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Molly St. Louis

April 29th, 2019

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Inside Wag's "Top Dogs Only" Onboarding Process

When you are shopping at a store like Target, have you ever thought twice about whether or not to trust that you won’t get hoodwinked in some way?

Probably not.

Target is a recognized brand, you can see the sales people, and the items you want to buy are most certainly real – in fact, that cheese grater and pack of Hanes underwear is actually in your hands!

Now say you want to shop at Target online. Do you think twice about trust now? Nope. You know the store exists, you and all your friends have shopped there for years, the store policies are clear, and there are countless online reviews. No reason not to trust an institution like Target.

But what if you’re shopping on a sharing economy platform where the sellers are random individuals?

On a website like Etsy, for example, you need to trust that the seller has the goods that they are posting and that they will actually ship them to you. And on the flipside, that seller needs to trust that you will pay them for those monogrammed towels - because they took forever to make!

And marketplaces selling services take the leap of faith to a whole new level.

On a site like TaskRabbit, for example, you’re paying to let a stranger into your home to put together your furniture. You have to trust that he or she is not a serial killer or a squatter who will never leave! Oh yeah, and you also have to trust that they actually know how to assemble or build furniture.

Would You Trust a Stranger with Your Family Member?

Marketplaces continue to push the boundaries of trust every day. Think about these pet care platforms for a second as you review the following stats:

  • Nearly 90 million people in the US own a dog (73 percent of all millennials)
  • 90 percent of pet owners think of their pets as family
  • 44 percent of millennials think of their pets as starter children
  • 40 percent of female pet owners say they receive more emotional support from their pets than their spouses or kids
  • 79 percent of pet-owning homebuyers said they would pass up a perfect home if it didn’t meet the needs of their pets

Let all of that sink in for a second and then marvel at the fact that a marketplace like Wag exists! It’s one thing to trust that a marketplace isn’t going to let a fraudster clear out your bank account, but trusting a stranger with, basically, your family member is another thing.

Consider that 80 percent of millennials worry frequently about their pets when they are away – even on small errands, so how would a site like Wag convince them that their dog will not be harmed or stolen AND will receive the best care possible?

Well, if you’re the company’s co-founder, Jason Meltzer, you will obsess over user onboarding.

Top Dogs Only!

It is hard to become a dog walker on Wag. To give you a sense, Harvard (you know, the Ivy league university) accepts 4.59 percent of applicants. Wag accepts even less. And unlike some elite schools in our country, they’re not taking any bribes.

This level of onboarding integrity was established on Day One.

Meltzer himself was a dog walker, who took caring for other people’s dogs very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that he received countless referrals in the early days of his side hustle. When it came to the point where he couldn’t personally service them all, he elicited the help of his close friends – ones he could be certain would give exquisite care to the canines. This is what built his first thriving dog walking business, Surf Dog LA.

Then he was approached by Silicon Valley rock stars, Joshua and Jonathan Viner in 2014, who wanted to partner with him to scale a simple dog walking business into a marketplace of millions called “Wag.” Jason agreed…so long as they could have the best dog walker vetting process in the business.

Not only did the first walkers on the platform have to go through a multi-layered application process and undergo a deep criminal background check, they were also screened in person to ensure that they

  1. were a true dog lover
  2. actually knew how to care for a dog and
  3. were physically able to take on the rigors of the job.

Five years later, many of the first thousand people to pass the onboarding process are still on the platform, according to Meltzer. In fact, those folks became so invested in Wag, that they referred their friends – most of whom were the same caliber of dog enthusiasts.

“You want to really curate a nice initial group in a marketplace,” Melzer told us in his recent Platform Players interview. “You have to have true, passionate believers on the supply side of a marketplace – that’s what’s really going to band out as you expand it.”

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The State of Marketplace Onboarding

According to PYMNTS, the global sharing economy was generating about $148 billion in 2014, and will grow to $335 billion by 2025, which only supports the need for onboarding to evolve.

Sharing economy users naturally want to sign up on the site and immediately start transacting, but of course they have to be thoroughly screened to eliminate fraud. This is why marketplaces today are challenged with a highly complex issue: how do they make the onboarding simple enough to keep the users’ attention, but comprehensive enough to ensure that only good actors are being accepted onto the platform?

In a recent interview with Karen Webster, Yapstone’s Chief Risk Officer Mike Gramz recently pointed out: “The marketplace brings the buyers and sellers together that would usually never meet. Imagine now that we are putting unknown strange buyers into somebody’s home. And we’re actually telling the buyer that the ‘inventory’ or ‘supply’ actually exists.”

In order for a marketplace to succeed, it must be able to continue to build trust with all parties involved. Fraudsters are evolving as fast as technology is and online behavior must be deeply analyzed at scale.

Today, platforms are required to monitor transactions from numerous lenses or what are called “personas.” In a traditional card-present space, an authorization would take place. In a marketplace environment, you actually have to know who the buyer and seller are (without ever seeing them) and what the payment type is.

“We have to be able to triangulate or correlate behaviors across all three of those entities to ensure that there is no collusion going on, that it is not a fraudulent transaction, that you have not seen negative history on any of those previously – and to do all of that in under 3 seconds,” says Gramz.


Creating Trust Invisibly

Marketplaces thrive on being able to onboard quickly, so that customers can start transacting immediately, leading to faster revenue. This is why so many marketplaces are demanding for their suppliers to start transacting within the same day or even the same hour. Then the question becomes, how does a marketplace ensure that the buyers and sellers are legit?

The short answer is “big data.”

Yapstone, for example, spends millions of dollars curating massive amounts of deep data and utilizing machine learning to improve the customer experience.

“We can ask for a very minimal information from our users,” says Gramz. “Then through the technology that we have, we can actually go out and validate and augment their answers, so we get a bigger, stronger signal of the validity of that customer – without the customer actually really knowing what we’re doing behind the scenes. Not only does that make their experience simpler and easier, but we’re able to improve our confidence in the validity of that applicant.”


The Big Picture

Marketplaces like Wag are the present and the future of commerce, with the wonderful side effect of increasing positive human interaction. Not only that, these platforms are obliterating the old institutions of the 9 to 5 office job, promoting a stronger work life balance.

Service-oriented platforms looking to reach mass adoption should take a page out of Wag’s book and constantly invent and reinvent the best onboarding process to get an “Ivy League” quality of users. Having human “inventory” with an elite level of trust will inspire customers to advocate for the brand and significantly reduce the expensive side effects of risk.

As you look towards building trust on your own marketplace, don’t settle for just any users. Implement a “top dogs only!” policy.

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