Season 1, Episode 11
From mowing lawns to tech entrepreneur with Bryan Clayton (Greenpal)
About this episode
Bryan Clayton tells the story behind Greenpal, the marketplace for lawn care, and what he learned as he transitioned from a blue collar entrepreneur to a tech entrepreneur. We discuss the importance of learning how to distribute software, why you should “nail it before you scale it”, and how to avoid disintermediation.
Resources mentioned in this episode
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:00:38] Hi, I'm Sjoerd, CMO at Sharetribe, and I'm your host. Welcome to the final interview episode for this season. We'll do one more episode but that won't be an interview, instead I will create a compilation, or a review episode of what I think were the most interesting lessons that we gleaned from the amazing conversations that we've had here. I'm hoping to make it into some kind of, uh, too long, didn't listen version of the entire season, but more about that next week. For this week, we have Bryan Clayton on the show. Bryan is the co-founder of GreenPal, a marketplace for lawn care, which has an annual turnover of around 20 million dollars, a 100,000 active users, and is growing 100 percent year-on-year. I mean, this is an amazing story, I'm trying hard not to spoil it, but I love hearing this. Bryan started his first lawn mowing business at 16. He worked on that for 15 years, and grew it into a small empire, the biggest lawn care business in the state of Tennessee. Now for some people that'd be their life's work, but Bryan, seeing the rise of online marketplaces and platforms, such as Uber, Airbnb, Postmates, et cetera, he decided that this is the time to sell his company and start a new one. To build an online tech platform for lawn care, with his two best friends, none of them having any experience with building software. I mean, isn't that a, [laughs], recipe for success? I really don't wanna spoil anymore, so here is my conversation with Bryan Clayton on how they built GreenPal. Hi, Bryan, welcome to the podcast.
Bryan Clayton: [00:02:17] Hey, great to be here, thanks for having me on.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:02:19] Yeah, thank you for joining actually. I was actually quite excited about this one, because this is the first business to consumer, B2C. I've mostly spoken to B2B marketplaces this season. So, I was really f- looking forward to this one, and I always ask this first question because like well I'm not a professional interviewer, so I like a, [laughs], very formulated approach, but I think and in your case, this is actually a really relevant question, because I think it will add to understanding your business and the background. So, before we dive into GreenPal, and all the marketplace-specific things, could you tell us a little bit about your background before you started GreenPal?
Bryan Clayton: [00:02:53] Yeah, so before I started GreenPal, I actually started just a traditional lawn mowing business. My dad, when I was 16-years old, came into my room on a hot summer day and said, "Hey, we've got a job to do," and he made me, forced me to go mow the neighbor's yard, and he and I went over and cut the neighbors grass, and we made 20 bucks and split it, and ever since then I was just hooked, I was hooked on being an entrepreneur. I was hooked on owning my own business by the end of that summer. I think I had something like 10 or 20 lawns in the neighborhood that I was mowing, and I grew that little lawn mowing business into a real company, throughout my high school years, and college years. By the time I was 24-years old, I had 50 employees, and over a 15-year period of time, I grew that into an actual landscaping company, the largest in the state of Tennessee, over 10 million dollars a year in revenue, a 150 employees, and sold that business in 2013. And so I knew the landscaping business very well intimately. I had the scars over a very long period of time, and I just saw what technology was doing for Ridesharing, what marketplaces were doing for accommodations, and marketplaces like Airbnb and- and how Craigslist was being disrupted and, I just knew that a marketplace for the lawn mowing business was going to exist, and so I put a team together and started working on it.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:04:11] Yeah. So, that's great that you had this let's say higher-level industry overview that you just saw this coming, because usually I have to question like, "Well, [laughs], how did you get the idea?" But in your case that's pretty obvious, like when you set out to do this, what were the things that made you think that, "Ah, this is gonna work for lawn mowing?"
