Running an eCom brand requires you to consider many perspectives, but how often are you really considering the consumer in your decisions? In this episode, join Scott as he sits down with Bryan Clayton, CEO & Co-Founder of GreenPal, for a conversation on the pivotal role of customer service, improving the trust between brand & community, and the mental frameworks needed to develop a successful, consumer-focused business in order to find out how to build a successful brand.
From starting his own landscaping business at 18 to establishing GreenPal as the ‘Uber for lawn care’ with over 100,000 active users on the app, Bryan shares in-depth learnings and case studies to help you understand customer logic and how to apply it to your brand offering.
Scott & Bryan also discuss the early-stage struggles GreenPal faced, how GreenPal removed sales-sabotaging friction from the customer buying experience, and the strategies they employed to develop the product with their customer in mind.
This episode is a must-listen for entrepreneurs & brand owners who want to figure out how to crack the customer service aspect of their business and keep their customers coming back.
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0:00 – 0:27 – G&G eCommerce Podcast Theme
This is the Growth & Greatness eCommerce Podcast, powered by Right Hook Digital, with your hosts Scott Seward & Raymond Johnston. If you’re an eCommerce brand founder, entrepreneur, or marketer looking to accelerate profitable growth for your business, then listen in ‘cause this is the podcast for you.
0:27 – 1:01 – Episode Intro by Scott Seward
Scott (0:27 – 1:01) – Alright! On this week’s episode, Ray’s not gonna join us so I’m flying solo, but really excited! Had a great conversation today with Mr. Bryan Clayton, who is the founder of YourGreenPal.com, which is a lawn-mowing service, so it’s a little bit different, not necessarily in the direct to eCommerce space, but you know, we really dived into mental frameworks as an entrepreneur or founder, what that journey looks like, and looking deeply into, actually, how to build a marketplace type of business and some of the foundations around that, and the importance of customer service. So, I really recommend listening to this, lots to take away, hope you enjoy it!
1:03 – 9:04 – Introduction of guest Bryan Clayton
Scott (1:03 – 1:24) – Hey, welcome back to the Growth & Greatness eCommerce Podcast! This is actually intro take 2 because Scott here forgot to hit the record button at the start, rookie error! Ray can’t join us today, I’m used to him hitting the record button so I’ve had to make up for it, but we got a very interesting guest with us today. We got Mr. Bryan Clayton, who is the founder of GreenPal. Bryan, welcome to the show, man!
Bryan (1:24 – 1:26) – Scott, thanks for having me on. It’s great to be here.
Scott (1:27 – 1:48) – We hit a bit of a blooper at the start there so I’m really excited to have you here and learn more about the business and how you got started. So, let’s start there, just for everyone listening who doesn’t know about GreenPal – what it offers, bit of an intro & background into the business, how it got started, and how you got your journey started along that line.
Bryan (1:48 – 2:46) – Yeah, yeah. GreenPal is my baby, I’ve been working on it for about 10 years. I guess you can say we’re a 10-year overnight success. GreenPal is the Uber for lawn mowing; so if you’re a homeowner and you need to get your lawn mowed, rather than calling around on Craigslist, Facebook, or asking friends for recommendations, you just download the GreenPal app. You pop your address in, you’ll get quotes from other lawn mowing services in your neighborhood, you hire the one you wanna work with, and they come to take care of the chore for you. If you like how they did, you can push the button and it just happens, like clockwork, in the background. Been at this for, I guess, almost a decade, we’re in every city and every state in the United States now – around 300.000 people using the app, doing almost 30 million dollars a year in revenue. We have self-funded the business the whole way through, we haven’t taken on any outside capital. It was hard the first few years, but now that we got some good momentum going, and we’re profitable, it’s a lot of fun running this business.
Scott (2:46 – 3:07) – I can imagine those first few years. Like, when I think about going back 10 years, from now, when these type of platforms and services were relatively in their infancy in terms of their use in a broad scale, what were those first years like? I could imagine it being really difficult to get it off the ground and, I guess, from a mental standpoint, pushing through that.
Bryan (3:08 – 3:24) – Really challenging for a couple reasons. One, I wouldn’t really know what the hell we were doing. None of us, my 2 co-founders and I, had not built a tech product before. This is our first go at it so we, kind of, had to teach ourselves how to write software as we were going, and we really didn’t understand…
Scott (3:23 – 3:25) – By yourself? You built the site yourself?
Bryan (3:26 – 3:38) – Yeah, we had to, my co-founder took a, went to a boot camp, like a night, weekend boot camp to learn server-side engineering. I became the world’s crappiest front-end engineer.
Scott (3:39 – 3:40) – That’s some good hustling.
Bryan (3:40 – 4:21) – Yeah, we just, kind of, stuck it out and taught ourselves how to develop software as we built what we thought GreenPal should be. And, literally, had dozens of customers, like less than 50. We hustled those by passing out flyers all over Nashville, Tennessee, where we live, and we just listened to everything they told us, and tried to build to suit their feedback. That was, kind of, our guiding principle in the early years, was just building to solve the problems, making it really frictionless for them to tell us everywhere we sucked. We just slowly got it better & better & better and developed a little bit of a growth strategy along with that. And now we have over 300,00 people using the app.
Scott (4:22 – 4:24) – It started off very local, right?
Bryan (4:25 – 4:56) – Very local, yes. Spent 4 years just in Nashville, Tennessee until we figured out how to delight people with the app and how to make it more seamless & smooth & reliable & more cost-effective that, in the analog world, that took a long time to figure out, that took a long time just to trial and error. Until we, kind of, figured it out, we didn’t feel like it was necessary to move into any other city. So, we spent almost 4 years in Nashville, Tennessee until we moved into our 2nd, 3rd, and 4th city.
