Spend less time planning and more time executing.
Bryan Clayton is CEO of GreenPal an online marketplace that connects homeowners with local lawn care service providers. He is a serial entrepreneur having founded Peach Tee Inc. a market-leading landscape construction firm in Nashville Tennessee growing it to over 125 employees until it’s acquisition by a national service service provider. Bryan regularly writes about entrepreneurship, leadership , and start ups.
Where did the idea for GreenPal come from?
I have been in the landscaping business my entire life starting out by the mowing lawns in high school and over the course of 15 years time grew that into a landscape construction company with 125 employees and $8 million a year in annual revenue. In 2013 the company was acquired by a national organization.
The idea for GreenPal came to me while reading an article about Airbnb in 2012.
I observed how crowdsourcing accommodations was working well and knew that a similar type of platform would solve the problems I observed every day in the lawn care industry, especially for smaller lawn maintenance providers. I guess you could say that was my lightbulb moment.
Fast forward three years since our launch we are now live in seven states with 20,000 homeowners that use the system every week to their lawn mowed by a local lawn care professional nearby them.
GreenPal’s mission and the reason why we do this is to help small business owners in the lawn care industry just like I was in high school.
There are so many hard-working independent entrepreneurs in this industry that just need an opportunity and a platform to plug into. We are building the operating system and platform for small lawn care companies to run their entire business through.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
A typical day for me starts off by spending an hour or so answering customer support tickets. I find this to be the most important hour of my day as it closes the gap between my line of thought and our customer’s problems.
Or team is still relatively small so I’m able to have impact and input for all disciplines of our team . My personal focus is product design, however, I am personally involved in the engineering , user support , and growth strategies of the construction and distribution of our platform.
Our strategy to stay productive is focusing on one singular objective each week and holding ourselves accountable to the execution required to achieve that objective.
This way we focus all of our intensity on one goal and continue to drive the ball down the field with compounding results week over week.
How do you bring ideas to life?
There are six or seven different startups pursuing similar visions of creating the uber for lawn mowing, and people always ask me if I’m worried about them stealing our ideas.
What I tell them is ideas are still born it takes action to bring them to life. The user interface , technology, and product itself is a commodity these days and it takes relentless execution against well-thought-out plans to achieve progress and ultimately success.
We bring ideas to life through a repeatable framework on a weekly interval focusing on one action item at a time.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
The tectonic shift to mobile is what really excites us. The connected mobile world is what enables our platform to be possible.
We have a saying with respect to how users interact with our tools for our platform :
“The mouse is a relic of the past”
We learned this the hard way when we built a $90,000 website that we had to trash and rebuild from the inside out with a mobile first experience and mobile app.
Service providers are on the go operating their business on top of our platform in the field and homeowners that order lawn services in our system are doing so sitting on the couch from their tablet or mobile phone not from their desktop.
With that being said 95% of our user activity occurs on mobile devices and as such we have developed the entire user-interface with a mobile first approach.
Sure it works on desktop also however whenever we think of a new feature initiative we design into the mobile experience first before anything. For our platform the desktop experience almost irrelevant
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
How I hold myself accountable to get things done, stay productive and keep momentum is regularly scare myself..
I close my eyes and fast forward 1 year. I think about a year from today and things looking exactly as they do right now. The realization that in a year’s time my team and I have made little to no progress causes me to take action and also alleviates my fear of risk.
I call it fast forwarding the story, and it always helped me have a bias towards action.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
Starting my first company we picked up McDonald’s as regional client for their lawn maintenance, and it was a big score that propelled my business forward.
However landing them as a client was bittersweet because it turned out to be one of the worst jobs ever had.
Part of the requirement to service their lawn was to remove all the cigarette butts people tossed in the landscaped gardens especially in the drive-through lane.
My team and I will have to pick these up individually by hand crawling around on our knees when we will service the lawn every week.
In the end it all worked out because we kept them as a client for 15 years, however, the lesson I learned the hard way was as the leader you need to not be above any task and be willing to do the dirty work along with your team.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I would do a better job of managing my expectations, so often as excited budding entrepreneurs we believe we are going to take over the world in a year or two, however most of these companies take 5, 10, and 15 years to build.