Bryan Clayton: [00:04:30] Well, I knew that fundamentally as a product it would work, because overtime as I built my first business, from zero to a 150 employees, my company changed from just a lawn moving business for residential clients, into a full scale commercial landscaping maintenance company, and as time went on, we no longer serviced residential clients, they just no longer... the economics just didn't work for our business, we were doing big large-scale contracts for apartment complexes, airports, commercial office complexes, things of that sort. But we would still get 20 or 30 phone calls a day from people begging us to just come mow their yard every two weeks. And we had to kindly decline those requests, and one of our values in running that business was to always try to add value, to always try and be helpful, and so we would maintain a list of small landscape service providers by the phone, and my secretary, or office manager would refer basically for free, these people that were looking for a basic lawn cutting service to a list of people that we had. And what we began to find out was that we were, in a sense, a connecting service multiple times a day, and we were just doing it as a favor, and a lot of times these people would call back and say, "Hey, I called those three phone numbers you gave me, but nobody would pick up." And so, it became to be kind of pain in the butt, but I learned just by experiencing that on a daily basis that, "Yes, you wouldn't think it'd be hard to find a good lawn cutting service to come out and show up on the day they're supposed to come, but it actually is." And, so I knew that this problem existed. I've seen it thousands of times over 15 years, and so I knew from a problem solutions standpoint, that it was a good idea and needed to be done. What I under-indexed on, and what I underestimated was, the difficulty of making the shift from a blue collar entrepreneur to a tech entrepreneur. I didn't understand really, he- the complexities of building software, marketing and distributing software, of what building a marketplace would even be like, I had no idea, and if I had known how hard it was going to be, I probably would have never gotten started, if I'm honest. So, it took two or three years for my team and I to really learn, "Okay, how do you design software, how do you build it, how do you build a marketplace, what are the nuances that go into that?" And it just, it just took years and years of trial and error, until we finally started to get some momentum going.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:06:53] Yeah, there's a lot in that story, [laughs], already, like, I would like to break it up a little bit. So, the first thing going back, because I often ask about like, "Well, you know, what is your MVP, like how did you validate the idea?" But you were basically already doing that, while you were running, [laughs], the other business, like you had like a sort of a no code marketplace going on there, with people just calling in and asking like, "Hey." So, that- that's- that's clear, but when you say like, "You wouldn't expect it to be difficult, but still it's difficult," so then we get into the problem part. So, what are the problems that you saw that GreenPal is now solving, like what problems, like what's the value there for consumers early on, sp-
Bryan Clayton: [00:07:30] Yeah.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:07:30] ... specifically?
Bryan Clayton: [00:07:31] A couple of things I'll touch on, you said, "No code marketplace," which is the first time I've ever heard that, and it's actually a good thing to consider. We had something very similar in the first two years of the business. We had a crappy code marketplace, and-
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:07:45] Yeah.
Bryan Clayton: [00:07:45] ... so it was a very hard to use product, it was very difficult, it was clunky, it was unreliable, and basically for the first year, our product was some crap that we cobbled together, and a little chat bubble in the lower right-hand corner, and basically, and it's since, we would hand crank everything. The introduction of the quoting process to the homeowners, by actually calling the service providers and making sure that they would show up on time.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:08:12] Yeah.
Bryan Clayton: [00:08:13] If they didn't show up, calling around like crazy trying to find a- a replacement. We spent three years in Nashville, Tennessee, trying to perfect the process of a homeowner signs up onto the platform, gets five quotes in less than a minute, reads reviews and looks at data about these services providers, and then hires one, and then they actually show up on the day they're supposed to do the job, and do a good job. It took us three years just to figure that out, and so we went from no code, to low code, to crappy code, to crappy product, and just rebuilt this thing a hundred times, and still even here we are seven years later, we're gonna do over 20 million dollars of GMV this year, and have over a 100,000 active users, we are still improving on that cycle of, "How do we get you better quotes faster, at a better price, and make sure that the service provider shows up and does a great job for you?"
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:09:07] Yeah, and you mentioned that it was a hard shift from like a blue collar entrepreneur to a tech entrepreneur. So, could you tell us a little bit about that, like where did you find the right people, what approach did you take initially, because that is I think a- a situation where a lot of people [inaudible 00:09:21], even if you're not like, "Okay", maybe not as blue collar as lawn moving, but we often get loads of people who are just in a specific industry, and they're like, "Hey, this industry that I've been working in for 20 years, could really use a marketplace, but I don't know the first thing about tech." So it would be great to listen to your story?
Bryan Clayton: [00:09:37] Yeah, great question. So, the first thing we did was, my two co-founders and I, who are actually my two best friends. We just started this business and we actually thought that our go-to-market strategy was, we were going to pay a digital development shop in Nashville, Tennessee to build the website and mobile app, and we would market it, and then we would just be off and running, and nothing was further from the truth on the, how it unfolded. We spent a 120,000 dollars in the summer of 2013 building the first version of GreenPal, and we launched it, and we had like six users to try it out. What we realized was, "Okay, if we're going to be in the technology business, we need to learn how to design, build, execute, launch and distribute technology."
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:10:28] Yeah.