Scott (4:56 – 5:08) – Wow, wow! Going back a step, like, what were you and your co-founders doing before you founded GreenPal? What led to the, I guess, initial idea of it as a business?
Bryan (5:08 – 7:03) – Yeah, so, actually, my first business was a lawn-mowing business. I started mowing grass in high school as a way to make extra cash. Little by little, grew a lawn-mowing business in high school, all through college, and when I graduated college, I had to make a decision. Was I going to go into the job market and take a pay cut, or stick with my landscaping business? And I said, ‘Well, you know, I’ll see how far I can take this landscaping company that I was working on the side.’ Made a little business plan and, over a 15-year period of time, built one of the largest landscaping companies in the state of Tennessee, where I lived, eventually getting it over a 150 employees, getting it over 10 million a year in revenue, and then, in 2013, that business was acquired by one of the largest landscaping conglomerates in the United States. And so, after that, I took some time off, travelled a little bit, did some self-reflection, got bored, and decided, ‘Okay, what do I wanna do now?’ I saw what Uber and Airbnb were doing in their industries, building technology to make these real-world transactions run a lot smoother. I thought, that needs to exist for the industry that I know. So, I kinda had, I guess you can say, authenticity as a competitive advantage. I knew the industry from the inside out, I knew the problems that we were trying to solve – just didn’t know how to build software. I had to learn that side. So that’s where the idea came from, was basically solving my own problem by building GreenPal. In a weird way, here we are, 10 years later, the idea we had back then is really the same thing we’re working on a decade later – how do you make getting this chore done as easy as pushing a button, and how do we make it cheaper, smoother, faster, more reliable than you can in the traditional sense of trying to call somebody to do this for you.
Scott (7:03 – 7:33) – I love that and it’s more like that 20-25 year overnight success that you’ve built from your high school lawn-mowing business to a 30-million dollar enterprise, really. I love hearing that story because, you know, there’s a bit of a misconception these days that things happen so quickly and, look, you can do things really, really quickly, but it’s not necessarily the path that most people take. I think it’s patience and hard work and driving through that. I love hearing that story.
Bryan (7:34 – 9:04) – I agree. It’s a, if there’s 1 thing I learned over the last 10 years too is that there really are no overnight successes. Seemingly, XYZ company, you know, built, sold, or raised a bunch of money in what seems to be 2 – 3 years, but you really start looking, like the story behind the story… Yeah, maybe they crashed and burned on 2 or 3 other things, or you know, they changed the name of the company, or they were bought or something, always that founder was hacking on stuff in high school – you’re always looking at, like, 5, 10, 15 years. You’re never looking at 2 years. It just takes a long time to get started from scratch. I hate the phrase ‘trust the process’ because, you know, that almost indicates that all you gotta do is kick back and let it happen, that’s not how it works, but it does take a long time.
Scott (8:28 – 9:04) – Yeah. I think, listening to that, you spend 15 years understanding the industry as a, being hands-on first. I think about our journey and, you know, this may be a bit of an outsider perspective on that. We’ve grown an agency quickly in the last 4 years to a 120 people, but I’ve been in the eCommerce space and the marketing space for over a decade now – you don’t see that. If I haven’t gone through that process, to start with before we launched the agency, I wouldn’t have the skillset to be able to, you know, build the tech that we’ve built. So, yeah, there’s always a lot more behind the story, I love hearing that one start in high school.
9:05 – 20:18 – The biggest challenges GreenPal faced in the beginning and how they helped shape GreenPal’s success
Scott (9:05 – 9:33) – Let’s jump back a bit, back to those first few years. I can imagine there would’ve been just so many hurdles, obstacles, challenges that you guys would’ve had to face, to overcome, to get that 0 to 10,000 feet part, right, ‘cause that’s the hardest part – getting off the ground, getting from 10,000 to 30,000 feet is, usually, a little bit a less of a grind. You’ve got a bit of traction and momentum. What were some of the biggest challenges you have in those first few years, outside of having to learn how to code?
Bryan (9:33 – 10:13) – Yeah, going 0 to 1 is the hardest part, and it’s, like, where do you even start? You don’t know how to code, you don’t know how to build a product, where you’re building a marketplace that connects buyers and sellers. Really, t he kind of way that we got through it was just triaging around, what are the 1 or 2 things that are the most important that we need to work on this week right now? A lot of it was just distilling it down to focus, by staying in 1 city, we were able to focus on, ‘Okay, if we can just keep 100 people happy, I know we can get to 1,000. If we get to 1,000, I know we’ll get to 10,000. If we get to 10,000, I know we’ll get to 100,000.’
Scott (10:13 – 10:17) – It’s like that mental elevator, right? You know you can get to the next one once you hit that barrier?
Bryan (10:18 – 11:53) – That’s right. That’s, kind of, the way we looked at it. We just took it like a video game almost, and just worked 1 level at a time. Didn’t really worry about Bowser and, you know, if you’re on level 2, you know, you can’t worry about Bowser. And so, that’s kinda how we took it. A lot of it was just hustle and maybe even just consistency as a superpower – just showing up day in and day out. I had made a decision when I had sold my 1st company that, you know, this next time around, no matter what, I was just going to be working on my best idea by default. So giving up was not an option. I guess, fortunately, I’m not terribly creative – GreenPal was, and is, my best idea. It was just showing up everyday, 6, 7 days a week, figuring out what are the things we gotta do today. What are the input metrics to get where we’re going? Okay, we gotta create more content for the website to get more traffic. We gotta get more PR exposure so we gotta email more journalists. We need these 50 features, but these 5 are the most important, these are the ones we’ve been working on. Really just taking it down and distilling it to ‘what are the 2 or 3 things we’re doing today to drive ourselves to the next level,’ and celebrating the small wins, you know? One of our first goals was, we just wanted to do 100 transactions in 1 week, that was the goal for the 1st year, and we hit, like, 52. So we didn’t hit that ‘til, like, year 2. Now, we do thousands of thousands of transactions a day, but if we can do it, 100 in 1 week, I know we can make it work. It took us 2 years to do that, but we celebrated the hell out of that when we hit it.
