Ep 95 | Building Your Business from Scratch to Multi-Millions
I think what what causes failure for a lot of entrepreneurs, particularly new ones, younger ones, kind of millennial entrepreneurs, and Gen Z entrepreneurs is that they just give up too quickly. They don't realize that, look, it's gonna take you a year just to figure out what the heck it is, you're doing. Another year after that to get pointed in some kind of right direction and maybe a third year to get profitable a fourth year to build a decent sized business a fifth year six, seventh and eighth year to build a big business and a ninth and 10th year to sell it. – Bryan Clayton
What's the difference between those that are successful and those that aren't? Bryan Clayton is here to share his insight on this vary topic! He'll share how he took his lawn care business from one lawn to a multi-million dollar business, sold it and then started a new one.
In this episode you'll learn:
→ how to slow down and take your business one step at a time.
→ to remember that failure is part of the process.
→ how to trust your gut, take feedback and keep going
→ the value of surveying your audience.
Want to skip ahead? Here are some key takeaways:
[12:01] Remember you're in it for the long game. Even when things get tough, it's those that keep going that end up being successful. There aren't any overnight successes, even if it feels like it.
[14:54] Remember that failure is part of the process. You need to test and try things and see what works and doesn't before you can grow.
[16:42] People won't always agree with your process, your business model, etc. Each person is going to bring their bias to your business. Stay solid in what you're doing and develop a bit of a thick skin. Listen to feedback you hear that is consistent and be sure to listen to complaints that are common – let go of the ones that aren't.
[29:32] Talking to the people that use your products and services in the early days will give you great feedback as you start to grow and scale. Don't live in your own head with how you think your products and services are being received, get the real info even if it feels uncomfortable.
Founder, Green Pal
Bryan Clayton is CEO and cofounder of GreenPal an online marketplace that connects homeowners with Local lawn care professionals. GreenPal has been called the “Uber for lawn care” by Entrepreneur magazine and has over 100,000 active users completing thousands of transactions per day.
Before starting GreenPal Bryan Clayton founded Peachtree Inc. one of the largest landscaping companies in the state of Tennessee growing it to over $10 million a year in annual revenue before it was acquired by Lusa holdings in 2013.
Bryan‘s interest and expertise are related to entrepreneurialism, small business growth, marketing and bootstrapping businesses from zero revenue to profitability and exit. Learn more at https://yourgreenpal.com
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[INTRO] Hey, everyone, welcome to another episode of the digital marketing therapy podcast. I'm your host, Sami Bedell-Mulhern. And thank you so much for joining me. Have you ever wondered why some organizations seem to have a better, easier, more successful time getting donations or growing their business? Or you know why some organizations choose to throw in the towel and other keep going? Or maybe it feels like somebody just came out of nowhere, and they were an immediate success. And you're just wondering, like, how did they do that? Or why did they do that? Well, that's what we're going to talk about today.
I'm joined by Bryan Clayton, who's the CEO and co founder of green green pal, which is an online marketplace that connects homeowners with local lawn care professionals. He is sharing kind of what his entrepreneur experience has been like and why he feels like he's been successful and why he has continued to move forward. And it's a great conversation, I think you're going to gain a lot of insight. No, it's not a nonprofit. But the strategies and the thought processes are still the same as far as keeping going, believing in your mission, continuing to grow and just that misnomer that things are overnight sensations because they're really not even though you just heard about them. A lot of times they've been going through a lot of challenges in getting to that point.
So like I mentioned, Bryan Clayton is the CEO and co founder of Green Pal and green pal has been called the Uber of lawn care by Entrepreneur Magazine and has over 100,000 active users completing 1000s of transactions per day. Before starting green pal Brian Clayton founded peach tree Inc, one of the largest landscaping companies in the state of Tennessee, growing to over $10 million a year in annual revenue before it was acquired by Lusa holdings in 2013. Brian's interested in expertise or related to entrepreneurial ism, small business growth, marketing and bootstrapping businesses from zero revenue to profitability and exiting.
And he's going to talk a lot about what the experience was like of growing his first business what life was like after he sold it, and then switching gears completely from lawncare. And at the tech space. So I think there's lots of things that you guys will glean from this episode, I really hope just depending on where you're at in your business, what you're trying to accomplish, and what your long term goals are for your organization.