Bryan Clayton: [00:10:28] We had to learn how to do all of these things ourselves, my two co-founders and I, and the first thing we did was we passed out over a 100,000 door hangers around Nashville, Tennessee, to try to get people to use this thing-
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:10:41] Yeah.
Bryan Clayton: [00:10:41] ... and I got bit by a dog while doing this, and I realized that 10 users per dog bite was not a scalable user acquisition strategy-
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:10:51] [laughs].
Bryan Clayton: [00:10:51] ... and so going through that painful process of grinding it out, and trying to get people to use the first version, we realized, "Okay, if we're gonna be in the technology business, we gotta really take a look in the mirror and understand, okay we're gonna have to learn how to do design software, build software, and distribute, most importantly, distribute software." When you're getting started, you know, I think a lot of new entrepreneurs under-index on the idea of how many hours it's going to take to get something from zero to one, and in the early days you have to put in the 70, 80, 100 hour a weeks, because half of your time is just learning about the things that you need to do, and then the other half is actually doing. So, in the first four or five years of GreenPal with my two co-founders and I, pouring over blogs, watching YouTube videos, listening to podcasts like this, taking Udemy classes, just learning the skills that we needed to then go and then execute, and it wasn't, if we weren't willing to do that, we would have never been able to get some momentum behind this thing, because if you're going to be in the tech business, you have to be able to build and distribute tech.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:11:59] Yeah. So, now we really going into the stuff that you didn't know about this, call it like the tech stuff. So, what were the things that you did know from your history that gave you benefit when launching this platform?
Bryan Clayton: [00:12:10] Yeah, we do a couple of things. We knew that it was hard to find a good lawn care service. We knew it was hard to get the lawn services on the phone, and to get them to give you a quote, and so we knew that in the traditional sense, if you want to hire a lawn moving service you need to get on Craigslist, Facebook, Yelp, ask your friends, and you need to just like dial for dollars, and you're going to have to call like 15 people just to get two quotes. So, we knew that if we could make that whole thing a lot simpler, and just enable homeowners to have a live connection to a multitude of lawn moving services to get quotes back like that, we knew that- that if we solved that problem, that we would be solving a problem for users to make them wanna try it out and keep using it.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:12:53] Yeah.
Bryan Clayton: [00:12:53] We also knew that reviews were going to be of importance, so we knew we had to find a way to collect those, and tie those to actual transactions, and to make and showcase those, and so that was in the first version. What we didn't know was, we assumed that price would be the most important factor with homeowners choosing who they wanted to hire. I just thought after spending years in the industry, how competitive it is and cutthroat that it is, that price would be the ultimate decision-making factor. What we found out, after the first version, was that price wasn't, it was actually, "Will they show up on the day I need it? Will they show up on time, will they be there," because when they come to GreenPal the grass is already three feet tall, they've got a dinner party this afternoon, and they're desperate, and they've already tried to leave a dozen voicemails. They've already tried to do this thing the traditional way, and so when they arrive at GreenPal's door, they've exhausted all of those things, and so actually getting them out there and making sure that they show up on time and do a good job was more of a thrust for our value proposition, than give the cheapest price in town-
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:13:59] Yeah.
Bryan Clayton: [00:14:00] ... and so that was one thing that we, it was an assumption that we had in the early, you know, in the first version that wasn't true, and we wouldn't have figured that out, had we not got it launched, got it into peoples hands, and actually spoke to them in their living room, at a coffee shop, did we come to realize that price was subordinated to speed and reliability.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:14:20] Yeah. So, great, because like now you mentioned two things like in the coffee shop, in the lawn mower, so another important thing and I think that most of the successful marketplace do is talk to the users. So, it sounded like you did that?
Bryan Clayton: [00:14:34] Absolutely. So, a lot of the hard things about building something that's never existed before, as Peter Thiel calls it going from "Zero to One," is that there's no playbook, there's no roadmap, you don't know what to do, you don't know what's going to work, what's not going to work. So, you do have to follow the lean start-up methodology and just try stuff and fail, and fail, and fail until you figure out what works. But one thing that can cut all of that cycle time way down is just by listening to your users, taking every opportunity you can to speak to them, making sure that you're accessible and that there is a pipeline, uh, from them to you. In the early days it was, you know, "How can we pass out those 100,000 door hangers?" We had a few hundred people using it, so in the early days it was very hand-to-hand combat style. We would beg these people to meet us at a coffee shop, and we would buy them coffee, and we would talk to them, and we would understand, "Okay, what problems did we solve for you, where did we delight you, more importantly where did we upset you, where did we come up short? What problems do you wish we could have solved for you that we didn't?" And this early feedback was integral to how we then built the second version ourselves, and we knew more of what to build. Now to this day we have hundreds of thousands of people using the platform, using the technology, and we have live chat everywhere, in every interface, in every screen, and it's mandatory that every person on the team that we have does at least three hours a week of live chat. That way they understand, "Okay, these are the problems we're solving, or these are where the holes are in the experience," es- especially me, myself as CEO, and also, uh, product manager for the whole platform, it's ingrained in my soul on a consistent basis, where we're coming up short, and where our users want us- us to build, and what problems they want us to solve?
