investor stories

Why we said yes to Meowtel

When you invest in early-stage companies, you’re often evaluating businesses with very little data. That’s why we created a 5-pillar system to assess pre-seed startups. We look at:

  1. team
  2. problem
  3. solution
  4. market
  5. traction

Out of about 1,000 applications we review every month, we end up investing in only about 7 of them. We have previously shared insights into each of these pillars when we decided to invest in The Cru, Growrk, Famasi, Gentem Health, and Vinovest. You can find them here.

I’m gonna take you through a pretty “out there” business today – a cat-sitting platform called Meowtel.

About Meowtel

Meowtel is an end-to-end cat-sitting platform. The company came to life because of revenge poop.

Sonya, CEO and co-founder of Meowtel, had just returned from a 4-day work trip to find her house covered in cat poop. The poop was everywhere.

Her cat, Miss Lily, was sending her a message. Miss Lily was not happy to be left behind.

While she was cleaning up the mess, Sonya had a thought: I need a cat sitter.

Sonya looked online for a solution, but noticed that it was kind of hard to find a cat sitter on the internet.

So she decided to create a platform that would make it easy for cat owners to find a quality cat sitter. She quit her corporate job to embark on her entrepreneurship journey to solve this problem.

The Team

Sonya knew the problem inside and out – it was literally her biggest problem at the time. It was a perfect founder-market fit, and while she didn’t have a ton of domain experience or even prior founder experience, she struck Hustle Fund GP Elizabeth Yin as someone who was sharp, could pick up expertise quickly, and would ship fast.

And that was enough to get the green light.

The Problem

The problem of finding a cat-sitter was a big one.

First of all, there wasn’t an existing solution. Rover was great for dog sitters, but there wasn’t anything similar for cats.

Also, cats are particular. They don't do well when you take them out of their space. While dogs often enjoy going to kennels where they get to play with other dogs, cats tend to be creatures of comfort. They often act out when they're in other people's homes or at a kennel.

Example: cat poop all over Sonya’s house.

Finally, finding a sitter on social media or through word of mouth can be risky because there isn’t a great way to vet these people.  

The Solution

Cat owners rely heavily on word-of-mouth or even social media platforms to find cat sitters.

Finding a sitter was hard. Especially a sitter that the owners could trust, and also willing to go to the owner’s house rather than have the cat go to the sitter’s house.

See, cats are particular creatures. They do better in their own spaces. Sonya focused her messaging to cat owners on this promise: your cat will be happier (and therefore you will be happier) when you get back.

So Sonya decided to build a large marketplace of cat sitters for owners to have plenty of options.  

The Market

There are more than 58 million pet cats in America. One in four American households own cats, and some people probably have multiple cats.

Assuming that pet owners spend anything between $500 to $1000 on cat sitting, and if Meowtel takes 10% of that market share, it was a big enough market for Elizabeth to take the bet.

Pet sitting platform Rover was acquired in 2023 for over $2B, and at the time of the acquisition had served over 4 million pet owners.

Given the numbers around pet cats and the success story of Rover, Elizabeth believed this was a big enough market to go after.

Meowtel could be way more than just cat-sitting. It could even be a community center; a space for cat grooming, to have cat owners meet and mix around and collaborate on other things. There were a lot of things that Meowtel could build out to become.

This also meant a lot of audience-building opportunities and revenue channels, which excited Elizabeth.  


Meowtel tried everything to get their first customers. Like, everything.

They tried direct mailers, tested different cities, sent emails and launched targeted campaigns, worked on SEO.

Then they focused on analytics. Which cities had better responses, which campaigns or strategies were working, and which weren’t? This led them to doubling down on certain geographies – LA became their first and highest priority – and abandoning the others.

Once they landed on the first city to focus on, Meowtel did everything to saturate it.

Meowtel was a marketplace that needed critical mass onboard in order to succeed, and so they needed to do everything they could to get as many cat sitters on the platform as possible.

Sonya also eventually moved to LA to crack and serve this market better.

How is Meowtel doing now?

Marketplaces can be challenging to build. Going after both demand and supply is a tricky balance.

Yet Meowtel has remained incredibly capital efficient. They’ve raised less than $500K to date while launching in multiple cities. The team spends a lot of time on analytics and operational excellence to test hypotheses quickly and double down on those that work well.

The business took a hit during the pandemic, when no one needed a cat sitter, but Meowtel was creative in ways to cut burn and even sold cat merch to keep the lights on.

Elizabeth’s bet on Sonya was also right – she picked up domain expertise incredibly fast and made decisions quickly. At Hustle Fund, we often say that we prioritize speed of execution above all else. Meowtel has done just that under Sonya’s leadership.

As of Dec of 2023, the company had 27 cat lovers on the main Meowtel team, 2,300 active sitters and 25,000 customers across the U.S.

So, whaddya think?

What concerns or questions would you have had if you met Sonya when she was starting the biz? Would you have invested?

We truly love hearing your responses, so hit reply and tell what you’d have done!

Chloe Tan is Associate Marketing Manager at Hustle Fund, where she curates physical and written experiences for the Hustle Fund investor and founder community. When she's not connecting with people, she's probably connecting with nature on long walks or by the beach (ideally, both), or diving into alternative universes through good reads and music. Get in touch on Twitter and LinkedIn.