But before we get into it, this episode is brought to you by our digital marketing therapy session. So we are now almost through the month of February, about halfway through the month of February and halfway through quarter one. And so I hope you'll take me up on our digital marketing therapy sessions. These sessions are 30 minutes, we'll record it. We can work through whatever it is what your fundraising goals are for the year if you have questions about, you know, email marketing, about reaching out to your donors, retaining your donors, all those things, we can talk about whatever it is with your website and your digital marketing strategy to keep you moving, and keep you on track with your fundraising goals for 2021. You can book time with me at https://www.thefirstclick.net/officehours. And I look forward to seeing you in those sessions and getting to know more about you and your nonprofit organization. So for now, let's get into the episode.
[CANNED INTRODUCTION] You're listening to the Digital Marketing Therapy Podcast. I'm your host, Sami Bedell-Mulhern. And each week, I bring you tips from myself and other experts, as well as hot seats with small business owners and entrepreneurs to demystify digital marketing and get you on your way to generating more leads and growing your business.You're listening to the digital marketing therapy podcast. I'm your host, Sammy del mulhern. And each week, I bring you tips from myself and other experts, as well as hot seats with small business owners and entrepreneurs to demystify digital marketing, and get you on your way to generating more leads and growing your business.
[SAMI BEDEL-MULHERN] Hello, everybody, I would like to welcome Bryan Clayton to the podcast. Bryan, thank you for joining us.
[BRYAN CLAYTON] Hey, thanks for having me on. It's great to be here.
[SAMI BEDEL-MULHERN] Yeah, this is gonna be a super fun conversation. I'm really excited to kind of challenge people to think a little bit outside the box. But before we kind of get into some of the nitty gritty, and you've obviously had a lot of ups and downs in your career, you've had a lot of success, you, you know, really changed the mold. Like what why is it so important for you to really just kind of jump in and do things differently? And how have you found that to be inspiring and exciting for you?
[BRYAN CLAYTON] Well, I've never had a job. I've never had a boss. I've always been in business for myself. My my dad actually forced me into entrepreneurship. When I was in high school. He said, Hey, get off your butt. You're gonna go mow the neighbor's grass. Yeah. And he made me go mow the neighbor's yard. And ever since then, I was just hooked on entrepreneurship, hooked on business ownership, actually stuck with that little lawn mowing business all through high school in college and grew it to be a real company. And over a 15 year period of time, I grew this little lawn mowing business that my dad forced me to start to over 150 employees over $8 million a year in revenue. And I've learned a lot about how to build a business from scratch over a 15 year period of time how to build teams and how to how to sell a service and in truth that company was acquired by one of the largest landscaping companies in the United States.
And after I sold the business, I learned something about myself, I learned that, for me business is the thing that just causes me to keep going it is the thing that causes me to get out of bed in the morning is something that causes me to learn skills that I have no interest in learning and reading books that I really don't want to read. But it causes me just to be smarter, more humble, wiser, sharper, and, and without business without without that, without the influence in my life, then I kind of get stagnant.
And I learned that the hard way when I took six months off after after selling my first company, I was like, wow, okay, I need to get back in the game, I need to get back in the arena, because that's what I'm wired to do. That's what I that's my purpose. So the idea for green pal, which is the business I'm working on now, was just born out of kind of solving my own problem that I saw the 15 years running a landscaping company, I saw how hard it was for, for a homeowner to hire a lawn care service. And I also saw an experience how hard it was for lawn mowing services to make a living. And so I set out to build a an app to make all that run easier. And so been at this eight years, where an eight year overnight success doing $20 million a year in revenue. And so that's 20 years of entrepreneurship. And I guess the main thing is, is that it's the thing that causes me to keep moving forward to keep driving for keep learning stuff. That's why I love it.
[SAMI BEDEL-MULHERN] Yeah, finding your passion, I think is so important that energy, but I, it cracks me up that you said you, you know you took six months off, and essentially got bored. Right? We hear that so much with entrepreneurs.
[BRYAN CLAYTON] Exactly. It's like, it's like happiness. Uh, you know, everybody says, follow your passion. And I you know, I don't I don't know. I think that's so trite. I think I think like fulfillment comes from purpose. Yeah. And for me, my businesses have always been the source of that purpose. It is the thing, okay. Like, like, I'll ask myself, if it weren't for me, then x. If it weren't for me, then what? And and my business? Is the answer to that question. If it wasn't for me, then you know, the 20-30 people that worked for me wouldn't have a job, the 1000s of people that use my software that I have helped build, wouldn't have the benefit of it people, small business owners that use the platform we've built to to operate their business wouldn't have access to that. So it's like, it is the thing that causes me to have purpose.