Scott (11:53 – 12:43) – Man, you brought up a few, really simple but critical elements that are things that I’ve reflected on quite a lot over the last 6-12 months, but the consistency is so key and the ability to focus on what’s important, right? Knowing those things and understanding them and implementing them are very different. Everyone knows you should be consistent, everyone knows that you should prioritize and focus, but people’s ability to actually execute on those is the challenge. I noticed that with myself when I, you know, look back and go, ‘Okay, if I had been more consistent in these areas, or I prioritized, I might have been more effective,’ and I know that’s been a key part. How important are those simple concepts do you think have played a role in the success that you guys have had?
Bryan (12:43 – 12:57) – It’s a lot of little things over and over again. You know, entrepreneurship is full of all these dichotomies. One of them is, you have to have this huge, audacious goal that you’re driving towards, but you also have to think & act very small…
Scott (12:57 – 12:59) – You only go one step at a time, right?
Bryan (13:00 – 13:57) – Yeah, but these things begin to compound over a period of time. You know, at the end of the day, in years 1, 2, & 3, maybe it means you’re emailing a 100 journalists everyday, you know, and trying to get journalists to talk about your app. Maybe it means you’re cranking out 5 blog posts, maybe it means you’re writing 10,000 lines of code everyday – these are the input metrics that go into, getting where you’re trying to go. As you do these things, then you get pretty good at them where you can start to delegate them and build out that team around you. I think a lot of entrepreneurs, these days, try to skip all that and they just try to delegate day 1, they have no basis of understanding. When you’re trying to build a team, you’re trying to delegate, you know, you wanna do so from a standpoint of stewardship and not one of abjugation. Abjugation is like, ‘I don’t know how to do this, it scares me, you handle it…’
Scott (13:57 – 14:40) – You can’t train someone to do it if you can’t do it properly yourself, right? The thing you’ve, sort of, touched on there is, it’s the persistence of those things because you mentioned the fact that it compounds overtime, and a lot of times, you know, with exponential pursuits like this, you don’t see the results early, but then you get down the road and they start really compounding on themselves and it accelerates. You’re talking email, small things that you’re doing, and you might not notice them today, but 6 months, 12 months, 2 years down the track, with that exponential curb, a lot of people quit ‘cause they don’t see the results early enough. How important would you say is that persistence and grit element in what you guys achieved?
Bryan (14:41 – 15:27) – It really has been the reason why we got through those first 3, 4 years. Manufacturing the momentum is how we got to where we are today. Now, we have a team of over 40 people, and we have specialists that are really good at things that we weren’t able to put them in roles where they can excel, where they’d be someone who’s great at data analysis or we hired an SEO team lead last year who’s a rockstar, or somebody who’s a senior-level programmer. We were, like, half-assed good at all of these things and now we’ve got specialists in the pocket, grinding our way to that position to where we can put people in roles, to where they can excel is a big unlock, and maybe that’s a level 5 or 6 thing, you know.
Scott (15:27 – 15:30) – It’s an evolution thing, right? You have to build up to that point.
Bryan (15:31 – 16:58) – You’ve gotta build there and it’s really hard to fast forward to that stuff. And, you know, sometimes, raising capital, going to an accelerator, and getting mentors to help you move through it quicker, but a lot of times, it’s really hard to, kind of, fake your way through that. You really, really do have to just go through it and learn it, and it takes time. It takes time to learn how to manage and be a steward of that. A lot of times, as a founder, you know, as you start to make a little bit of money, you take on the role of capital allocator, it’s like, ‘I got a little bit of money coming in, and now where do I put it back to work? Do I hire another dev, do I hire another designer, do I hire another content creator? Do I hire this agency to handle this thing? Where do I make my bets?’ Start-ups are a lot like poker, less so like chess – it’s little small bets you’re making and you better make the right ones ‘cause it could spell the difference between success and failure. And so, it’s interesting that your role as a founder, you’re working less in the business and more on the business, and you’re making these smart bets. And I think how you can make smarter bets is you take it, you do 1 other thing, you work on yourself – you read books, you listen to audiobooks, you listen to podcasts like this one, you go to conferences. If you can’t go to the conference, maybe you listen to it, watch it on YouTube for free. You know, it’s like, you’re spending an entire day a week working on yourself where you can have the skills to make better bets.
Scott (16:58 – 17:28) – Man, I couldn’t agree with that more. Dee & I, I know, between us, we’re just relentless leaders and learners, it’s what we try to spend as much of our time doing and so much of what we’ve learned in figuring out how to build the agency, ‘cause let’s be honest, we’ve not fucking done this before, so we have to figure out a lot of it on our own. Most of that has come from books, like if people have gone through this experience and it’s, to me, it’s the easiest way to fast-track that.
Bryan (17:28 – 17:29) – Yeah.
Scott (17:29 – 17:31) – That’s such a key thing, right?
