Afonso Luciano saw the need for a professional dogwalking service in Luxembourg when he got a Labrador Collie called Chica
Photo: Afonso Luciano
Getting a dog changed the life of Afonso Luciano, so much so he turned down a lucrative job offer to start the country's first dogwalking business, dogwalker.lu.
Jess Bauldry: Hi Afonso. Tell us a bit about you.
Afonso Luciano: I’m Portuguese. But I grew up here and I feel very at home. I’m still very proud of my heritage, but I’m just as proud of being from here. I come from a family that grew up in the mountains with goats, literally. My parents were goat herders. That’s what they did until they moved to Luxembourg, where they did different things. They were hard-working people and still are. I would say that I’m the creative one of the family.
What was your career path?
I’ve done a lot of different things. I didn’t know what to do when I was in school or when I started working. I worked as a student as a car salesman, I worked in an American bank. After that, I had four jobs when I quit the bank. I worked for Marx bar 16 years ago. I worked as a stylist for a photographer. I was also working for a TV show where I was moderating twice a week about alternative dance music. And I had a small side job helping design a line of clothes for a shop that doesn’t exist. I just didn’t know what to do. I had always been creative.
What made you think about starting a dogwalking business?
I had a dog called Chica, a Labrador Collie. At some point, I changed jobs and went to work for LuxLait as an export sales man. I would get phone calls in the morning and in the afternoon I would be in Oslo. I was looking for a dog walking service, someone to look after my dog Chica. I couldn’t find anyone doing it professionally. Those who were doing it were students or people with time on their hands. I was crazy about my dog; they weren’t good enough for her! That’s where the idea started. You meet in a bar and chat and say wouldn’t it be great to spend all day with just dogs, doing dog things and getting paid for it.
Afonso Luciano, pictured, quit his job to set up the business in 2010
How did you take this from a dream to making a business out of it?
I had just been contacted by a head hunter proposing a very interesting job on a very high pay and a lot of advantages. Then this RTL show, “Success Story”, came up so I took the opportunity to send in my idea and see what came out. Not only was my project selected from over 100 projects, but I won. The funny thing was when I told my best friend I had won. He said “that’s great!” I said “no, I won, it means I have to go through with it!” I had two months to start it. It was very scary. I quit my job, I started the project I had written down and the show came out in January.
Did anyone help or mentor you through the process?
My first customer, Guy, who is still with me, would take me for dinner now and then and shout at me and put me in my place. The conversation we have over and over is never give anything you do for free because what is free is worth nothing. It’s a valuable lesson because that’s my personality.
The other advice was from an old customer living far away. It was very complicated for me to deliver the service. Guy advised me to give it up or raise the price. My argument was that I had to be loyal to my customers. He told me I couldn’t give 100% to all of my clients if I’m starting the day with low energy. I had to be capable of giving my service equally to every single client. Those were the two lessons that I took on board.
What were the challenges you faced in setting up and developing the company?
There were a lot of challenges: the first was registering the company. I was at the (company registration) office and no-one knew where to register it because there was nothing like it (at the time). The challenge of finding out peoples’ schedules was quite a big one. It required a lot of time. I was working from 7am to 8pm.
You fell ill during your first year in business. How did that impact things?
I had to get my appendix removed. I realised I wasn’t even able to be sick. The way the company was working, it wasn’t possible long-term.
That was the moment to make a new start. I openly talked to my clients about it. I said: I did this wrong. I need to restructure and make different prices and this is what I have to do to survive. I was expecting to lose customers. It was something really scary. Surprisingly enough, they were really understanding. I didn’t lose more than 20% of my customers, which was OK and allowed me to start anew and make it right.
What’s changed since you set up the business?
It’s been 7 years and it’s still really nice. However, the project has matured a lot. I’ve matured a lot. I grew from the young entrepreneur, who wanted to be with his dog, to being a fairly big company for what we do. We have 10 people, we’ve a shop, we’ve a number of services we provide: dog walkers is the trademark around Europe.
What advice would you give to anyone else changing career or setting up a business in Luxembourg?
My best piece of advice is don’t go for it to be rich. Go for the passion, the motivation of your project, you have to know it, live it and want to do it. Because it’s not one big hill you have to surmount, it’s many hills. If you don’t have the strength and love for your project, you cannot overcome those hills.