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:16:23] Wow, that's- that's serious dedication. Yeah, that's great, because like, I think it's also maybe Steve Blank who talks about this like, "Get Out of the Building" approach, so that really pays off in your case. I mean, you mentioned earlier, also that you took a couple of years just in Tennessee, because what I'm always interested in is that most marketplaces they constrain themselves in one way, whether it's like by category, or product type, or by geography. But in your case, I mean, it's a pretty local marketplace, right, like demand and supply need to be in the same thing, so did you just start in Tennessee, or only Nashville, or in a particular town first... could you tell us about that?
Bryan Clayton: [00:16:59] So, ours is a local marketplace, so we are geographically constrained. So, you know, here fast forward, we're in every major city in- in the United States, and every one of those towns, cities had to built from the ground up. And one thing that we did do right in the early days, is that we read every resource we could, and one book that stood out to me was a book called, "Nail It Then Scale It," and I knew that we needed to nail the playbook in our hometown first, before we went to other cities. And it was excruciatingly tough, because it was slow. I mean, not that you gotta understand like my personal psychology, I went from, er, you know, running a business 10 million dollars a year, you know, doing big contracts, telling people, "We don't wanna mow your grass," to now I gotta software product, like, "Hey, can we mow your grass please? Try this thing." And it was so, it was humbling for me. It was a really good exercise for me. And so, we knew that we had to make it work in Nashville consistently, and reliably before we tried to go to any other cities. So we spent three years in Nashville, and then our first market outside of Nashville was Tampa, Florida, another year there. And then it wasn't till year three did we launch another handful of markets. And then once we started understanding, "Okay, this is how we recruit supply. This is how we recruit demand sites. This is how we make sure this thing goes right, I don't know, 75 percent of the time, and this is the things we're doing to make sure it goes right 99 percent of the time." And it wasn't until we figured that out did- did we understand, "Okay, now let's start going fast, and let's start using the money we're making to fuel distribution." There's another great quote, you know, venture capital killed more startups than it does create, because a lot of times they pour the money on before it's ready, and it's like pouring gasoline onto wet leaves, or, to use another analogy, it's like putting rocket boosters on the side of a wooden barn, and when you move too quickly before that product experience is curated and perfected, it blows apart. And so we luckily didn't make that mistake. That's why we're still here today, and a lot of Uber for X startups and marketplaces are- are dead. There's a, uh, graveyard full of those.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:19:13] Yeah, no, I've seen them, yeah. Could you share a little bit about those tactics that you used to recruit supply and demand, because, okay, we talked door hangers. [laughs], and like you said, "That's not a scalable approach." What were the things that worked for you early on?
Bryan Clayton: [00:19:27] Yeah, in the early days we didn't really have that compelling of a value proposition for service providers, especially in markets we were just launching new. We didn't have the liquidity. And so it was very much a nuanced hand-to-hand combat, hand cranking style of recruitment for the supply side. So, it's was dialing for dollars on every single person that put a ad in Craigslist. Every lawn care service that had a- an account on Yelp. Every lawn care service that was using Facebook to try to market their business. We could identify these men and women and reach out to them and say, "Hey listen, we're starting this platform in your area, it's called GreenPal, it's our goal to help you double your business in the first year. It's totally free to signup. If you make any money on it, there's a small transaction fee, but it's free to use other than that, and you can just try it out." That was the pitch we gave, and, you know, if you call a 100 people, you might get 10 to see us. And we just did that for years. And so we began to figure out, "Okay, these are the things that our supply side cares about. This is the points of our value proposition that they respond to." And then we could figure out a way to recruit these suppliers digitally. But in the early days we didn't know, and we didn't have the money. So it was kinda like, if you ate nothing but Ramen noodles that week, it averaged out to five suppliers per packet of Ramen noodles. Like, you know, it was just like, it was basically us, you know, at that point, and because we didn't have the money to- to pour into Facebook, or Instagram, to recruit these service providers. Now, we have a much more automated, streamlined approach. We do it completely digitally. We don't do any hand cranking on that side. And also we kinda positioned ourself as a brand in the lawn care industry. Anybody that- that mows drives for a living knows about us, and so they come to us organically. Now, about, you know, five, six, seven years ago, nobody knew who we were, so it was all hand-to-hand combat.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:21:19] Yeah, but I can imagine that, I mean, if you go into new locations, right, I know you're still expanding, right? I would assume that's going still to Craigslist, and the local Facebook things, it's probably still the best way still to acquire supply, or isn't it?
