Lots of people get an “idea” for a business. And, for many, that’s precisely where it begins – and ends. With a dead end idea.
So, we decided to share how someone with determination transforms an idea into a viable business – and we ultimately chose to spotlight Bryan Clayton, the CEO of GreenPal. Through an app that he and his partners created, people can get five fast and free lawn care bids from rated local pros and then schedule and pay for their lawn care online.
Here’s what he has to say about his journey.
“My experience as an entrepreneur,” says Bryan, “has taught me that the most important trait we must possess to be successful is raw grit.”
Not sure what he means? “Grit,” he adds, “is when passion meets persistence.”
GreenPal has been described by others as the Uber for lawn moving, comparing this product to the San Francisco-based mobile transportation app. GreenPal’s beginnings, though, were not glamorous. “We launched our lawn mowing app in the middle of the summer in Nashville with no user acquisition strategy, and that was daunting. When we launched, we needed people to use our invention, right now, like yesterday.”
So, here was the plan: “Taking a page out of my former playbook of building a landscaping company, we started hanging door hangers all over Nashville. Distributing approximately 10,000 of them over many hot days was quite an experience for my three co-founders and me. Gene sprained his ankle, Ross got heat exhaustion, a homeowner offered Zach marijuana – no, he didn’t inhale – and I was bitten by a dog.”
Through this tried-and-true process of getting the word out, though, Bryan and his partners got the early testers they needed to try out their business idea and they learned two lessons “the hard way”:
- “We had to quickly become experts in growth, digital marketing, user acquisition and retention.”
- “I’m not very fast.”
The partners talked to their customers and learned, through trial and error, what they wanted – and, for that matter, what they didn’t want. Next steps included rapid prototyping and experimentation to determine how the product needed to look and feel to customers and vendors.
“It takes grit like this,” Bryan sums up, “to even have a shot at making it as a tech entrepreneur.”
Bryan has been an entrepreneur his entire life, starting in the landscaping field in high school and building a business into a 125-person organization. After he sold that company, he started brainstorming GreenPal – and, although he said his business model went from old school to digital, some things didn’t change. “You needed to have an unwillingness to lose,” he says, “and the ability to figure everything out, one step at a time.”
It took six to seven months to actually build the app – and then they needed nearly-instant users to determine which of their business assumptions were right and which were wrong. So, that’s when they hung the 10,000 door hangers. “This wasn’t a scalable way to get customers,” he says, “but it got us the initial ones that we needed for feedback.”
We wondered what percentage of prospects responded – and the answer is about 100 in that first month. Although that is only a .01 response rate, that was just what Bryan and his partners needed to learn about customer needs and wants. They met with as many of them as they could, and then created a second version of the app, based on feedback.
And, interestingly enough, what they learned actually disproved a foundational assumption.
Because landscapers would be bidding against one another on GreenPal to get customers’ business, they assumed that homeowners would appreciate this app as a way to get the “most reasonably priced lawn guy.”
But, that’s not what customers told them. Instead, they weren’t as concerned with price as they were with speedy service and convenience. “They liked that they could get five bids in an hour, read online reviews, pick one via their smart phone and even pay that way. They would tell us ‘I like that I can hire someone now for today or tomorrow’ and that, we discovered, is was what drove people to use our service. Had we not asked for feedback, we wouldn’t have learned that crucial piece of information.”
Entrepreneurial challenges – and advice
“As an entrepreneur,” Bryan shares, “you need to hold dichotomies in your head. You need a great vision, but you also need laser focus. You have to grind on, day in and day out, while being open to randomness and serendipity. You can’t be whimsical all of the time, but you do need to be open to it. You must also be open to feedback while maintaining the confidence that you know the way.”
Other pieces of advice include:
- “Once you know why people say ‘yes,’ then double your efforts in that direction.”
- Choose the right location(s) for your product or service: “We started in Nashville, where we’re from, and where people need lawn care for much of the year. We then went into Tampa with its dense population and year-round grass. The third launch was Atlanta with its vast urban sprawl – and the worst traffic in the country, which made our ability to source the nearest lawn guy helping both the landscaper and the customer.”
- “Whatever idea you have, if you’re doing it for money, then you aren’t going to have a good chance of success. The more you chase dollars, the more they get away. Instead, get an idea that you want to will into existence for a good reason. This keeps you from burning out and gives you the grit and determination that you need to make your idea work.”
Discover what else MP Star Financial found out when we surveyed entrepreneurs and, if cash flow challenges are slowing your company’s growth, apply for invoice factoring today.