[SAMI BEDEL-MULHERN] I love that. So I think it's interesting that you started your business in high school. So obviously, no real formal business training. So how, what was it like at that stage of your business and in processing what your next steps would be in growth? Like how did you know what to do in order to get more young more lawns and to kind of build that?
[BRYAN CLAYTON] Yeah, especially back then in the in the early 2000s, we didn't have YouTube didn't have podcasts, like this one, didn't have a whole lot of online courses where you can learn this stuff. So a lot of it was just trial and error. And I always just tried to observe my competition and what they were doing, I just tried to do it a little bit better. And so that's the main thing that got me through the first five years of that business. Looking back 20 years ago, and 20 years of running businesses, one thing that kind of makes sense to me kind of looking at from the rear view, is looking at business as though it's almost like a video game, and almost like treating it as like 10 levels.
And so like to use the old school Super Mario World example, if you can just look at business as Okay, I'm on level one. And all I need to worry about is get through level one, I need to get through level one and raise the flag at the end of level one, I don't need to worry about level eight, nine and 10, I don't even need to worry about browser right now I just need to get to level one. And so like that might be 10 grand a month in revenue, or 10 grand a year in revenue, whatever it is, like you'd need to define that get through that level, and then attack the next level, which is going to be a little more challenging, it's going to be a little more sophisticated. And as you go through the levels you you can kind of progress through and kind of slay the dragon at the end of each level by itself and not get overwhelmed with all the things you're worried about.
[SAMI BEDEL-MULHERN] That's amazing. And I think so true. Because we tend to see like somebody might be listening to this and hear you talking about how, you know, you have these very successful money generating businesses and think, Okay, I need to be there right now. But you've been working at it. It's not like you did it right away. Right, your lawn care business took a long time to get to where it was. And that's okay. There's nothing wrong with that. So I think that's a great way to process and think about that.
[BRYAN CLAYTON] Yeah, everything that's big start small, Every business has huge starts tiny and so it's and that's the way it's always been for me. When we when we started green pal, which we know we have several 100,000 people that use the app doing $20 million a year in revenue by selling grass cutting which is which is incredible. But the first several years were very, very, very difficult and challenging. And it was a slog, and they were humbling. And but to use the video game metaphor, we didn't know how to build a product, we didn't know what the product needed to look like. And so, like, level one, level two, I, I drove for Uber, I drove for Lyft, I walked dogs on rover, wag, I delivered food on Postmates and doordash. I cleaned houses on on handi and, and home and home joy, to try to learn how those products were crafted and architected. And to learn firsthand how these, these companies that were further down the journey than I than I was my team was, how they were approaching product design and how they were crafting these these marketplaces that were connecting buyers and sellers in different industries than ours, but a lot of this stuff carried over.
And that's how we learned that's how we got through level two. So we didn't worry about, oh, you know, like, we need this top class, world class designer, or we need this like, like, mood board of color schemes for our brand is like, No, we need to build a product, we're on level two, we need to figure out how to do that. How do we do that? Let's go copy others that are doing it. And let's get to work.
[SAMI BEDEL-MULHERN] So how do you because I think we tend to want everything all at once. We're definitely a I just lost the word, immediate gratification, right? Immediate gratification. And I think when we are starting a business or you know, when you're a nonprofit, and you're, you know, supporting a mission we want or we think like, we want it faster, because we know just like what you said like, if I don't do this, then then what? Like it doesn't support XYZ, or I can't hire people, or I can't support whatever. So how did you mentally and emotionally like, rein that in so that you weren't feeling like you needed to do do it all right away.
[BRYAN CLAYTON] Two different ways I approached that. The first is, for me, I try to look at business as an infinite game, as just Simon Sinek just wrote a book called The Infinite game. And it's, it's kind of what it's about, that your business or your nonprofit, or whatever it is you're working on is just the thing you're going to be working on. And it's like, it's not like I got to get this done in a year, two years, three years, it's just by default, what I'm working on, and and so you just, you look at it as though it's your life's journey. It's like the storyline of your life. And that helps you kind of reframe it.
And the other thing is, is for me, especially in the early years, I just knew about myself that I was always just going to be working on my best idea. And green pal was and is my best idea, I guess maybe I'm just not very creative. I don't have many good ideas. And that's what's kept me in it relentlessly focused on this project. But that's just what what has gotten me through a lot of the lows is almost always going to be working on my best idea.