Bryan Clayton: [00:21:32] Today, we, thank God, we no longer have to do that.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:21:36] Okay.
Bryan Clayton: [00:21:36] But for a very long time we had to. We've spent a lot of resources. We have the best book that anybody can read to learn how to start a lawn mowing service. And so if you type into Google, "How to start a lawn mowing service," we popup number one. So, whether you wanna use GreenPal or not to start your lawn mowing business, you come across our resources that we have put probably close to 60 or 70,000 dollars into creating. And it is the best definitive guide to teach somebody how to do it, because I wrote it, and I've done it. I went from zero to 10 million dollars a year in revenue. I sold that business. I know the lawn mowing business as good as anybody. I wrote that book, and it's free. So anybody that is thinking about starting a lawn mowing business, they sometimes will come across our resources, and then sometimes they will signup. So, now it's a little easier for us, but in the early days it was hand-to-hand combat, dialing for dollars.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:22:29] Yeah. And then often when people discuss marketplace ideas, there is this problem of the repeat purchase, and if there is a steady service like how I would expect lawn mowing to be, there is a pretty big risk of disintermediation, right? So, or like platform leakage, or transaction going off-platform. Uh, how's the situation with GreenPal, and how do you solve that?
Bryan Clayton: [00:22:51] We don't really experience it that much, it's less than one percent, and I think that the thing to consider is, if you're building a marketplace and you're getting disin- intermediated a lot, it's indicative of a couple of things. One, you're probably taking, your take rate is too high, so you're taking more value than you're delivering. And it's as simple as that. If somebody wants to go outside of your marketplace, it's indicative of the fact that you're taking more than you're delivering, and for us, you gotta think for service providers, we get them the customer, we get their schedule organized, we get them paid on time. We make sure they know where they're supposed to be on daily basis. We give them a place for them to accumulate all of their reviews, and a place to have, a showcase of- of what kind of business that they are building. We aren't their boss. They're not our subcontractor. It's not like Uber. We have a platform that they plug into and can run their whole business. Not only that, but they're making a 100 grand a year on GreenPal, and when they started they had two customers. So it's, why would somebody wanna go around that? Now, you know, 99 percent of people get that, but maybe some don't, or they're short-sighted, or they just don't understand and we're, overtime we've been able to weed those players out, just by understanding, "Okay, we know that if you're a good service provider, you should get booked for the entire lawn mowing season 65 percent of the time." And so if you're only getting booked 10 percent of the time, that means that either you stink, and so that means you need to go, or you're inter- intermediating the platform, and that means you need to go. So overtime we've been able to collect the data and understand what the baselines are for good performing lawn mowing services, and sideline and weed out the bad actors.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:24:31] Yeah. Yeah, because that's actually, because that was gonna be... that's why I hesitated with the previous question, because I would assume that you are offering so much on the supplier side, er, as a reason, a value for them to stay on the platform. So, you s- mentioned that you've built a whole sort of backend for them, or some kind of like administrative system for them, or a whole service. Are you charging separately for that?
Bryan Clayton: [00:24:53] No, it's sort of like eBay for power sellers, Amazon sellers, Amazon store for their power sellers, Etsy, you- the list goes on and on. Upwork, come for the network, stay for the tools. I don't know who said that, but it's a good quote. So, we give all of that away for free, and that's part of the strong value proposition that reinforces the use of the platform, and it's make it s- as so nobody would ever wanna just intermediate it, if they're rational.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:25:21] Yeah. And what's the value prop on the other side for people to stay on GreenPal, like as a homeowner-
Bryan Clayton: [00:25:26] Yeah.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:25:26] ... I've booked my first person, why would I keep on booking?
Bryan Clayton: [00:25:28] As a homeowner it's- it's a no-brainer.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:25:30] Yeah.