Bryan (17:31 – 18:56) – You can accelerate it. I think, a lot of times, so a quote that I like is, ‘You don’t learn, then do. You do, then learn.’ So, do, like get products in the hands of customers or, in your case, get some people in the agency, start working with them, and then you learn, and then you pour gas on top of that by listening to everything, maybe, you know, something somebody’s already done that you’re trying to do, listening to everything they’re putting out. That’s one way I have, I’ve been mentored asynchronously by about 20 different people over the last 10 years. You know, whether it’s like, there’s this guy named Casey Winters who is the first growth guy at Pinterest, and he’s the reason why Pinterest is what it is – he’s the guy who took them to 100 million users – and he talks about things like growth, SEO, and conversion rate optimization, he’s a practitioner of these things is my point. He actually does them, and he tells you how he did it. Like, I’ve learned so much from this guy, and maybe a dozen other people, and they don’t know who I am, but I know who they are; that’s how I’ve, kinda, been able to level up my skills and how I coach and lead our team. I’m learning from guys and gals who have done this stuff in a big scale, ‘cause it’s all accessible now. What a time to be alive to start a business! You can learn from people who’ve done it in the big leagues for free.
Scott (18:56 – 19:23) – Yeah, and I can hear out in the way that you’ve communicated about everything so far. It’s very principle-based. You know, going back a step, you’re talking about reinvesting back in the business, you gotta have that long-term view with that, making those bets so you’re thinking in probabilities. I can see how everything that you’ve done is structured from a mental framework standpoint, which only comes from learning, and reading, and trying to find those mentors, right?
Bryan (19:23 – 19:40) – I appreciate that. 5, 10 years ago, I did not think that way. It’s, like, if you are running a business, and you’re running it with all your heart, and you’re growing it and you’re doing it well, you’re doing it right, you should evolve as a completely different person every 3 or 4 years, maybe even 2 years.
Scott (19:40 – 19:41) – Faster if we can.
Bryan (19:41 – 19:59) – Yeah, yeah. You should be, like, unrecognizable from where you were 3 years ago ‘cause the business is gonna require that of you, and that’s one of the cool things about it is this thing that carries you into places in life that you never would have gone to. That’s one of the things that I love about it is it keeps pushing me forward.
Scott (19:59 – 20:18) – You have to. We look back every 6 or 12 months and you’re almost blown away by how little you knew 6 or 12 months ago because you can’t fix next year’s problems with today’s thinking, right? Like, you just need to be continually levelling up that mental framework of how you’re approaching things.
20:21 – 32:49 – How pivotal is customer service & feedback in the growth of GreenPal?
Scott (20:21 – 20:47) – I can dive into this side forever, but let’s shift back to the GreenPal side. I’m really curious, ‘cause I’m a huge advocate, and I don’t think enough emphasis gets put on customer service and customer relationships with brands, and you guys have built that – you’ve built product around that, going out and speaking to people, to your customers, and understanding that. How pivotal has customer service been to the overall growth of your business?
Bryan (20:47 – 23:40) – Yeah, it’s, like, customer service is one thing, but, especially in the early days, that customer feedback is the lifeblood of the business because that is going to tell you where you need to be focusing. A lot of times, what kills start-ups is they focus on things that don’t matter, and if you are listening to your customers, you’re never going to be at a loss for what you should be focusing the team’s intensity on. And so, in the early days, you have to remove all of the friction between you and your customer. Whether it be live chat, hits you up on the cell phone, transactional email, has your cell number at the bottom, when somebody calls in, it rings your cellphone. You, personally, are dealing with people on up to, maybe even, a 1,000 customers. That might sound crazy, but if you’re willing to do that for the first 3 or 4 years, it will be beaten into your soul where you need to be focusing the team’s intensity and what things are most important. Whereas, most founders try to hide behind a customer support team or try to hide behind a call bank or an email address that is support@example(dot)company(dot)com. The reality is, that’s the thing that can, like, lead you into a trap. What happens is this gap develops between founder logic and customer logic – the two of you aren’t even seeing the problem from the same dynamic. You really wanna close that gap, and the way you close it is just with good customer service, good customer support, and making it deadass simple for them to contact you, the founder, on up to where it’s unsustainable. And then, you can build a support team around you. Even to this day, even though we have hundreds of thousands of users, I still personally do a few hours of customer support, every single day, 7 days a week because it keeps me really close to what the customer’s thinking, what the customer wants, and what they wish we would do differently. The best ideas we’ve ever had have come out of what customers want. We recently just released a feature, kind of, like Airbnb’s Instant Book, where you can instantly book a room and not have to wait for a response from the host. We spent almost 2 years building an entire back-end to automatically quote properties that we have high liquidity in certain markets to where people can instantly book a yard-mowing service and not have to wait for a quote back. This was steeped in people telling us everyday, like, ‘Hey, I received 1 bid, but it’s been 15 minutes. I need 2 or 3 others. What’s going on?’ It’s just, like, had I not been so close to that problem, been so close to that feedback, I really wouldn’t know that we needed to prioritize that feature. When we built that, man, we really noticed it. And so, if you’re willing to close the gap between customer logic and founder logic, it can really make or break your business.
Scott (23:40 – 23:49) – Have you found that there’s situations or times where, ‘cause the customer doesn’t always know what they want until it’s put in front of them, right?
Bryan (23:49 – 23:58) – That’s true. That’s the enigma, and it’s like, when do you take the Henry Ford, Steve Jobs approach…
Scott (23:57 – 23:58) – Totally.
Bryan (23:59 – 25:18) – And a lot of times, you know, a lot of times, it’s not that complicated. A lot of times, you know, especially if you’re in a simple business like ours, people really want one thing. They want faster, cheaper, more reliable, smoother, less friction, and it’s not that complicated. So, if you’re in a business where you’re really inventing the next big thing, maybe so, but the reality is most businesses aren’t that way. The reality is that it’s a 20-mile march to success and you’re just making the one thing better and better and better. That’s how it’s been for us, and maybe we’re lucky in that regard that, you know, we’re in such a non-sexy industry that we, kind of, take a slow and low approach. That has been the way I experienced it. I think the myth of, you know, Henry Ford, Steve Jobs, like, these are some of the greatest entrepreneurs in the last 100 or something odd years, I think can be an excuse for founders to not do the painful work of sitting at a kitchen coffee table with their first dozen customers, face-to-face, and figure out what it is they want. Because the reality is, you know, building without that feedback almost never works.