I think what what causes failure for a lot of entrepreneurs, particularly new ones, younger ones, kind of millennial entrepreneurs, and Gen Z entrepreneurs is that they just give up too quickly. They don't realize that, look, it's gonna take you a year just to figure out what the heck it is, you're doing. Another year after that to get pointed in some kind of right direction and maybe a third year to get profitable a fourth year to build a decent sized business a fifth year six, seventh and eighth year to build a big business and a ninth and 10th year to sell it. And so that's that's the reality.
And I think a lot of times we're tuned into like the tech press and the business press and and you know, we see these huge, massive figures being thrown around billions of dollars and and things seemingly happening open overnight, but they never do. They never happen overnight. Even if it did happen overnight. like am I mean by a year to three years that you what you don't understand is and what I didn't understand is that that three years for that founder is like part of a 20 year journey, or 10 year journey, like they started and failed on two or three things before they started that thing. When they started that thing, they already had all of the experience, they had all of the contacts all the network, they already knew how to do whatever it was they're trying to do, build software or whatever. And so it's like you're not looking at three years, you're looking at 10, or you're looking at 20 you don't realize you don't realize how long these things take. And you just have to be patient, but also hold yourself accountable to to knock down goals and set goals you can achieve.
[SAMI BEDEL-MULHERN] Yeah, I think failure is a hard thing for people to understand, like successful people. There's not a single successful person that you can look at in any industry that doesn't have a few failures under their belt and that's how you learn.
[BRYAN CLAYTON] Oh, yeah, I mean, the Bill Gates. Yeah, one of his quotes is a “success as a horrible teacher.” And it is you only learn from things that don't work. You learned from things that just didn't didn't click. And that's how you stumble onto the things that do work. And, and I mean, that's just that's just table stakes for anybody starting a business, you have to be, like relentlessly focus and perseverance without a loss of enthusiasm, just going from failure to failure. That's just what it takes.
[SAMI BEDEL-MULHERN] When I started my business four years ago, and I agree with your timeline 100%. I mean, I could have thrown in the towel so many times, because there were months where it was like, you know, I'm never gonna get another client, like, what am I doing, but it's literally taken me four years, like, in my fourth year, where I mean, we provided all sorts of services in the digital marketing space, but like, this year is the first year where I'm like, I got, like, I know exactly what I'm doing, I know exactly who I'm talking to, you know, so take time to develop all of those things. And had I not provided some services that I don't do anymore, just because they don't light me up anymore, I wouldn't know. Like, I wouldn't be where I'm at, if I would have quit, then I wouldn't be where I'm at and growing. So I love that you bring bring that up,
[BRYAN CLAYTON] Absolutely just get started, get working on something, learn, rinse and repeat. And, and, and don't give up. That's how I think you win in business.
[SAMI BEDEL-MULHERN] So you also don't become successful without running into a bunch of people that don't agree with what you're doing the approach that you're taking, don't think it's a good idea, whatever. So I'm sure you've had quite a few of those throughout your whole journey. I mean, what do you say to people? Like, how did you work through people not believing in what you're doing or not agreeing with the way we're approaching things.
[BRYAN CLAYTON] You know, starting a business is one of the most humbling things you can do. Because the marketplace, just give is a relentless river of feedback. And it's unbiased, it doesn't care who you are, like, you know, your mom or your best friend is going to, like give you advice or feedback. And it's going to be like skewed because they they don't want to hurt your feelings, but the marketplace doesn't care. And it's going to give you just true, unbiased, unvarnished feedback. And that's one of the beautiful things about business. And, you know, you like you look at you.
Like, for instance, like, like race horses, like, they have those blinders on either side of their head. And they end like, the reason why they have that is because if they if the horse looks left or right, and even cares about what's happening to the left or right of it, it's gonna, like make a misstep, and maybe even like fall and break his leg. And so it's like, that's why they have those blinders. And like, you almost have to approach your business in the same way. Like you cannot care about what your social group or peers think you all you can care about is what your customers say and do. And if they keep coming back and using it.
