Futurpreneur Canada recognizes the hard work, determination and passion it takes to start a business. That is why we teamed up with CIBC for a campaign to recognize the milestones (big or small) that our entrepreneurs reach while starting and growing their businesses.
As a part of the campaign, we’re encouraging our Futurpreneurs to share their start-up successes using the hashtag #FuturHighFive on social media. Gilleen Witkowski, of Walk My Dog Toronto, is one of those success stories.
Gilleen Witkowski loves people, animals and the great outdoors, so you could say it was a natural move for her to start her own on-demand professional pet care service.
Launched in 2016, Walk My Dog Toronto offers on-leash dog walking and in-home pet services for pet owners in the downtown, High Park, and east end neighbourhoods of Toronto, Ontario.
“We have the best job in the world,” says Gilleen. “Our doggy clients are adorable and look forward to seeing us every day. Plus, we get exercise and we get to spend lots of time in our beautiful city.”
Walk My Dog Toronto offers a range of services at different price points, including group walks, private, walks, and in-home pet visits. Plus, their unique GPS walk tracker giving their clients’ peace of mind by providing them with an email after each walk or visit that includes a map, photo, and note about their pet’s experience.
Prior to starting Walk My Dog, Gilleen worked in communications for a healthcare union. She was inspired to start her business when she started learning about the growth of dog walking companies in Canada.
“I envisioned a great system where you could actually see a map of where your dog went and know exactly when the dog walker arrived and left,” says Gilleen. She did more research and realized she could be the one to provide that service, as well as offer a team of committed and trained dog walkers.
“My sister Emma came on board as our first full-time professional dog walker,” says Gilleen. “We launched the business together and grew from there.”
While Gilleen was fortunate to receive a lot of support from friends and family, there were still a few bumps along the road to entrepreneurship. For example, when she started Walk My Dog Toronto, Gileen had zero hands-on business experience so the initial learning curve was steep.
“The hardest thing about starting a business is financial planning and finding clients,” says Gilleen. “How do you get people to know about you in a world where information is everywhere? How do you stand out? How do you reach people and get them interested in you?”
To help get answers to her questions, Gilleen took a business course with the Toronto Centre for Canine Education and received a lot of support from the pet care business community in the city. Plus, in addition to receiving financing from Futurpreneur to launch her business, Gilleen was paired up with mentor Shauna Trainor, an expert in helping small businesses grow in the early stages.
“When I first launched Walk My Dog Toronto she was there for me through many brainstorming sessions about growth, marketing, and how to reach our ideal clients,” says Gilleen.
Today, Walk My Dog is a thriving, rapidly growing business. In fact, this past season was their busiest one so far since their launch.
“We’re walking lots of dogs, meeting new clients and expanding our routes,” says Gilleen. “We’ve got five professional dog walkers in four core city neighbourhoods and doing lots of walks in between where we can.”
She continues: “I am so proud of our safe and reliable service. Our staff are amazing, we’ve never had a no-show, and everyone really cares about our clients’ dogs and does their best every day. I’m so excited to keep growing, hire more full-time professional dog walkers, and bring more Toronto dogs into the Walk My Dog Toronto team.”
And for people who are looking to take the plunge into starting their own business, Gilleen has the following words of advice:
“Do your research and do your financial planning. Do you have people in your life who will support you in one way or another? Look at the next few years of your life – are you ready to take on risk and extra stress in exchange for having a great experience doing your own thing? If so, go for it. Just make sure you’re asking for help along the way.”
Written by: Jasmine Williams, Social Media and Content Specialist, Futurpreneur Canada
Want to be featured in a #FuturHighFive Entrepreneur Spotlight? Share you start-up milestones using #FuturHighFive on Instagram and Twitter!