Scott (25:18 – 25:19) – Yeah.
Bryan (25:19 – 25:45) – It almost never works. If you build it, they will not come. And you really do have to build it to what people are wanting, and what they are expressing that they want. The only way to know that is to just open up feedback. I don’t, I think it’s a trap to fall into the myth or, I guess, the romantic idea of you can just, kind of, like, ideate the next big thing without having to listen to customers.
Scott (25:44 – 25:45) – It’s rare.
Bryan (25:45 – 25:48) – it’s rare! It’s very, very, very rare.
Scott (25:48 – 25:50) – Exception to the rule, right?
Bryan (25:50 – 26:21) – And even Steve Jobs had, you know, evidence that they were going down the right path. They had BlackBerry, and they had Palm, and they had, there was evidence that this was the way to take the business. You know, with the iPad, the same thing – Apple had the Newton in the 90s, it was just 20 years too early. It wasn’t like they just dreamed these products out of thin air. I think that’s a myth, and you don’t want to let that, kind of, seduce you into locking yourself in an office, behind your laptop, and not speak to customers.
Scott (26:21 – 26:38) – Totally. There’s two ways of getting that feedback, right? One’s waiting for that feedback and that can often be very skewed to the negative, ‘cause people who are happy and satisfied often won’t mention the positive stuff as much as they like to complain. What are some of the systems you got in place to actively get that feedback from customers?
Bryan (26:38 – 27:18) – Yeah, in the early days, when we had less than 100, we just called them. ‘Hey, I noticed you signed up for GreenPal. You got 4 quotes, you didn’t hire anybody, why didn’t you hire anybody?’ – ‘Uh, ‘cause they were too high,’ ‘Well, there was one that looked good, but his profile looked like crap so I didn’t hire him,’ ‘I did hire one guy, he didn’t show up,’ I wanted to hire this one dude, but he didn’t have any reviews.’ Doing that over and over and over again, you’ve got to understand what causes people to not buy and, or, ‘Hey, I noticed that you hired somebody, and they came out and did the service, why didn’t you book them for ongoing?’ Literally calling people or texting them if they wouldn’t answer the phone.
Scott (27:18 – 27:21) – So many of those things sound like trust issues.
Bryan (27:21 – 28:47) – Trust, yeah. And we keyed in on that early on, ‘Okay, these people are having aversions to hiring a service provider through a screen, ‘cause we don’t have these trust signals. We gotta build on the mechanics to get those.’ We have to, literally, hand-crack and make those profiles shine, like ourselves, in the early days. Just talking to people really unlock a lot of insights. So now, you know, we have thousands and thousands of people using the platform, can’t call everyone anymore, but we ask people, still, ‘How are we doing? How is it going? I noticed you got mowed last Thursday. Tell us how it went, good or bad?’ Not interact with interface, literally respond to the email, and it goes into our box, and I personally look through these and I may be able to get a finger on the pulse for how we’re doing. And then, you know, we do other typical things like we look at the sentiment of reviews in the system – what are people saying about their contractor, are we skewing down towards 2 or 3 stars or are we staying between 4 and 5? Measuring those quantitative things, but not losing sight of the qualitative things, and taking time to digest those quantitative points of feedback is how you can understand if you’re pissing off people or making people happy. And then, also, in the open wide web, you know, if people are pissed, they’re gonna barbecue you real quick.
Scott (28:46 – 28:47) – Damn right.
Bryan (28:48 – 28:51) – Yeah, and that’s painful, it sucks, because…
Scott (28:51 – 28:54) – Everyone can be a keyboard warrior today and just say what they want.
Bryan (28:54 – 29:03) – Yeah, you gotta make a 100 people happy to get 1 good review. You get 1 bad review, you piss off 1 person. Piss off 1 person, guaranteed bad review, guaranteed.
Scott (29:02 – 29:04) – I reckon that’s a pretty good ratio, right?
Bryan (29:04 – 29:06) – Yeah, it’s a 100:1.
Scott (29:06 – 29:17) – I’m thinking about that when I go through Amazon reviews, or something like that, when I’m looking for a book – if it’s a 4.5 star, it’s good. If it starts getting, sort of, 4 and below, I’m starting to question, you know, is it as good as what it looks.
Bryan (29:17 – 29:19) – I believe it’s a 100:1.
Scott (29:20 – 29:35) – Going back to the service provider and trust part, did you actually help them, ‘cause it sounds like a lot of it was, you know, them not being able to represent themselves in a trustworthy manner alongside, I guess, maybe, the platform being new. Did you help train them in actually creating their profiles to be, I guess, you know, more trustworthy?
Bryan (29:35 – 31:16) – Yeah, in the early days, we hand-cranked the hell out of that, much like Airbnb did with their early listings. They keyed in really early that they had to take photos of all of their first 10,000 listings. We had to do the same thing. We had to manually curate our server providers’ profiles; even though we built out the world’s best tools for them to do it themselves, and made it super easy for them to do it themselves, it’s amazing, you can never underestimate the apathy of a user base for a new product. People are not going to invest in something if they’re not getting value from it so we had to do that to get to first base. We did that for the first, maybe, 2,000 or 3,000 service providers, now we have 30,000 users using it. And so, today, we have a more automated approach where somebody comes, contract’s going in, they’re quoting new business, it’s like, ‘Hey, you’re quoting this property, but you don’t have a headshot. Your quote’s not gonna be sent until you upload a headshot.’ And so, they’ll upload a picture of their cat, and now, we’re pretty good, we pass that to some AI, ‘This is not an image of you, you need to upload a photo of you,’ and then they’ll upload a photo of them, ‘This doesn’t look that great,’ we slowly but surely have made it to where you get indoctrinated and you make a really good-looking profile overtime because nobody’s gonna sit down and take 15 minutes to just do it. We slowly, kind of, get it out of them, but that’s taking us a sec to get there.
