Erica Bishaf worked for over 15 years as a market researcher incorporating virtual reality and immersive video into her toolkit, but wanted to find a more philanthropic application for these technologies, beyond traditional avenues like shopping and gaming.
And she found one to pursue as an entrepreneurial idea, merging VR with one of her personal passions: pets.
Bishaf’s startup, Pet Gotcha Day, launched last month in Chicago and aims to use crowdsourced 360° videos to bring “adoptable pets to life”, hoping to make the pet adoption process more engaging, fun, and ultimately reduce cases of euthanasia by increasing pet adoptions.
“For many potential adopters, the first step towards choosing a pet is an adoption center’s website, which profiles pets available for adoption using photographs and media — a crucial element in promoting pets to adopters,” Bishaf said. “However, still images fail to accurately present an animal’s personality, or invoke a sense of urgency in the viewer. 360° video technology does both.”
The startup hopes to use this technology as a more immersive way for shelters to showcase their pets on its platform. Shelter volunteers shoot the videos—since they are already familiar and comfortable with the animals—and the startup provides 360° video-enabled cameras if the shelter or volunteer doesn’t have one. Potential adopters can view these videos, along with the pet’s and shelter’s information, on the startup’s platform, and the videos are accessible via both mobile and desktop. It is free for pet shelters to onboard their pets onto the Pet Gotcha Day platform, and the startup is extending sponsorship opportunities as part of its revenue model.
While marketplace apps do exist for potential adopters to find and locate adoptable pets, none of them use immersive video technology to showcase the animals, according to Bishaf. 360° videos offer an immersive experience in which a user can pan around a video with their mouse (or fingertip, on mobile).
“We think 360 video isn’t quite mainstream yet, but it has great potential in helping these animals find a forever home,” she said.
Bishaf says that while the startup is actively working on augmented reality applications in this space (think: using Pokemon Go-style ways to drive traffic to a pet shelter’s website), it sees moving from 360 video into VR (via Oculus Rift-style headsets) as another “natural progression,” but one that will take more time.
The word “Gotcha” in its name stands for “Growing Ownership Through Connecting Humans and Animals” and the startup celebrates adoptions through its platform as “Pet Gotcha Days,” explained Bishaf.
Bishaf is currently the only team member, having outsourced web development and self-funded the startup. Currently, 6 shelters are participating (with 30 pets on the platform at the time of publication) along with 3-4 additional shelters in the pipeline. As it films, onboards and uploads more pets onto the platform each day, the startup is actively looking for volunteers to shoot and submit videos, and for more shelters to join the network. The startup is currently based at 1871.
Correction: This article has been updated to more accurately clarify Bishaf’s prior work experience.