Managing your own psychology will dictate 90% of your success as an entrepreneur and it’s best to manage your expectations when you first get started.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Spend less time planning and more time executing. Planning is an indispensable yet futile process, and as Mike Tyson says every plan lasts until you get punched in the nose.
You will learn 10 times more and 10 times faster by experimenting and doing things versus planning things.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
We have chosen the strategy of bootstrapping/self funding or start up versus raising outside venture capital.
We are 3 years into our journey have over 20,000 active customers in seven different states and we have chosen to self fund our growth and to defer raising outside capital. This year we have surpassed $3 million in GMV and next year should get to over $10m.
The reasons for this is mainly because necessity is the mother of all invention.
So often when entrepreneurs raise outside capital too quickly it that affords them a level of comfort to turn over key internal tasks that really need to be handled by the founding team members .
The paint speaking to customers on a daily basis sucks.
When you raise capital you can hire customer support agents to handle that pain for you however a smart entrepreneur still does this every day and let’s that guide the product development roadmap.
Staying close to your users allows you to organize and execute around priorities to drive the business forward.
When a team raises a few million dollars in a seed round or series A it enables them to personally distance themselves from the customer experience which ultimately causes death to most start ups.
While we get inbound interest from outside investors both strategic and venture-capital on a weekly basis for now we are in the nice position to defer those conversations till later down the road or if at all.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Somebody needs to build a tool to where you can search Facebook groups and reply to inquiries that people post
No matter your niche or vertical there is a FB group that you can participate in to contribute to the discussion, answer questions, and develop a presence to refer people to your business, often times when they are looking for exactly what you offer.
FB just also launched a dedicated mobile app to support their groups’ communities so now it’s easier than ever to manage the groups that you participate in, monitor the conversations, and participate while on the go throughout your day.
We have found this tactic to be very effective for our marketplace. We monitor local groups and neighborhoods’ groups , and when anyone is asking for a recommendation on a lawn care service, we kindly let them know about the GreenPal community. We track the success and 60% of the time we make a recommendation, they signup for our service
This tactic can work for almost any business in any niche, and a dedicated tool to make the process of replying to increase easier would certainly solve problems for many entrepreneurs.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
We have five offices in six different states and we have to manage our reviews and ratings across several different sites for each office.
Our favorite tool for this is brightlocal.com
It’s a comprehensive suite of tools as it also handles local SEO and review acquisition and management.
Since we started monitoring and being proactive about our online reputation we have grown our yelp ratings by 300% of our major offices.
My second favorite tool uses
The best way to increase activation at your consideration stage is to understand why your customer say “yes ”
The really is no way of knowing this sure… you test certain things with different hypotheses over and over again until you narrow down what works and what doesn’t but that could take a very long time if you don’t have tons and tons of traffic.
What has worked for us is installing intercom.I/O at our product pages and choke points in the conversion funnel.
With intercom we fire an invitation message to the user asking them if they have any questions.
What we see is we get 42% response rate from this message engaging our users actual conversation about their considerations for finalizing the purchase.
We then on a weekly basis go through every single conversation and divide them up into five buckets based on what the users objections are , their concerns and ultimately points for making the purchase .
To sell is human and ultimately people buy from people not from websites.
This iterative process has enabled us to cut down the time on testing and get compounding gains up-and-down our purchase funnels.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The discipline of controlling my spending living within my means and ultimately saving money each month is one of the hardest I know of.
When I was in high school I was very fortunate that my father gave me a classic book from the 1930s called “The Richest Man in Babylon”
The book talks about the concept of paying yourself first 10% to 20% each month’s earning before you pay any of your bills.
When you are forced to pay yourself first each month is acts as a forcing function to live within your means. This discipline combats the phenomenon of no matter how large our personal income gross our expenses and lifestyle always grow along with it.
The author talks about if desire to purchase something i.e. a car Etc you must first acquire the asset that will deliver the rate of return to purchase whatever it is.
I’m so glad that I absorbed this book at a young age because I practiced its teachings over the course of 15 years and have now over time acquired 12 paid for rental homes. Now I’m in my mid-30s and that is allowed me to pursue my dreams of building a successful tech company .
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
Jack Welch for his emphasis in rigorous candor with his leadership style.
Simon Sinek for his literature on starting with “why” with respect to nurturing your culture for your organization
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Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.