Scott (31:16 – 31:35) – Man, sounds like that was such a key decision point because, I think, it could’ve been easy for a lot of founders to fall into the trap and think, ‘Ah, well, that’s up to them to sort out,’ they won’t get any business, but you understood, like, this is the success of the platform, if we don’t help them get their profiles right, there’s not gonna be trust, no one’s gonna use it if they’ve had a bad experience.
Bryan (31:35 – 32:49) – Yeah, I have likened it to ‘we are a coach in their pocket.’ Our interests are aligned with our service providers and vice versa; when they make money, the platform makes money. And so, we are, kind of, an accountability layer. Nobody teaches us how to run a small business, nobody teaches these folks what it means to be reliable, what it means to look professional, what it means to follow up, what it means to be on time, nobody teaches anybody this stuff – you kinda just have to learn it. And a lot of new entrants into the marketplace are exposed to the lawn care industry through our platform, so we are, kind of, like a coach in their pocket to, ‘Okay, you’ve never ran a business, now you’re running a business. There’s 250K a year over 6 months, and you have this profile that looks great with all of these reviews and stats about your business, your customer testimonials, and things that we have slowly, kind of, built for you overtime.’ It took us a while to, kind of, figure out that’s what our role was, but that is part of the way we add value into the ecosystem. So, then, homeowners can hire these folks with confidence, kind of, off the shelf, so to speak, because they have this place where all of this information about their little business has accumulated.
32:50 – 36:06 – Removing friction from the customer buying cycle
Scott (32:50 – 33:20) – Yeah, yeah. You also mentioned something when we were talking about trusting before in terms of removing friction. Such a key thing – trust is one thing, but making the process simple and easy for them is also gonna be critical when using the service. How critical have you found that and smoothing it out within the service that you guys have provided? What are some of the, I guess, key things that you have implemented that have removed friction throughout your customer buying cycle?
Bryan (33:20 – 33:30) – Yeah, friction’s a funny thing because, it’s like a dial, and sometimes, you have to turn up the friction a little bit to get a good end result. Sometimes, you gotta turn it all the way down.
Scott (33:30 – 33:31) – For quality purpose, you mean?
Bryan (33:32 – 34:50) – Yeah, yeah. Because, on the homeowner’s side, you really need to reduce all of the friction as possible until it’s time to make a hire. So what we’ve done, when you come in and you wanna get quotes for your lawn service, for free, you just gotta provide 3 things – your name, your email, and your physical address. You don’t even need to add a password or anything, and you do those 3 things, you literally do them in 5 seconds, and then you don’t have to type out your street or anything, we have Google AutoComplete, everything. You literally do it in less than 10 seconds. And then you get free quotes. You can read reviews, hire the person you wanna work with, and then, once you hire them, and you’ve got them in the pocket, you then create a password and then you put down your payment information, and then we ask you for your phone number & then we ask you for, maybe, how big your fence/gate size is, maybe more expectations about what you’re looking for specifically, and things of that sort. We try to backload a lot of the friction. For service providers, we frontload a lot of the friction because we wanna, kinda, weed out some of the fly-by-night guys that aren’t that great because, if we reduce all the friction there, then, you know, Chuck in a truck can come on the platform and piss off a lot of consumers.
Scott (34:50 – 34:54) – Yeah, you’re gonna need to jump through some hoops to get the quality that you want and then provide the services.
Bryan (34:54 – 36:06) – That’s right. But then, another thing that’s, kind of, funny is we, last year, we built on the same workflow functionality for snow plowing and, so, you can order snow plowing on the platform. So we took the same approach and it was a total disaster because snow plowing is a mission critical thing, it’s gotta be done at the right time and it’s gotta be done on time, and there’s a lot of details that go into making sure that, there’s a high-failure cost. We shifted the approach, and really, doing a 10-page questionnaire, it takes 2 minutes to get through it, as the homeowner, to get your free quote because only then can we ensure a reliable experience from contractors so they know exactly what they’re quoting – how big is the driveway, how many car garage do you have, do you want salt or do you want calcium chloride, do you expect it at this time interval, and so on. That’s what we had to learn the hard way. We had to dial up the friction for the use case for snow removal, dial it all the way down for something simple like lawn mowing.
36:06 – 45:06 – Building the GreenPal marketplace from the ground up
Scott (36:06 – 36:41) – Makes so much sense. My head’s actually going back to the start of your journey, a question just came to mind. ‘Cause marketplace dynamics are very, very different to any, you know, we primarily work with direct-to-consumer brands – fashion, apparel, that sort of space, physical products. Marketplace, you’ve got to build the supply and demand on either side, simultaneously, to get off the ground. How did you do that, to start with? Was there a focus on one side? Was it simultaneously, was there, I guess, a tipping point where it starts snowballing? What did that look like, building?
Bryan (36:41 – 37:14) – Yeah, when you’re building a marketplace like this, you have to get both sides of the transaction at the party, at the same time. Most of the time, you’re constrained against the person taking out their wallet. Most of the time, that’s the harder side of the transaction to get. For us, the way, it wasn’t like we had vendors beating down our door to use our product, particularly ‘cause it was really crappy in the early days. It had no name recognition and it had no reputation.
Scott (37:14 – 37:18) – Particularly easy to get a business owner to put their name up for free to start with, right?
