Becoming an Overnight Success with Bryan Clayton
Want the secret to becoming an overnight success in business? Bryan Clayton shares his 9 year journey of creating the Uber of landscaping!
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About the Episode
LifeBlood: We talked about the myth of becoming an overnight success, how Bryan grew and sold a landscaping business, then launched a tech company, and what the future holds with Bryan Clayton, CoFounder and CEO of GreenPal, the Uber of lawn care.
Listen to learn the value of putting your head down, working hard and self funding your business!
For the Difference Making Tip, scan ahead to 17:01!
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We’re live blood. This is George G. And the time is right. welcome today’s guest strong and powerful Brian Clayton, Brian, how are you ready to do this? Already, George. Let’s do it. Let’s Let’s go. Brian is the co founder and CEO of green pal. They’re an online marketplace that connects homeowners with local lawn care professionals that have been called Uber for lawn care. Brian, I’m excited to have you on. Tell us a little about your personal apps more about your work and why you do what you do. Yeah, so CEO, co founder of a company called Green pal, which is the Uber for lawn mowing. So if you’re a homeowner, rather than calling around on Craigslist to find somebody to mow your yard, you just download green pal, put your address in and somebody comes and mowed your yard for you. We are a nine year overnight success been at this company for nine years, started off very humbly. But now we’re nationwide in the United States, doing a 1000s of transactions a day hundreds and 1000s of transactions as we speak, and doing $30 million a year in revenue and self funded, self funded the business off of its own revenues the whole way, which is a little rare for tech companies like ours. But before green pal actually had a landscaping business. I started mowing grass in high school as a way to make extra cash and stuck with that lawn mowing business all through high school all through college, a 15 year period of time built into one of the largest landscaping companies in the state of Tennessee, eventually getting it over $10 million a year in revenue 150 employees. And in 2013, the business was acquired by one of the largest landscaping companies in the United States. So building that first business just me and a push mower to me and 150 people, I learned a lot about business. And I learned a lot about the industry to where I could apply all of that to green pal, which is my baby now is a company I’m working on now. Amazing. Well, certainly congratulations on your nine year overnight success.
Bryan Clayton 2:06
You know what I think it takes a I think it takes two or three years to figure out what the hell you’re doing five years to get any kind of traction, and then a decade to build something that’s worthwhile. That’s been my experience. when when when Uber came on the scene Are you like oh my gosh, this this this is this is me just with cars is so funny. A lot of people are like, Oh, so you saw Uber and you copied that and like man, we were actually we were actually trying to make push a button, get the grass cut. About the same time Uber was figuring out push a button, get a car.
Those guys just raised an insane amount of money and put it to work wisely and move a lot quicker. But you know, it’s funny you look at companies like Uber how quickly they have have scale and taken over the world. What you don’t realize is like, those guys were on their second third or fourth startup like, like Garrett camp, the co founder had already sold a $40 million business. Travis Callen ik had already like crashed and burned two or three times and had two or three singles under his belt. So I think a lot of times there’s no overnight successes you’re always looking at like 10 or 20 years of experience plowed into that thing. You’re that that looks like an overnight success.
george grombacher 3:16
If you hadn’t, if he hadn’t had the experience with the the the on the ground 150 person landscape company that you started in college, would you have had the patience and the wherewithal to do what you’ve done with green pill?
Bryan Clayton 3:36
No, uh, you know, in this in this short, short answer, it’s like I think a lot of times, it’s helpful to solve your own problem, which is what I was definitely doing. I still am. I’ve had 15 years of industry experience, I knew how broken the industry was, I knew how technology and how the shift in mobile technology could could make it all run smoother. And and so it was like, that was my one good idea. And still is for a decade I have been working on my best idea and that’s green pal. I guess fortunately, I’m not too terribly creative. And so yeah, I think I I get this advice a lot. It’s like, solve your own problem. And don’t worry about a lot of these other companies that are that seem to be crushing it and what they’re doing, because that’s that was never your problem. You never knew that space. You never had any kind of secret sauce in that space. But figure out where you do have the secret sauce and just throw everything you have into it. And it’s been a decade doing it and you can build something that can innovate in that space.