And like for me, like starting green pal, one of the most humbling things was was starting the app, like I was running a landscaping company that was 150 people 10 million in revenue. And you know, kind of a known commodity in my little industry in my city in Nashville and had to start all over again, selling $27 lawnmower gigs, and like that was humbling. And then, and then I had this crappy app that barely worked. And like, just begging my own family to use it. I mean, please just use this piece of crap. So I can figure out how to do what it is I'm trying to do. And like my mom wouldn't use it. And that was humbling. And my best friend wouldn't use it. And it's like, you know, well, I've already got my lawn guy, and, and I don't really feel like changing like, dude, I need you to use this app I'm building. Now, I really liked the way he does it. Like, dude, I need you to like, help me use this thing I'm building. But like so. So that my point is it's humbling. But you can't you have to develop thick skin, you can't care. You have to understand that, like, you're not doing this for anybody. But you know, your team, your vision, the people using your thing. And you just you get stronger because of it like, like you said, I mean, I'm glad that I kind of went the way it did. And it you know, now we have several 100,000 people using, you know, the technology we've built and and you know, it's that that unvarnished, relentless, like true feedback is why we are where we are today.
[SAMI BEDEL-MULHERN] Yeah, I was gonna say if you hadn't, if you hadn't gotten that feedback, you probably wouldn't even have as many users or maybe retain as many users just because you wouldn't have worked out all the bugs at the beginning stage.
[BRYAN CLAYTON] That's it. That's it. Like, I mean, the feedback from users and customers is as always guided what it is we're working on what it is we're doing. And like that right there is something that I think every business owner needs to do. More of is just reduce and remove all of the friction that's in front of your, of your customer giving you feedback, make it as easy as possible for them to give you feedback good or bad. And then you'll never be at a loss for what it is you need to be working on and improving.
[SAMI BEDEL-MULHERN] So now when it comes to customer feedback, because this is another this is, you know, as we're growing and building and getting more visible, the feedback sometimes comes from a negative place, whether that be on social media, or it comes from, you know, your customer pipeline. I mean, there's always what the 10 20% that you can't, please. So any feedback or thoughts for people to just kind of I mean, I always just tell them to ignore that just move on, or maybe, you know, kill them with kindness with your remarks on social, but that can be real people.
[BRYAN CLAYTON] Yeah, you know, I've I, you know, serving the general public for 20 years, I've come to realize that I don't know what the number is, but it's somewhere between five and 10% of people are unsatiable. You can't you can't you can't do anything to please them. And so you can't, that's not what you're what you need to be focusing on, you need to be focusing on the 10 people that are telling you the same thing over and over again, you need to fix that. Yeah, one person that's unreasonable and unrealistic, don't waste your time trying to fix that, because you're never like, you're never going to satisfy those people. But you do need to triage around, okay, we're actually hearing this same thing multiple times a day, or multiple times a week. And we need to, like focus on fixing that and it and so. And a lot in a lot of times too, even even those insatiable people can can help you in terms of how you like upstream, manage expectations, too, and weed them out and don't onboard them as clients because they're not good fits. And so how do you like off ramp them.
For us in our world, in our world, we we have a type of user that wants to let their grass grow six feet tall, and wants to hire a lawn mowing service to come make it look like a putting green for for $25. And so and so like, in the early days, these people were like a plague for us because they were constantly barbecuing us on Yelp and Facebook and Google reviews. And because they just didn't understand like, that's not possible. And so we actually use that to inform how we message the product and onboarding experience along the way to manage expectations. Like if your grass is over 12 inches tall, it's going to be triple the price, and it's not going to look good. Click here to approve if that's the case, if that's the case, and so like now, we don't have that problem anymore. And so it's not like just tune them all out and just ignore them. Like, you don't need to engage them personally. Because Because because they're just a waste of your time. But you can use the feedback to modify how you manage expectations and off ramps, some of those people that aren't good fits for your business.
[SAMI BEDEL-MULHERN] Now, that's great. That's a great tip. I think negative feedback, we tend to emotion like it tends to hit our emotions as opposed to using it as like marketing research. Like, we love to listen to people telling us how amazing we are all the time. But they're not gonna really give us that that piece that missing piece, like you said, and your copy and your language and how you talk about what you do.
[BRYAN CLAYTON] Yeah, absolutely. And, I mean, it's kind of like, I've got a buddy that I hang out with from time to time, and sometimes we'll go to lunch and like, if I go to if I eat at a restaurant, and the food and service is terrible. The burgers cold and the waiter doesn't ever come back. I'm not saying a word, I'm just not coming back. My buddy will wear that waiter out. I mean, he is on there, but and if it's not good, he's gonna He's like, Can I talk to the manager? And like when he does it, I'm just like geez, dude, please don't. Please don't. And it's like it, he will tell the manager what they're doing wrong. And so and but it hit me it's like, Okay, I'm not that type of consumer. But the reality is, you don't want me in your restaurant. You want my buddy,
[SAMI BEDEL-MULHERN] Right!
