We’re kicking off season four of the I Make A Living podcast with Bryan Clayton, CEO and founder of GreenPal, a mobile app that connects customers to lawn care companies. Clayton’s first career was in landscaping, and he leveraged his expertise to build “Uber for lawn care” from the ground up. He’s done it by being really good at one thing, listening to his customers, and taking himself on a hero’s journey through the business’ ups and downs.
In 1998, Bryan Clayton was one more 18 year old with a lawnmower, keeping his neighbour’s outdoor spaces nice and tidy. His marketing strategy wasn’t much more than a photocopied flyer. But over the next 15 years, his landscaping business—by then called Peach Tree—took on major corporate clients and grew to employ over 150 people and bring in more than $10M annually.
But going big meant that they were leaving behind the little guys. Peach Tree was past the point of taking on $30 homeowner jobs, but frequent calls from potential clients proved the demand still existed. Taking inspiration from Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb, his app GreenPal was designed to connect customers with lawn care companies who operate on a smaller scale.
GreenPal’s business has doubled every year in the last eight years. His initial value proposition has stayed mostly the same—referring customers to companies—but 300,00 people use the app, and he’s bringing in $20M in revenue each year. By cutting out the legwork of researching company names and reviews, organizing payment, and setting up a lawn care schedule, the app goes way beyond the typical “neighbour kid with a lawnmower” set-up and ties up loose ends for both customers and the companies they work with.
That’s not to say the early days weren’t tough, but never underestimate how far a little naivete can take you. “If I had known how hard it was going to be, I would have gotten scared and never started,” Clayton laughs about the app’s early days. With two co-founders and no one knowing how to code, they put $150K into the first version of GreenPal, and it was...a failure! The next three years were spent supercharging their tech skills and developing a robust customer service feedback loop that continues to this day. When they relaunched, the grass was indeed greener on the other side.
It also helped that Clayton’s partners were well-chosen thick-and-thin types, a relationship that he compares to a marriage. One of our listeners, Gabby from Austin, asks about the value of a co-founder, and Clayton recommends careful consideration. “Don’t just go get a co-founder because you think you have to,” he says. Though there is start-up wisdom behind having both the hustler and the hacker on your team, Clayton reminds us that a co-founder partnership may last longer than some marriages (and be messier to dissolve if the day ever comes).
They keep themselves default alive, so their profits don't outweigh business expenses, and they keep their burn rate low. Taking a practical, sustainable, slow-and-low approach—which he recommends for nearly all small businesses—meant that they could keep going when things get tough. GreenPal also inadvertently tapped into our society's “contactless” needs during a pandemic, a consumer mode that people now use for everything from clothing to groceries.
Clayton credits his personal and business growth with a surprising Super Mario mindset. “Look at your business like a video game,” he says. “You only have to beat level one, throw up the flag, and get through a level at a time.” By focusing on just one or two key things at a time, Clayton says, entrepreneurs can be heroic about setting goals and moving their businesses forward. “I really wanted to make something of myself, and I felt like business was the vehicle for me to do that.”
To learn more about our guest, go to: https://www.yourgreenpal.com/
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