george grombacher 4:44
I love it. You joked that air or you made a statement that you’re not that creative. It I’m sure that there’s truth in there probably but do you think that just that’s the lesson there is you probably have ideas that are coming in. You’re seeing Other companies, but just your ability to focus on what you know, you need to be focused on and execute every day, that’s got to be a huge thing,
there’s so few things that you have within your control, particularly in the early days, and one of them is your focus. And one of them is to not pay attention to the, to the shiny objects and to stay the course on what you know is working and is do more of that. And for us has definitely been the case it’s, it’s its fundamentals, it’s doing the hard things day in day out, making whatever it is, is working better and better and better. And just staying the course on that as been like one of our superpowers, I guess you could say, in a world of like all bright shiny objects, you know, whether it be the next big thing and then you you ditch this thing that you have two years of attraction on to go chase the next big thing, you just go from thing to thing, and you never actually make any material progress any one of them. I think in like this new world of entrepreneurship, we have the, the the idea of the pivot, and the this it’s romanticized, that you can just pivot your way to success, I think sometimes gets gets a little bastardized to be honest. And and, and a lot of times people use the pivot as an excuse to give up when it’s just starting to work, and an excuse to not have to really do the hard work, you know, like somebody’s got to sit down on a Sunday and write out those blog posts and manage that your Instagram and and do the outreach. The journalists like who’s gonna do that hard work? Well, it’s you The founder. And I think the pivot has been this thing. It’s like, well, it just didn’t like take off on its own. And it’s not a huge breakout, therefore, I’m going to pivot when in fact, you really just didn’t want to put in the three years of grind to get it to where it needed to be. That’s I see that a lot.
Yeah, yeah, it’s certainly appreciate that. So it’s a it’s it’s kind of fun to think about Uber as a tech company to think about, really what these these days most most any company is kind of a tech company. But that green pal is in fact, a tech company. How is that? Obviously, you learned how to cut grass, you recognize the problems, but how did you get skilled up or knowledge up or whatever the term is to be able to do what you’ve done?
Yeah, in early days, it was very much naivete as an asset. I had 15 years of, I built a business just for me and a push mower 250 people, like 10 million a year in revenue. It was like the biggest acquisition in that industry in a decade. Here, I I’m doing all that. And I retired, I didn’t have to work anymore, which was nice. And then like, I got bored, I was like, Okay, I’m gonna, I’m gonna start another business, unless you’re a tech company, because I think that’ll be easy. And literally, that’s my thought. And I didn’t know, I didn’t know what I didn’t know. And so his naivete is what got me into the game and did like, I recruited two co founders, and we built the app for green pal, the Uber of lawnmowing. And, and started really understanding very quickly, wow, this is a lot harder than I thought it was gonna be. And I think the main gap was an is it’s like, whenever you’re starting a tech company, you’re, you’re usually inventing something brand new from scratch, you’re you’re usually inventing a brand new product. And there’s a big difference between running a business a successful business, like what I had within the landscaping industry, and inventing a brand new product. And with green pal, we were inventing a brand new product not to like make it more like complex than it is. But we were encouraging people to do things they had never done before, you had never pushed a button and somebody just summon somebody to mow your yard. As a landscaping contractor, you had never had an interface to like get new customers and get paid and schedule your routes and, and things like that. So it was new human behavior. And that was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be on top of learning how to write software, learning how to design software, learning how to distribute software, my co founders, and I had to teach ourselves all these things. So I think if you’re doing business correctly, you as the founder should evolve into a whole new person, every two or three years, the business in the marketplace is extracting the skills from you. It’s extracting the fact that you should like be leveling up learning things you never wanted to learn because if you’re going to make it, it’s table stakes, you’re going to have to do that. And so that’s certainly how it was for me the last 10 years having to reinvent myself from a blue collar entrepreneur to a tech entrepreneur.