[BRYAN CLAYTON] You want him. Because he's the guy who's gonna tell you where you suck. I'm just not coming back.
[SAMI BEDEL-MULHERN] No, that makes total sense.
[BRYAN CLAYTON] Yeah. So it's like the feedback as the proprietor as the owner, as the entrepreneur, as the founder. The feedback is not happening TO you is happening FOR you. And if you can just like develop that thick skin and not like take this stuff personally and leverage it to understand what it is you need to work on. Then it can help make you make a better business.
[SAMI BEDEL-MULHERN] Yeah. Okay, so I want to flip gears just a little bit. Because I know getting into the online space is something that is like super tricky for people but with COVID definitely something businesses had to get more comfortable with. So you know, you wouldn't think that a lawn mowing business would be something that would be an easy transition into, you know, online marketing into the online space and especially slipping into an app. So Well, I mean, what would you say when you were growing your business? Like, how was that transition for you? Or just because you were younger, it was easier. And I could hear everybody saying, Well, if he, you know, do you that it's easier for him? But what, what was that like for you?
[BRYAN CLAYTON] I spent 15 years in the lawn mowing business in the landscaping business. And traditional blue collar hand to hand combat in the trenches, you know, trucks, lawn mowers, sent out something like 80 or 90 trucks every day. And it was a traditional business. And I sold that company. And then I decided, Okay, I want to be a tech entrepreneur, I want to start a, I want to start a tech business. And luckily, I was naive. And I didn't know what I didn't know. And that was the only thing that got me in the game. Because if I had known how hard it was going to be, I would have been scared, I never would have done it. So that now even take all my times can almost help you kind of get through and get started. And so like when we started green pal, you know, I knew the industry, I'd spent 15 years in industry, I was kind of solving my own problems really. And but I didn't know the first thing on how to write software, or how to build software design software. And so and so my co founders, and I believed that we would just pay a development shop and in Nashville where we live to build green pal. And then we would market it and we would just be off and going. And that's like, totally not how it happened, how it worked out.
We spent like $150,000, building this app. And it was a total failure. And this wasn't like money we had sitting around this was like, these guys liquidated their 401 K's put money on credit cards, I mean, just to try to get this thing started. And it was a total failure. And what we learned the hard way was that if you're going to be in the tech business, if you're going to be a tech startup, a technology company, you have to have in your DNA, the ability to execute tech, you have to be able to build software, you have to be able to market software, you have to be able to like execute these things. And so we just, you know, it was one of those moments where, you know, like I mentioned earlier, I just knew, okay, well, I'm just gonna always gonna be working on my best idea. So let's just do the next thing we can do. And my two co founders had quit their jobs at Dell. You know, they were making like 100 110 $120,000 a year, they quit those jobs to basically make 20 grand a year on this on this tech startup. And so for them, there was no going back, they had kind of burned the boats. And so we just started working on like poring over every YouTube channel we could, every online class we could, have every online school we could learn how to build software. And we just worked on the second version of the app, and three years after that we had something and so it was tough. It's not impossible, but it was tough.
[SAMI BEDEL-MULHERN] And so do you think it was just the whole, like, we know, we have a good concept. And this is the best idea that we've got right now. So we're just going to keep trucking on it?
[BRYAN CLAYTON] You see the video game metaphor, like, you know, we just, we set little small goals. And the first year, we just wanted to do 100 transactions in a week. And we didn't hit it, we hit like, we only got to like 50. But, um, and you know, this is 100 transactions, when I had a company before, was doing like 1000 lawns a day. And so it's like, it was really humbling, but I just knew if we could get to 100, we can get to 1000 I knew if we could get to 1000 we can get to 10,000. So we really focused on small goals that we could hit and then and then we would try to meet with every single user especially in the early days, we would meet with every single person that would try the product that would meet with us. And the product really stunk back then it didn't work. And it was not reliable. But But when we would talk to these people, we could at least see that they were disappointed. Like they were ticked off that the push a button get the grass cut app didn't work. And it was the fact that they were ticked off and disappointed and and and like upset about it was in a weird way. The validation we were looking for.
