The story behind Betsy, the world’s first network of Chicken Hotels!
Hi, my name is David and I absolutely love chickens. I think my love of chickens started when I was a child. I used to love visiting Auntie Barbara and playing with the chickens at the end of her garden. She always said that a happy chicken makes a happy home and I completely agree.
About 10 years ago, I moved to live on a 100 acre farm in Cornwall so I was finally able to fulfil my dream of owning my own flock. When a couple of my friends told me that they had just moved to the countryside and wanted to get some chickens I was delighted for them! There was just one small problem that meant that they couldn’t get them… They wanted to be able to use their holiday time to go on adventures together but they didn’t have anyone nearby that they could ask to look after their hens!
This can’t stop them getting chickens I thought, so I began hunting around the internet for chicken boarding. There was nothing. I looked further afield and at the time I could only find about three places in the whole country that offered chicken boarding.
The first UK Chicken Hotel
I designed and built a coop to look after my friend’s hens when they went away that Christmas. I had not long finished a furniture making course so it was great to be making things again. I recognised that my friends weren’t alone in having this problem and that other people either already had this issue or wanted to own chickens and this was stopping them.
First of all I had to come up with a name. After thinking long and hard, doing some research and looking at Catteries and Kennels I came up with the name “The Chicken Hotel”. I wanted to describe my boarding as being like a holiday for your chickens when you want to get away yourself, so this name seemed to make sense. It’s probably hard to imagine now that no one had used it before as it’s now quite often used to describe a chicken boarding establishment, but it really helped the business take flight.
I started to advertise my spare coop for holiday boarding and very soon had my first booking! It was SO exciting to receive that phone call and to realise that this idea might work. I soon decided to make a second coop to increase my capacity, and this became booked up as well. I wrote to the local paper and included a few photos of me dressed as a Chicken Hotel waiter; I thought they might be interested in running a story and that might help me to advertise in the local area. This is where things went crazy. They loved it! It even went out to their sister papers in other local regions, also on the front page. Students kept coming up to me in school showing me the paper “Is this YOU Mr Roberts?!!” I was suddenly a local celebrity.
That’s not where the craziness stopped though, from these articles it was picked up by the nationals and soon after I heard Chris Evans talking about The Chicken Hotel with Elton John on the BBC Radio 2 breakfast program. Things couldn’t get weirder than that. Oh yes, they could! I ended up having interviews over the phone with journalists in Canada, Mexico, France, Australia, Japan, Germany, Spain, Israel and then I was invited up to London to appear on The Fern Briton show where I was interviewed on a sofa opposite Chris O’Dowd from the IT crowd. It was just insane where my love of chickens had taken me.
Needless to say I had all the free publicity that I needed for my business and things really took off. By the end of the first year I had four coops and I just kept building more as I became fully booked. By the end of the second year I had six coops and year three I had twelve. People would come from miles around to use my Chicken Hotel, some drove over two hours to drop off and then two hours home again!
Moving to Wiltshire
After about five years of running the business I moved to Salisbury in Wiltshire. Sadly no longer on a farm, but in the beautiful village of Wilton. My garden was now far too small to run my chicken hotel business as I had been doing. I missed keeping chickens so I needed to try to think of another way of running the business. I had already been thinking about the idea of running a website for other people to have their own Chicken Hotels. I worked on the idea but ultimately put it on the back burner while I was busy settling into my new area and new school. Years slipped by, and this business idea kept niggling at me until one year I made the jump. I’m going to do this. I will give it everything and see if it works. I was excited about the idea of getting it off the ground, but really didn’t know where to start.
Along came Betsy
Do we make our own luck? Or do we put ourselves in a position where fortune can shine on us? Either way I feel very lucky with this next part of my story. My friends had their brother to stay, a very successful entrepreneur who I had already known for quite a few years. His name is Ian McCaig, and he had founded two successful companies (Qubit and Fiit), he was definitely the most qualified person I knew that I could talk to. For all appearances I am actually quite an introverted character, but past experiences have taught me to just push yourself at that moment when you feel the most reluctant to open your mouth. I still sat in my living room, do I talk to him about the idea, do I not… I took the plunge and described it. He immediately got it, but questioned the demand which was fair enough. There are now about 1.5 million households with chickens, and there are over five times as many of our feathered friends as hamsters. It all felt a little like Dragons den, but it was really exciting for me to find someone who was interested in my idea. After sleeping on it he asked me to come over to his sister’s house to discuss it some more, and having done some research himself he was hooked.
Fast forward a few months and we now have an amazing team on board. Ian continues to drive the business forward with his knowledge and understanding of start-ups. He has brought in Simon Dean, a friend from university who is also a successful entrepreneur and founder of STANCE, a successful marketing and branding company. We also have Ian’s ex-colleague from one of his start-ups, Hugo Bailey. He is our chief technical officer and is an IT wizard, he built our beautiful web platform.
We soon decided that although The Chicken Hotel was a great name, it sounded too singular and the business had outgrown its shell. After weeks of discussions and investigating the love and care that people give to their chickens we decided to go for a chicken-type name. Lots of people name their chickens, and after doing some surveys we found that the most common type of name seemed to be those you might affectionately associate with older ladies. (If you’re interested about naming a pet chicken, cluck here.)
One of the most endearing names that we all liked was Betsy, and our brand was hatched. We decided to still call the guest coops “Chicken Hotels” but they will now be part of “Betsy”, so if you’re looking for chicken boarding just call for “HeyBetsy.com” and we’ll come flocking to you!
Betsy: The future of holiday boarding for hens!
It took lots of effort delivering posters to pet shops, handing out flyers, talking with people at country fairs and agricultural shows. Eventually we managed to get 80 chicken hotel managers on board with a great spread over Wiltshire, Dorset, Hampshire and Somerset.
The website was complete and all we had to do was to hit the go button and open the digital doors to the customers who have been desperately underserved for their beloved pet chickens.
Our vision for future of pet chicken keeping
We see a world where pet care for chickens should rival that already available for cats and dogs. As chicken owners we love them just as much and we know they deserve the best care.
Our ever-growing network of Chicken Hotels on Betsy links caring chicken owners together. Betsy provides a platform that will help to solve the problem of finding quality chicken boarding and will help to make owning chickens a reality for many more.
If you like the idea of running your own business with us, cluck here.
If you’d like to become a customer and check your chickens into a Chicken Hotel, cluck here.