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Business & Investment

When taking Rex around the block becomes much more than just walkies

HONG KONG — One of the tech world’s deepest-pocketed investors has been scouring the globe to find and fund the technologies that are building the future.

Advanced robotics. Indoor farming. Data-driven drug research.

And now: On-demand dog walking.

The SoftBank Vision Fund, a nearly US$100 billion pot of money managed by Japanese billionaire Masayoshi Son, is investing US$300 million in Wag, a startup in Los Angeles whose app lets you summon someone to walk your dog.

The investment is several times the US$68 million in total funding that Wag has raised since it was founded in 2015.

“We look forward to enhancing our technology and service offerings to enable more people to keep their dogs happy and healthy,” Wag’s newly appointed chief executive, Hilary Schneider, said in a statement announcing the investment.

The fund did not say much about what it sees in Wag. Jeffrey Housenbold, who helps oversee the fund, said only that “Wag is a clear leader in the rapidly growing global market for pet care services.”

Still, other investments by Son, leader of the Japanese conglomerate SoftBank, suggest he is not likely investing in Wag solely to bet on the business of keeping Fluffy content.

A little over a year into its existence, the Vision Fund has come to focus on companies that can collect and harness vast oceans of data to transform industries as diverse as medicine, food and finance.

Apart from big names like Uber, it has invested in such outfits as Compass, a New York-based platform for buying and selling property; Vir Biotechnology, which researches and develops treatments for infectious diseases; and Oyo, a hotel network in India.

Wag’s app keeps track of exactly where your pooch is being taken by its walker. That makes Wag a potentially useful fount of location data. (Although, to be clear, this location data is not about Wag’s users but about its users’ dogs.)

When the Vision Fund invested in a mapping startup called Mapbox last year, the fund’s Rajeev Misra said that Mapbox’s use of sensor data to generate live maps made it an investment in “the foundational infrastructure for the next stage of the information revolution.”

“Location data is central and mission critical to the development of the world’s most exciting technologies,” Misra said.

Data on the real-world comings and goings of internet users — and, evidently, their dogs — is a highly sought-after commodity among technology companies. It can attract furious controversy when it is mishandled, though. Security analysts criticized the fitness app Strava this week for inadvertently revealing the locations of military bases by publishing its users’ running routes.

And Wag itself does not have an unblemished record for safeguarding users’ information. The Wall Street Journal recently found unprotected pages on the company’s website that contained the personal data, including home addresses, of at least 100 customers.

The pages were later taken down. Wag said that the problem was the result of a software glitch, and that it had no indication that hackers or thieves had gained access to the customer data.

First published at http://business.financialpost.com/entrepreneur/fp-startups/wag-the-dog-walking-service-lands-300-million-from-softbank-vision-fund

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