Retno Ika with Graf, a black poodle dog in front of Viru Gate, Tallinn, Estonia. I'm sharing my experience after 1+ years of running a pet boarding service in Tallinn.

1+ Years of Running Lemmika, My Pet Boarding Service in Tallinn

I’ve been running a pet boarding service named Lemmika in Tallinn, Estonia, for a year now. I want to share a bit of my experience with you.

How and when did it start?

I’ve been wanting to have a dog since I lived in Bali from 2018 to 2021, but I know it’s a bit impossible at that time. Our life was not in a good place, financially. Plus, we already have two permanent cats living with us and several come-and-go cats that we feed daily.

Since I moved to Estonia in the Autumn of 2021, I watched a lot of people here having dogs. My neighbours have dogs, too. It reignited my long buried desire to have a dog. But once again, I thoroughly weighing the pros and cons of having a dog here. We live in a small apartment, and we’re not really a morning person. 😆

And then an acquaintance of mine started to host dogs in her home. She told me that she is using a platform named PetBacker. I was intrigued, but I don’t instantly open an account. I need to talk to my partner first about the whole idea of having “part-time dogs” at our place. A few months later, around Autumn of 2022, I open an account. Why’d it took so long, you might ask. It wasn’t because my partner disagree; he was delighted with the idea, anyway, but it was me that overthinking. Classic me. 🫣

PetBacker — My love and hate relationship with it

So, yeah, I started to use PetBacker to accept cats and dogs whom their owners have to leave town/country for a while. And as a first-time user, it was hard for me to get any client. I have no “PetBacker Verified” reviews, and that made me look suspicious. 😅 But I managed to get my first client there. At that time, my account name was not even Lemmika. It was Ika’s Pet Boarding. That first client led me to more clients. His name was Bono, a 13 year old Yorkshire terrier. Sadly, he passed away a few months (November 2023) ago in 14 years old. 😢

For PetBacker itself, I wasn’t really fond of it. The registration flow is hard to understand. The communication through their chat platform is very hard because they use something that they call “AI” but I know IT IS NOT AI at all (it was simply regex), and this sequences forbid me to use words they considered as forbidden.

For example, they prevent me or potential clients to exchange phone numbers, website link, or email. They also prevent us to mention any social media name such as Facebook and Instagram. I understand that they don’t want to lose transaction, but what they did really hurt their brand. Yes, I was happy that they helped me to get clients, but I was also very unhappy with them. They took cut of 25% from what I’ve earned. That was a lot, with how hard it was to get clients. So I started to look for other ways to do business outside of the platform.

I Can Build Websites, So That’s What I Did

I started to tinkering with the idea of making my own website to run this side business. It wasn’t that I’m going to build another PetBacker. I was thinking simply, “How can I get boarding requests as easy as possible, no-code needed?” I am lazy, and that’s what lazy people would and should do: figure out the easier way to do things and get the job done, with the smallest time and effort spent. 🤣

After some times of trying several tools, my choice was to use online form builder, but I don’t want to process any financial transaction through it. Why? Because I don’t want to pay the tool. 🤣 You gotta understand that this business is not yet becoming a source of steady income for me. There are months that I have no boarding request at all. And if I have to pay for the tools, it’s going to burning money that I don’t have.

So here’s what I did:

  1. Figure out the easiest way people can find me: build website, create social media presence and a Google Business account.
  2. Contract is needed to make sure that each party fulfil their responsibilities. We’re talking about animals here, so we must be responsible. I only need to figure out the easy way to get the information of the pet and their owners with less of work as possible.
  3. Payment? Bank transfer is enough, no need to make it hard. 😉

Formalising Lemmika as a Business

In late Spring of 2022 I thought it would be better if I formalise this side business and making it into a “more serious” business activity of my own. I was thinking about my residency here in Estonia. I need some strong “tie” or connection to be considered worthy as a permanent resident.