[SAMI BEDEL-MULHERN] Yeah, so they weren't saying we don't like like we don't need this as a service. They right. This isn't working how we would want it to so you validation in your product, right?
[BRYAN CLAYTON] The story would always go, my lawn guy disappeared. He quit calling me back. I called three guys on Craigslist. Nobody called me back. I hired somebody on Angie's List. They didn't show up. I called two people on Google one gave me a price that was three times what I was used to paying. I hired my next door neighbor's recommendation, and he missed the backyard. And then I found your app, which was the promise of hire somebody in less than a minute, and they'll come and do a great job at a great price. And it didn't work. And I was disappointed. Like, yeah, that was the validation, we needed to know. Okay, this is worth spending the next 10 years of our life building this.
[SAMI BEDEL-MULHERN] Um, so I love that you're saying, like, you took the time to speak to your customers one on one, I think that's something that a lot of people don't do, whether they're afraid of the feedback they're gonna get, or they don't think it's valuable. But again, I mean, the nuggets that you're dropping here, I think, are just really important for people to, to listen to, and how to really respect the people that you're trying to serve. And allow them to give you the feedback that's going to help you grow, it will almost help you grow faster than you just being inside your own head. And assuming you kind of know what the marketplace wants within your, your product or service.
[BRYAN CLAYTON] Yes, it should go without saying I mean, it's just one of those things that all of us as entrepreneurs should know to do. But we all want to, like shy away from it, because it's not pleasant. And it's not fun. But you know, if you don't do it, it you could set yourself off like on the wrong course, like a vector, like the wrong vector, like in the early days, like a vector, if it's like one degree off tilt, back three years, three years later, it's, it's in a totally different direction. And so, in those early days, when you're talking to the first 10, 20, 100, people that are doing business with you, that sets the direction, in the proper in the proper path to where you have a chance at success, if you don't, and you just, you know, work on your own unvalidated assumptions, then you're just relying on luck. And, and even if even not like, good odds even at that. And so it's like it's table stakes, you have to talk to your first several 100 people, customers, users, whatever you want to call them, people that are using your your your product or service, to understand what your value proposition is, and why they're doing business with you versus the alternatives and what it is what problem you're solving what it is you're working on. If you don't do that, then you're you're really limiting your chances of success.
[SAMI BEDEL-MULHERN] Well, those first 100 or so customers that you spoke to that were telling you they were disappointed in the product, like you said, you know, they're the people like us sitting in the rest, they could have been the people like us sitting in the restaurant that just never use your product again, right? Because you took the time to speak to them take their feedback, they're probably more willing to give your product a second chance. And then when they do have good results with it are going to be your ambassadors telling everybody, right.
[BRYAN CLAYTON] Oh, yeah, in the early days is twofold. And the early days, your hand cranking sales, so like you're converting a customer, right? Yeah, you know, you're you're, you're turning somebody who wasn't ever going to use you again into somebody who's going to use your service. And that's great, because you need those sales desperately, especially in the early days. But even more than that you're getting learnings to understand what it is you're working on understand what what problems you need to solve and understand what your copy even needs to say and, and how you're positioning the product and pricing it that early adopter customer feedback is is the from the first dozen or 100 people is like crucial to setting the tone for what it is you're doing. And it's one of those things like, there's a guy by the name of Paul Graham, who heads up this accelerator called Y Combinator which like has produced on your home screen on your phone, like probably two or three of the apps on that phone. And so one of the things he says is, is do things that don't scale. In the early days, like you have to do things that just will not scale and like meeting with understanding of what the inside of every Starbucks in your town looks like. Because you have done so many coffee meetings with so many users? Yeah, it's something that doesn't scale. But you have to do that in the first year or two.
[SAMI BEDEL-MULHERN] And then now that you you know, have a product that's launched and successful, I mean, are you still serving your customers in more of a digital format, to continue to engage that you're staying on track with your clientele, or just to see how your user base is, is changing and evolving?
[BRYAN CLAYTON] Yeah, as time goes on. And you know, you get 1000s and 10s of 1000s and hundreds of 1000s of people doing business with you. You have to figure out ways to preserve that user experience without you having to meet them at Starbucks down the road. And so, but the thing is, you don't even know what those things are until you hand crank them. And so, for us, you know, we look at things like what we call red flag metrics, which is if somebody has been using our product for the last Six months and then they're no longer using it. Well, well, what's happening? like they've gone three weeks out of service, they need one. So we need to reach out to them when you Okay, Hey, what's going on with the service you hired? They do a good job or not. Okay, they didn't, okay, well, let's find you another one, like, preemptively understanding when things are going wrong and getting out in front of that. And then and then also just looking at like the passive feedback of, for us, we're a multi sided marketplace.