Bryan (37:18 – 39:22) – Yes and no. So, what we were totally astounded by was just how much apathy there was. We got, you know, a 100 contractors to sign up, just through sheer cold calling off Craigslist, and then we would send them free opportunities to quote, and then they wouldn’t take 2 seconds to quote their yard. ‘This was free business,’ I don’t understand how they won’t wanna take care of these people. So, we quickly began to understand that all the frustrations that consumers experience when trying to hire lawn mowing service were now ours. They were our problems. And so, we had to try to get into the psychology of the contractors’ side to figure out, ‘Okay, why aren’t they quoting and what do they need to see before they quote, and what do we need to do to entice them to quote?’ The way we kinda got over that was, I would cold-call these folks, and I would offer them free coaching services to grow their lawn-mowing business if they would just use my shitty product. And, that’s how we got the first 200 contractors to use it and to keep using it, ‘cause I was, kind of, a little bit of a known commodity in the region. I was one of the only guys ever to sell a landscaping business for multiple 7-figures. They kinda knew me and they were like, ‘Hell yeah, I’ll take that deal.’ I was giving, like, free mentorship and free coaching, and so, what that enabled us to do was, kind of, not worry about the contractor side for, maybe, a year to where we can focus on the consumer side, how do we get more consumers in it, and what we began to learn was that it was really a function of liquidity on getting enough consumers in the door. If you hit a tipping point there, then the contractors cared, but if you hit them off with 1 or 2 a week, they didn’t give a crap, they weren’t going to give it any attention, but if you give them 20 a day, now you got their attention. That’s kinda what we learned by doing the hand-cranking of it.
Scott (39:23 – 39:27) – And building that demand side, was that mainly online or offline or a combination of both?
Bryan (39:27 – 40:44) – In the early days, it was passing out flyers all over Nashville, Tennessee – that’s how we got our first couple thousand people. And then, we slowly shifted into trying to experiment with every means of online distribution we could. There’s a saying that first-time founders worry about product and building product features. Second-time founders worry about distribution. If you’ve done it before, and you’re coming back around and you’re doing it again, you almost don’t even, like, you look at the product like table steaks, you know that distribution is the make or break. While I’m a first-time tech founder, I can, kind of, understand that philosophy. Distribution is all that matters. Product, great products, table steaks, that’s your ticket price, but you’re not gonna survive unless you figure out some sort of way to bake in growth, distribution, and marketing into the DNA of the business. We made a bet really early on organic search that that would be our way that we can get people into the front door. It was a bet-the-company decision and, now, here we are, a decade later, it’s still how we get half of the people that use our product as they just discover us through an online Google search.
Scott (40:44 – 40:47) – So that’s your stable traffic source.
Bryan (40:47 – 40:53) – That’s it. You know, lawn-mowing service, Wichita, Kansas. You know…
Scott (40:53 – 40:56) – Getting super granular to a local level with the content?
Bryan (40:56 – 41:12) – Yeah, super granular. And not even, like, ‘lawn care Atlanta,’ I mean, lawn care, Buckhead, Alpharetta, Smyrna, Georgia… Yeah, it’s really, really, really long-tail. And you just gotta build all these things from the ground up and it takes a long time.
Scott (41:12 – 41:54) – Yeah, that’s cool. I love hearing that one. You mentioned snow plowing before, or snow clearing, ‘cause my head was sort of thinking, ‘Okay, where, growth from here,’ because you really figured this out for a specific niche, but could if you wanted to or got distracted by almost copying and pasting to other niches – obviously, not that simple, you have to build it up – but you understand what it takes to do it in this vertical. From here, what does the growth for the business look like? Are you gonna stay within this lane? There’s, obviously, a lot more upside to, I guess, lawn mowing in the US, it’s a big market, or is there any thoughts of, you know, looking at other verticals and scaling horizontally?
Bryan (41:54 – 42:15) – For us, I think the next 5 years, we gotta get this to a $100 million business. I believe it’s all right there in the lawn and landscape industry. We have to keep doing more of what we’re good at and we have just scratched the surface. It’s a $90 billion dollar industry in the United States.
Scott (42:14 – 42:17) – That’s crazy!
Bryan (42:17 – 43:07) – I mean, it’s huge, and I think it’s only gonna get bigger because, particularly the younger generation, really value their time and are willing to pay, not necessarily a premium, but they’re willing to pay real money to get time back. Whether it be spending, we joke, but we spend $55 on a hamburger from DoorDash, you know, that’s kind of the mentality of the consumer these days. I think it’s gonna get bigger, we really do, we think there’s expansion, and there’s a lot of white space for us in this industry. We did move in to snow plowing only because we have a seasonal business and it was a good way to, kinda, bridge the gap for the 2 – 3 months that the business goes down in many markets.
Scott (43:07 – 43:09) – It’s kind of tied to lawn, right?
Bryan (43:10 – 43:48) – Yeah, and our vendors love it. We really, like, they make a ton of cash off of the platform during off-season, and so that’s really why we did it, was to put more money in their pocket. And then, that earns loyalty during our bread-and-butter months, but we have no desire to move into home cleaning or home remodeling or anything like that. The thing you don’t realize is every business has a million problems and they’re all different. The plumber has a million different problems, and the electrician, then the home cleaner, then the lawn guy. We focus just on this one vertical and I think that’s why we’re one of the best in the world at it.
Scott (43:48 – 44:27) – I agree. I think it’s a space that will keep expanding. I think of it from a personal experience – we’ve got a bit of a land, I’ve got a big lawn, and you start, especially when you’ve got kids, your time’s absorbed, you got a business, you got kids – do I wanna spend 2 or 3 hours in the garden every few weekends when that time could be better spent doing things that I enjoy or value? Am I gonna get to the end of my life, look back, and go, ‘I really value that time I did the lawn,’ or am I gonna value spending time with my kids or surfing or playing golf or whatever you wanna do? For me, it’s a no-brainer. We get someone to come and do ours just because I got other things that I prioritize that’s important with my time.