How does that feel? Well,
it’s a It feels good in a way because you learn something. You learn that if you are sufficiently motivated, that you can learn anything. And so starting a tech company when you don’t have any tech acumen and if you make it you know it If you are like sufficiently dedicated enough, and are willing to make the sacrifices to get through those first three or four years, you learn something about yourself. And you learn to quite frankly not believe your own bullshit, you learn that, it’s like, I always thought that I wasn’t technically, I didn’t have the wherewithal to learn how to code, I always just thought that when in fact, that was just an excuse that I didn’t really want to, like, sit down and read the books. Well, when the marketplace is telling you, like, Look, you’re going to have to learn this, if you’re going to play this game, and you do it, well, then you learn something about yourself, and that’s eye opening. And then you really learn to not believe your own Bs, and you learn in a weird way you learn to learn that you can, you can acquire any skill you need to so long as that you are motivated enough. And that was what maybe three or four years of starting GreenPower from scratch taught me was that, wow, you can get like 8020 good at anything that you set your mind to.
Nice, I appreciate that. So I don’t know if it’s the right question or not, I was gonna ask you what was harder getting human beings to click on their phone that behavior? Or getting enough reliable, you know, contractors, lawn, lawn professionals,
really good question. Um, and it’s a really good way to phrase it, which is harder, because they’re both hard. And it’s like, You’re both like, asking, you’re asking for new, like human behavior for each side. So in a multi sided marketplace, like ours, usually the side that is breaking out their wallet is the hardest to get. And that’s been the case for us. It’s so you know, contractors, the up and coming ones, the ones that you know, just graduated high school don’t want to go to college. And and, you know, are looking to do a trade and the landscaping industry seems seems you know, desirable. If they just get started in the landscaping industry on our platform, they just they never go back. All the new customers they want is right there. All of the routes organized, they get paid in 24 hours for all their work, their marketing automation is just like gifted to them, everything is amazing. So they get it. If you’ve been in the business for 15 years, and you already have 100 customers, you’re not really looking to reinvent your business from the inside out. And so that’s kind of what we saw in the early days that we kind of had a sweet spot of service provider that we’re going after that said, the consumer side, it’s like, once they understand, wow, I can just push a button and get somebody come on my yard at a fair price. They never go back either. The problem is, it’s like people still do it the old way. It’s kind of like doordash and not doordash grubhub. In the early days of food delivery, like think 2007 2008 grubhub was competing against the status quo and food delivery people still called the Chinese restaurant, people still called you know, the pizza place for for delivery, they didn’t know they could have all these options to order food online on the over the internet. That’s kind of where we’re at it with respect to lawn mowing services, ordering a lawn mowing contract or from your smartphone. It’s like we’re not competing against other digital offerings. We’re competing against the status quo, because it’s still very much like minute one day one of of, of the like, Uber is ation of the space.
Yeah. Nice. What a cool thing. I mean, goodness, how how many states you in
nationwide now, we will of course we’ve had a decade to get nationwide. But we are nationwide, the United States, we spent four years just in Nashville, Tennessee, where we live, to try to figure out how to make the marketplace work reliably. But now we’re coast to coast in every state in every major city, soon to be Canada. We’re figuring out the nuances of that. And then and then UK in Australia for that.
Awesome. I mean, what an amazing thing to essentially help people have careers not that they wouldn’t have had a career before but you are I imagine just being exponentially increasing their odds of having a sustainable career when they sign up with you.
That’s why we do what we do. We offer a nice convenience to homeowners. Like you know, we say we give homeowners a high five but we give vendors a hug. We really want them to be able to materially improve their livelihood on our platform and that’s why I get out of bed in the morning and that’s why I’m having fun running this company.
That’s awesome. So what is what is next?