Bryan Clayton: [00:25:31] When you do this in the analog sense, like I said, you have to constantly be nagging and hassling these people to show up on time. You wouldn't think you have to, but you do, and there's a mysterious condition of the disappearing lawn mowing service, that just happens. For some reason, these guys and gals go out of business, or they get behind, or they bury you to the bottom of the route, if there's rain they don't show up on time, their voicemail is full, you name it. So, if you just wanna basic grass-cutting service once a week or once every two weeks, it's a pain in the butt to get these folks to come out when they're supposed to. GreenPal handles all of that. The other thing is, you know, how do you pay this person? Maybe you Venmo them, maybe you leave a check under the mat. You know, it's the pain in the, there's a lot of friction there. You have to physically do something on a weekly basis. With GreenPal you just pop your credit card in, or debit card in, and it happens. So, there's really no reason why a homeowner would want to not use it, after they use it, because for them it's just like, it's the magic yard-mowing button, you just push a button and the yard gets mowed. Just like, it's the difference between using Uber and going back to like a- a yellow taxi cab.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:26:41] Mm, yeah, yeah I need to get one of those buttons actually.
Bryan Clayton: [00:26:43] [laughs].
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:26:44] I wanna quickly move back into the service that you provide for the supply side, because I was listening to another podcast, and you were describing there how the quote process goes, and all the data you pull in, and I thought that was magical. Like could you tell us a little about that, because I thought that was such a cool approach?
Bryan Clayton: [00:27:00] Yeah, yeah, it's our mission and our goal to reduce all of the friction on both sides of the transaction for getting quotes for your lawn mowing service, getting hired, getting scheduled, and completing the job and getting paid. We look for every single piece of friction in that workflow that we can solve to make it more and more streamlined, more and more magical. I don't, I don't know who said the quote, but good technology should be indistinguishable from magic. And this is the traditional way. We started here, we're here now, we're trying to get closer to magic. And the way that we look for ways to make that process more and more streamlined is, "Okay, let's harness all of the data that the platform is creating, and let's leverage that and showcase that to users on both sides of the transaction, so we can make this thing smoother." So, as a service provider, let's say typically somebody calls you off of your yellow page, "Hey, I need a quote. I live at, you know, 1532 Main Street, can you come out and take a look at it?" You have to drive out there, look at it, walk around, maybe meet with the person, write them a written quote, leave it in the mailbox, and it's, you know, hope they call you back, "Can you come out Thursday?" "No, I can't come out Thursday, maybe Friday." "Ah, I need it really done bu Thursday." You gotta go through all of this for every single person that tries to hire you. When you use GreenPal, you get 30 of these opportunities a day. It's right, you know, here, and you're presented will all of this information. "Okay, it's like, here's the aerial imagery of this person's property. Here's the street view of this person's property. Here's how many square foot their lot size is. Here is the average-winning price on the platform for that zip code. They want their lawn mowed every two weeks, and not every week. They are actually expecting, and a perfect job, they've indicated that, and they've also indicated that they wanna hire somebody for the rest of the season." And so we give the service provider all of this rich data around the service request, that by the way the homeowner was able to pop-in in less than a minute, and we're able to make this thing so much smoother than just doing it in the traditional sense, on both sides of the transaction. Then on the other side when the homeowner gets that quote, they can look at, "Okay, here is the service provider's quote. They have 98 reviews. They have five other lawns on Main Street, nearby you. They've been booked 63 percent of the time for ongoing mowings." You know, we have all of this data around the performance of that service provider, and that does two things, it rewards the good actors, and it weeds out the bad ones, and it also helps the homeowner make the best hiring decision they can for getting this one chore done.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:29:33] Yeah. Wow, no, because I was listening to the parts, because then you were talking about, "Well, you know, we pull in, uh, Google Maps, er, aerial imagery. The lot info from the municipality." Yeah, of course, like all that data is there, like why wouldn't you use it. So now we know all the value that you propose. Are you in competition with anyone? Are you in competition with the traditional locals, "Yes, maybe?" Are you in competition with other platforms, you know, Thumbtack's, Craigslist still, like how do you see your position there?