Bryan (44:27 – 45:06) – Yeah, that’s really what we’re in the business of, is selling people back that time. And, on the contractor side, you know, getting to the long-tail of the service provider, they only want us to do 10 – 20 yards a week. They don’t wanna fire up a whole accounting system, and fire up a whole bookkeeping system, and Facebook ads to run that business – they really just want something turnkey. That’s what we’re a great fit for these contractors that do, you know, 2 or 3 days of work and put in extra 1,000 dollars a week in their pocket. It’s a beautiful fit for those folks, and those are better service providers for homeowners so we kinda, it’s kinda win-win for both sides.
45:06 – 49:19 – Key books & resources for mindset & mental framework development
Scott (45:06 – 45:44) – Yeah, nice. Look, as we’re starting to wrap up here, I still got a couple of things rumbling around in my mind. Something that really stood out to me in this conversation, right, is really the mindset and mental framework that you’ve developed over the years. Firstly, how important is that in terms of, you know, not becoming your own worst enemy? I’ve heard a few references in there that were familiar, I got a bit of Jim Collins in there with the 20-mile march as well. What are some of the key books and resources that have helped you develop that mental framework that you need to be able to do this and sustain over a decade or 20-odd years now?
Bryan (45:44 – 46:57) – Jim Collins is great – Good to Great, Built To Last, The Hedgehog Concept, The Flywheel Effect – these are just philosophies that are timeless in business. 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr. Stephen Covey, is a great book – I try to listen to that on Audible every couple of years. A book about managing my personal psychology through business is one by a guy named Donald Miller, he wrote a book A Million Miles in A Thousand Years. What that book is about, it’s about, to live an interesting life, you have to live an interesting story. And so, I read this book, and like, ‘Hm, that makes sense,’ and then I figured out, ‘My business is the storyline to my life.’ It is the thing that’s causing my life to be interesting. It’s almost like you’re the main character, or you’re the hero in the movie, in the business. It’s like the hero has to go through ups and downs, and the hero has to overcome challenges to get to where he’s trying to go and where he’s trying to take his people, and so, that’s made a lot of sense for me. Viewing my entrepreneurial journey, almost like a storyline, understanding there’s gonna be ups and downs, understanding there’s gonna be challenges, but that kinda helps manage a lot of the personal psychology, it takes care of a lot of the small stuff, if you kinda reframe it that way.
Scott (46:57 – 47:31) – I love that part. That whole story brand concept is something that we really tied into rebuilding our brand over the last 12 months, that we’re working on. The hero of the story is not us, it’s not me, it’s not the founders, it’s our customers, right? Once you start understanding that, and it’s about their journey, where there is a guide, we’re just there to help them get where they need to go, such a big mindset shift. Sounds like something that you’ve focused on from the start, like, you focused on customers from Day 1, understanding that. Any parting thoughts that you think we haven’t covered today that you’d like to share with the audience?
Bryan (47:31 – 48:14) – Yeah, you know, a lot of times when you’re evaluating, like, ‘Should I start a business,’ or ‘Should I keep running this business,’ or whatever, I have felt this before. You can feel like you missed it. You can feel like, you know, I missed cloud computing, or I missed gig economy, or I missed crypto, or I missed the creator economy, or I missed whatever the brand is for the trend they’ve given it, I miss web 3 or whatever; reality is that it’s always going to get bigger, particularly software. If you think software’s gonna be here 100 years from now, well, then, like, we’re in year 20, so it’s always gonna get bigger and bigger and bigger and bigger. You didn’t miss it, it’s literally, like, still the first inning so get in the game.
Scott (48:14 – 48:15) – Totally, totally.
Bryan (48:15 – 48:26) – Put me in the game, coach, ‘cause only when you’re in the game can you win. Stop procrastinating and get in the game. That would be, like, something that I’ve had to remind myself of and I would share with your people.
Scott (48:26 – 48:46) – I couldn’t agree more. I think when you zoom out and look at where we’re at, in terms of the tech industry and the information age, it’s like, the early 1900s for the Industrial Age, or probably even, like, this is really gonna craft the future for us as humanity – not looking about the next 1 – 2 years, or what you’ve missed…
Bryan (48:46 – 48:47) – I agree.
Scott (48:47 – 48:52) – But thinking 10, 20, 30 years down the track, I think, things that we can’t even imagine are gonna be normal for us.
Bryan (48:52 – 48:54) – And you wanna be a part of it.
Scott (48:54 – 49:15) – Yeah, 100%. Bryan, absolutely loved this conversation today! I think I’d love to get you back on another time and, maybe, just even focus on the entrepreneurial mindset side of things, ‘cause I think there’s so much we can take away from that and your clarity of thinking and how you approach business – amazing conversation! Thank you so much for joining us, man!
Bryan (49:15 – 49:17) – Yeah, thanks for having me on, Scott. I appreciate it!
Scott (49:17 – 49:19) – Our pleasure.
49:19 – 50:14 – Episode Outro
Scott (49:19 – 50:14) – Thanks again for tuning to this episode of the Growth & Greatness eCommerce Podcast. I hope you got a ton of value out of this episode and if you did, we’d love for you to leave us a review on your platform of choice and help us reach as many people as we can. Now, if you’re a brand founder, an eCommerce entrepreneur, or an in-house marketing manager looking to accelerate your growth this year, reach out to us at Right Hook Digital. We’re a performance branding agency and we specialize in partnering with eCommerce brands to help them hit their growth goals with maximum ROI. Now, if this sounds like a solution that you need, then check us out at righthookdigital.com and schedule a call with our client partnerships team. They’d love to have a chat with you and see how we can help you grow.