Well like I said, um you know, I didn’t have to start this business I retired when I sold my first one so I’m wired to want to be in the game I’m wired to like, like by default I’m always going to be working on my best idea and that’s the way it’s been for 10 years and so and that’s what got me through a lot of the hard periods to was was just Hey, you know, no matter what I’m working on my best idea I’m not terribly creative. This is all I got. Let’s work on this. And so you know that combined with I’m having fun is like this is what is what next is what’s next. Like I’m going to be on this business for the next decade. Minimum. We’re still We’re very much in like day one of, of making this the default way you get this chore done. And so I’m gonna keep running the company until I’m not having fun anymore. And then at that point we’ll sell it or get, get a professional CEO to take over. But as long as I’m having fun, I’m going to run this business.
I love it. Do you think that? Do you think that what you’ve learned in lawncare is transferable to anything.
The lawn care business in general. You know, if you’re a small business owner listening to this, or somebody who wants to get into business, I think like, a lot of times it can help to just spent two or three years in the simplest business that you could possibly even think of like home cleaning service, lawn care, business chimney, sweeping, roofing, pressure washing, whatever, they spent a year or two or three in that business and you’ll learn 80% of what you need to know about business because everything from like marketing to like organization, bookkeeping taxes, customer service, how to like use technology to like out hustle your competitors, all these things are true in the lawn mowing business or the home cleaning service or, or you know, construction company, you name it. And so it’s like cut your teeth on is one of these businesses that is approachable, maybe get some wins under the belt, maybe he’ll maybe put a half million dollars in the bank and and then and then start that big business. I think there’s a lot of people try to skip that step and skip hitting the single and they want to hit the homerun or the Grand Slam. And for me, I learned a lot about just the nuts and bolts of business in the in the landscaping industry. And a lot of that I was able to plow into starting green pal, it was just I didn’t have the tech side of it. And I was able to learn that and combine it. And I think that’s a lot of the reason why we are here today is that I already made a lot of mistakes already. And my first my first act as an entrepreneur.
I love it. Well, Brian, that was a solid one. But the people are ready for your difference making tip. What do you have for them?
Oh, difference making tip. Okay, so so we are self funded. We have never raised any outside capital. And one of our difference making tips was that we learned from everybody who had failed and who was crushing it around us. And so there was a lot of other Uber for x companies that failed Uber for home cleaning Uber for, for car washing Uber for laundry service, Uber for maid service, you name it. And we really tried to unpack what they did wrong and learn from that. And then there was a lot of companies that were doing well like doordash Postmates, Uber, Airbnb, Lyft Postmates instacart. And we tried to learn from what they were doing right, and to go one level deeper. I personally signed up to deliver groceries on instacart I walked dogs on wag and rover, I drove for Uber and Lyft I rented out my house on Airbnb I, I delivered food through doordash. And like I did that for a year, and I would do a month on each one of these. And I would learn what they were doing right I would take screenshots of every interface I would look at like how they would like real customers back in when they were falling out of the funnel. Everything from transactional email to customer service, like I learned so much from those guys on a shoestring budget. So I think it’s like a lot of times entrepreneurs like I don’t have capital, I don’t have access to capital, therefore I can’t do it. That’s baloney because you can let you can sit there and unpack what other people are doing and apply it to what it is you’re doing and do that on a shoestring budget and you don’t really need to raise money. That’s that’s a hack that we have. That’s my one like practical tip that I can give people.
Well, I think that is great stuff that definitely gets come up. Come on. Ryan, thank you so much for coming on. Where can people learn more about you? How can they engage with you and green pal?
Yeah, so life’s too short to mow your own yard. Just download green pal in the app store or Play Store. If anybody wants to hit me up. I put all my time on Instagram. Brian m Clayton does drop me a DM there. I hit you back.
Excellent. Well, if you enjoyed this as much as I did show, Brian your appreciation and share today’s show with a friend who also appreciates good ideas. Download the green pal app in the iTunes Store or the Google Store. And you can find Brian on Instagram at Brian M. Clayton. It’s br y a NMCLAYTON. Thanks again, Brian.
Unknown Speaker 19:22
george grombacher 19:24
And until next time, keep fighting the good fight as we’re all in this together.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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