This week’s Misfit Entrepreneur is Bryan Clayton. Bryan created the “Uber of Lawncare,” GreenPal. It is a company that makes it easy to connect homeowners with lawn care professionals with the touch of a button. Bryan and his team built the company from scratch to over $20 million in revenue, serving 300,000+ customers in just a few years and their story has been featured everywhere from entrepreneur magazine to INC and Harvard Business Review. Prior to GreenPal, Bryan founded Peachtree Inc, and grew it to $10 million before it was acquired.
For anyone out there who has had a good idea for a business, but didn’t act on it because they weren’t sure how to make it a reality or didn’t have the experience needed to do it, Bryan is proof that it is absolutely possible. In fact, it is probably easier than you think. And that is why I brought Bryan on – to share how it is possible and what he learned in making GreenPal a reality.
@BryanMClayton on Instagram
Bryan wants you to know that if he can do it, you can do it. He’s spent 22 years as an entrepreneur in one industry, lawn care. He started a lawnmowing business in high school and continued to build it through college and then over the period of 15 years built it to over $10 million in revenue. He sold it in 2013.
He took some time off and after a while started to look at what to do next. He thought there should be an app to make it easier for people find lawn care professionals. He didn’t know what he didn’t know and over the last 10 years has built GreenPal.
Talk to us about how you did it and figure things out…
- Startups and entrepreneurship are less like chess and more like poker. Chess is more of a logical series of moves that lead to a result vs. a smart bet and playing risk vs. reward in poker.
- In the early days, they tried to outsource the coding and it failed. They had spent almost $200k getting the company going and had nothing to show for it, so they bit the bullet and decided to learn to code themselves.
- They went to a coding bootcamp and learned the basics which helped them create the second version.
Biggest lessons from building your businesses?
- Startups fail, but entrepreneurs don’t.
- As a founder, you will need to have flexible persistence going from one failure to the next without a loss of enthusiasm.
- Think of it like an old school video game where you have to figure how to get through one level at a time. It’s the same in business.
- Small incremental wins add up over time to a big business.
What did you do to help you grow in your business that other could use?
- First time founders worry about product and second time founders worry about distribution.
- The most important strategy is how to get people in the door.
- He learned quickly with GreenPal that if you build it, they will NOT come.
- He had to create a customer acquisition and development strategy.
- First, he went old school like he did in his previous business putting flyers on doors.
- This got them a couple hundred users.
- Second, you have to get out of the building and go talk to your users. Delight them.
- They went on a mission to meet people at coffee shops, etc. and ask them how they find lawn care services. Google search was most prevalent, so that is where they put their efforts to gain visibility.
- They had to learn SEO and organic search and put the bulk of their resources into it. It started to work, and signups began to grow.
Talk to us about how you did your SEO and organic search strategy vs. buying ads…
- Google AdWords and Google Search get conflated. They are different.
- It is one thing to pay, another for Google to rank you as #1 organically.
- It is tough.
- There is competition everywhere. You have to build it from the bottom up. Start small.
- They focused on local communities and ranking #1 in those areas – the small little towns that were suburbs around the main city and eventually, they began to be ranked for the larger city itself.
- Launching a market is launching all the little towns around it.
What did you do that got you noticed?
- On page (content). They created guides on the best lawn care services in each township. The best content possible.
- Technical: Page load and URL structure, key words, indexable, etc.
- Backlinks: Who talking about this website or page? They would reach out to local reporters of the small-town magazines and give them stories as they launched in their area. Test, then invest. You need to do it yourself before you build out the processes and teach others.
How do you start a business with no money?
- Even with no money, you have asset and resources you can put to work. Many times, they are in your mind.
- As you start to get money into the business, the key is to be a good capital allocator to invest back into the business.
- The least you can live on, the greater your options in a startup gutting it out with no outside capital.
- You are your business as a founder and the business needs to come first when it comes to money.
- The first couple of years will be tough.
Talk to us about playing the long game?
- Genius gets mistaken for consistency.
- There are very, very few overnight successes.
- People don’t see all of the work that happened, many time for years, before the success is known.
- Success is a cumulation of work over years.
Thoughts from your experience selling and exiting a business?
- It’s the dream and it’s hard to do well.
- Work a 5-year exit strategy plan.
- Things like EBITA growth and systems are key to selling.
- Read the book Built to Sell.
- Many times, the time business owners try to sell are when they or the business is in its worst shape.
- Face and fix the things you don’t want to deal with.
- You want to sell when things are at their best and you’ve optimized. Sell your business when you are in love with and would hate to see it go.
What should people know about the lawn and landscape industry?
- You can learn so much running a small service-based business in a couple years than in a year of classes.
- It is also a great place to get your first exit under your belt. You can start a little service business, built it up to $500k or $1 mil and sell it.
- At the 40 min mark, Bryan shares his message to people who think they can’t do it…
Best Quote: Genius gets mistaken for consistency. There are very, very few overnight successes.
Bryan's Misfit 3:
- Spend less time on things that don’t matter.
- Know when to delegate and when not to delegate. Delegate from a standpoint of stewardship.
- Are you going to be a fox or a hedgehog from Good to Great? The fox is flashier in style and the hedgehog just keeps it head down and works one to two things really well. Pick which one you are.
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