Tom + Captain founders from left; Captain and Tom Lillecrapp

Tom + Captain: The dog walking adventure startup taking over Melbourne (and Instagram)

Aja Stuart

If you like dogs, or feeling happy, you need to follow Tom and Captain on Instagram. This dynamic human and canine partnership from Melbourne are owning the ‘gram right now with a feed full of the happiest dogs you’ve ever seen doing decidedly doggy things.

Tom and Captain run immensely popular dog walking adventures in Melbourne’s inner suburbs. Forget paltry walks around the block, these lucky dogs are taken to creeks, beaches, bushland, open spaces and anywhere else you might imagine dogs would have the best time ever.

They’ve hit on a serious win-win situation. Dog owners are thrilled to know their pups are out having a ball while they work, and the dogs themselves are beside themselves with muddy, grassy, raucous, joy. In case you were wondering, Tom’s the human and Captain is his lanky canine business partner.

“I certainly wasn’t starting it with long term goals in mind or turning it into a ‘proper’ business.”

It all started from humble, but practical, beginnings.  “At the time I thought ‘I’m out every day walking Captain and surely it wouldn’t be much more effort to walk other dogs at the same time’” explains Tom. “I certainly wasn’t starting it with long term goals in mind or turning it into a ‘proper’ business.”

“The first adventures weren’t as exciting as they are now,” Tom says. “We started with one other dog on a lead, in and out of the laneways around Carlton, Fitzroy and Collingwood.”

As is often the case with organic business growth, it took a bit of trial and error before the pair hit on their winning formula. “I remember walking one dog in Brunswick then driving to Brighton to walk the next,” recalls Tom. “I accepted any dog in basically any suburb to start with. I printed thousands and thousands of flyers out and hand delivered them every chance I got with a very low success rate.”

"The business was growing faster than I could keep up with.”

This isn’t something the guys have to worry about anymore. As the adventures began to take off, the guys found themselves swamped in administration as people started trying to book their dogs in to the next adventure.  The business was growing faster than I could keep up with,” says Tom. “Luckily today, I have organised and awesome people helping me.”

Today, Tom and Captains’ pack has grown considerably, and shows no signs of slowing. “Our team take out roughly 300-350 dogs per week, depending on all sorts of things like weather and school holidays,” says Tom. “We have an awesome team of nine staff, consisting of an administration team members and also Adventurers.”

Instagram has done a lot for the success of Tom and Captain. “Instagram has helped us get the word out about Tom and Captain. Rather than have written testimonials, our photos really tell the story.” says Tom. It’s true too. Dirt tracks, muddy creeks, and grassy parkland, are the backdrop for scenes of happy, frolicking dogs that look like they can’t believe their luck. You can’t fake that amount of pure joy.

“Social media is great but we also have a fun energetic culture which drives the marketing.”

Tom has really leveraged the medium and has doubled down on the visual marketing. “Our Adventures live the brand when out and about for us, and it’s a great look,” he says. “For example we only use specific brand and colour leads, specific colour towels to dry the dogs, and our uniform.”

“Social media is great but we also have a fun energetic culture which drives the marketing.”

With business booming, the future looks exciting for Tom and Captain. They launched their first website this week, but that’s just the beginning.

“In the short term we have some fun collaborations with some local and also major international brands coming together,” Tom says.

“Longer term we have some pretty out there and exciting plans that are coming together in the background of our adventures."

“We are also very excited to be opening our first retail store and headquarters early next year, Tom + Captain Adventure Supply Store, which will have one-off adventure gear for dogs and humans.”

“Longer term we have some pretty out there and exciting plans that are coming together in the background of our adventures. Oh, and Captain wants to drive so we are working out how we can make that happen.”

Ambition doesn’t stop there. Tom and Captain want to use their influence for the social good and make Melbourne a more dog-friendly city. “We also want to push for more dog parks in and around Melbourne in used spaces, whether on a temporary or permanent basis. We are all about dogs getting out and about more, with us or with their owners.”

Here, here. Just make sure to keep posting the photos, please.

Aja Stuart

Aja is Sydney-based writer and serial entrepreneur. She regularly writes about small business, entrepreneurship, and health and wellbeing. Her latest entrepreneurial adventure is yeahmama.co.

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