Bryan Clayton: [00:30:00] Yeah, so, and the simplest way to answer that question is, "Yes, we're on competition with the status quo." Unfortunately we don't have the mindshare around, "If you need a lawn mowing service, just go get a GreenPal." That is our goal, is to be in the English language as like Uber is. "I need my grass cut." "Get a GreenPal." And so that is our goal, and we won't stop until we are a part of the English language in that manner. But, we're a bootstrapped business, so we don't have the ad budget to buy TV ads and things like that. It's all still very growth hacky, and bootstrapping our way through liquidity in every market that we're in, and growing this thing on the revenues that it delivers. That said, the competitive landscape is status quo, unfortunately most people don't think to even do this digitally. But let's say they do think to do it digitally, and they do think to get on Google and look for a lawn mowing service, well then we do compete in that fashion with the likes of HomeAdvisor, Thumbtack, Angie's List. Those are like horizontal directories, and so, those are quicker ways to get a list for a homeowner to pole, but they still have to dial for dollars, and they still have to leave a bunch of voicemails. Some are a little better at getting some kind of transparency around reviews and maybe some kind of pricing, but you can't just order a lawn mowing service on any of those sites or mobiles apps. So that is part of the competitive landscape for us digitally. And then there's a couple of other players in the Uber for lawn mowing that are doing well, they have good products, but they are more building a better landscaping company. They are top-down [hierarchially 00:31:33] owning the entire experience, and the lawn mowing service provider is but merely a subcontractor. Our approach is different in the sense of, we're a true marketplace, and we give the service provider a tool set and a platform for them to plug into so they can then market themselves and build their brand on top of our technology. So we have a little bit of a different approach, it's nuanced, but it's very different than just building a technologically-enabled landscaping company, which we have no desire to do. We don't wanna be in the grass cutting business. We wanna be in the marketplace business.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:32:04] Yeah. Do you see in like some kind of network effects, especially on the supply side, like do you see suppliers bringing their existing clients onboard, for example, that, "Hey, can you just book the next one through GreenPal, because it's so much easier?"
Bryan Clayton: [00:32:17] Yeah, so around 30 percent of the service providers, and we have over 10,000 that use the platform, operate their entire business on our technology, and it's our goal to move that closer to 100 percent. And, one of the things that influences if a service provider uses our platform or not, is if they get started in the business on GreenPal. So, that's wh- who we really try to market to, on the supply side is, "Are you just getting started, because if you are, boy do we have an opportunity for you." And as you grow your entire business, you grow it on GreenPal's technology. So that said, that's a number that we're looking to move up and up and up is, "Okay, the service provider then runs their entire business on our technology. Then when they're mowing Mrs Smith's yard, the neighbor asks them to mow, they just send them their link for their store, and they just get hired right on the spot." That is not the use case for most of our users. Most of them just come in the front door, but we're also looking for ways to drive more adoption, or m- or- or what we call supplier-lead traction, supplier-lead acquisition, and we're building tools to make that easier and also, looking for ways to increase the percentage of service providers that use the platform to run their entire business.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:33:28] Yeah, no, that makes senses. So, what's next for GreenPal, like you're slowly expanding geographically, I assume, other cities?
Bryan Clayton: [00:33:36] Yes, so for us, for the foreseeable future it's continually going deeper and deeper into all of the mid-level cities throughout the United States. So, right now we're in every, to use a- an American term, every NFL city. So, every city that has a major league football team, or just a professional sports team, we have liquidity established in every one of those cities, but there's hundreds of cities that have a population of a 100,000 or less, or 150,000 that sit off by themselves, and they aren't part of a major market. We're now tackling those cities, and distributing the platform into those, and what we find is we actually have an increased value proposition in those smaller markets, because it's easier for us to achieve critical mass in every one of those smaller markets. So, it's funny like, in some cases a city, oh, with a 100,000 people will do more transactions than a city with a million, and that's counterintuitive, but that's just what's working for us. And so for the next year or two we'll continue to go as deep as we can in those markets in the United States, and then after that we'll expand into Canada, maybe UK, maybe Australia, other similar international markets, beyond that there's all kinds of interesting things that we have, er, on our roadmap for our platform, you know, doing unique things with Simtech and incorporating them into our business, and offering unique financing options to our service providers for new trucks, new lawn mowers, lines of credit, things like that. The fun thing about marketplaces is, when you give them rolling, you get liquidity and you get some momentum then it unlocks all kinds of opportunities, and that's kinda what we're at the cusp of.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:35:09] Yeah, and are you ever adding another product layer, like, uh, now we're talking just pure lawn care, right? So, you mentioned your previous business was more like top of the landscaping business, are you considering expanding into those kind of services?
