriers and costs by encouraging and helping owners to share their horse with a partner, with the benefits of sharing costs and responsibilities.
The company’s platform matches horse owners and renters, letting them plan and log all activities and plans in a timely manner.
The vision is to create a matched community of horse owners and renters around the world. In this conversation we talked to the co-founder of Hooves Alina Engel.
You’re kind of democratising ownership and shared responsibility of horses. Is that a fair way of looking at how your app and works?
Alina Engel: “In a nutshell we basically democratise access to horses but it’s very different to the normal shared economy concept like Airbnb or Uber because we’re not talking about short term rental. We’re facilitating an arrangement where an owner who gets a co-rider as a long term partner to help out with the horse.
“To give an example, I have a horse in Denmark, I have a rider and she visits two to three times per week and on those days she does everything from cleaning the horse, riding and training. Basically for her it’s like having her own horse for those days and I get some time off and she pays me a monthly rental fee. In Europe the fee is anything between 50 euros to 300 euros per month. That all depends on the frequency, the level of the horse and location, facilities, all of these things. For the owner, it helps with the monthly costs that are usually around 1,000 euros per month if you have proper training and facilities.
“The important thing with horses if you have train them every day, they’re like athletes, you need to train them so you can keep them healthy and agile.
“Looking at both sides, for an owner they get help with the training and also some money chipped in each month. For the rider, there’s so many riders who just don’t have the capacity to have their own horse for whatever reason. There’s so many who would still like to be active in the sport, but don’t want to go into a riding school because it’s not quite as fun and they still have to pay a lot of money.
“By matching the right horse and owner with the right rider it’s a very beneficial partnership if you do it the right way and that is our mission.”
Long-term partnerships tend to go against the idea of the sharing economy because sharing normally implies short term, you rent something for a week or two weeks. How did you find that was the way that horse ownership can be shared?
AE: “It’s actual quite a natural evolution, people were already sharing horses this way for many years because it makes so much sense.
“Since there wasn’t a platform that served all the needs like finding the right person and having insurance, we felt it was necessary to create a system of matching owners and riders that is efficient and transparent.”
I was going to say transparency and security would matter the most to all parties. Describe a little bit about how you make it a transparent, secure experience for everyone?
AE: “So the first step is basically helping owners and riders find and suitably match each other. We do that with our matching platform that is live in Denmark right now. We launched that at the end of last year and it has horse profiles that the owners create and then the riders create a profile for themselves where they showcase their riding abilities.
“The interface looks very much like a map, you can see who is riding around your location, there is different filters, horse specific filters, distance from a person’s current location, price levels and the level of training and competition.
“Once people find each other they can access our safety package. We developed this safety package where it firstly includes the world’s first sharing economy insurance for horses. We built that together with Tryg, which is a Nordic insurance company, and it’s a really cool product because it takes away any financial risk of sharing the horse in case something happens with the horse, the rider or the equipment. It’s super important because it takes away that worry just in case something happens because it’s still a risky sport.
“We also automate the payments from the renter or from the rider to the owner and we’ve built a custom contract builder online, so we can bundle all of the financial and contractual products together.”
The digitisation of the equestrian industry seems rather nascent. From the outside looking in, there doesn’t seem to be a lot digitisation in the industry.
AE: “There’s not, but there are some players popping up, especially in the last two years which we see as a good thing.
“Yet, one of the beauties of the sport is that it is so offline. We’re not trying to interrupt this routine that you have in the stables, we still think you should be offline and just be in the moment with the horse and the people.
“Where we come in is outside of the stable time. So we have the matching platform, we have this safety package and then the third step is we have this management app that helps you with the day-to-day and weekly scheduling, who’s responsible for what – keeping a diary – so you track the training and all these things when you’re not in the stable.”
What is a realistic market you can capture?
AE: “Worldwide there’s 90 million people that deal with horses, whether it’s owning, riding or trading. We see 70 per cent of this market as our addressable market because we are not looking at the top 15 per cent which is the professional side of the sport, that’s a whole different world. Then the bottom 15 per cent is field ponies or horses that is used for agriculture. So we’re looking at the middle 70 per cent where it’s passionate, amateur riders who are very committed and dedicated.”
And what are the biggest markets?
AE: “Denmark is our biggest market, then Finland because my co-founder (Suvi Kaario), who is Finnish, has all the networks there and then of course I’m German so that’s how I can cover that market. The Nordics are similar in terms of mindset, they’re quite open to technology and their price sensitivities are very similar.
“England is actually the fifth biggest market in terms of our users.
“Our focus is going to be growing all through Europe and also learning about other markets. I mean, bottom line is that horses are expensive and time consuming, so it makes sense to share them everywhere but have to learn the regional differences.”
What do you learn about iterating the product to make sure it is user-friendly?
AE: “We’ve had quite the journey, like all startup founders have!
“I think the advantage is that both my co-founder and I are riders. We are literally our own target audience, we’ve built the app based on our experiences.
“But we’re lucky to have a very good first advisor, his name is Navid Samandari who drilled the lean startup method into our brains, ‘don’t take your own knowledge for granted, get data, validate it, build an MVP, then build a beta, then validate that before you build the shiny, newer versions’.”
And the end users, how much have they driven the development of the product?
AE: “It was very easy to attract users initially, we had a couple of thousand users within a few weeks and didn’t really do much marketing but we saw that people left again because the tech wasn’t advanced enough.
“The important lesson is that design really matters. Especially for us we have more than 90 per cent female users so visually it’s got to look good too.
“We got proof that there’s a demand for this but we needed to build a nicer version that maybe has a minimal functionality, but it needs to be easy to use and nicer to look at to our target group. That’s the app we have in the market right now.”
It’s difficult to map out what milestones you wish to achieve in the next 6-12 months but what do you wish to achieve?
AE: “We do have a twofold goal; at the moment what we have is a little bit like two separate products. The matching website is only in Denmark because of the networks we have there, it’s where we have insurance, that’s the important aspect you need to build for each country.
“With the app, we’re looking into growing across Europe in the next 12 months and we’re also doing some tests in other English speaking markets around the world.
“We also just released some premium features, so it’s going to be interesting to see how many people subscribe to that.
“It’s eventually all going to be one thing but we need to get there at some point.
“With the website we’ve started expanding to other markets, with the marketplace. We’re looking to get some critical mass on that, and get the insurance, the safety packages because that’s one of the more innovative parts of our business because that’s something we’ve built from scratch and it’s not existing anywhere in the world, which is very exciting, but it’s also harder to get to the market right.”