I’d do less marketing and more talking to customers.
Ryan Farley is a Co-founder of LawnStarter, a national marketplace for lawn care service. Previously, he worked at Capital One after graduating from Virginia Tech with a degree in mechanical engineering.
Ryan’s current focus is heading the growth and analytics team at LawnStarter. His scrappy marketing tactics have been featured in Inc., Growth Hackers and The Huffington Post. In 2014, Ryan moved to Austin, TX, from Richmond, VA, to participate in the Techstars accelerator program. In his free time, Ryan enjoys teaching his dog new tricks; reading; and writing on his blog, which you can check out here.
Where did the idea for LawnStarter come from?
LawnStarter started when we were helping a friend start a lawn care company. The technology available to help lawn care companies operate wasn’t very good, and customers had grown used to a 20th century experience. It was a giant industry ripe with opportunity.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I wake up around 6, check email from the night before, make coffee, then read and typically do a little light work. Mornings are great for unstructured work, as I always wake up with ideas that I’ve been sleeping on. Sometimes I’ll just wake up with an idea of how to solve a problem, or how to do some sort of analysis.
Around 9, I walk to the office with my dog Trevor, typically either listening to an audiobook or bro-country music. Then I have my morning standup, and typically spend afternoons in meetings or working collaboratively, with a one-hour trip to the gym in there. When evening rolls around, I get in the zone and work on my individual work, as people start to leave the office around then.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Walking around outside just to think about something, then whiteboarding to flesh it out. If it’s for a product, putting together a mockup in Balsamiq.
What’s one trend that really excites you?
I’m excited that brands are becoming journalists. I think the internet definitely lowered the standards for journalism; display ads don’t make as much money as they used to, so you can pay only so much to produce quality content. Thus, you end up with sensational headlines, clickbait and outrage culture that we all roll our eyes at but we all consume.
However, when brands produce content, they don’t care about the paltry sums of revenue that display ads could generate; they care about the sales and the brand awareness they are getting. And as more brands catch on, the environment becomes more competitive. Long term, the highest quality will win out. At least that’s what I hope; it could easily go another direction.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
Saving fun work for weekends. Despite all the BS you read about work-life balance, weekend work is a reality for nearly every startup founder I know. I like to save the most entertaining projects for the weekends, even if they aren’t the top priority at that point in time. It keeps me sane, and I genuinely look forward to a day without distraction so I can work on fun work.
What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?
I’ve never really had a bad job. But I was a mechanical engineering major, and that sucked. It was boring as hell and not practical, and involved a lot of pointless, redundant busywork. I learned that classrooms are not an effective place for me to learn.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
I’d do less marketing and more talking to customers. At LawnStarter, we started off by passing out flyers and buying ads, which was fine, but I wish we’d talked to the people who responded.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
I respond to almost every email with an average response time of less than five minutes, aside from sales emails. Awhile back, I noticed that lots of super busy people — like really, really busy people — always seemed to respond quickly to me, and that made me really appreciate them. So I’m hoping that others will feel that about me. Plus, it causes me far less stress, as I never have an email backlog.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.
Content marketing outside the scope of our core business. As I wrote in this article about content marketing in a boring industry, we not only write informative guides about lawn care, but we produce content that is interesting to our audience and tangentially related to our brand. Examples include infographics about city population growth and rankings of college lawns.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
I’ve done a lot of chasing shiny objects. For example, this past spring I spent a lot of time trying out new marketing channels, whereas I should have been doubling down on the things that have been working for us from the beginning. The new channels didn’t work that well, and I left money on the table by not optimizing the existing channels.
Now I like to take a step back and calculate the ROI of the various options in an Excel model to help prioritize. And I save shiny-object time for weekends.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I’d love for someone to really nail multichannel attribution. There are some companies that attempt to do this, but they don’t do a great job. The ability to not only truly understand and segment your funnel, but to run A/B tests across platforms, is something only the most sophisticated companies do. I’d love to see a platform that makes it easy for everyone.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I recently was able to snag a $99 plane ticket to Nashville. We were just launching our Nashville location, and it gave me a chance to understand the area and meet with some of our pros there.
What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?
I absolutely love Google Drive, specifically Google Docs. Nearly everything I work on goes in there, so that everyone can see it and I can access it from any device.
Aside from that, Tableau is by far my favorite piece of software. It makes data analysis easy and gives incredible insights. Not to mention it helps the whole company understand what’s going on from a data perspective.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
Zero to One by Peter Thiel really changed my thinking. His ideas of definite vs. indefinite thinking changed how I think about problems.
What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?
Sujan Patel, who I have gotten to know over the course of this year. I thought I was pretty good at scrappy marketing, but then he blew me away. Anybody looking to grow a business should check him out.
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