Looking back for the past 5 years, I realise that employment is no longer an option for me. I dislike it and I don’t perform too well under other’s leadership. I like to do things my own way. So that’s why I decided to fully commit into entrepreneurship. And I’m very grateful that my husband supports my decision, and he himself is also a part-time entrepreneur, running his own company.

Then after deciding that, I register a business in my name. You can read the whole story of my business register experience in this post. Even though building a business is not as easy as registering them, but the whole experience help to reduce the anxiety, and keep me think positively.

How Do My Business Operational Activities Look Like

As I said before, I don’t always get new client every month. Like any other business that have ups and downs, so does my business—there are peak and off seasons. When it’s a holiday week like Christmas and New Year, I would get so many requests and have to reject some because I only have limited space at my place. My income for the past one year is just under 5,000€.

Who are my clients?

I intentionally targeting expats living in Estonia with their pets. Those are my main target market. Why? They don’t have any other family members or friends who can take their furry babies when they’re away. I make my price pretty affordable, because I really want to help taking care of them, and it’s just doesn’t make sense if it cost thousands of Euro just for taking care of pets.

Yes, I know they’re their precious babies, but some people cannot really afford 50€ per day to take care of their dogs or cats. That’s why I also have special offers for people with more than one pet and Estonian universities’ students. In the future, I hope I can offer more special programs and collaborations with other instances. 🤞🏼

How do I handle doing business at our personal space?

Yes, you read it correctly. I take care of my clients’ pets at our home. It certainly mixes our business and personal life, but it’s something we get used to do. We don’t have the capability to doing business activities in a separated space yet. Maybe in the future, I wish. But for now, we’ll be just fine with the setup. Plus, we can take care of them all day long and get to know each other well. And I strongly believe that each animal has personality, just like us, humans. Different personalities means different ways to handle them very well.

I also make sure that my clients explain the behaviour of their pet thoroughly, so I have a good grasp on how I would be able to handle them. And that’s also why I don’t accept too many animals at one time. My energy level is limited. 😅

I’m grateful that I have a very understanding and supportive life partner. He helps a lot in day-to-day ops, except walking the dog. 🤣  We apply personal and business separation. So, if a task is related to personal or house chores, we divided them.

My best and worst experiences

Most of my clients now becoming regulars. They keep coming back to me when they have to leave the city for a while, or even when they’re so sick and cannot take care of their fur babies. I’m grateful that I now become their top of mind when it comes to taking care of their lovely pets. Best thing is when I got a lots of kisses and hugs from the cats and dogs that initially were feisty and hard to trust. I will be honest to you, it is very invaluable experiences for me. 🥹

But I will be honest with you. Not all pet parents will explain in detail and the most honest about their pet. I have a “failed client” where I really cannot handle their dog. 🙄 They said their dog is the sweetest and everything positive, but in reality, she isn’t always like that. I believe she grew up very spoiled, and not being disciplined by her human parents at all. She eats like a queen and super very picky with her food, she doesn’t listen to command at all, she has severe separation anxiety, she is way over excited, and her dad can’t even make her listens to him! That is a sign of undisciplined dog. And for me, that’s ALWAYS the fault of the human! It’s not the dog’s fault, it’s the human. They set her up for failures in life by doing things they called “love”. 💔

What do I think of this business?

While I refuse to say that my pet boarding is a small business, the reality is that currently I’m still operating in small scale. I just prefer to call it “ancillary”—it means that this business is supporting my other businesses. 😊

I also believe that this business supports my clients’ lives. When they have no one to take care of their pets, but they must or want to go somewhere, I’m the one to support them doing what they need to do without worrying about their pets. And by that, a business like mine will always be needed. There are more and more people owning pets nowadays. And the more pets existed, the more this business going to be needed in the future.

If you read this, and thinking about running your own pet service business, just do it. Don’t forget to do your homework of research first. I wish you succeed!

My future plan for Lemmika

I don’t want to jinx it, but I have several ideas that I’m going to test within a few months. Just wait for my news. I will be sharing about it here, too.

Tšau! 💕