So like for the service providers that aren't doing a good job, we're able to understand if they're not doing a good job, and the way we look at that is, are they getting booked for subsequent services? are they showing up on the day that they're hired? Are they getting good reviews, like qualitative reviews, and the ones that don't hit certain metrics? We sideline and so here we are your eight. That's how we preserve customer experience in year one. It was like a spreadsheet and calling people yeah. So but we wouldn't get we wouldn't have been able to get to where we are have had we not done that hand crank?
[SAMI BEDEL-MULHERN] Yeah, well, and I know, for some folks that are listening, you know, hearing serving 10s of 1000s of people is like definitely never going to be in your wheelhouse or might be terrifying. But I think even if you're talking about growing from like two customers to 500 customers, a lot of this is all automation, and just understanding the way that your processes work. And just like you said, being able to reach people before like, like, you don't want them coming to you and say, Hey, where's this, where's this, you want to always proactively be reaching out to them to solve their problem before they feel like?
[BRYAN CLAYTON] Absolutely. And you don't have to be a software engineer to improve these experiences, right? There's off the shelf, pieces of software that you can buy and implement into your business to make it run smoother, make it run more seamlessly, and leverage technology to improve your customers experience. Even if you only have 100 customers. You know, if you're a you know, if you're a roofing contractor, and, and and you sell roofs, well, you can implement a piece of software to follow up on on Pete on your customers, hey, how did it go, and then and two months later, hey, is the roof leaking? Okay, and then six months later, hey, just checking in, make sure everything's okay. We appreciate any referrals you might have, or or, you know, or if the roofs not leaking, leave us a five star review on Google. Like, there's ways to leverage off the shelf SAS, in any business small or large to make it run smoother and deliver a better customer experience at a fraction of a marginal cost. Because it's not like your hand hand like doing all of these things.
[SAMI BEDEL-MULHERN] 100%. Bryan, you shared so many good insights, and thank you so much for just letting us, you know, peek into your brain and how how you kind of found success and what that's look like. I mean, do you have any other kind of last words for entrepreneurs, you know, inspiring people to kind of continue to grow and just keep at it.
[BRYAN CLAYTON] You know, I think the way to win is not giving up, like we mentioned earlier, I think I think if you just really look at like your life as a movie or as a story, and, and the storyline of your life and your business can be that storyline, you know, your business can be the thing that lends your life purpose and meaning. And, and can also be the thing to help you make something of yourself and if you kind of look at business in that grand sense, then it kind of helps you get through the the low points and any other things like what else you gonna do, you're gonna go work in a cubicle, you really want to do that. You really want that, you know, let that scare you to grind through the the hard parts.
[SAMI BEDEL-MULHERN] Yeah, I think that's a great place to end that. That's a great visual, definitely had in mind. Well, thank you so much for joining me on this episode. Brian, if people want to find out more about you and your company, then what you've done, how do they do that?
[BRYAN CLAYTON] Yeah, anybody that's listening to this doesn't want to waste time cutting their own grass, they can just download green pal in the app store or Play Store. They'll get hooked up with a great lawn, lawn service at a great price in less than a couple of minutes. Anybody that wants to get at me, you can hit me up on LinkedIn. I've been hanging out there more and more lately, and you can just shoot me a message there.
[SAMI BEDEL-MULHERN] Awesome. And we'll put all those links in the show notes for this episode so people can find them easily. Awesome.
[BRYAN CLAYTON] Thanks for having me on. I enjoyed it.
[SAMI BEDEL-MULHERN] Yeah, thank you. So what did you think? I think Brian dropped so many amazing nuggets of knowledge and just things to think about and ways to reframe the way that we think about our day to day business, our short term goals or long term goals and kind of how we process what success really looks like. So thank you so much for taking the time to listen.
I really hope you'll subscribe and leave us a review wherever you listen, especially on Apple podcasts. so that more people can find us and glean information and grow and build their organization so that you guys can support so many more people in the communities that you guys are giving back to. So for now, I hope that you'll check out the show notes at https://www.thefirstclick.net/podcast and I'll see you in the next one.