Bryan Clayton: [00:35:24] For us, there's so much white space, and so much opportunity in just this one simple service, and making it ubiquitous to every household in the United States, and so we're monodically focused on that. Yes, we do have a snow removal option that homeowners can use, and they can also use the platform, after they've hired their lawn mowing service, they can use the same service for shrub pruning, mulch, tree trimming, things like that, but we don't have that readily available on the front door to just order, like you can an Uber or a lawn mowing service. That happens downstream after you've established a relationship with your service provider, and we'll stay oriented like that for a while, because we just have so much opportunity to continue to distribute this one magical experience and to everybody that ne- needs a lawn mowing service in the United States.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:36:12] Yeah, no, that makes sense. You've just described super, [laughs], awesome journey from 16-year old lawnmower to tech CEO. Is there anything, especially in the last GreenPal part, any advice you would like to give to people starting a marketplace, maybe like something you would have done differently, or something y- they should really consider doing?
Bryan Clayton: [00:36:32] So, the reality is around marketplaces is, I think it's still in its infancy for opportunities for marketplaces to- to attack use cases in the day-to-day commerce stuff that exists. I think there's still a lot of opportunity. That said, I don't think there will ever be an Uber for home painters, or an Uber for wedding planners, and so you kinda need to validate this idea before you just spend, you know, the next 10 years trying to build a marketplace around a use case. So, it's nuance, but I think there's a lot of opportunity, but it's not necessarily the case that a marketplace can be applied to every single thing that we do in day-to-day life. I will say this, if you're planning on starting a local marketplace, if I had to do it all over again, I probably would have raised money, because it's just so hard to get one of these things started from scratch. It requires a lot of money to distribute this marketplace into every single local market that you wanna operate in. Now that we're doing 20 million dollars a year, we don't need to raise money, now we have VCs knocking on our door every single week. I'm like, "Where were you guys seven years ago?" So, now we actively resist raising capital, because we just don't, simply just don't need it, but if I had to do it all over again, I would have raised funding to get us over the hump of the first two or three years. The other thing I would point out is a lot of times as startup entrepreneurs and technology startup entrepreneurs, we look at these grand successes, Uber's, Lyft, Airbnb, you name it, and we wanna map our experience to what we see and what we don't realize is, a lot of times that founding team is on it's second, third, or fourth try. They've already crashed and burned two or three different marketplaces or technology products. So, they already know how to do a lot of the fundamental things. So, they're starting on second base, or third base, whereas, you know, you're starting in the dugout, and that's something that I didn't know when I started this business. It took me three, four years just to get to the starting line, and so just be aware of that, don't beat yourself up if it's slow going for the first year, or two, or three, because it's gonna take you that long to learn how to do this stuff. And so, like don't give up, I guess, is the essence of what I'm trying to say, and manage your psychology in those first few years.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:38:43] Yeah, that's great advice, about the venture capital raising because do you feel that you needed most of the money for the tech, or for the distribution part?
Bryan Clayton: [00:38:52] For the tech, because it was me and two other dudes in a office with no windows, seven days a week, trying to learn how to write code, and- and write crappy code, and, er, we did that for three years. If I coulda had, you know, five million bucks, I could've hired a good designer, a good product manager, a good IOS developer, a good Android developer, a good front-end guy, a good back-end guy, or gal, and I could've moved a lot faster, but I didn't know what the hell I was doing. So, I probably would've waisted all the money anyway, so that's why when I say that, it's like it's combined with "Maybe you should crash and burn a couple of times, before you raise money." So, I guess, my point is made with an asterisk, like fail miserably on your own trying some crap, and then on your next one raise a bunch of money and do it quick, because I could do now in six months what took me five years, because I know.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:39:43] Yeah, yeah of course, and I mean it was a self-serving question as well, because of course that's exactly the problem that Sharetribe is trying to prevent that you don't have to pour like five million down the drain to get a basic product out just to validate, [laughs], the idea, but if it just wanted to make clear where the money would have gone to. All right, Bryan thanks so much for joining and for taking the time, any last plugs?
Bryan Clayton: [00:40:02] Anybody listening to this, doesn't wanna waste anytime cutting their grass, download GreenPal in The App Store or Play Store, and give it a shot. You'll get five quotes in 60 seconds, then you can hire somebody to mow your grass at the touch of a button.
Sjoerd Handgraaf: [00:40:14] All right, thank you very much Bryan.
Bryan Clayton: [00:40:16] Hey, I enjoyed it. Speaker 3: [00:40:19] Thank you for listening to Two-sided, the marketplace podcast. If you enjoyed today's show, don't forget to subscribe. If you listen on iTunes, we'd also love for you to rate and give us a review. If you got inspired to build your own marketplace, go visit, https://www.sharetribe.com, it's the fastest way to build a successful online marketplace business, until next time.
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